A Wind­ing Road

Arabella - - CLAUDE LANGEVIN - writ­ten by Mark Bla­grave

Ju­lia Har­g­reaves’s path to be­com­ing a full-time wildlife artist has had many turns. Although she cher­ished the dream from an early age, her aca­demic for­ma­tion took the form of get­ting an MA, an MBA, and a Pgdip in Mar­ket­ing. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, she be­came a graphic de­signer for the gov­ern­ment in her na­tive UK, while man­ag­ing to keep up her own art on the side and show­ing and sell­ing in gal­leries. On a chance trip to Van­cou­ver, she de­cided she wanted to live in Canada, cit­ing its unique com­bi­na­tion of cos­mopoli­tan city and splen­did nat­u­ral sur­round­ings. A bonus, dis­cov­ered later, was the light, which she Im­mi­grat­ing with her hus­band in 2001, Ju­lia worked at a num­ber of odd jobs, in­clud­ing per­son­nel place­ment, weigh­ing trucks, and even driv­ing a loader. Be­ing se­lected as one of 20 artists into the Ducks Un­lim­ited Na­tional Art Port­fo­lio in it was time to de­vote her­self full-time to her art. She cred­its her school head­mas­ter in part for her de­ter­mined ap­proach, cit­ing his morn­ing-assem­bly pep talk “about a tribe of hunters who, as pos­si­ble, then go a day far­ther.’ I re­mem­ber ad­vice, gleaned sec­ond-hand from a fash­ion il­lus­tra­tor known for his re­mark­able de­tail, has also helped her along the way. When asked how he achieved the level of de­tail in his il­lus­tra­tions, he sim­ply said: “I just kept work­ing into it.”

Happy Medium

Ju­lia’s move to Canada rep­re­sented a fresh start with a less fa­mil­iar medium too. While she had pro­duced mostly wa­ter­colours in the UK, ad­vice about mar­ket pref­er­ences from gallery own­ers in her new coun­try prompted a move to acrylics. She is now at home in the new medium, not­ing the ad­van­tages she sees in its fast-dry­ing prop­er­ties and in the po­ten­tial for lay­er­ing that acrylics of­fer. Work­ing di­rectly on white ges­soed board op­ti­mizes the abil­ity of the un­der­paint­ing to show through, pro­vid­ing clean bright high­lights. Ju­lia likes a re­ally pris­tine board, very care­fully pre­pared, of­ten sanded up to eight times. Com­po­si­tion is mostly set

when tak­ing ref­er­ence pho­tos, us­ing trans­fer paper for get­ting her work­ing sketch onto the pris­tine board. Other el­e­ments may be added as the work pro­gresses. Small brushes al­low her to build up the de­tail painstak­ingly. “My aim is to bring the viewer in close, to see the beauty of na­ture’s minu­tiae.” Her suc­cess is summed up nicely in an anec­dote she tells about a buyer who wanted a writ­ten state­ment that a piece was ac­tu­ally a paint­ing and not a pho­to­graph or ma­nip­u­lated digital im­age. While the ab­sence of sur­face tex­ture on her work sug­gests an ex­treme de­vo­tion to evok­ing three di­men­sions in two, Ju­lia did have an ad­ven­ture in 3D with her work on the pop-up bird­ing guide Bird­scapes. “The paper engi­neer­ing for the pop-up part was amaz­ing, “she re­calls, “and I had to paint all the tiny pieces that would be­come the most fan­tas­tic 3D spreads, from the Sono­ran Desert to the Arc­tic Oprah as a top-20 Christ­mas book-buy in 2008.


Among artists whose work has in­spired her, Ju­lia cites Ray­mond Har­ris Ching: “He paints feath­ers that look so soft, I swear a ad­mires the glow­ing painterly cityscapes and land­scapes of the late Ken Auster. In her stu­dio, Ju­lia keeps an in­spi­ra­tion board, in­clud­ing im­ages from other artists and news­pa­per clip­pings and media im­ages. How­ever, she notes that “Most of my sub­ject mat­ter comes from my own yard or neigh­bour­hood.” “When I started paint­ing years ago, “Ju­lia re­calls, “I re­mem­ber be­ing im­pressed by a su­perb paint­ing of a hum­ble robin and a

dan­de­lion and re­al­ized that I didn’t have to travel to ex­otic lo­ca­tions to be a wildlife artist.” She keeps col­lec­tions in­clud­ing dead bugs, feath­ers, egg shells, nests, rocks, shells, and even dead birds in her freezer, at hand to in­form her work. “I can’t go for a walk with­out see­ing things I want to paint,” she says. “If I didn’t love it so much it would be a curse.”

In Na­ture

As a wildlife artist, she also trav­els on wilder­ness ex­pe­di­tions, spend­ing weeks at a time do­ing soak­ing up the am­bi­ence. This is es­sen­tial work Ju­lia in­evitably works ex­ten­sively from her ref­er­ence pho­tos, but she has this ad­vice: “It is good to paint from life, ei­ther in the stu­dio or plein air. That way you’re paint­ing di­rectly from the sub­ject and in­vari­ably your work would be more au­then­tic and true to life than a de­tailed ren­der­ing from pho­to­graphs.” She points in her own case to decades of ex­pe­ri­ence paint­ing from life as en­abling her “to work from pho­to­graphs with­out los­ing the fresh­ness,

which is achieved from di­rect ob­ser­va­tion.” She runs with her dog every morn­ing and, when she gets the op­por­tu­nity, she does wilder­ness ca­noe trips. “I love the soli­tude of the wilder­ness, “she says. “I feel so safe and re­laxed, like I was wel­come and be­ing there was the most nat­u­ral thing.”

In Na­ture

Ju­lia Har­g­reaves has been cho­sen 3 times for the Leigh Yawkey Wood­son, ‘Birds in Art’ ex­hi­bi­tion and her work was cho­sen twice for the US tour. They choose 100 pieces from the top bird artists world­wide, and 50 of these are cho­sen for the US tour mak­ing it a real hon­our. Ju­lia states, “The ex­hi­bi­tion do­cents tell me that peo­ple col­lect around my paint­ings look­ing for the tiny in­sects I put into the pieces. It’s one of my spe­cial­ties.” You can find the im­pres­sive work of Ju­lia Har­g­reaves at the fol­low­ing gal­leries:

This Page, right, TLC, acrylic on can­vas, 16” x 24”

Pre­vi­ous Page, Vine­yard Hide­away, acrylic on can­vas, 14” x 20” This Page, top left, Young Fe­male Wolf, acrylic on can­vas, 12” x 18” right, Lupa – She Wolf, acrylic on can­vas, 12” x 16”

Pre­vi­ous Page left top, June Pe­onies, acrylic on can­vas, 16” x 24” right, Warm Af­ter­noon in May, acrylic on can­vas, 14” x 20” This Page right, Signs of Spring, acrylic on can­vas, 16” x 20”

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