Julia, have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’m very lucky to be doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I loved drawing and painting as a child and always wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Looking back on my school reports my teachers reinforced this by saying that art was all I was interested in. My family had lots of art books that I used to look at all the time and I was fascinated by the Impressionists and Pre Raphaelites. I am actually distantly related to John Everett Millais. My parents had a few Turner sunset seascape prints on the wall that fired my imagination and looking back they must have been a great influence on me. Even as a child I knew I wanted to go to art school. Growing up in the land locked Midlands I always wanted to be near the sea so I chose to go to college in Brighton to do my BA in Fine Art. I have always felt driven to paint and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Your art is inspired by the sea and the horizon, giving the viewer a sense of space and infinity; has this always been your style of choice and if so why?
Now I think of myself as a seascape painter, but when I was younger my work was more abstract. At art college, I became interested in the American Abstract Expressionists and painted large messy canvasses. I was always slightly troubled about not having a recognisable figurative element, but I loved the creative process of mark-making and seeing where the liquidity of the paint took me with splashes and drips. My work is less chaotic these days and I feel that I am craving a calmness now I am older. I have been painting seascapes for the last decade and feel that I now have enough inspiration from living by the sea to always do this. I feel that I have found my niche and I never seem to tire of horizons, wild skies and light on water.
How would you describe your creative process?
Sometimes I begin a painting with no idea how it will turn out, but more often I am thinking of a view that has recently made an impression on me.
Lately, I have been concerned with minimalism in my work and have tried to capture a stillness that I have experienced during the lockdown. I have been aiming to express the timeless feeling of calm experienced when staring at the sea.
I enjoy painting with my hands and with sponges as well as brushes. I paint with oil on canvas and often use the paint straight from the tube and mix it on the canvas with my fingers to get a blurry look. With my calm seascapes, I like to blend the paint to achieve a gradual ombre effect. I don’t draw or sketch beforehand, I start work straight on to the canvas as I like to experiment with colour and paint to see what happens.
With my more complex sunsets, I tend to layer the paint, starting with a first layer of neon acrylic which can shine through to give light to the picture. Then when that’s dry I build up the oil paint on top to give contrast and texture.
Where do you seek inspiration?
The sea provides me with endless inspiration and I am particularly interested in the horizon and its symbolism. This last year I have been mesmerised by the bright light on the horizon and have painted a series of seascapes depicting this, some of which have turned out to be quite simple and abstract. One thing I’ve been fascinated with since I moved to the coast is the amazing light on the sea and how it changes so quickly. It can go from shimmering lightness to moody grey in minutes. The sunsets in Hastings have been stunning lately and really captivated me. I have recently painted a few bright coloured expressive sunsets, which have made a nice change from the calm blue horizons. Now that I live in Sussex I try to spend as much free time as I can on the beach. My studio is a Summerhouse in my garden that I’ve named “Sealight Studio”. It has a lovely view of the sky and sea that constantly inspires me.
How has the last year in Lockdown been for you?
2020 was a very sad and scary year for everyone and when the pandemic hit I was in the process of leaving London after 30 years to move to Hastings. It was quite a stressful time with a rollercoaster of emotions but, against all the odds, everything fell into place. It was a really tough decision to make, as I’d been in London since leaving art college and I had a great studio to paint in. They say when you leave London you can never go back. I used to think it was because you couldn’t afford to go back, but now I realise, if you can find a better quality of life in a nicer place, why would you? I would never trade my new sea view house and garden for the tiny one-bedroom flat and expensive art studio I had in the big smoke. I feel like I have found some peace and it’s been incredibly inspirational for my painting, being close enough to the sea to hear it.
What does a typical day look like for you?
After being woken early by my two hungry tabby cats, Elvis and Iggy, I usually do some admin, answering emails, social media, updating galleries, etc. and then, in the afternoon, I like to paint. My favourite time to work is between midday and 6 pm.
With my lovely little Summerhouse studio in my garden and the sea views, I have no excuse not to go to work. It’s such a short walk I can’t even blame bad weather to stay home. In fact, stormy rainy days look fantastic with the dark clouds over the sea and the light on the water. In the evening I enjoy cooking a nice vegan dinner, with a glass of wine, while watching a movie with my partner and the cats.
Which artists, living or deceased most inspire/influence your work?
I have always found art, especially painting to be very exciting. I love following the linear progression that a lot of Twentieth Century painting seems to have with the evolution into modernism and expressionism. I have hardly any interest in the old masters and find them mainly boring and uninspiring. Big favourites of mine are Turner and Rothko. I especially love the almost abstract qualities of Turner’s later sunsets and seascapes, many of which are in Tate Britain. I also love the Rothko room in Tate Modern and the weirdness of his simplicity. Albert Irvin’s large abstract colourful paintings are superb and I can really get lost in them. I find the movement and use of paint mesmerising.
Do you like to listen to music when you create, if so what sort of music do you listen to?
Yes, I always listen to music when I’m working and feel that it has an influence on how the painting turns out. I really get “in the zone” when painting and sometimes a song lyric jumps out at me and becomes the title. I think that gives the painting extra depth and makes it more interesting. I’ve always been mad for music since I was little and had to beg to be allowed to watch Top of the Pops when it was past my bedtime. I still love all the stuff I grew up with from Glam to Punk and New Wave. The Beatles were and still are one of my all-time favourites. I love the 60s and 70s music like The Byrds, The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Slade. In recent years I’ve been listening to a lot of folk particularly Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and Johnny Flynn.
If you had one piece of advice for someone seeking a career in art what would it be?
Experiment and enjoy yourself! As long as you like what you have created someone else will, too. Join an online gallery like Art2Arts and start selling your work. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone chooses to buy your work out of all the thousands of other artworks available.
If you had a dinner party and could invite 3 guests, living or deceased who would they be and why?
I think I’d want a rock and roll evening with more party than dinner, so I’d invite John Lennon and Paul McCartney, to reunite them to see what they had to say to each other. I’d also invite David Bowie to join us because he had such a great sense of humour and was so incredibly interesting. That would be a fun evening!
What does the future look like for you?
I’m much more positive about the future than I have been for a long time, despite the pandemic and these uncertain times. I feel settled now and intend to paint as much as I can whilst exploring my new surroundings in Sussex. I’m also very much looking forward to the pubs opening and seeing some live music!