Southwold Beach Huts by Julie Driscoll
"Julie Driscoll...she sounds really familiar...where do I know that name from?"
That was the response I got from a friend when I said Suffolk artist Julie Driscoll was the next painter to be featured here.
"Oh my goodness! Julie Driscoll - that 60s singer! Wow - she paints now? And lives in Suffolk?"
Er...no - this is a much younger creative talent who happens to have the same name and who, as far as I know, does not share a home county with the psychedelic sixties singer.
The next person I mentioned the name Julie Driscoll to said, "Oh yes, I've heard of her", to which I snapped, "Oh for heaven's sake - not the Ab Fab Wheel's On Fire Julie Driscoll!"
My friend looked at me perturbed and said, "Yes, I know - you mean the artist - right?"
So it looks as if this Julie Driscoll may well become a household name too but, for very different reasons to the other one.
This Julie Driscoll has an incredible talent for interpreting the Suffolk landscape in ways reminiscent of artists such a Harry Becker (1865 - 1928).
And - her paintings sell.
Suffolk is a place that has inspired artists, writers, photographers and poets for centuries.
Once you have explored all that this area has to offer, it is easy to see why it has fired the creative urges of so many artistic souls throughout time.
Despite the relative flatness of the landscape in many parts of this glorious county, the scenery is diverse and breathtaking.
The apparent flatness of the landscape provides an incredible backdrop for the stunning cloudscapes regularly seen in Suffolk.
(I say apparent flatness because I was once challenged on this by a cyclist who said I would change my opinion if I ever toured around Suffolk on a bike!)
It is these wonderful Suffolk skies that are often the main feature in Julie's work because they are such an important feature of the locality.
Iken Church by Julie Driscoll
The Suffolk that Julie Driscoll sees is expressed in loose, impressionistic strokes and marks that truly convey the varying moods of the diverse landscape.
Many of her paintings have a timeless quality that would make it almost impossible to say what century they were from, if the viewer did not already know the paintings were contemporary.
The images remind me of how lucky we are to live in a place where so much of the vista has little evidence of our modern, sometimes unattractive, world.
The thing I love most is the impressionist quality of the images. For me, Julie’s paintings lay on the cusp where concrete reality ends and the abstract begins.
They have a beautiful dreamlike quality that, if the strokes were any less defined, would dissolve into blurs of colour where any suggestion of form would fade away into complete abstraction.
Maybe that is why she finds it so easy to cross the line from impressionism into abstract.
The moment I first saw the abstract work of Julie Driscoll, I was intrigued by her ability to create such depth in her paintings.
Way back, before I ever had a go at painting abstracts myself, I was one of those deluded people who say things like “OMG - a child could have done that!” or, “what actually is the point of abstract painting?”
At age eight, I even upset a grand old lady in London at the Tate when I stood by a Henry Moore sculpture and very loudly asked my parents, “why is that thing in an art gallery?”
The aging lady’s hand flew to her throat and she exclaimed, “Oh! That’s a Henry Moore!” And then she fixed me (and my parents) with a deafening glare.
But my goodness, as I grew up I realised what enormous talent goes into creating abstract art in any form.
To achieve depth and dimension in a painting and to fire the viewer’s imagination to ‘see’ another world in an image or sculpture requires skill.
As discussed in a former post on my sister website (see below), I am not a painter with a capital P but I dabble around cluelessly, (quite happy in my cluelessness!) with paint. However, I had never used oils. They scared me.
Click here to read Can You Paint More than Just Your Toe Nails?
The dreaded oils struck fear of failure into me.
So I was thrilled to be able take part in a one-to-one workshop with Julie Driscoll in her studio.
It was an extremely enjoyable few hours and I learned two main things; oil paints are not scary and, Julie is a very easy-going, encouraging tutor who believes anyone can do what she does.
She really does believe that and it is such a powerful belief for a teacher of anything to have.
I have known a few artists in my time and sadly, too many have appeared to be quite aloof and very keen to set themselves apart from people who 'can't paint', as if we are some kind of alien life form.
Julie does not fall into this category despite becoming evermore successful and selling her work at prestigious galleries and exhibitions.
Her studio is comfortable with a beautiful country outlook. She very kindly shared her precious paints with me and encouraged me to jump in without feeling intimidated.
Her approach is probably the least threatening I have ever encountered because we both had blank canvases and she was busy figuring out her own colour choices etc while talking me through mine.
