Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Interview with artist Julia Harris

(September 12, 2009)

Sometimes, art can be quite a sombre subject. So it was with great pleasure that I was introduced to the work of watercolourist Julia Harris, who combines not only considerable technical ability, but also a great deal of humour and lightness in her work, depicting scenes that are accessible.

Julia lives and works in mid Wales. Her work, as with most artists, is influenced by her mood when painting. However, her mood seems mostly upbeat ... her work has a lightness of touch and depicts jovial scenes, with a refreshing watercolour technique. Her use of colour is especially pleasing. Julia recounts that people often describe her work as, "... energetic, vibrant and theatrical ..."; apt descriptions of her work.

Very much influenced by her beautiful surroundings, her paintings depict scenes as disparate as wildlife and cattle, to delicate flower studies.

Julia Harris 1
 'Cows at Large', Julia Harris

CC ... There is a wonderful sense of playfulness in your work, especially with regards your colour choices, how important is colour to you?

JH ... 'I love mixing colours, I use a very limited palette. For example if I am painting a picture of cows I will probably only use ultramarine, raw umber and maybe a little Payne’s grey for the eyes and body definition. For their noses I use a yellow and a little red. Using  only these colours, I can create a wide spectrum of tones (shades). I  load my brush with both colours and using a lot of water  makes the result somewhat unpredictable, but still controlled.'

CC ... In your biography on your website (link below) you say that the area you live in is a tremendous inspiration to you. How does it influence your work?

JH ... 'I  live in on the outskirts of a little village called Beulah, where my studio overlooks the Epynt Mountains, with its ever changing light. It is amazing - in a few minutes the sky and land colour will change dramatically. I often give myself little exercises to catch these changing scenes.

'And, of course, the farmland and animals. Sheep are my closest neighbours. The inspiration for my cows came as I walked up the lane one day and saw three cows. As I watched them going up, turning their heads and again on the way down, the impression I had looking at them was they were thinking ‘I wonder where she has been’. This was the start of my popular cow pictures.'

Julia 2
'Feeding Time', Julia Harris

CC ... You work is primarily in watercolour, but also in other media. Would you say that watercolour is your preferred medium?

JH ... 'I love the challenge of working in watercolour. It is such an unpredictable, unforgiving medium, but when it works, it is a joy to paint. One has to take into account the type of paper you are working with - I prefer a medium weight Bockingfords. Also in the equation is the temperature. Summer days being much warmer, the wet into wet paint will dry much quicker - you have to move the paint around the paper quickly. The results are more dramatic than on wet winter days, even with central heating!'


Julia 3
Full of Christmas Spirit', Julia Harris

CC... You grew up in Swansea and were greatly influenced by one of your teachers - Mr Griffith at Cwmtawe Secondary School - who inspired you to create a portfolio of work. Was art and artistic expression always close to your heart?

JH ... 'From a small child I have had a pencil in my hand,.I love painting. If I do not paint for a few days I have a physical ache until I get into my studio.  At school ,my art teacher was very encouraging and helped me in more ways than one. If it were not for him I would not have gone to Art College. He gave me lots of work to do to make up my portfolio for my entrance examination to the Swansea College of Art.
'I was one of the youngest students there, as I was accepted at the age of 15 years.'

Julia 4
'Hare', Julia Harris

CC ... After producing your portfolio, you went on to study fashion and design at Swansea College of Art. That must have been an exciting experience.

JH ... 'After my foundation year I did a City & Guilds course in Dress and Design. At 16 you are greatly influenced by the fashion icons around. It was an exciting time, with designers like Mary Quant and Ossie Clarke, and not forgetting Barbara Hulanicki of Biba, to name but a few. Now that I am older ... I would like to have done a fine arts degree.'

Julia 5
'Harvest', Julia Harris

CC ... Would you recommend undertaking an art degree to aspiring artists?

JH ... 'I would recommend undertaking an art course whether it is to degree standards, or for pleasure.

'I had thought about returning to college to further my education in the arts, but have decided against it. I think because I have taught myself how to paint and how to use the different mediums, which is probably not to the text book, I am a little afraid that if I now try to conform to a standard method of accepted methods, it would not be me, or my work anymore. That statement might not make sense to others, but it is how I feel about things now. Does that make sense to you?'

Julia 6
'No Moo Snow', Julia Harris

CC ... How would you advise someone who feels that undertaking a degree or college course is not right for them, but still has an interest in producing artwork and exhibiting?

JH ... 'Do what makes you happy. I attend art workshops to learn new methods, and to meet like-minded people. You will learn a lot more from your fellow artist and what you want, or need to know, to develop your own personal skills and inner enjoyment.'

