I recently spent some time at the Santa Barbara home of local designer and illustrator Peter Horjus. Appropriately dubbed the “tree house,” Peter’s space is a hideaway of sorts, filled with a collection of antique bits and bobs, a dreamy window-lined artist’s studio, family heirlooms and of course beautiful artwork.
I knew of Peter before we officially met, as I would often see him at Renaud’s Patisserie & Bistro with a sketchbook and coffee in hand. Over the years our friendship has grown and you will find his brilliant illustrations in the windows of DIANI and DIANI Shoes as well as his cleverly crafted Line & Form bottle stoppers for sale at DIANI Living.
As we close out 2018, I’m excited to end on a high note by featuring my friend and talented artist, Peter Horjus, as the 13th addition of our Pillow Talk series. We took a moment to chat about his dad’s artistic influence, how self-employment runs in the family and the one Caribbean gig that got away.
When you were in school, what was your favorite subject and what did you want to “grow up” to be?
I think I knew in 2nd grade. I loved art time, I would trade the best parts of my lunch – namely my Snicker’s bar – for drawing paper. I was drawing all the time, at school and at home, creating my own reality in my drawings. In grade school I won the cover art competition for a school music and art event. I remember drawing a feather pen and a harp in pencil, and I was so excited to see them in print and handed out at the door the night of the event. My dad was a great artist. He studied design, advertising and sign painting in Holland and later worked 12 years for the world famous 400 year-old Royal Tichelaar in Makkum as a ceramic painter before moving to America. Early on he introduced me to all kinds of art materials, from pastels to charcoal sticks, colored pencils to an array of textured papers. When work was slow he was always oil painting on canvas or painting a mural on a wall in our house, every room had a mural. So when he would draw and paint I would watch, learn and try to emulate. Eventually in high school, loving art and drafting classes, I worked on the school paper as an illustrator, this is when I awkwardly started using pen & ink, drawing funny skinny people throwing and catching a football, or a pyramid of cheerleaders. This start to weekly deadlines and concept ideas would perhaps prepare me for a life as the independent designer, illustrator and art maker I am today.
What contributed to you becoming the businessman that you are today?
My dad worked hard, he had his own business and so did his dad. Most all of my parent’s friends all had their own business too. I just always figured that’s what you do, you start your own business, you mind your own business. I watched and came up with my own little businesses. At seven I was gathering rocks from our back yard and gluing them together into interesting and strange creatures. Then I would paint them in different colors and patterns, and arrange them on a platter and walk through the neighborhood selling them door to door. I always seemed to sell them. Either I sold them because the neighbors took pity on me or I had a fun and decent product – probably a little of both. I didn’t give it much thought, I just enjoyed creating and selling… and my margins were great! A couple of years after that I opened Pete’s Bike Shop out of our garage. I remember having a hand-painted sign hanging above the door. My mom and I would run around town to yard sales early on Saturday mornings and I would buy old rusty unkept bikes for around $5-$10, bring them home, take them apart, steel wool the rims, sand and spray paint the frame, re-grease, reassemble and put them out on the sidewalk for $30 -$70. I would have 5-10 bikes out on the street at any given time. I remember really enjoying making the old and rusty look new and shiny.
My sophomore year in high school I learned how to paint cars from my neighbor across the street. He would have me do all his dirty work – taking bumpers and lights off, fix dents, and wet sand the whole car. He particularly liked my fastidiousness of tape masking the whole car perfectly. He would finish paint in the nearby high school paint booth and I’d watch and learn. After seeing how much he was making, and me doing quite a bit of the work for a low wage, I went to Sears, bought a Craftsman air compressor and tools and started painting all the cars in the family, then the cars of family friends, then school friend’s muscle cars. So it always seemed I had a bit of that entrepreneurial spirit. I knew early on I would have my own business someday. I was curious, liked to learn, liked to work, and I loved working with my hands.
Which entrepreneurs do you admire?
Desire, dedication, discipline and determination all describe these local entrepreneurs whom I am grateful to observe and work with – Robert Gilson, owner of Arlington Plaza and Hotel Cheval, Barrett Reed of the Miramar Group, Aaron and Kim of Handlebar Roasters, Walter Claudio of Walter Claudio Salon, Amy Cooper of Plum Goods, Caroline Diani and Colette Cosentino Studio. All of them are inspiring, motivating, propelling forward and blazing new trails. I admire them greatly.
What was your inspiration behind becoming a designer and illustrator?
