interviewed by Juanita Canzoneri
So what is it that you do?
How is that different from what our other member, Teri Rowan, does?
I do landscape, wildlife, nature photography, and it’s not digitally enhanced in any way. So I just try to capture the image as my eye sees it. The only enhancement I do is so that I can match the finished image with what my eyes saw when I took it.
You’re working with a digital camera, so, in essence, all photography today, unless it’s film, is digital.
When did you start doing photography?
When we lived in Indiana, I started taking pictures of barns, trees, and some of the landscape. This was in the late 1990’s. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I knew I liked it. And when we moved to Colorado in 2004, I was completely inspired by the scenery here. We had an RV so we did a lot of camping and hiking and we would go to these amazing places and I really had an interest in trying to capture those images.
So, on my 40th birthday my husband bought me a “real camera”.
What did you have up to that point?
Just little point and shoots that I’d been using. But he got me a digital SLR Sony camera. So I started taking pictures like crazy. And for me, I’m entirely self-taught with photography. I’ve taken a few classes here and there since I’ve done this professionally with art shows, but for me it’s been a lot of trial and error. I had one grizzly bear in the Tetons I took over 500 pictures of and probably only saved a couple of them. But it’s been a matter of me learning how to set my camera settings, an my aperture setting speed and how do those work together, and what are the effects I get when I change those things to take an image. I still take a lot of shots of everything I shoot because the lighting is different in every second.
Because I take so many photos, I tend to spend a lot of time editing and I do see that as part of the art of this process. Sometimes what my eye sees and what I take in through the lens, when I pull it up on my computer it doesn’t look like what I thought I saw. So that’s part of the image manipulation in a slight way, not overworked. I don’t want to work my images so much that the become not what you would see in nature. My ultimate goal is for it to look real and I want to capture images in nature that other people might not be able, or privileged, to see.
I’ve learned a lot along the way how to work the camera to get the image that you want.
What is this camera you have here?
This is a Canon EOS 5D. It’s my first full-frame camera. A full frame allows me to take a very large image.
How many lenses do you have?
For the 2 Sony’s I have interchangeable lenses. I probably have 8 lenses for them. For this Canon I have 3 that I work with primarily. Mostly I shoot with my 50mm-80mm for landscapes. I have another that allows me to do extreme closeups for wildlife and a macro that I use for closeup images.
And I have tripods and remote-control devices.
When did you move from hobbyist to professional?
Shortly after my husband gave me the “real camera”, which was about 10 years ago, I put my images on zenfolio which is a formatted website for photographers. I thought I would throw some images up there and see what responses I got from people—and not just my mom who loves everything I do.
So I put the website together and put it out to everyone I knew on social media and the responses I got back were somewhat overwhelming. I thought people would say, “oh, these are nice.” But the adjectives people were using to describe the images floored me. In some cases, it almost brought me to tears. And I thought, “well, maybe I can do something with this.”
My first attempt at doing something was thinking “I have to get a tent if I’m going to do shows and I need to get panels to hang the pieces on.” And I found a lady who had 4 pro panels, which are usually $120 each, and she was selling them all for $100. I thought that seemed like a sign.
I got a tent for a good price and everything started to click. But the first thing I did was an art show in Woodland Park at the high school, a craft show, and I was in the cafetorium and the gentleman across from me was selling bed sheets and I quickly realized I was in the wrong place.
I sold some things there and my first official art show was at America the Beautiful park in a 3-day show with torrential rains. In those 3 days I had $1,200 in sales and I was over the moon. Reinforced by that experience I signed up for a few more shows and it’s just continued on. This will be my 8th summer doing art shows.
How many do you typically do a year?
Since I work full-time, I was doing 7-8 a summer and now I do about 5. It’s hard to work all week, do an art show, work a full week, and do another art show. So, this summer I’ve cut back to the fewest I’ve done and part of that is having the opportunity to be in Commonwheel. This is a new avenue for me and it’s been great.
The work you would store up and sell in a festival you’re putting out and selling all year long.
I was in some galleries apart from Commonwheel. I’m part of the Colorado Creative Co-op in Old Colorado City. I’ve been there for years. I also had work in various places in Woodland Park when we lived up there and I’m still part of the Mountain Arts group up there.
And I still have my website. It has changed over the years and I have to go take photos off every so often because I have so many. It gets refreshed because I realized it’s not good to have thousands of images for people to pick from, that’s too overwhelming.
You put your images on a variety of formats—plaques, metal, canvas, matted prints, coasters, and cards.
On the web site I tell people to go look and then tell me what they want, what size, and I can customize what people are looking for.
I outsource the printing of my images because I believe printing is, in itself, an art form. I will do some printing of my matted prints, but I even outsource a lot of those. And to have the size printers you need for a large format is a huge investment.
You’ve started putting images in salvaged windows. Tell me about that.
For a long time I had the idea stirring in my head. It would be so cool to get an image that was like looking through a window. I didn’t want to carry glass around, so I looked at getting the images printed on plexiglass but didn’t like the look.
