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The Interview : Julie Rhodes

(Rachna Singh in conversation with Julie Rhodes, Wildlife Artist)

The Wise Owl talks to Julie Rhodes a realism wildlife artist, with a focus on big cats. Many of her artworks are life size and larger than life. She has been a professional artist for over 20 years. Working from her UK studio, she sells paintings, pastel work and drawings to collectors worldwide. Art is her passion rivalled only by her obsession with wildlife. Julie mentors upcoming artists through her Wildlife Art Blog. You can find more of her work on her website

Thank you, Ms Rhodes, for talking to the Wise Owl.

RS: Let me start by saying that your paintings are absolutely gorgeous and so life-like. Our readers would like to know how and when you realised you were blessed with this amazing talent. Did you have any creative mentor?

JR: Thank you so much! I have always loved drawing and painting and was encouraged by my mum who is also an artist and my grandfather who used to design intricate images for stained glass windows in churches. I would rush home from school every day to draw. 

RS: You are a realism wildlife artist with a focus on big cats. Our readers would be curious to know (as I am) what attracted you to wildlife, especially to these beautiful & magnificent big cats.

JR: Wildlife and especially big cats have always been close to my heart. As a kid I watched so many nature programs and loved lions, tigers and leopards. Painting wildlife never gets dull, so many textures, patterns and colours. What could be more beautiful and powerful than a lion or a tiger?

RS: The one thing that stands out in your paintings is that they are so life-like. All your big cats look like they may just get up and sashay out of their frames. Please tell us what techniques you use to create such realistic paintings.

JR: I have so many different techniques for creating my paintings and drawings. I love to put as much detail as possible into my work. Most of my technique involves many layers of detail, for pastel and for acrylic paintings. 

I use washes and glazes in paint. I sometimes paint with a dry brush with very little paint on it, to blend areas of background or to create a soft fur effect. I use a fine brush to add the many tiny hairs to create realistic looking fur. 

RS: I was looking at your paintings on the website and realised that you mostly work with acrylics and pastels. Is that because you enjoy working with these mediums or is it that you feel these are more suited to recreate the life-like beauty of the big cats.

JR: Both! I love to use pastel or acrylics because they are so easy to layer. I can create the effect of depth in an animals’ fur by layering details over the top of each other. Pastels are also so versatile for blending and creating beautiful smooth backgrounds as well as making the tiniest of details.

RS: Please tell us about the creative process behind your artwork, right from the stage of conceptualization to the finished product.

JR: My paintings and drawings are many months in the planning stage. I often have ideas, inspired by nature or something I see such as beautiful light or colours. I will make lots of sketches and notes before starting the actual artwork. I always like to have a clear vision in my head before I get started. I try to have every element of the painting planned before I begin as it’s a long commitment to work on a large piece. I’ll transfer my final sketch to the canvas if it’s a big painting or if it’s small I’ll freehand. If the painting has a lot of background, I’ll often put this in first, then start with strong/bold colours as a ‘base layer’. At this stage it usually looks very messy, but I gradually start building up layers of detail and it finally comes to life. 

RS: Do you use any particular technique to make your work so lifelike?

JR: My main technique is to use lots of layers. The process can’t be rushed. I think it’s really important to create a sense of depth by having areas in the foreground in sharp focus and further back areas in soft focus. Creating the right balance of light and shadows. Getting the colours correct, there are often unexpected shades hidden in animals’ fur like hints of pink, blues and greens. When I’m working, I try to keep all these elements in my mind at once. 

RS: Are there any wildlife artists you admire. If so, why? Who is your favourite traditional or contemporary artist and why?

JR: There are so many artists whose work I admire. Not all of them are wildlife artists, I also love abstract art and I’m inspired by the use of colour and techniques. I don’t think I can pick a favourite, but the late David Shepherd was a huge inspiration, I also love artwork by Nick Sider, Pip McGarry and Carla Grace to name just a few; they all paint in different ways and create amazingly realistic work. 

RS: Wild animals like tigers or lions do not make easy subjects for portraits, especially in close encounters. How do you manage to overcome this challenge?

JR: I use sketches, photographs and videos as reference for accuracy; the rest comes from my imagination, practice and lots of artistic license.

RS: Your Blog is a great initiative to mentor wannabe wildlife artists on the craft and technique of painting wildlife. How and when did you decide to become a creative mentor?

JR: I always have questions for other artists about their techniques, I never want to stop learning and I find myself being asked questions by artists looking to improve or just starting out. I think it’s great to be able to share information, discoveries and tips. 

RS: Tigers or lions are not found in UK. Do you then travel to countries in Africa or Asia to see them in their natural habitat?

JR: Sadly, I haven’t been able to travel recently with a young family and the pandemic. Whenever I do travel, I always have my camera and sketch book with me. I also have some amazing friends from all around the world who photograph animals and send me pictures to use as reference.

RS: Our readers would like to know if you are working on any interesting art project or exhibiting your art in the near future or perhaps working on a coffee table book of your works.

JR: I’m always working on new paintings and have some really large pieces planned for later this year…I also have some brand new ‘full size’ limited edition prints coming soon. 

RS: Modern day man has encroached upon forests pushing out wildlife with impunity. Is there any advice you’d like to give to our readers or viewers so that animals can be saved from harm or worse still, extinction?

JR: I’m definitely not qualified to answer this question as it’s such an important issue. It’s so devastating to watch our planet being destroyed. We all need to be aware of our impact on wildlife and appreciate the beauty around us. 

RS: Is there any advice you would like to give upcoming wildlife artists on how to hone their craft.

JR: Practice and patience. Learn as much as possible about your chosen mediums. Always paint what you love, so you can put your heart and soul into it. I try to make each painting better than my last. 

RS: Thank you so much Ms Rhodes for talking to The Wise Owl. We wish you the best and hope you continue to create your beautiful artworks showcasing these beautiful, magnificent and fiercely proud big cats.

JR: Thanks so much, it’s been a pleasure

Art Works of Julie Rhodes

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