By Judith Levine
An easy, infectious laugh and an interest in both animals and the natural world are among the first things one notices about Julie Smith. The artist was born in 1951 and grew up in New Orleans. She didn’t paint as a child but loved to draw. She majored in art in college. Following that, Smith went to work for the AFL-CIO, working in their political operations.
It was upon her 2001 retirement that Smith returned to the art world. She began by returning to her first love, drawing. At that time, she felt that “... painting was a good way to wreck a good drawing.”
It was one of her early teachers, Susan Herron, who showed her that a painting didn’t call for a destruction of the drawing. Herron taught her that the drawings could be done small with great attention to detail, enlarged to various sizes on a copier and using those copies to transfer to paper or canvas leaving the original drawing intact. Smith learned to paint in watercolor. From Herron, she learned the rules of working in watercolor.
We both agreed that while it is normal for artists to break rules, one has to know them first to successfully do so. Along the way, she took an acrylic workshop from Herron and fell in love with it.
“It was an entirely different way to paint than watercolor,” she said. Since she began to use acrylics and gotten the hang of it, Smith has not looked back. She admits the transition took a lot of work.
In 2014, Smith took a workshop through the Baltimore Watercolor Society. This workshop, conducted by Nancy Barch, Philadelphia artist and teacher, offered some new insights to the artist. Barch’s class, “... opened my eyes not only to collage, but to abstraction.”
Some of the artists Smith named as favorites and influences included Vincent Van Gogh, Wolf Kahn, Nancy Barch, Susan Herron, and Richard Diebenkorn.
“It’s hard to say a primary influence. As artists, we are all influenced by each other,” she explained.
One thing her favorites do have in common is the use of a lot of blues, muted oranges and browns, something frequently found in her own work. Smith finds the natural world which occurs in so much of her work is like a religion to her and fills her spirit.
Anyone who knows Smith’s work has also seen her animal paintings. “I paint animals because I love them and when I paint them ... I want for people to see they are not lesser beings.”
It is so easy to make animal paintings very sweet, but hers are not. They allow you to see the very souls of each one.
Smith said that when she first returned to the art world, she was painting every day. She has slowed down but her output is still large, and she continues to grow and explore. She is a current Artist in Residence at Sandy Spring Museum and is a member of Gallery 209 and MAA of course, along with being a signature member of the Potomac Valley Watercolorists and Baltimore Watercolor Society.
Will this be her life in 10 years? “I don’t have any idea how I’ll feel tomorrow.” Julie Smith doesn’t really plan ahead. “I respond to what comes.” And then she treated me to her beautiful laugh.