When I had some down time this past winter, I did some research and found a bunch of antique windows on Craigslist and Marketplace. I picked up a few initially. I wanted them to have a distressed look and what was fun about that whole process was that it was something different for me. I’m taking wood and sanding it, painting it, sealing it, and trying to figure out what to do with the hardware. It became a whole new aesthetic for me. For the image itself I still have it outsourced but when it comes back, I need to mount it into the window.
I custom size the images based on the windows. I take the glass out of all of them along with the glazing and the glazer’s points. It’s been interesting and fun. And now I have so many windows and my husband is thinking I may have gone overboard with them. I have 15 finished now and they’ll go to art shows with me this summer if they don’t make it into Commonwheel.
You mentioned that you work full time. What do you do?
I support a project management software. It allows me to work from home so the dogs are happy, and I can usually swing my schedule to take off early on Fridays in the summer to go set up for art shows. My photography is the opposite of what I do for work, so it is a release for me. And this is the thing that I know is my passion—shooting the photos—because I can lose all sense of time, surroundings, and space entirely when I do this. It feeds my soul.
I named my business “His Beautiful Canvas.” I’ve had a lot of people ask why not “her beautiful canvas” since I’m a woman, and I explain that the canvas is God’s. I believe God paints this picture, this image, and I’m privileged to take it in and share it. And sometimes I share it with people who can’t ever see those places. There’s something about it that’s special.
There have been a lot of art shows where a customer and I are both in tears because of what they see in my photo and tell me about how it affects them. When it came time to name my business, I was jogging by myself while we were camping at Lake Granby and I heard the name while I was praying. It’s been wonderfully rewarding connecting with others around these images.
You joined Commonwheel when?
It’s been a year now, and it has been wonderful to connect with others who understand the idea of “feeding your soul”, even though we do it in different ways. It’s nice to be with others who get that.
Julia Wright is a long-time member of Commonwheel Artists Co-op, and our first Artist of the Month for 2018. That means that you get a 10% discount on Julia’s art during January 2018. (In-store purchases only.)
Julia will be part of a gallery show this March along with Jerry Rhodes and Ace McCaasland.
We asked Julia a few questions. Below are her responses.
Talk a little about yourself
Creating art in many forms has been the basis of my life starting with theater when I built sets and directed others in High School and college. I created macramé costumes for a traveling troupe and very unique wall pieces, in which incorporated found objects. Next, I began to weave natural and hand-dyed wools into some of the macramé pieces and built my version of an Indian Rug Loom to create abstract woven wall art. Feathers have always been part of my art creations. I created mandala style feather wall hangings, and then discovered the concept of making masks with feathers when Manitou held a Mardi Gras celebration many years ago. What fun that was and still is! Creating earrings, hair clips, and pendants was a natural progression to creating artful accessories using feathers and found objects.
I have taken thousands of photographs on my hikes and in many gardens. For about five years started using my realistic nature and other photos to illustrate my books and journals. And most recently, I began to use my realistic photographs to create different types of decks of cards for children and adults.
About 2 years ago, I “fell down a rabbit hole of creativity” using them to create abstract, kaleidoscopic and mandala style images by taking a little part of a Nature photo and playing with it in PhotoShop. Currently these can only be seen online and in gallery shows.
What does making art mean to you?
When I am in my studio or sitting at my computer, I get totally lost in the process and my imagination can run pretty wild thinking about how to take the materials at hand and create something totally unique and fun. It uplifts my spirit to honor the beauty of the feathers used in my masks and jewelry and glorify Nature in various artful ways.
I love watching people try to imagine how I went beyond what others did with fibers and feathers, and now photos when looking at my artwork. Working in my feather studio or on a computer or taking photos on my hikes always has my creative juices flowing. I am constantly looking for some new way to use the materials at hand to create a bit of awe and wonder when someone sees the finished art.
What inspires you in your art? (Are you currently exploring new themes, techniques, color palette, ideas, etc.?)
Relating to Feathers: Currently I am inspired to use up as many of the various unique types of feathers hanging around in my studio. Time to be a bit more adventurous when creating masks for Carnivale. For the holidays, including the upcoming Valentines Day, I created some larger pendants with some very fun shiny found objects to dress up even the simplest of dresses.
Relating to Photography: Nature is my most powerful inspiration. When hiking or passing a beautiful garden, I often stop to take in the amazingly beautiful natural creations that surround me. A driftwood stump or a rock formation or a bit of moss can be as enticing to my eye as a beautiful wildflower. Each one makes my heart sing and my spirit soar with joy when I take the time to really look at the beauty others pass by each day without noticing it.
I realize there are hundreds of people who take beautiful Nature photographs, so I wanted to do something a little bit different with mine. I really enjoy finding a hidden piece of a Nature photo to twist and turn into a totally unsuspected image. Watching people look deeply into the images and point out to friends what they see and get a conversation going about that image is a joy to watch.
