Arts Visual Arts

Cover Artist: Julie Willan

Julie Willan working on Lift

By Gina Malone

Like many artists, Julie Willan finds that her creativity is fed by observing nature, particularly animals. “I have such a deep connection with wildlife and trying to capture their true essence,” she says. “Each piece that I create, I take time to research and see what moves me to want to make that image come to life.”

Staying fresh with techniques keeps her from feeling stagnant or bound by style, she adds. It was that search for experimentation that led to her discovery of fumage, the process of using flame to create soot on a surface. “It was an unpredictable and organic-feeling medium,” Willan says, “and I discovered rather quickly that I wanted to learn how to marry realistic images with such an organic material.”

The Young Elephant. Julie Willan, artist

She uses the surrealist technique to create movement with her subjects. “If I’m working on a fumage drawing of an eagle or owl flying, for instance,” she says, “I like to get a clear image in my mind of how to get that animal to feel like it’s truly in flight: what position is it in, and how does the smoke need to move on the surface to support my vision? The fumage technique helps me accomplish this movement; the smoke lies on the surface perfectly as if you can see the air wisping behind the wings of the owl or eagle.”

The process requires strategy beyond the research, sketches and planning that she puts into every piece she creates. “I find it challenging to find a balance in how to move the flame over my surface and create an image without fighting it,” she says. “The only way to get soot on your board is to hold it above your head, so when doing a large piece, I have to get more inventive about how I’m going to balance a big piece above my head without destroying the image already in place.” Her research involves looking at photographs, watching documentaries and observing nature: “the way trees grow when trying to find the sunlight, the way water moves through the ground and changes the earth, how insects create homes.”

Willan’s work is represented by Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio in Brevard. “I first saw Julie’s work about two years ago and was immediately captured by its power to draw you into the soul of her subject,” says gallery owner Lucy Clark. Willan says she often begins a work by applying smoke to the eyes in her drawings. “I like to get the soul of the piece staring back at me for the duration of the drawing,” she says. “It makes me feel connected and I like feeling its presence.”

The Great Blue Herons (left) and The Golden Eagle. Julie Willan, artist

The creative connection that keeps her working artistically every day, carrying and stashing notebooks to record new ideas and dropping in on nature for inspiration, is rooted in childhood when her parents supported her pursuit of a commercial art degree as well as a second degree in equine management and training. She spent seven years training horses while also training herself further in sculpture, foundry and welding. “My family was extremely supportive,” she says. “Negative feedback really wasn’t a thing in our house.” That unconditional support continues in the present with her wife Lisa, who works in clay and offers advice. “I may not always take that advice,” Willan says, “but I love knowing she isn’t just telling me something because I want to hear it.”

Willan feels fortunate that her day job for the last 29 years—her own business creating wall finishes and painting murals—also draws upon her passion. “When I get home, I get to do my fine art,” she says. “I feel like it’s a continuation of being creative.”

Find Julie Willan’s work at Lucy Clark Gallery in Brevard. Julie Willan Fine Art is located in Hendersonville and welcomes visitors by appointment only. Learn more at, on Instagram and Facebook @juliewillanfineart and on YouTube at

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