My graphic design career: a not so brief history 

Los Angeles, 1994-2004

I graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Community Studies. The dream major for someone who wanted to change the world. A six-month internship placed me at the Constitutional Rights Foundation in Los Angeles, where I worked for six years.

There I honed my skills in education program development and management. I worked with an AmeriCorps program for post-college grads, a high school internship program, service learning grants, and more. I even dipped my toe into design with Microsoft Publisher and Front Page (my first foray into web design, if you could call it that!)

Around 1999, my mom mentioned a new program in graphic design at UCLA Extension. I attended the orientation and signed up for two classes – Drawing and Production and Graphic Processes I. Drawing did not last long. I didn’t have the patience to draw my living room for ten hours but I adored the graphic production class. We learned about CMYK, RBG, dot moirees, and created a paste-up business card. We took two field trips, one to the Los Angeles Times production facility downtown, and one to a small print shop in Culver City. I immersed myself in learning the ins and outs of print production and I’m proud to say that I got an A in the class.  

My next adventure in graphic design was an Adobe Photoshop class at Otis College of Art and Design’s extension program and a short course in Adobe Illustrator at the Los Angeles City College, crisscrossing the city to learn design.

In 2001, I switched jobs to work for The HeArt Project, now artworxLA, an arts education non-profit for alternative high school students. My position as Development and Communications Director was a step up from Senior Program Manager. One of my responsibilities was working with freelance graphic designers to develop fundraiser invites, invitations to student presentations, and organizational brochures. It blew my mind when grads from the prestigious Art Center College of Design grads walked into our tiny West Adams Street office with their gorgeous portfolios full of fancy papers and typographic treatments. 

Could I actually create such gorgeous work? 

Meanwhile, I dabbled in projects for friends. My brother’s band graphics and his first album is still one of my favorite pieces. I designed a friend’s wedding invites, as well as business and greeting cards. 

“You should pursue graphic design as a career,” my boss told me. 

Tucson, 2004-2017

My next graphic design career turn came in 2004, when I moved to Tucson with my husband. Figuring out my path was not a straight line: I took a part-time PR job for a year; did freelance grant writing for The HeArt Project and some new clients; and enrolled in classes at Pima Community College.. 

Graphic Design 101 at PCC was a mind-opening experience. Already out of college for ten-plus years, I had the experience and wisdom to soak it all up. Our professor was a freelance designer who guided us through the basics, as well as teaching us the who’s who of the graphic design world. Each of us created a fictitious business: Mine was Dig It, a landscaping business. We devised all the collateral for our businesses, and critiqued our peers. A lot of backlash arose from the tender egos of participating recent high school graduates.

I started implementing small paid projects for friends: a yoga and nutrition consultant, freelance writers, and my cousin who was starting a consulting business for sustainable job recruiting. At that point my work was mostly in print. 

But I built my own website, called Idea Rodeo, which highlighted creative people and ideas. I turned it into a blog. One of my grant writing clients, LA Commons, gave me the opportunity to design materials for a new initiative called Trekking LA. 

In 2008, I officially launched Julie Ray Creative after spending several agonizing months deciding on a name. Green Tangerine Design was a close second. A mentor appeared who taught me the ins and outs of WordPress; we still collaborate today.

I signed contracts with Tucson Meet Yourself and the Kino Border Initiative. I still work with both organizations today. Over the next ten years, I hired subcontractors to expand my services – illustration, copywriting, custom programming for websites. Together we have worked with every kind of business imaginable, from architectural firms to restaurants to medical startups.  

Finding a place to work outside my home turned into an adventure in downtown Tucson. I consider myself a pioneer in early co-working, when I traded graphic design for a desk at Dinnerware Art Gallery on Congress St. Later, I shared space with other consultants inside the Fox Tucson Theatre business office and finally rented space from a law office at 131 E. Broadway. When we heard the building would be torn down for the new AC Marriott Hotel, I began searching for a new office. My last Tucson office was in the Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Studios, managed by the lovely duo behind interior design firm Baker & Hesseldenz. With a contemporary art gallery in the front and Exo Coffee around the corner, it was a perfect spot for a graphic design studio.

Chandler, 2017-present

Moving to Chandler for my husband’s job plunged me into remote working, which gave me a headstart when Covid hit. First I tried two co-working spots, Mac 6 in Tempe, then Thrive Co-working for Women in Gilbert. Both had fun perks like weekly lunches and kombucha, but I settled back in my home office during the Covid lockdown. I haven’t left my home work space since. 

My biggest work change has been honing in on my two heartfelt niches – non-profit organizations, and solopreneurs in the arts, wellness, and consulting. It has been a gift of experience and time to be able to say, “Yes” to the projects that fit Julie Ray Creative’s mission and values, and to say “No” to those that don’t. This year, we defined our values, which include community impact, collaboration and inclusion, creativity, and nurturing long-term relationships with clients and partners.

I still agonize sometimes about saying no, and pricing our services is challenging. I’ve found this consistent with other women business owners. We tend to undervalue our work and not ask for what we are worth. This is one of my high priority goals; to get better at the money conversation! 

I’m proud of the work we have done for clients around the country. This past year, we created the Non-Profit Design Guide: Pitfalls and Best Practices, which is free when you sign up for the mailing list on our website. I hope to more fully support non-profits and creative solopreneurs in navigating marketing and design. 

What would you like to see and learn about? Let me know in the comments!