We chatted with floral artist Julie Whitehead ahead of her first solo exhibition:
Tell us a bit about yourself….
I’m an artist who is passionate about everything floral. As a young girl, I studied classical ballet for nearly 12 years where I was surrounded with beautiful and sometimes exotic tutus and lavish costumes. I must say ballet is all about graceful lines, flow and femininity. I adored all the drama, the flamboyant makeup and the choreographed performances. I must admit the discipline has stayed with me and has helped me with my work ethic and determination.
Throughout all this, I had a love of drawing and painting. One of the most exciting days of my life was being accepted into art school where I completed a Diploma in Art and Design, and a Graduate Diploma in Education. I went on to become a highly regarded and skilled chocolatier in my field, specializing in the wedding industry I created highly exotic chocolate extravaganzas that were admired and highly photographed.
The urge to start painting again was so strong I knew I couldn’t ignore it & before I knew it I had my easel out painting florals on large canvasses. Painting is like breathing to me, it was like going home. Now I am thrilled to concentrate full time on being a floral artist. I love painting peonies, roses, poppies as they have beautiful flowing petals & a beauty that reminds me of my ballet days. I am always checking out the local florists to see what blooms are in season.
Describe your art in a few words:
I’m obsessed with the delicate beauty & movement of florals and nature. I do tend to paint large floral paintings loving the bold statement they make reflecting a love of vibrant colour and movement. I’m constantly trying to capture how the light reflects on every flower depending on the time of day. Whether it is the glorious morning light or the more subtle subdued light at dusk each painting reflects a different mood.
How did you first get interested in painting and art?
I know the exact moment….. It was like I was hit by a lightning bolt! I will never forget my first day of school as a young 4-year-old. My teacher was finishing off a huge bold drawing of Goldilocks in vibrant coloured chalk. I was in complete awe, I hadn’t seen anything like it and was so excited, I knew I was hooked. That amazing colourful image sparked my creativity, all I wanted to do was draw and paint. To this day I resonate with bold strong dramatic colours & compositions. So the creative journey began.
Most people might think being a chocolate artist is a dream career, what’s the reality?
The reality of being a chocolate artist is an exciting profession that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed for many years. However, there were also many hours long days of work, sometimes working until 3am/4am in aircon set at 18 degrees painstakingly creating the chocolate decoration for a wedding, birthday or anniversary event. Always going above and beyond as I couldn’t help the creative urge.
Also working with a fragile product such as fine rich chocolate and delivering it safely could be a challenge. I did get so much joy from my clients who on one of the most important day of their lives were overwhelmed with what I had created for them. I loved my profession, my family and friends loved eating beautiful chocolate from all around the world. There were never any leftovers in my house!
What inspires your designs?
The magic of nature in particular floral inspires me. I love the femininity of flowers & the flowing petals. It’s all about colour, movement, fragility yet inner strength/resilience that the natural world exudes.
Peonies are amongst my favorites. Every flower has a different composition it’s like an explosion of petals that capture all my emotions. I really get caught up in their beauty & painting them on large canvasses larger than life helps me to represent them in all their majesty. I want my viewer to be immersed in the painting to see what I see and get lost in the passion & energy I put into every painting… The mood of the painting. Peonies flower in summer which is rare, with the most luxurious petals yet bloom majestically for a few days only. Not leaving much time to capture the moment & essence of their beauty.
I also adore poppies, roses, most flowers actually, however, some inspire me more with their colour and delicateness than others…. They are all so different & evoke different feelings in me. Its wonderful when I sell a painting & the client wants me to tell them the story behind it….. that inspires me to keep going on my painting journey.
Who or what influences your art?
Floral gardens absolutely influence me. Most of my holidays are now designed around strolling around acres of floral gardens. The most exciting trips were to the famous Chelsea flower show, a mass of exotic and wonderful floral and garden compositions in the UK. My trip to Japan during cherry blossom time was one of the highlights so far. I have loved cherry blossoms since I was a young girl never forgetting the stories my mum told me after her trip to Japan. The reverence the Japanese hold for these beautiful trees is amazing. Mum described how they tied up the branches with bamboo in winter to protect them against the snow as they are a national treasure….. I just had to get there to experience their beauty first hand. I wasn’t disappointed. I was overwhelmed by their beauty. I have completed 5 commissions of cherry blossom paintings since my trip to Japan.
Actually, my mum has had a considerable influence on my creative journey. We always had beautiful roses growing in our garden and I loved all the variety of colours and scents. She was also a dressmaker as was my grandmother so I was surrounded by metres of gorgeous flowing fabrics with sometimes exotic floral patterns. My senses always seemed to be stimulated.
What message do you hope to achieve with your art?
The message I hope to achieve with my art is “WOW, isn’t that beautiful” The enduring joy of bringing my floral paintings into their homes. To make a difference in someone’s life with the continued enjoyment my paintings bring. I want my clients to feel a real happiness with the gentle beauty they have hanging in their home. Something they will be excited and proud of the fact they have my original painting for their friends & family to also enjoy.
Who’s your favourite artist?
There are many artists I love however the artists from the renaissance & French impressionists’ period were all about dramatic light, movement & technical skill. Their paintings were sometimes quite intense which I love. There is something truly romantic about these periods that I draw inspiration from. Artist such as Rodin. Michelangelo, Renoir, Monet with his gorgeous waterlilies. I was captivated by more recent artists such as Richard Estes & Chuck Close who were into super-realism. The attention to detail was awe-inspiring.
If you could tell your younger ‘artist’ anything, what would it be?
Follow your passion and persist. Never let go of your dream. I remember when I was exhibiting my work for the first time and didn’t sell anything. Of course, I was shattered however it didn’t stop me from further exhibitions which lead to a successful outcome. It can be a bit of a roller coaster ride, you have keep going and if you don’t experience the lows you never experience the bliss and happiness of the rewards.
What’s the most common myth about artists?
The most common myth about artists is that it an easy profession. Everyone thinks they can do it. One of the biggest drawbacks about being a full-time artist is that it can be very isolating. It really is a solitary existence. You really need to be self-motivating, disciplined & entrepreneurial. You also need resilience to maintain focus and momentum in the inevitable ups and downs.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career so far was securing my first commission. Its acknowledgement that someone loves your work. A Melbourne collector came across my work and decided immediately to commission a major work. That was a real thrill for me even more so because the finished piece brought them to tears. This work now hanging in the foyer of my client’s residence welcomes visitors into a home which values quality original art. This client has commissioned further works. An ongoing highlight is engaging with people who love art.
What are the plans for the future?
I’m so excited to announce that I have a solo exhibition Floral Enchantment at the Graydon Gallery from 15 – 27 October. The opening night is on Thursday 17th October with the opening address by well-known fashion designer, Liz Golding. All are invited along, just RSVP to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org
My plan is to keep enjoying my painting and I have another exhibition in Bowral NSW scheduled for early next year. Who knows after that but…I’m aiming for an exhibition overseas.