Her tattoo of California keeps her grounded in a world of animated GIFs

Smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, Jess Gilliam is surrounded by the excitement, glamour and nonstop bustle indicative of New York City, population 8.6 million — a far cry from Paso Robles.
“Eight years. Time goes by so much faster now,” said the 29-year-old. “The biggest thing I’ve learned in New York is that I so deeply love California. Being here has made me appreciate it and it’s becoming increasingly important to come back,” said Gilliam.
Raised in Paso since seventh grade, Gilliam graduated from Paso Robles High School in 2007 before moving to San Francisco to earn her AA degree at the Institute for Fashion Design & Merchandising. In 2010, she moved to the East Coast, where she landed a job at Surface magazine. Gilliam expanded her skillset and social connections led to more work, including marketing coordination at the Tribeca Grand Hotel.
Enter 2013 and Her Pizza Place Run-in With Alex Chung.
“It was really crazy since the beginning. Alex talked about a new startup and asked me if I wanted to work on a project. It was pretty appealing, but risky, too, because most startups fail,” said Gilliam.
But GIPHY Kept Growing.
Jess describes GIFs as “short-form pieces of media, usually a few seconds long, that loop without sound.” One popular example of a GIF used on Facebook is of Michael Jackson in a movie theater, eating popcorn.
At GIPHY, Gilliam created a line of promotional materials and produced two art shows. Her role as GIPHY’s Brand Creative Director in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District involves team brainstorming to invent and fabricate GIPHY’s unique and whimsical office spaces.
“My mom, Sandy Frazee, has always has been so supportive and on board with any decision I’ve had,” said Gilliam, who advises other young adults to “work hard, find a good job, and take on as much as you can, but stay true to yourself. If you like sketching, devote yourself 100 percent and continue feeding your creative side, too. Don’t just be a crazy workaholic.”
“I’m making it more of a priority to work in creative projects that I’ve dabbled in and forced myself to make that time. My mom and I have just launched Paso Pups, high-quality, all-natural gourmet dog treats in six flavors, made without corn, wheat, or soy.”
For NYC’s appeal, Gilliam misses Paso Robles and ponders a permanent return. Her brother, Rich Gilliam, 26, lives in Paso. Her boyfriend, Nestor Judkins, also has family in California.
“I wouldn’t romanticize the subway,” Gilliam said dryly. “I miss driving. I miss open space. I miss animals! The city is amazing, but I never thought about missing the beautiful oak trees, walking around the park in Downtown Paso and going into Firefly, the General Store, Basil Restaurant, La Mexicana and Fish Gaucho for those pineapple jalapeño margaritas!”
“It Always Helps to Get Perspective.
Values change. Partly, it’s getting older and just realizing from a distance that being near family is really important to me,” said Gilliam. “It’s a bummer to call mom and not be able to say, ‘Do you want to get lunch on Sunday?’”
Until her return, Gilliam has a California tattoo on her arm to console her.
“I love spring and fall in New York, but I miss the California sunshine on my face,” said Gilliam. “I miss home.”

Publisher’s Note: Recently, I’ve been running into some of the college students I covered as high school athletes, and some are in a zone of not knowing what the rest of their lives will look like, or even what is next. Jessie Gilliam’s story supports my advice to all of us:
“Don’t be too committed to knowing what you will do for the rest of your life, or even what you are going to do next; but whatever you do, do your absolute best, so when you finally get into what it is you want to do for the rest of your life, you will be ready to be the best.” And the other thing I hope everyone wakes up everyday knowing, that we live in one of the best places in the entire world, and we are all rich because of it — we should find a way to recognize that — every day.