In the Studio with Julia Breckenreid

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 27, 2022

Corrections have been made to yesterday's post

Peggy Roalf: Which came first, the pen, the brush, or the tablet?  
Julia Breckenreid: The pen, the brush. No tablet! I use my finger on my trackpad in Photoshop. It is a bit ridiculous

PR: Please describe your work space and how it figures in to the way you work.
JB: I had rented shared studio spaces for years and there came a certain point where I needed more solitude (I am easily distracted!). I was feeling done with paying rent and didn’t want to commute anymore so I took the amount of money I would spend on studio rent in a year, and put it toward building a studio in my home. It’s very malleable, and can suit whatever project I may be working on. For instance, my friend John built me this great wall easel that saves tons of space and I also had him build my bookshelves to line the walls just below the ceiling, so all my art and reference books are up and out of the way until I need them. 

PR: What’s the first thing you do when you go into your studio [after switching on the lights)?
JB: Sadly, the first thing I usually do is check my email. When I’m not as busy, I do my best to avoid that and do some reading or drawing to start my workday instead. 

PR: What tool or art supply do you enjoy working with the most, and why? 
JB: Lately I’m in a zone with cheap tempera pucks on various papers. I like how you can rework them. The paint has a grainy quality to it and mixes well with other media. I’m happiest when I’m trying some new combinations of things, media-wise. I love figuring out those bits and pieces that give you an unexpected result. Randomness and chance. This is likely why I’m not as attracted to digital media. It feels predictive and I love mistakes. And I haven’t figured out how to get the same patina via digital tools.

PR: I noticed that you keep a sketchbook. How did you begin this practice; is it easy to keep it up? If you fall off the habit, how do you get back to it [and –anything else that would make for a fun read]
JB: I do keep several sketchbooks, but I particularly like working on scrap pieces of board or paper, even printer paper! It’s less pressure. Either way, I’m always wishing I made more time for this. I tend to catch up with this type of play when I’ve got a pause in my deadlines or if I’m procrastinating! Well, actually, it’s my favourite thing to do when I’m working out ideas for a job. It keeps me distracted while peripherally my brain is working on the assignment. 

How does this contribute to your professional process?
JB: I think it’s a visual conversation that shows me where I’m at in my head, possibly where I’d like to go. A truer, more private version of me than my professional work. It also allows me to create utter garbage. It’s a good exercise for me, given some of my tendencies.

PR: Do you use photographic reference materials very much? If yes, how do you avoid the pitfalls that can arise when working from reference?
JR: I do use reference, but pretty loosely. This can get me into trouble sometimes, but it’s in an effort not to follow too closely. I’m not trying for full realism, just enough for the viewer to believe what I’m showing them. 

PR: What kind of breaks do you take to clear your head when working to a deadline?
JR: I’ll find some kind of errand that feels really urgent all of sudden. Go meet a friend for a coffee. Stare at my tiny garden. Harass my cats. Do some social scrolling online, which generally makes me want to punt my phone or launch my laptop into the abyss.

PR: Do you see a lot of museum and gallery shows?
What’s the best takeaway from seeing art shows rather than looking at online media, books, magazines
JR: I do not see museum or gallery shows here in Toronto nearly enough! I see some, but I’d like to make this a bit more of a regular occurrence. In recent years, this seems to be something that I overwhelm myself with when I’m traveling. Outside of the pandemic, I travel at least a couple of times a year, and this year has been epic - Spain (to film an online course for Domestika), Mexico City, Whitehorse and in November I’m heading to one of my all time favourites, New York. It’s tends to be a firehose of visual information for my brain, exhausting and invigorating all at once. 

PR: What are some of your creative inspirations—artists, music, literature, culture in general—that you draw from in your work?
JR: In my early years I was really influenced by early illustrated Vogue covers. I loved the whimsical quality, the balance of pattern with spareness in design/composition. The palettes really sang for me. My taste moves around a lot, but there seems to be a consistent thread, which you can see here in some of the images I’ve kept, if you like: There is a certain tone, a specific quiet, erotic qualities, dark under the surface, feminist, female. And COLOUR. 

PR: How do you know when the art is finished—or when to stop working on it?
JR: If I’m trying something a bit new, that challenge keeps me energized and good things can happen, and the “finish” reveals itself. Then there are occasions in my work where I know if do certain things, it will bring the work to a level that is predictable and very good. 

Of course there are horrid days when I polish something to death by trying too hard, just fixing and repainting, in total denial that what I’m doing isn’t working. Once I’ve destroyed the thing that would have kept it fresh, I come to the inevitable conclusion that I have to start over. And there is relief in that.

PR: What would be your dream job—the one thing you have always hoped for in an assignment?

JR: Dream assignments would be conceptual picture books that I write and illustrate for children, adults or both! Bio kid’s books where I can dive in with research. Posterwork, book covers and portrait work. Any job that allows me to play with ideas, I am in a really happy place. It’s my favourite part of the work of illustration.

Julia Breckenreid is an illustrator who lives in Toronto, painting stories for kids big and small. She grew up with her head buried in books, allowing her to explore the world well beyond her hometown of Waterloo, Ontario. At sixteen, she left home and school behind to embark on a meandering journey that eventually led to a Diploma in Illustration from Sheridan College in 1998. 

Since then, Julia’s work has been widely recognized for its quality and depth. The Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts & 3x3 have repeatedly featured her work in their annuals, alongside a gold medal from SOI in 2010.



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