“Las cosas se hacen bien, a la primera.”
If you’re going to do something, do it well, and do it well the first time around.
No other phrase has had such a profound effect on Josue Baltezar, a San Diego-raised graphic designer, illustrator, and entrepreneur.
Josue traces his creative talents back to his childhood, growing up in a lively, multi-generational Mexican-American household in San Diego. “My parents moved from Mexico City with me and my older sister when I was six years old, so we’ve been lucky to grow up being exposed to two cultures simultaneously,” he said. “My sister and I speak English and Spanish with native fluency, and I think we both feel comfortable experiencing new cultures because we were exposed to that at a young age.”
Like many talented artists, his curiosity was spurred by his parents’ belief in his abilities. In kindergarten, his mom had him complete activity books to improve his handwriting and grammar. He found the extra pages for doodling to be the most fun, and it sparked an interest that never left him.
It wasn’t until fourth grade however, that he learned it was a talent. “I was chosen to make this type of poster mural for our class, and I felt that’s when people really noticed that I drew a little better than the average student,” he said.
By the time he was in high school, he started thinking about making a career out of his talent. With a few friends, he started drawing and painting designs on t-shirts, and eventually learned how to make designs digitally on Photoshop and Illustrator. As the project grew a following, he wanted to learn how to turn it into a business. Soon after, he enrolled in San Diego State University (SDSU) and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.
It was also at SDSU when he developed his passion for social justice. After meeting diverse groups of people and creating lasting friendships during a semester abroad in Europe, he felt increasingly aware of his privilege to gain an education and travel internationally.
He realized that many in his community didn’t have the same opportunity. “I get frustrated seeing the huge levels of inequality around the world. Just here in San Diego, there are hundreds of people living on the streets, and tens of thousands living in poverty,” he said. “At the same time, some of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen, with ocean views, are minutes away. How is that ok?”
“My biggest takeaway was that there are enormous problems we face as a global society, and we need to work across borders to find solutions.”
His own life had been shaped by the sacrifices made by his family when they arrived in the United States. Before the implementation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a U.S. immigration policy created in 2012, he had been living as an undocumented immigrant.
The policy, which enables undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to live and work lawfully, allowed Josue to transfer into San Diego State University and travel abroad. He credits DACA for being one of the biggest blessings in his life. “It opened the door to a four-year university education, gave me the ability to work legally in the US, and even to get a driver’s license,” he said.
With an opportunity to make a difference, Josue now spends his days as a freelance designer, working with small businesses and local entrepreneurs on social impact causes. Some of his projects include the Cuéntame Podcast, Futbol Sin Fonteras, and the California Literacy Association.
“I’ve been working with an eCommerce company in a community drawing project related to Covid-19,” he said. “These are super fun because I’m trying new things as an artist and leaning more into illustration rather than design.”
In fact, one of his most popular illustration projects came as a surprise. While on Twitter, he saw someone tweet about looking for ways to help people affected by Covid-19. He replied and said he wanted to help take care of his grandma, but his work was affected by the pandemic.
He soon found that the person had responded to him by sending him money through the CashApp, a mobile payment service. “I clicked on their profile and saw some cool pictures of their dog, so I decided to draw it as a thank you,” he described. “I didn’t realize the traffic I would get from that. That same day, I had maybe four or five requests to create portraits for commission. It was a blessing.”
When asked what three pieces of advice he would give to artists and designers looking into his line of work, he was humbled and reflective. “First, develop and become an expert in YOUR style. If you have a style that is uniquely yours, people will want to hire you because they can envision their work with your style,” he said. “Second, engage with your audience and the people you look up to. Third, be a good person that people can rely on.”
Since his early days printing designs on t-shirts, Josue hasn’t given up on his dreams of making a difference in the community through his artwork. Despite the employment challenges presented by the pandemic, he has weathered the storm, working on several projects with small businesses in San Diego while continuing to fight for social justice.
“My dad always says, if you’re gonna do something, do it well, and do it well the first time around,” he recounted. “I want to be proud of my work, and be an example to others.”
And in these trying times, he’s never been more determined to be that example.