The Q&A: Julia Breckenreid

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 11, 2018

Q: Originally from [where?] what are some of your favorite things about living and working in [your current locale]?

A: I’m a Canadian, born in Waterloo, Ontario. I live in Toronto, having moved here soon after I graduated from college in 1998. I love this city. Neighbourhood areas are like a bunch of small towns, but with amazing food from every background. You can eat in a different country everyday. 

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I do keep several sketchbooks. More often than not, I prefer regular printer paper. I feel too constricted with lovely, perfect sheets. I am mainly in there writing and drawing out ideas, but when the mood strikes, I play with materials too. 

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: All of it. The weird bits and pieces I save, my materials, all my books. 

Q: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?

A: It’s a gut feeling I suppose. A confidence in knowing that what's been done is pleasing to me. Levels of finish are different for everyone. My best work comes when I'm unsure whether or not something will work. A rote process, a repetitive step-by-step work flow is an energy killer for me.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child? 

A: Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, by Mordecai Richler and illustrated by Fritz Wegner.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read? 

A: All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Acrylic paint—it’s malleable—can do a ridiculous variety of things.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Conversations and collaborations with friends. Eating well. Walking to the studio. Teaching part time keeps me in check - students cause me to question and evaluate what I do - pushing me to keep learning.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: It's really hard to pick one... Almost twenty years ago, a friend had me watch Titus, directed by Julie Taymor. It's art directed so beautifully—in particular there is scene where the character, Lavinia, has been raped by two brothers. When she's discovered, Lavinia's hands have been replaced with dead branches and she turns and leans towards the camera and then opens her bloodied mouth in a slow and silent scream. My jaw dropped. I was stunned by the horrible beauty and violence implied in that scene, without actually having to see the rape.

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that has an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process?

A: My most interesting assignments came from when I used to work for Nautilus magazine, under Len Small and Francesco Izzo. For years the bulk of my work dealt with the female experience, and they took a leap with me and it was so refreshing to work with science content. 

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: I'm assuming I'm on death row or about to die of cancer. In that case, I'd pick something fairly boring to everyone else, butI’d start with a Negroni with lots of ice, then have a huge leftover cold chicken sandwich with lots of salt & mayo on crusty and thick-sliced sourdough bread (no lettuce, etc), with a giant slab of heavy homemade chocolate cake (or a Tin Roof sundae—tough call).

Conceptual and intuitive, Julia Breckenreid's images have garnered recognition from many awards annuals and associations; the Society of Illustrators (NY), American Illustration, Communication Arts, 3x3, SILA, and featured in the book 100 Illustrators, as chosen by Steven Heller. Additionally, Breckenreid's work was honoured with a gold medal in 2010, from the Society of Illustrators in New York.
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