Julia 7
'Right Leg Forward', Julia Harris

CC ... Do you have a favourite artist, or one who inspires you?

JH ... 'I love Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, for their figure work and use of colour. I went to the Klimt exhibition at Tate Modern in Liverpool and was enthralled. Georgia O'Keeffe; again I was lucky enough to go to her exhibition in Santa Fe a couple of years ago. I am greatly influenced by people like John Blockley and Michael Morgan. Two other artists whose work I really love is Janet Weight Reed and Joan Baker.'

CC ... You started exhibiting your work in 2006 at the A-Frame gallery in Brecon, and sold a considerable number of pieces on the first evening of the exhibition. That is a fantastic achievement for any artist and must have given you considerable confidence in your work.

JH ... 'A-Frame is now called the Ardent Gallery. They gave me my first exhibition, being a new gallery themselves they gave unknown artists, like me, the opportunity to exhibit. Luckily I am among those who still exhibit there, and my work sells well. I have quite a following now - of people who are collecting my Cow and Hare pictures.  My last exhibition at the Ardent Gallery was my most exciting to date. I had painted a series of 12 pictures for my Moo Ear Calendar 2009, the originals to be sold at the gallery. On the night, the gallery sold the complete set to one person, plus two other pieces of work. They sold 30 pictures over the two weeks of my exhibition there.'

Julia 8
Love me love me not, Julia Harris

CC ... What does it mean to you when someone appreciates and loves your work so much that they decide to purchase a piece?

JH ... 'When the couple bought the set of twelve painting, your tummy flips over, you cannot believe that someone liked them enough to buy the complete set, there were people there who wanted to buy a particular one, (which I had commissions for to paint a similar theme) which gave the whole evening a buzz that will always remain with me.'

CC ... Your work depicting scenes involving your comic cow characters have proved especially popular, with a considerable number of these pieces having been sold. Do you think this is the style of painting that most people associate you with?

JH ... 'Yes, I was at a Welsh Council Craft Show one day and a lady said I recognise you; you are the ‘Cow Lady’ Which I took as a complement.'

CC ... This work also forms part of a calendar you have produced. It's wonderful that you are using your work in such a commercial sense and offering something a little different. Is it hard to balance artistic expression with a successful commercial venture?

JH ... 'One has to be practical. I  paint because I love painting. I paint cows because they are the painting people like to buy. This gives me the income to indulge myself, sometimes with paintings that I can express the real me. So one day I will have an "essential me" exhibition; for people to see what ticks behind the cow lady.'

Julia 9
Getting ready, Julia Harris

CC ... Has there ever been a time when you've wanted to give up painting? For example, because of the difficulties in getting your work recognised or established.'

JH ... 'No. I am the eternal optimist and I have a dream. And dreams, if you want them bad enough, do come true.'

CC ... What advice would you give to an artist who is struggling to secure exhibition space, or become established?

JH ... 'Look at the galleries that your pictures would look at home in. Most galleries favour a similar style, on the whole. I do not walk in with my portfolio, it is in the car close by. If the opportunity arises I introduce myself, and if they are not busy they will look at your portfolio, or make an appointment for a later date. But do not despair at rejection; it’s all part of life. I have had my work rejected and the gallery did not even look at my work; so I thought ‘more fool you’.

'I also do shows and craft fairs this has also brought me exhibitions and work. In fact, if anyone has wall space go and ask them if you can fill it, because your work will not sell sitting in your studio. But someone having a cup of tea at a little tea shop may be the one person you need to get you off the ground.'

CC ... Your work is currently on exhibition and available for sale at a number of locations. Would you tell us about them?

JH ... '2009 has been a busy year. From 15 and 16th August I will be at the Dylan Thomas Theatre in Swansea. From the 22nd to 29th the Victorian Festival in Llandrindod Wells, August Bank Holiday Weekend at the Summer Fair at the Brecon Beacons National Parks.

'Forthcoming exhibitions September at Picton Castle in Haverford West.
'I have work exhibited at the Moma Gallery in Machynlleth until the end of Sept as part of Tabernacle art competition of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

'October at Tyn-y-Hall Gallery in Bala .

'I am also a member of the Picture Makers, we are a group of artist who meet up in Aberystwyth once a month and organise exhibitions.  Our next one will be titled Mynydd y Soar to be held at the Cambrian Gallery in Tregaron

'To get updates of my exhibitions please visit my web site exhibitions page

'My work can be seen at Thee Cocks Coaching House Hotel, Three Cocks, Brecon and Art Matters, White Lion Street, Tenby.

CC ... Do you have any exhibitions planned for 2010?

JH ... 'From December 2010 to January 2011 I will have an exhibition at the Courtyard Gallery,

'Ardent Gallery ... to be arranged.'

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