Like many aspiring artists growing up, illustrator Julie Alex was told by her family that art was not “a serious profession”. Instead she was encouraged to go down a more traditional route, pursuing a history degree in order to eventually become a teacher. Ironically, Julie’s family were quite a creative bunch, with her grandfather establishing himself as a poet and her mother dabbling keenly in drawing. Eager to follow in their footsteps, Julie went against the well-meaning wishes of her parents’ and ventured into the art world, settling on illustration as her medium of choice.
Despite having no formal training in the craft, and “knowing more about art history than the rules of drawing”, she slowly built a portfolio of eye-catching work. Julie’s lack of degree-level education in the subject was no match for her innate artistry, which is clear in the portrait and still life pieces that make up much of her output. Beautifully coloured and intricately textured, the work is a combination of her everyday observations, including objects and figures around her home and town, and her detailed daydreams.
Julie says the latter, in particular, occurs from feeling creatively stifled, at which point she will turn to music to stimulate her thoughts: “Music is something that always inspires me,” she notes. “Sometimes, when I have a creative block, I just illustrate the lyrics of my favourite songs.” This comes as no surprise given that, at the age of 13, Julie’s ideal subject matter were the members of her most beloved rock bands. Today, this influence remains, and a recent commission even saw her illustrating the band Wunderhorse for the 40th issue of music publication So Young Magazine. “[This illustration] is important to me,” she says. “I’ve been a big fan of So Young for years, so it was amazing to draw for them.”
Other key focal points for Julie are still life and nature. Even though she found these subjects “the most boring to draw” as a teenager, in recent years (and thanks in part to the work of David Hockney) she has a newfound interest in them. Her love for still life specifically was catalysed by the Still Here Still Life challenge that she undertook during lockdown, which involved her — along with the many other followers of the now popular account — using her own unique style to interpret a new still life photograph each week. “The challenge made me realise that I actually like drawing the simple things we see everyday everywhere, and reminded me of the beauty of these things,” she explains.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Julie’s work, aside from the stunning colour palette and the clever, often layered, compositions, is the angle at which it is drawn. Slightly but noticeably tilted, many of her pieces have been rendered in such a way that they follow a more or less diagonal line. It’s an unusual and captivating technique which Julie says was born from a desire to draw comfortably. “Before I switched to digital I would use a ruler to make a straight line and it felt like I was doing everything else but drawing,” she tells us. “My handwriting is slanted to the right so I just thought ‘why can’t I draw the same way’ — also, I think it gives a little bit of life and movement to my drawings.”
GalleryCopyright © Julie Alex, 2023
Copyright © Julie Alex, 2023
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.