A lifetime interest in drawing and a fascination for strong graphic imagery. It led me to develop my skills as a designer honing in on important principles and elements of design, learning the beauty of minimalism early on. An illustration class in college resulted in wetting my appetite for editorial illustration. An opportunity arose to become a staff illustrator for Copley News Service in San Diego right out of college. I took it. My style was very tight and painstakingly laborious at the time. After landing illustration work with a couple of other magazines, my workload became intense, and was filled with deadlines. So I was forced to loosen up my style and work faster. My style became very natural for me, I just loved creating images, and then as assignments from Saks Fifth Avenue, Coca-Cola, The New York Times, Newsweek and more came in, it kept me moving forward in a grateful and satisfying way.
What is your artistic process like? How do you maintain that while also fulfilling a clients needs?
Whether designing a logo, working on a magazine illustration or considering a new art piece I always start the process the same way. Ever since I was 24, I head to the local coffee shop with a sketchbook, 2B pencil and eraser in hand. I order a coffee and then on a fresh white spread mind dump a series of random/ controlled and absurd/expected rough sketches and interesting words until nothing more pours out. From there concepts, drawings and objectives get tighter and simplified. Next I scan and build art files on the computer or go right to canvas. I love this process, whether it’s building a client’s logo brand or painting a canvas for an interior designer. I’m now on sketchbook 26.
What has been your favorite part about creating a business?
How organically many friends become clients, and many clients become friends. I love hearing a client’s vision and objective, seeing their excitement and entrepreneurial spirit and feeling blessed to be a part of achieving those goals with them visually, and hopefully beyond their expectations.
What’s the most challenging part of your professional life?
Feeling overwhelmed by too much work in the face of being very detail-oriented.
What do you think is the single most important ingredient to success?
Enthusiasm. I believe, discovering one’s true talents and abilities mixed with their true passion produces a purpose. Living with enthusiasm in your passion results in great joy, happiness and contentment… and so success.
How do you try to manage your work/life balance?
It always seems intertwined and pretty balanced. The people I seem to spend most of my time with are like-minded creatives in desire and creative goals, whether they are builders, designers, entrepreneurs, shop keepers, artists, etc. Creative shop talk seems to float to the surface in conversation. To visit and hear another’s expression is always fun and rewarding, the passion runs through a common thread as one encourages and helps the other through triumphs and disappointments together.
What do you see yourself doing next to express yourself professionally?
Currently working on a new look in my illustration work, an adaptive style of what I have been doing for a long time. Also, the big launch of my handcrafted bottle stopper business is planned to happen the first part of 2019. Stay tuned.
How do you manage the fear and doubt that inevitably creeps in when you’re paving a less trodden path?
I have a choice to cater to the masses or a smaller targeted group, I’ve always enjoyed leaning towards the later, a tribe of some sort, who understand what you are choosing to do in style and technique. I overhear some naysayers, but ignore and move steadfastly on in confidence. I also am much more aware of good and bad days, most of the time it seems to flow abundantly, whereas other days not a thing is happening – a total mind block. I continually learn to accept it, take action and know that tomorrow will most likely be a better creative day. Desire and determination pave my day and the next.
What have you been most afraid of trying in your career, but you did it anyway?
Fine art. It is relatively new for me, always been a bit afraid of it, especially painting very large. I’ve mostly focused on graphic design and illustration. But after doing a fine art series it was both refreshing and freeing.
Was there any opportunity that you had in your life that you didn’t take?
In my early twenties, as a wet-behind-the-ears illustrator, I was asked by a newspaper to climb aboard a luxury 100 year-old schooner/scuba dive boat to the Caribbean for a 10-day, all expenses paid trip. My assignment was to dive twice a day, simply observe and illustrate in pen & ink all the experiences and small vignettes I encountered. Later those illustrations would accompany a travel feature story for the newspaper. I didn’t go, I felt being away that long would hurt my growing business. I remember work ended up being slow those 10 days. Imagine! That opportunity I still regret to this day.
Any sleep rituals that you use to help quiet the mind after a long day?
Running on the beach at sunset. Hot shower. Low-light house. Healthy dinner. Read.
What’s the biggest gift you give yourself to recharge?
Get away from the studio and look for encounters in other creative disciplines.
What’s your favorite food to indulge in?
Dry aged ribeye steak with a juicy cabernet sauvignon.
What’s the first thing you do after you wake up?
Drink lots of water, devotions, check stocks and news.
What’s the last thing you do before bed?
Drink two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, eat two brazil nuts, brush teeth, fluff pillow.
How do you make your bedroom a sacred space?
Tidy and dark with good linens.
Thank you Peter, I was inspired from the moment I stepped into your creative space. It has been a pleasure getting to know you more and I look forward to seeing what you do next. To view more of Peter’s artwork, visit www.peterhorjus.com or check out his instagram @peterhorjusart and @lineandformhandmade.
I would like to thank my readers for following along on this Pillow Talk journey. It has been such a humbling and exciting new part of my life and I hope it’s added some inspiration to yours. We have a new batch of trailblazers that we can’t wait to introduce to you in the new year. Stay tuned!
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