The idea of using my Nature photos for card decks for children started with the idea of making Flash Cards, but morphed into something totally different. I have seen too many instances of how little respect people have for the natural world and can only hope that by showing how beautiful and fragile wildflowers can be starting with a card game that might inspire more kids to get out and search for them and find other reasons to respect their natural surroundings.
Walk us through your production process.
Relating to Feathers: Whether I am creating a feather mask or a piece of jewelry or a wall piece, I first need to clip all the down off the feathers I will be using. For the feather earrings, hairclips and especially for the pendants, I have to lay out the feathers to be sure they will conform to the proper shape. When using pheasant feathers with patterns, the patterns and coloration can change very quickly on each pelt, so I need to be careful to have enough of each pattern to finish a piece properly. I enjoy adding found objects to the pendants and sometimes to the hairclips to give them a bit more interest.
Masks are the most playful feathery creations I make. I believe that each one will find a face to cover and inspire the person wearing it to allow their inner child or alter ego to come out and dance and play in ways they normally wouldn’t think about doing unmasked. Manitou Springs has a Carnivale Celebration where people get into costume for the parade and playing all day. A FantaFaces mask is the perfect beginning, or ending for creating your costume for that fun day or any other masked event you might attend. (Ed. Note: Carnivale will be held on February 10, 2018.)
Relating to Photography: So, I take lots of pictures on a hike or in a garden, then sort through them to find which ones will work for which type of art project. Sitting at the computer, I will crop out extraneous objects for a book illustration or to use in a deck of cards. The real fun comes when I see a piece I want to play with to create a mandala or kaleidoscopic or abstract image. Each one of these can take hours and many twists and turns, and sometimes changes to the coloration, to get to the place I feel satisfied with the final image.
What emotions/reactions/thoughts do you want to cause/explore/achieve on the public looking at and buying your artwork?
Relating to Feathers: When someone puts on a mask, they are transformed. I have seen a dancer become a bird flitting around a crowded art festival or others take on a sinister stance and begin to sneak around the gallery. Almost everyone who puts on a mask connects to something deep inside himself or herself that wants to come out and play. Sometimes a mask will bring out a darker side to a person, but usually it brings out the child inside or some fantasy creature they long to become for a short time.
Relating to Photography, Books, and Cards: I want people to look deeply into each of the abstracted photographs using their imagination to discover images within them. I want people to use their imaginations and discover a myriad of images within each image. I enjoy asking if they can see the starting image or if it just all melts into one new piece of art.
The books I have written have very practical advice and have come from my own experiences. Essential Oils basically saved my life a couple of times. And seeing the huge amount of waste from the Commonwheel Art Festival diverted from the landfill each year is a joy to me, and all the volunteers who helped accomplish that. So, I created a book to help others learn how to recycle and compost at their events.
My journals are based on specific themes, but they are not just “blank books”. They have practical advice in the introductions and some photographs related to the journal’s subject. Each one has prompts for a person to fill in the blanks relating to that prompt. And there are extra pages to use to write more about their dreams or their hiking and camping adventures. Some have pages to sketch on or color in heart designs.
What is your recent favorite piece? And why?
Relating to Feathers: I love working with parrot and macaw feathers. They are so brilliantly colorful that they lend themselves to creating very dramatic masks. There is one that is all green feathers would make the perfect mask to create a costume such as Green Man or a garden fairy.
Relating to Photography: I have had lots of fun creating card decks using my nature photographs. The ones for children that have the names of Colorado Wildflowers and can be used to play games such as “Go Find a Wildflower” or “Memory” are my most favorite new works. I hope they will be used to get more children interacting with friends and family, while learning how to identify Colorado wildflowers. And perhaps inspire them to want to go hiking and step away from the TV and computer for a while to gain an appreciation for Nature and this beautiful planet they live on.
I think my most favorite photographic mandala is the tree standing on a rock proclaiming it will survive. Every time I see a tree growing out of a rock, I can relate to its determination to survive in the most challenging of conditions.
Where can we find your work: website, social media, local stores.
My books are also on Amazon
And then there is the Art Festival. I came to Manitou Springs in 1975 to participate in the Commonwheel Labor Day Art Festival. In January of 1976, I moved here and joined Commonwheel Artists Co-op. That summer I helped coordinate the three art festivals. By the end of that year, I was the main coordinator and have been for most of the following years.
Thankfully, we reduced the number of art festivals from three to just one. I helped these festivals change and grow, starting as we did as a group of hippies who loved and respected hand-crafted art, to a more businesslike venture. It has always only allowed artwork created and shown by the artists at the Art Festival. Local musicians play at the festival to add to the creative atmosphere. Over the last nine years, volunteers have worked hard to make it a very sustainable event by diverting up to 80% of its waste away from the landfill by sorting out compostable and recyclable items.
Each year the artwork displayed has become more and more exciting to see, making it the premiere art festival in the Pikes Peak region. I get to use my creative talents to create the ads for this event that often are brought by people looking to find the artwork of various artists being shown at the Art Festival.