Prolific Water Colourist
& Story by Carl Morgan
She's five foot
two with a fan of creamy blonde hair and an infectious sense of
humour. Her quiet, almost self-effacing confidence camou-flages
a goal driven ambition that has made her one of Western Ontario's
most successful water colour artists.
Meet 39 year old
Julia Conlon, a mother of six children as well as a very savvy businesswoman
whose paintings are sought after throughout Canada and the United
her watercolours as illustrative and representational of Canadian
family lifeň a collection of vignettes drawn from everyday experiences.
"I try to capture the mood and emotion of the principals in each
painting rather than simply producing a series of portraits," explains
for her work is all around her - across the street, over the backyard
fence, down the alley. It springs from watching her own family and
neighbours at work and play; seeing how a warm summer wind toys
with freshly laundered clothes on the line, kids skipping to school
and splashing through rain puddles. Her paintings are replete with
dogs, cats and cracker crumbs.
Some of the settings
for her paintings flow from memories of her own childhood years.
In fact her very first work, "Julia 1", a self-portrait, was inspired
from those memories. Her 1992 catalogue, "Expressions of Life" embraces
the essence of her work.
Born on Windermere
Rd., Julia has spent all her life in Walkerville except for five
years when the family moved to Michigan. She now lives at 447 Kildare
Rd. in a 110-year-old home which she and her husband and business
partner Marty, renovated after buying it in 1984 from her parents,
Donald and Carole Wilson.
Julia and Marty
also own the adjacent Century home, which serves as their gallery
and framing shop. Initially, Julia even shoehorned her popular art
classes into part of that building. They have since rented quarters
on the top floor of a one-time factory across the street which houses
her studio as well as the art school where Julia teaches up to five
classes of 24 students each week.
To really know
Julia Conlon, it's necessary to crank the clock back 23 years. At
16 and with $134 in the bank, Julia announced to her mother that
she was going into business
as an artist. She converted her seven-by-twelve foot bedroom into
a makeshift "studio", installed a business phone and paid for a
small ad in the Yellow Pages announcing that she would take on artistic
commissions including portraits, pets and business card designs.
Her first real
"paying job" was as a quick-draw portrait artist on Boblo Island.
Julia worked at Boblo for five summers and figures she "did" 8000
faces. During the winter months, she set up shop at Devonshire Mall.
Reluctant to dip into her hard-earned savings, she sold the Mall
on the idea of letting her play the Easter Bunny for two years in
exchange for free space!
If she was going
to be serious about this art business, Julia figured she needed
a "real" studio. She found a space for $25 a month on the second
floor of a building at University and Pelissier.
Of course, an
artist needs more than a studio: paper, for instance. Since she
didn't have paper or much money, Julia went looking.
"I walked into
Herald Press where I met a man by the name of Fred, told him my
story and asked if he had any scrap paper or card stock that I could
buy cheap. He picked up a box of blank wedding cards and handed
it to me no charge!"
to her new studio, Julia scooped out a handful of cards, taped a
dozen of them in a strip along a table she used as an easel
and began painting.
"I had a real
assembly line going. I began painting simple vignettes animals,
forest scenes, and birds. As I finished one, I started on the next."
When she had 30
finished, she walked into Weeper's Jewellery where she announced
to a much surprised Harry Weeper that she would let him have them
for $2 each and he could give one as a gift to every customer who
bought something. He loved the idea and so did his customers.
Fast forward to
1988 and the day Julia held her first solo exhibition. Taking a
chance that her larger paintings would sell, she rented a hall for
$800. The show was a complete sell-out.
"One man came
in, looked around and asked what I would charge for everything on
one wall! I was shaking so hard I could hardly breathe. Finally
I said, $2000 and he wrote the cheque!"
Marty, who manages the business as well as the framing, crating
and shipping, marvels at the way his wife is prepared to spend money
to make money. "She is simply not afraid to take chances!"
Demand for Julia's
work grew so she moved into the numbered, limited edition print
market in 1988. Today the prints (no more than 500 to an edition)
range in price form $25 to $240 while originals carry price tags
of between $300 and $12,000. Most hover around $1800. Julia has
60 limited editions and 20 are sold out.
in the world of art is dangerously subjective, but between the two
of them, Julia and Marty manage to keep food on the table, take
care of the needs of six children and pay five part-time employees.
Gallery is open
Monday to Saturday from 12 to 5.
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