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Gulf & Main Magazine

Patterns of Zen and Love: Artist and Graphic Designer Julia Da Rocha Inspired by Life, Nature

Climbing the stairs of the old Edwards Building, on the Alliance for the Arts campus in Fort Myers, you sense the presence of creativity. The place feels like a hidden commune and you wonder how those inside found each other. Ask that question and all give the same answer: The artful universe brought them together. 

And that’s because the second floor of the Edwards Building, which has been appropriately christened The Art Loft, has been a hub for all kinds of “creative types” throughout the years. Currently, it houses about 14 artists with their respective studios. Known as The Union Artist Studios, the members consider themselves one tightknit family. 

Julia Da Rocha, 41, saw a social media ad from The Union Artist Studios and jumped at the rare opportunity to join. The studio spots don’t become available often and there are no other organized artists’ studio spaces in town. After a traditional juried selection of her artwork, Da Rocha was asked to fill in the space in February 2017. 

Da Rocha’s very recognizable work is full of emotion. The colors are clear indications of her moods, yet her influences come from a variety of artistic endeavors and experiences. She is a graphic designer, illustrator, doodler, self-published children's book author and painter. Inspiring renditions of flowers, birds and fruits meet bold colors and dramatic shapes—all tied together in a complicit pattern. “Beautiful” is a typical comment from visitors to her studio. 

Born in New Jersey, Da Rocha fell in love with creativity as a young child. In 1989, her family moved to Uruguay. There, she polished her Spanish and connected with her heritage. She also learned about life from a different point of view, which she attributes to the development of her character.   

She thought of studying architecture in Uruguay, but realized that would not be the correct path. “I loved the bits about design and creating but when it came to the bits about rulers, drafting boards and calculating metric systems, I knew it was not for me,” Da Rocha explains.

After seven years of living overseas, she and her family moved back to the States, making Southwest Florida their permanent home. She then studied graphic design at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, landing her first job before graduating in 2003.

In 2008, Da Rocha decided that she needed a change. She cut her hair and donated it to Locks of Love, and volunteered with the non-profit Possible Dreams International organization. She also won a competition that required creating 200 doodles within a time limit, and had her first artwork display in a small New York gallery. 

Later that year, Da Rocha and her twin sister, Judith, wrote and illustrated their first children's book, I Love the World Because ... It was published in April 2009 and received an honorable mention at the 2009 New York Book Festival. 

She then discovered the world of podcasts, blogs and websites—and was inspired to do more. Today, the artist’s designs are licensed by and featured by Joss & Main, One Kings Lane, Fab, Rue La La, Amazon, Houzz, HauteLook and HGTV.

“Looking back at my history, I realize I was and still am learning to experiment with different mediums,” Da Rocha says. Her graphic design background influences her process of producing traditional art. “Since I joined The Union Artist Studios, it’s been what I like to call a ‘crazy boom phase,’ ” she quips.

“Before then, I relied heavily on the graphic design skills to create my designs for the home decor items. But now I changed my process and paint large canvases, which is something I had never done before and don’t know how I lived without it.” 

Diana Ripoll, who has been a member of The Union Artist Studios since 2014, notes that Da Rocha’s “paintings are filled with crazy, fun and cheerful colorful patterns. She is a fantastic artist, clearly influenced by the music she listens [to] while she paints, her surroundings and her love for experimentation.” Ripoll, who works with a variety of mediums, produces her work across the hall and just a few steps away from Da Rocha. 

Julia Da Rocha thrives in her creative fields of graphic design and visual arts. She continues her prolific output, all the while sharing her passion and enthusiasm with everyone who visits her space in The Art Loft. 

View more of Julia Da Rocha's works at and

Written by David Acevedo, an award-winning visual artist, arts writer, gallery owner and curator living in Cape Coral. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico—Mayagüez Campus. Acevedo is founder and president of DAAS CO-OP Art Gallery & Gifts in Fort Myers.