Julie has just turned 70. For most of her life, she has been a stay-at-home mom, bringing up her 2 children, who are now adults with their own lives and children.
But my sister Julie is also an accomplished watercolour artist. On a hot, sticky summer’s day late last December, we sat down together with a cup of tea and we chatted about her art.
This is her story as I heard it and in my words.
Julie was never interested in being what she calls a “tuck shop mom”, so about 40 years ago, with both children in school, she found she had time on her hands. As an avid library goer, she took out some books on watercolour painting and was inspired enough to buy some cheap paint and brushes.
She started out using images from books and magazines as reference images for her learning about watercolour painting. Having never studied art at school, over the years she has constantly persevered, working by herself through trial and error to find her own style. She decided not to go to lessons as she wanted to develop her own style rather than being influenced by her teacher. After selling a few paintings at exhibitions, she was able to buy better paints and papers and to refine her style.
The Glazing Queen
She has been described as the “glazing queen” because she is very good at using the technique of overlaying transparent washes known as glazing, where she builds up layer upon layer of “pure colour” to achieve a special transparency. She describes her style as a “detailed, close up view of things, primarily flowers, botanicals and birds” with occasional dabbling in other areas such as landscapes. She is a realistic painter, painting what she sees in the natural world around her.
After doing some commissions for people, she was asked if she could give lessons, which she did from her home for 15 years as a way to earn a little money. I asked her if she felt she was a good teacher. She said that she was a bit critical of her students at times but they still came back for lessons every week.
After her stroke in 2009, Julie hit a “dry patch” and she did not paint for 3 or 4 years, thinking “why bother?” But as she recovered, she realised that painting was something that she knew how to do, almost instinctively and she took up her brushes again, much to family and friends’ delight.
In 2015, she invested in a decent camera, so she could take her own reference photos and work with these on her computer. Again, she taught herself most of this with a little help from her IT enabled sister, aka me! When she works from her own photos, she believes that she is able to instil her own feelings into the painting.
I asked her some other questions about her art:
- Why watercolours as a genre?
“I never liked oils”. When she started painting, watercolours were very much in vogue and also cheaper to buy in South Africa.
- How is your personality reflected in your work?
“When I sell a work, it boosts my confidence. Somebody likes what I produced enough to buy it and can feel what I am trying to portray in the painting. When someone buys [a painting], it validates my choice of subject and why I painted it – its an acknowledgement of me!”
- Can you remember your first painting and how many have you’ve sold?
“Yes, it was a little snow scene, but I have no idea what happened to it”. In terms of sales, “too many to keep track of!” She mentioned that she has two dedicated “collectors” of her work, each of them own 13 of her paintings: “this gives me great satisfaction”.
As a self-taught artist, Julie has achieved recognition of her work by the Water Colour Society of South Africa (WSSA). In 1998, Julie achieved the Branch Signature level. This is an introductory level, where 6 paintings are sent to a selection committee over time. In 2001, she gained her Associateship with 10 paintings selected over 10 years. She has been a member of the Upper South Coast Art Association for 26 years.
Julie and I exhibited her watercolours and my photographs under the title of “Dewel Vision” at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival in 2001. She makes an effort to participate in exhibitions when she can, as there is always someone who sells at an exhibition.
As for the future, Julie is determined to continue to paint and exhibit.