INTERVIEW with JULIE BECK
Professional artist, instructor and assistant director of The Academy of Realist Art Boston.
Bachelors degree in Mathematics
Certificate of Completion, Academy of Realist Art Boston
WHAT IS A LITTLE KNOWN FACT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE ABOUT YOURSELF?
Before I made painting my focus, I made a go at roller derby. I worked and trained for months and the day I finally made the team, I flew off the rink into an air hockey table and broke my ankle. This ended my roller derby career. My derby name was “Dee Vine Proportions” and my number was the Golden Ratio.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BEGINNINGS AS A PAINTER?
I had a rough start as an artist. I wasn’t very good at drawing or anything as a kid. I loved art but I was mediocre at best. I was so mad at my parents for not letting me go to college for art but I look back now and can see exactly why they didn’t think it was a good idea. Math and science were strengths so I ended up going to school for Structural Engineering and finished with a degree in mathematics instead. I did love it. There’s something about problem solving that is really exciting and beautiful to me. Some of my favorite classes involved finding elegant solutions to complex problems, or exploring the world around me through experiments and understanding materials. This is not very far from how I approach painting these days.
Throughout college and the next 10 years I spent as a graphic designer and video editor, I always had painting as a “hobby.” I would work 60 hours a week, and then come home to try to paint. Or I’d take a continuing education class to try and get better (that didn’t help). I was painting in acrylics and not getting the results I wanted. It took almost 10 years to get kind of “ok.” Again, my natural ability is a bit on the average side so being self taught, progress was slow as molasses. Also my paintings were BORING. I could barely paint something well, so how was I going to tackle some complex conceptual piece?!
A move to Boston changed all that. There I stumbled onto The Academy of Realist Art Boston. I had never heard of an atelier or classical training before (I blame my boring suburban upbringing). I didn’t know there were people teaching the technical aspect of drawing and painting. Once I started taking classes, my eyes were literally opened. It amazes me every day that we are mostly teaching people how to observe things that we see everyday but are not consciously aware of. I like to tell people that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. It goes with drawing, color, everything.
Sorry if this is a bit of a tangent but I also think this applies to more than just making art. I think atelier or technical training applies to more than just making a painting. As you train your observation skills at the school and then go out into the world, you start to notice more about the world around you, and the nuances of your visual experience. You notice things, you make connections between things that you normally would not have otherwise, you start to examine things on a deeper level. I see something... but why do I see it that way, is there something I am missing, let me find out more information about it. I can not tell you how many times I’ve made personal discoveries about myself or the world around me when I’ve been painting a still life or developing a painting idea. Most of the people who come to ARA Boston are, by nature, visual people. We train people to really see and I think, in turn, people start to really see themselves.
Anyways, enough of the hippy dippy, the technical training finally made it possible for me to make work that I was proud of which in turn, made it seem possible to actually make a career out of it.
YOU'RE NOW A TEACHER AT ARA AND TEACH A "NEWBIES WORKSHOP" THAT IS ATTENDED BY BOTH BEGINNERS AND SEASONED PROFESSIONALS. GIVE US THE SCOOP ON IT.
I look back at how I was taught pre-ARA Boston and it was so disappointing and a waste of money. It was mostly “buy these paints and brushes and oils and solvents and start painting!” No one actually taught me HOW to work with oils so they were incredible frustrating and overwhelming (hence the use of acrylics for 10 years). ARA Boston forced me back to oils and once they actually showed me what to do, I felt like a whole world opened up to me.
Because of my experience, I wanted to make sure we offered a workshop that would bridge that gap for people. The whole goal is for people to start working with the oils in a very controlled way so they can experience oil painting without having to make a pretty picture.
Some of the exercises are:
- How to hold a paintbrush, the different marks they can make and how much paint to load into the brush
- How paint acts differently when adding mineral spirits to thin the paint vs. using oil to thin paint
- Trying out the difference between working with opaque paint vs transparently (Spoiler alert - using paintings transparently keeps their chroma levels up high and you can be really colorful! If you mix with white, white kills the colors very quickly!)
- The different personalities of all our paints out of the tube (Spoiler alert - cadmiums and pthalos and chemical colors are bullies in mixtures whereas earth tones and natural colors tend to be weaker and you need a lot more to make a big punch in a mixture)
- How to think about color and color mixing with our paints (Think about color in a 3 dimensional space, look into the Munsell Color system to visualize color in your head)
It’s a very casual low/no pressure workshop and we usually have a lot of fun!
WE HEAR THAT YOU LIKE ORGANIZATION IN YOUR STUDIO! WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COOL WAYS YOU HAVE PUT YOUR TALENTS INTO PRACTICE?
I LOVE organization. I have an irrational love for spreadsheets and cubbies. My favorite ways to keep my small studio space organized are:
- Peg board for storing paints and tools on the wall. Easy Access!!!
- I bought an old dentist cabinet off Craigslist. All these drawers are great for all my small still life stuff and it’s a cool color!
- This rolling cart allows me to move my working station to each of my easels so I can shift focus on whatever isn’t drying at the moment. Multitasking!
- Space is at a premium, so I use a murphy table that collapses down.
- Everything Google Drive for my digital files
WE HAVE TO ASK... WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NEW WAVE PALETTE, AND WHY?
ALL OF THEM. Seriously, I am part of the New Wave cult. They’re the best out there for anyone who wants to buy an palette and use it immediately and use it forever. I have them on all my supply lists. I’m currently using the POSH® WOOD GREY TABLE TOP PALETTE although it’s not very grey anymore since I am bad about cleaning at the end of the day. It’s now kind of a warm brownish grey. The size is perfect as it sits on my rolling cart.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING SHOWS OR WORKSHOPS?
I regularly have works at Bowersock Fine Art in Provincetown, MA and Susan Powell Gallery in Madison, CT but specific upcoming shows are:
May 16th, 2019 at the Zillman Gallery with The University of Maine Museum of Art.
April 20th, 2018 Susan Powell Gallery Still life Invitational
ARA Boston is having our annual Figure Painting Competition July 30th to Aug 4th 2018. Anyone can enter the competition! 10 people are chosen to participate and you get to come paint from a live figure model for 5 days and compete for big cash prizes and awesome supplies like a New Wave palette!! New Wave is always a generous sponsor of this.