Priscilla Witte pops the top off a black Magnum Sharpie and begins drawing her latest work on a freshly painted white wall, tracing a sketch that only she can see. The mural—of potted succulents and prickly cacti in decorative vessels—is a commission inside the Mar Vista, a much buzzed-about restaurant opening soon on Venice Blvd.
If you’ve dined at the Rose, enjoyed cocktails at the Tasting Kitchen’s bar, or tried the shishito peppers at Koreatown newcomer Here’s Looking At You, you’ve seen Witte’s work. The bold lines and playful portraiture, reminiscent of her art heroes Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein, add an air of levity.
Witte’s enviable “overnight” success story begins, as many stories do, with a job waiting tables. Raised in Clinton, New York, a rural town outside of the Adirondacks, she grew up spending as much time as possible outdoors and training as a competitive skater. After a summer trip to Hermosa Beach at 19, she hung up her skates and moved West.
“Now at 32, I’m still so in love with this beautiful state of California where the sun shines, and where there’s an opportunity to follow your passions and be who you want to be,” she says. Her passion, at first, was photography. She was living in Venice, notched a few successful gallery showings in the area, and between freelance projects, found steady work waiting tables at Venice Beach Wines.
It was the first in a string of new restaurants on a quickly developing street that would soon glean national attention as a hub for indie boutiques and up-and-coming chefs like Jason Neroni. (Neroni was the talent behind Cal-Ital restaurant Superba, before he was courted by restaurateur Bill Chait to run the kitchen at the Rose.)
As jobs rolled in, however, Witte became less enamored with the prospect of pursuing photography full-time. That, and a heartbreak, led her back to another creative outlet.
“I started drawing again, and I showed a girlfriend of mine the drawings,” Witte says. “She suggested I have a show. Close friends came, acquaintances came, and everyone said to me, ‘I didn’t know that you did this.’ I didn’t know either! It made me feel so good to have so many people take home pieces. I thought it was the coolest thing.”
She started making murals around Venice, her home for the past six years before a recent move to Culver City. In 2013, she illustrated a chalkboard wall at a new wine shop on Rose, which led to other requests, like a custom label for a small run of rosé they stocked in the summer.
She designed murals for the offices at NextSpace, a co-working office for tech startups on Windward Circle. It would later serve as an ad backdrop for Taylor Swift’s Keds collaboration, and as part of the campaign, Witte was flown to New York to ink up custom kicks for Vogue editors and other fashion insiders. She’s also designed for small apparel labels with big contracts, landing her signature style on tees and dresses at Urban Outfitters, Fred Segal, Nordstrom, Topshop, and TJ Maxx. Recently she partnered with Schutz, the Brazilian shoe brand, to customize pumps at a special in-store event in Beverly Hills and another to come in New York.
“My style is simplistic, to the point, quirky, and relatable,” she says. “When I create something, it comes from my life, my experiences, and my heart. It’s what I love to do, and what I think about all the time; it’s how I deal with emotions and how I stay sane.”
When Neroni reached out for art at the newly re-opened Rose restaurant, it was for murals on the bathroom stalls. Witte was thrilled—proudly Instagramming the day-by-day. She later sketched their chalkboard menus, and then designed a pattern for the wax papers used to wrap sandwiches. Now guests can pick up a souvenir Rose T-shirt with her signature “skater kid” illustration on it.
The modern Aloft hotel in El Segundo commissioned a poolside mural of tropical fish, and the Fairmont in El Segundo is up next. Witte also has a children’s book in the works, wants to pursue more magazine illustrations (in addition to the one she did for our January issue), and says the only thing she needs now to keep this momentum going is “more white walls.”
Once, a couple from California who had discovered her on Instagram even commissioned her to do a ceiling mural for the hotel they were opening in Croatia. “They asked me if I’d be interested. ‘Um, hello. No, I’m busy,’” she laughs. “When something as awesome as that happens, you say yes. It was beautiful and amazing. They are some of the greatest people, and Croatia is beautiful.”
And, she says, for as long as she can, when asked for art, the answer will always be yes. “I want it everywhere!” she says “Keep it coming. I just need more hands and for days to be longer. Please.”