Articles | Interview With Julia

An Interview With Julia Underwood - March 2019

Did you always want to be an Artist?

I was always making things as a child; sewing, drawing, cardboard and glue everywhere.
A Paint by Numbers Kit
Do you remember those Paint By Numbers kits?
You donít see them anymore, I loved them when I was small, and Spirograph and later there was a TV show called ĎPaint Along With Nancyí. Nancy Kominsky taught me all about proportions and how to grid a canvas and how much fun painting could be.
Drawing and painting was definitely a passion for me, but at school the arts were seen as non-core subjects, not something you could make a career from, so not as important.
Nancy Kominsky 1915 - 2011
I had one art teacher who for a 2 hour lesson placed a pile of magazines in the middle of the table and said find a photo and copy it. Then he disappeared to work on his book cover illustrations and at the end of the lesson never even looked at what weíd produced. This experience wasnít unique, even at art college, being told that we should all plan to study for an extra year of teacher training because we were unlikely to be able to make a living as artists. So I think I did always want to be an artist but I didnít believe it was possible.

How does painting make you feel?

I don't think about anything else when I paint; no problems, worries or pain, I'm totally focused on what I'm doing. It brings me a real sense of peace, these days they call it 'mindfulness'. Viewing art that I love can instil the same feelings, I remember visiting the Tate and seeing one of Monets' paintings of water lilies, it was a huge piece and beautiful, I was entranced, theyíd kindly placed a bench in front of it and I could have sat there all day.

One of the many Water Lilies paintings by Claude Monet - 1920

What does Art mean to you?

Having Crohns Disease for 33 years now, has at times been very isolating, there are periods when Iím not able to leave my home and Iím not physically able to do things that I want to. Without my art I think I would have struggled mentally to deal with having a lifelong condition. So Iím very grateful that I have a world I can loose myself in and being able to produce artwork and sell it all over the world for a living is amazing.

Why do you paint in so many different styles?

I enjoy the freedom of Abstract painting, focusing on colour and form, but I also enjoy the discipline of landscapes and portraits. I quite often work on more than one painting at a time in different styles and I enjoy all of them. Thereís a lot of pressure on artists to choose a theme, one subject and / or style and create a series of paintings (8 or 10) which are all similar. Once youíve done that itís acceptable to do something a little different but not too much. Work must show progression and growth but in a linear way. I realise this is easier for galleries to market but I find the idea that if youíve had success painting portraits that is all your able to paint restrictive and uninspiring. Thankfully with the rise of the online market allowing artists to market themselves this is shifting. My consistent theme is that I don't create images that make me sad. I respect artists whose passion (for example) is to document human conflict, it's important work, but for me, thereís enough of that in the world already so I choose not to add to it. I like the Feng Shui philosophy that the images and colour you surround yourself with influence your state of mind and wellbeing and psychologists back this up (a whole other article). I hope what I paint will be uplifting and make the viewer feel happy, content and relaxed.

And why the miniature paintings?

Small paintings are really good for creating a work quickly, getting an idea out of my head and onto a canvas in days instead of weeks and not everyone can afford a large piece of art or has the space. Plus, if it works well as a miniature, Iíll sometimes use it as a starting point for a larger painting.

Do you ever struggle for ideas or get artists block?

Not Yet! Generally, my head is so full of ideas for new paintings that I canít keep up! By the time Iíve finished painting an abstract work Iíve got a load of sketches for a completely different new work that Iím burning to paint. Thatís why its hard to then paint another 7 abstract paintings while the passion for the new work is still trapped in my sketch book. Working this way is what works best for me and although it takes longer my work does eventually build into a series of cohesive themes.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Colours and feelings are important to me. Sometimes Iíll see two colours together that create a mood and Iíll try and create an image that conveys that. I constantly have new ideas buzzing around in my head. I wake up with new ideas, anything around me could inspire a new direction Ė the colour of something or a view and when other people ask me to create paintings for them then this could also take me in another new direction.

I was commissioned to create a Feng Shui Koi fish painting and asked if I could add some frogs, I would not have thought to add them to the lily pads but loved painting them. I enjoy creating commissioned work, itís a joy collaborating with someone and encouraging them to explore their ideas and producing a finished painting for them from our combined vision, and a real pleasure when they say "that's exactly what I wanted".

What's your process for creating a painting?

Because I have so many ideas that I want to explore I make a lot of sketches, so I can get the idea on paper before I forget it or it morphs into another idea. These are not polished sketches but the starting point that I will come back to and work on if I want to pursue the idea further. They often include notes with arrows, like; "make this darker" or swatches of colours. Occasionally I'll just pick a blank canvas and put it on my easel, mix up a colour that inspires me and start painting, itís so freeing, there's no expectations, no deadlines, just enjoying painting and seeing what happens.

What does the future hold?

I'm really enjoying the Feng Shui paintings, I want to do more of the Koi fish with different numbers and combinations of fish. I loved painting Angels and am learning more about them in order to create some more paintings and as there's so much interesting information I may write another article about their meaning in art.
A long-term passion has been photographing and painting pathways so I'm sure there will be more of them and I'm currently doing research for another Feng Shui article into their meaning too.

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