In a way, that made us both vulnerable, despite her many years of experience, experimentation and success. The focus was not all on me and that felt so liberating.
It seemed like the difference between teaching me to swim from the poolside as opposed to jumping right in and swimming with me.
The great thing about Julie Driscoll is, she is not inhibited by the ridiculous fear most of us have of 'getting it wrong'.
She has no fear of the blank canvas and getting her first squirts of paint onto a new one.
She seems to approach the process as an adventure that gradually unfolds.
Maybe that is what makes people like her so successful.
She knows that to become accomplished at anything, you have to practice - so she has just gone ahead on that basis with experimentation in art.
I suspect the obstructive 'but I can't paint' voice has never whispered in her ear.
Julie rarely uses a brush to paint. She uses a palette knife and a technique known as 'impasto', a method of painting that gives a three-dimensional appearance to the painting.
Texture and layering are important features of her work and she achieves this by using the palette knife to formulate different strokes, layering the oils thickly, over a period several weeks.
The effect of this is to provide depth and contrast of tones.
“Using knives allows me to move freely across the canvas, giving me a feeling of escapism.
"I have been inspired by local artist Maggi Hambling whose powerful wave paintings are full of texture and energy."
It was a shock to me that Julie Driscoll is not an art school graduate.
Although she is mostly self-taught, Julie has studied with local tutors to develop her abilities.
After studying art at A Level, she took a Bsc and Diploma in Occupational Therapy.
She then went on to use art as a creative and therapeutic tool, in the UK and abroad, while working with people suffering from forensic, addictive and psychiatric histories.
“I hope my previous career path is reflected in my work by representing emotive and atmospheric impressionist landscapes".
Another artist who has inspired Julie is Harry Becker (1865 – 1928).
Julie had this to say:
“Harry Becker used muted colours that created the same sensitivity and serenity I aspire to in my own work.”
Most of Julie's paintings are created from memories and photographs of places she has known since childhood – places that are still rugged and unspoilt. Places she has still been able to enjoy with her own children.
Some of the scenes she paints are more realistic than others, allowing the viewer, she hopes, the freedom to create their own 'special place'.
A painting by Harry Becker(1865 - 1928)
It should be a huge source of encouragement to others that Julie Driscoll is largely self-taught.
Her work is now in big demand and can be found in prestigious galleries such as Snape Maltings, where she has exhibited since 2013.
Snape Maltings gallery where Julie Driscoll sells some of her work.
For the past six years, her paintings have also been displayed by the Ipswich Art Society annual exhibitions at the University campus in the heart of Ipswich's trendy waterfront.
And popular Woodbridge shop Vanil sells Julie's work in their very up-market Church Street shop.
As a shop described as 'an ever-evolving, eclectic mix of Scandinavian inspired design', having work accepted here is a big deal.
According to their website, they only stock products they are particularly passionate about, which of course is what the discerning clientele of Woodbridge would expect.
And back in May of this year, Julie had a very successful weekend when she was one of 75 artists exhibiting their work at the renowned Glemham Hall, a private family home and events venue.
Julie's work was part of an event that featured many notable artists and sculptors including Maggi Hambling and Paul Richardson.
The event was held by charity Art For Cure who were raising money for the care and cure of breast cancer. (Click on the link to find out more about the incredible success of that weekend when over 8000 people visited the exhibition.)
Julie's success there was swiftly followed by another exhibition she had been invited to participate in at Gifford Hall, Bury St Edmunds.
That's an impressive resume for someone who is mostly self taught. Julie paints and Julie sells.
What more could an artist want?
Julie with daughter Caitlin at the exhibition.
Are there more plans for workshops or was I just very lucky?
I think I was just very lucky! However - Julie has got some exciting plans in the pipeline - so watch this space.
And aside from those plans, we are also discussing a collaborative workshop which will also be a unique and exciting venture for both us and the students.
When I initially asked if Julie did workshops, I never expected it would result in a one-off, one-to-one session where the most important thing I would learn was to lose a bit more of my fear.
After spending a couple of hours playing with paint, I no longer fear oils – that is a huge gain for me.
It fits perfectly with my ethos, explained here, that to be creative, we must overcome our fear of being wrong.
I am not sure that Julie Driscoll ever had that fear, which is why she is now a very successful artist.
To see more work from Julie Driscoll, click here to see a gallery of her paintings.