An Interview with a Successful Artist: Juliana Olsson

The Project: I want to be a successful artist. What does that mean? How do I define “artist”? How do I define “success?” I want to interview fellow artists for my own and others’ inspiration.

Notes: I started with artists I know personally very well, and the first 5 interviews came together in a mini-series of emerging artists. The 5 interviews in this series were transformed into mini-zines with hand-drawn portraits of the artists and other details by me. These are available for purchase at my Etsy shop ronddejambe.

More interviews are in the works…

Some names have been abbreviated at the request of the artist. Information regarding the artist has been reviewed and approved by the artist.

Interview #2

The Artist: Juliana Olsson is a science illustrator, grad student in Museum Studies at Johns Hopkins, zombie researcher, & that rare species: the San Francisco native.

She currently lives in Nashville, TN, interning at the zoo. We had a very long chat about what it means to be a successful multi-disciplinary artist with multiple competing interests.

LB: When people ask “what do you do?” how do you describe your work?

JO: Career-wise I’m between jobs, but my most recent paychecks are from science illustration gigs. I use pencil, paper, observation & some imaginations to tell the story of a species.

LB: How did you get started being a science illustrator?

JO: My last semester of college, I realized I didn’t know what to do post-graduation. But I knew I wanted to combine art & science. I started doing projects for labs, and was hired by a researcher at Cal Academy of Sciences.

LB: What do you struggle with when it comes to your work?

JO: The loneliness of the work. Channeling my perfectionism into something workable (read: not constantly feeling dissatisfied with my work). I have to remind myself to take breaks.

LB: What is your approach to that struggle?

JO: As much as I love drawing, I really need a career where I’m on a team, where there are people around. That’s how I fell into museum studies. To make the perfectionist voice go away, I just need to practice more.

LB: If someone said, “I want to do what you do,” what advice would you have?

JO: It’s great work for an artist with an inclination towards science and nature. Illustrators are always needed. There’s a lot of useful technology, but a human filter is required. There is a guild, several schools & programs, & internships.

LB: Who has inspired you?

JO: I recently read about an 18th century artist named Jan van Rymsdyk who did some amazing work, but I always admire/aspire towards my talented contemporaries. Check out:

LB: What are your goals & passions?

JO: I considered getting a certificate in science illustration but am pursuing the masters in museum studies instead – I’m really hoping to make science education more exciting and fun!

In the mean time, I’m working on homework, my website, a friend’s music video, and one day I WILL write the definitive analysis of zombie films.

And in general I get excited about many forms of art, and seeing things I want to do or make.

LB: Do you think of yourself as an artist? Why or why not?

JO: Yes and no. People pay me to draw things, and I draw in my free time. But I’ve never felt good enough to call myself a true artist. If I were an artist, my art would be my whole life (or a bigger chunk of it), and I’d be creating inspiring, unique things.

LB: Do you think of yourself as successful? Why or why not?

JO: I’m still looking for a vision of what I want to do. Success will be when I have clearer goals, and am on the path to making them into reality.

Juli’s work can be seen at:

She can also be found on Twitter @julipants

 Much thanks to Juli for her interview & help with the editing process!

Purchase this interview in all its mini zine glory HERE