Julie West was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about life, art, and her creative process. The result? A delightful interview that we're happy to post on the Bluebottle Blog.
Ladies and gents, meet Julie West.
BB: Your latest Bluebottle show, “Peculiar Picnic,” seems to play a lot with themes of sensuality, femininity, and innocence. There's a fairy tale quality to the images that evokes (for me) the weird, magical feeling of the first years of living on your own as a young adult. What are these images about for you?
JW: I think that my pieces mean something rather different to me than they do to most people. However, that is not a bad thing. I am fully aware that others with take meaning from things especially when they are more story or situational images like mine.
If I look at the whole group of images together, they do have some meaning across all of them. I really enjoy putting characters into quite uncomfortable or awkward situations. I always struggle to describe this part of my work … I think it is just that I simply find humor in putting people into situations that they would not normally be in (i.e., sitting half naked in the forest with a bear head on and drinking tea). There is a weird level of control over images where I decide what happens and what people are doing — how they are, where they are. This has always been a bit strange to me, so I think over time I have tried to push that idea.
I can recall years ago when I was in school and I first became aware of the idea that pictures are "looked at." When they are character-based images, I think that I put my own feelings into how it would feel to be "looked at" in your own environment — it evokes a bit of self consciousness that I think in turn I put into the characters.
BB: Your female characters, in particular, feel so real (in spite of being rather surreal). Who are your character inspirations?
JW: I am inspired by people in general —I am definitely a people watcher.
It’s fun to just sit and look at people, how different they are, and imperfect they are. In my own way, I think I am making my own version of "perfect people." But at the same time they are so opposite of that… a bit awkward. This is a commonality I see amongst a lot of human forms – they want to be perfect, but are really something a bit different.
BB: What's the relationship between your commercial work and your personal work? Do you see them as separate entities, or do they bleed together?
JW: Well, they do overlap in that the style I use is essentially the same. Commercial work is different in that I have to think about it from a more removed standpoint than my personal work. This used to be a struggle for me, but now it is just a challenge—I enjoy both the same amount. Usually.
BB: What's the deal with birds?
JW: In my work, birds used to represent a character’s soul or personality, particularly because the characters lack expression. I don't use this as an idea so much anymore. However, they have kind of just stuck around. They are as important as the actual characters themselves, I suppose, since they evolved together.
BB: What's your least favorite part about being a working artist? And your favorite part?
JW: My least favorite part is that it is easy for me to be distracted and stay motivated at times. Time management is a bit of an issue, but I think that stress is part of what motivates me. Stress comes before the feeling of accomplishment.
I think everything else is my favorite part. I have no complaints, and would not change it for anything.
BB: You're quite prolific. How do you deal with creative blocks? Do you even have them?
JW: I do have them. However, strangely I only have them with personal work. Commercial work tends to be easy for me in that regard.
I do a lot of drawings at once. So the reality is that I am not drawing or being truly creative all the time. I may go back and use something I drew last month and make something out of it. I tend to have ideas in groups. I’ve found that it’s best to get them all out at once and utilize them later if necessary.
BB: I read recently that you are fairly deliberate in your artistic process, that you plan the images out in your head well in advance of making drawings. Have you always worked this way, or is this something you've developed over time?
JW: I think a bit of both. I think that I have always had ideas that roll around in my head and pop back up. Those are the better ones. I have found that if I let an idea sit in there a bit longer, the final result is closer to how I imagined, simply because I have worked out some of the finer details and fleshed out the entire idea first.
BB: As someone who has a fairly robust career, what advice do you have for young illustrators?
JW: Well… I think that… this is always such a hard question. I think the main thing to me is to sell what you love and what you are good at. Not what you think is popular or will make you money. If you have passion for something the result is usually better than if it is forced.