20 Somethings to Watch: Vol. 1

Dear Diary XO is excited to introduce a brand new series, "20 Somethings to Watch." For our first installment of this series, we showcase four artists who also happen to be women.

As the founder of Dear Diary XO and @letterstodeardiary, a massive part of developing this platform has been to empower other twenty-somethings. Whether through a feature that gives a post-grad exposure for their small business, advice from others who are a success, or simply a funny meme that uplifts you after a long workday, "20 Somethings to Watch" is another extension of this platform. DD's bread and butter is our Instagram account, which often features relatable quotes and illustrations. So, what better way to start this series by featuring four artists I know personally, have collaborated with in the past, or have been following on social media. I hope this is the start of many other features with various categories.

ABOUT EMMA of @emmawestlundart:

"I've always done art my entire life, starting from when I was a kid, and have always loved it. I went to an art high school where I primarily focused on 2D art, painting, and drawing. I then went off to college and received a minor in studio art, focusing on 2D art, figure drawing, and printmaking. After college, I lived in a small apartment and didn't have room to store all the necessary art supplies I needed to continue making art, so that's when I decided to buy an iPad. I had seen digital art online and decided to give it a go. I picked up my iPad and fell in love with drawing on it. It was easy to store and didn't make a giant mess in my apartment. That's the story of how I got started. I didn't mean for my digital art to necessarily turn into a small biz, but I am so glad it did. I love being able to recreate memories for people through digital illustrations. I also love being able to tell a story or share a message through my illustrations as well. I create a lot of pieces about women empowerment, which means a lot to me. With the era of social media, it's important to create something that makes people feel and shares a good message. My business has always been about embracing who you are, empowering who you are, and loving who you are. I hope to continue making illustrations that empower and create more memories and art for people to hang in their homes for years to come."

ABOUT ZUHURA of @zuhkeydesigns:

"Hi, My name's Zuhura, aka Zuhkey! I'm a web developer and an artist, originally from Tanzania, born and raised in Doha, Qatar. I've been drawing ever since I could use a pen. I first fell in love with web designing and logo designing at 13 years old. I became obsessed with designing a website on Wix and a logo for a small girls-only club my friends and I created. I accidentally fell into digital illustrations during the pandemic out of mere boredom, and the feedback I received led me to turn my hobby into a side hustle. I decided to build a business around empowering people, especially women, to have positive experiences with things that seem complicated, like creating an illustration for your new book or branding and website for your new online business. Most of my illustrations depict women of color in their place of joy and luxury, which I, unfortunately, did not see growing up.


I absolutely LOVE what I do. I ventured into branding from illustration gigs, and now I bring my website designing expertise to my clients. I've learned a lot (and still learning) from this business, and even though I'm currently working a 9-5 job, it's nice to know one day, when I'm ready, I can work on my design studio full-time and be my own boss!

I love designing and trying out new stuff. It thrills me to learn something new every day. When I'm away from my laptop or iPad, one can find me learning a new recipe, painting on a canvas, or rewatching my favorite TV shows."

ABOUT JULIA of @julsmess.art:

"I’m Julia Messinger, a 2020 graduate from the College of Charleston. I majored in Marine Biology and minored in Studio Art and Environmental Studies. Being a peak pandemic graduate, I decided to take a different route than jumping straight into the corporate job world. I have always been drawing, painting, and creating, so I found this crazy time to be the perfect opportunity to try it out as a real job. My passion is the ocean (hence the marine biology degree), so most of the pieces I create are inspired by coastal things.I grew up in northern New Jersey and currently bouncing around from place to place, primarily in the North East/New England area. I specialize in acrylic painting and murals. A majority of my artwork to date has been done through commissions, so at the moment, I’m working on creating a collection of original works.

Another project that I have been working on is painting surfboards fins. I’ve been collecting actual surfboard fins, which I then paint and frame. They are featured on my Instagram @julsmess.art and for sale on my website www.julsmess.com. I’m hoping to get my artwork into galleries and get into more mural work in the future."

ABOUT LILY of @lilclubhouse:

"Hi, my name is Lily Switka, founder of and artist behind The Lil Clubhouse, a handmade art business located in Northeast Ohio. I'm finishing up my senior year at Villanova University, studying English, Peace & Justice, and Humanities. I was drawn to Dear Diary XO because I've thought a lot about what I want to do after graduation. While I'm likely going to work in the nonprofit sector, I'm not yet sure how I will incorporate my art business into post-grad life. I'm so proud of how far The Lil Clubhouse has come since the start, and I can't wait to see where it's going!


The Lil Clubhouse began functioning as a business during March 2020, when I had returned home from college for the semester due to the pandemic, but you could say it started long before that. When I was little, I had always wanted a treehouse, but our backyard didn't have any trees strong enough to support one. The compromise we came up with was a little shed-- we called it The Clubhouse. It was like a "she shed," but just about the most incredible thing you could picture for a kid. The walls were painted Friendly Frog green, and there was purple carpet, zebra stick-on wall decorations, Five Below Posters everywhere. I started building it with my dad when I was 10, and we finished it a year later. With the free time of quarantine, The Clubhouse underwent a complete revamp & renovation by my mom and myself. We repainted the walls off-white: a fresh canvas. I brought out all my art supplies, which were scattered in drawers randomly throughout the house. And just like that, it was the perfect place to continue my favorite activity of making art.I've never actually been formally trained as an artist, aside from elementary school art classes. But many people in my family set an incredible example for me when it comes to art, despite having taken entirely different career paths. My dad, a scientist, was a talented sketch artist. My grandmother, a nurse, was a fantastic painter and poet. My mom, a chemist, has an eye for anything creative or aesthetic. I learned how to make art from all these family members, which makes sense why my style is so original and eclectic. It's like a collage of all these different influences and colors.


So far, I have had a variety of excellent opportunities to share my art with the world. I've been able to make so many unique and fun commissions for friends, family, and people all over the world (what a proud accomplishment to say my art has shipped internationally)! I collaborated with Jada Taylor of Mixd Fashion, a Cleveland streetwear designer, to create handmade pieces for Cleveland's Fashion Talks Fashion Show this past summer. Seeing denim and cowboy boots with my handpainted designs on their walk down the runway was something I never thought I'd see! I sold my largest painting to date-- a massive rendition of The Great Wave on canvas-- which is now hanging in someone's home! I've also collaborated with Coco Dixon, founder of Coco's Chalky Paints, to create the only chalk-paint portrait of Frida Kahlo in the United States (as well as a beautiful refurbished upholstered chair with Frida painted on as well). Most exciting, my art was sold in a gift store, Rooted Oaks in Streetsboro, Ohio, featuring tens of local artisans this past spring through summer. I have expanded my business from Instagram to Etsy and am learning and loving that transition. And I'm proud to say that all packages shipped out from The Lil Clubhouse are not only adorable but are 100% made from recycled and refurbished materials.In the future, I'd love to try some larger pop art pieces. I recently visited a pop art gallery in Las Vegas and left feeling completely inspired. I'd also like to start a line of hand-painted cards with quirky messages. I want to try so many fun mixed media pieces, so hopefully, post-grad life will allow me to explore the ideas I've been cooking up for a while."


XO