The first time KJ Forman, 26, put a piece of their art online and asked if anyone wanted to buy it was in early 2017 while they were working as a social worker and barista. It was a drawing they did in their apartment “just for fun” on printer paper with Sharpie.
“People really liked it and things just kind of snowballed from there,” said Forman who, six years later, has their own studio, owns their own business and works as an artist full-time.
“When I think of something that I want to do, I just do it,” they said.
Forman has been making art their whole life and is the sole owner, creator and designer behind Luck and Lavender Studio in Ottawa’s Centretown. For as long as they can remember, they’ve used art to cope, heal and express who they are.
Growing up, Forman always wanted to be an artist, but it seemed like an “inaccessible dream.” They never imagined there’d be enough demand for their creations across North America to warrant quitting all their other jobs, but there was, so Forman’s passion project grew into their vocation.
Luck and Lavender Studio creates a vast array of positive, affirmative pieces that celebrate resilience, hope and growth. From T-shirts, tote bags, hats and swimwear to patches, pins, stickers and prints, Forman says they like to try everything. They also produce digital portrait commissions of pets and people, have launched two colouring books and recently delved into handmaking one-of-a-kind crochet cardigans with 3D strawberries, sunflowers and mushrooms.
“Florals are a big part of my art,” said Forman. “Almost everything I create has flowers or greenery in it and I try to work a lot of symbolism into that. I really love the meaning behind different kinds of flowers.”
Forman identifies as a queer, non-binary feminist, and a lot of their digital artwork focuses on the LGBTQ+ experience and mental health. They see art as a tool to create, connect and bond with the queer, left-leaning community in Ottawa. Their work has resonated with a lot of people over the years including many “regulars” who buy almost everything they make either online or at local craft markets.
“I’ve joked about this before, but ultimately my target audience is Millennial and Gen Z queer, mentally ill people,” said Forman, half serious, half laughing. “I know it sounds quite niche when I say it like that, but there’s actually a huge market for it.”
Multidisciplinary arts producer Monica Bradford-Lea calls Luck and Lavender Studio “a gem of a company.” She first collaborated with Forman during the inaugural season of Ottawa’s UPROAR arts festival in August 2019.
“I walked past KJ’s booth at an art fair and immediately knew I had to go take a look. KJ is a talented, mindful and creative artist who advocates for everything I believe in and stand for,” said Bradford-Lea.
When Forman first launched their company at age 19, they called it Lucky Little Queer. But as they grew into who they are now, the name stopped fitting, so Forman decided to rebrand to Luck and Lavender Studio in 2022.
“I wanted the new name to still feel whimsical and have the word ‘luck’ in it because that’s a big part of it — I feel very lucky. And lavender has a lot of significance in the queer community,” they said.
“Being queer is still a very important part of my identity and my brand and who I am, but I am turning 27 now and I feel very different than when I was 19.”
The one thing Forman didn’t realize when they started selling their work was how many hats they’d have to wear. Finances and social media are the least comfortable hats, according to Forman.
“I never expected to be a businessperson,” they said.
With no background in business, Forman had to figure things out as they went and take a lot of risks. Spending money was, and continues to be, very challenging.
“But as a business-owner, I am slowly learning that if you want to make money, you have to spend a lot of money, and then hope it will pay off in the end. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
Maintaining a constant social media presence can also be difficult.
“I like communicating with people, I like having conversations, I like connecting with people through my art, but I don’t like having to be constantly putting out content,” said Forman, going on to acknowledge that while they don’t love social media, it would be “impossible to exist” as a DIY company without it.
Despite the challenges, Forman says they’ve experienced many moments of pride through their entrepreneurial journey and try not to take any of it for granted.
“Just thinking back to how much I’ve grown over the past few years is really awesome,” they said.
Looking ahead, there’s still so much Forman wants to do. Perhaps they’ll “take a huge leap” and open a brick-and-mortar store where they’ll sell their own art as well as art from other queer-makers around Canada. Or maybe they’ll establish a communal art hub of studios for local artists to sell and work out of.
Regardless of what their future has in store, Forman says this time of their life is all about “learning to dream bigger.”
“My childhood dream was to live in a small apartment with somebody I loved, maybe a cat, and just sell my art,” said Forman. “I have all that, now. I could go bigger if I wanted to. And what would that look like?”