Artist Interview with Julia Bethmann

Hey there, I hope your year is off to a great start! I'm excited to share today's artist interview with my friend, Julia Bethmann. Julia is a super prolific, multi-talented go-getter whose artistic style ranges from whimsical to ethereal. As a special bonus, Julia has included a couple of her fun video tutorials on monoprinting and bookbinding! Enjoy:

Where in the world are you located? What is it like being an artist there?

I am located in Merrimac, Massachusetts which is in the Northeast part of the state very close to New Hampshire and 20 minutes from the ocean. Merrimac itself is pretty isolated for artists. It is a beautiful location and great for getting work done without a lot of distraction. I am currently the Chair of our local Cultural Council, a member of the Newburyport Art Association, and a member of the Monotype Guild of New England.

 

I think for a lot of artists, there's a tension between feeling called to be an artist and the pull to have a "sensible" career. Have you always known that you're an artist? How has your art career evolved?

I have always enjoyed “making” and my mother always encouraged art-making as an activity when I was a kid. I got my BFA from State University of New York at Buffalo with a focus on Photography and Art History, and discovered printmaking late in my degree – I wish I had discovered it sooner! I studied for one semester in Florence, Italy where my attraction to printmaking really took off. While in college I interned at arts non-profits and was introduced to grant writing and that type of work. I am a non-profit consultant and I have been working in this way for 11 years. So, I do have what might be considered a “sensible” career which allows me time to make art and have the resources I need to support my family. So, both threads have followed me throughout my adult life.

Prior to having kids, I was printing at Mix-It studio in Somerville, MA while also working as a Development Director for a non-profit in Cambridge, MA. My husband and I moved North of Boston and I began making art in my home studio. I started an art center around that time as well with studios for rent, gallery space, and a pottery studio. When my children were born I left the art center project, established my work as a consultant, and most of my “making” transitioned into simple sketching and crafting. I had been learning pottery which evolved into knitting, and that evolved into quilting, sewing, and related crafts. I was also dabbling in bookbinding, paper making and more. I have always had a lot of projects in the air and enjoy following my whims… I have all of the art supplies to prove it!

In 2016, I took a class online with Roxanne Coble and was introduced to visual journaling. I have always loved the visual journal aesthetic, but I never internalized it in my own journaling practice, which had been writing focused since I was a teen. Roxanne’s class was so fun and I couldn’t get enough. Following a few of Roxanne’s classes, I signed up for other online classes: Jane Davies-Gelli Printing, Connie Solara-21 Secrets, and Vanessa Oliver-Lloyd-Totems. Vanessa’s class introduced me to Get Messy Art Journaling community which I really enjoy.

In late 2016,  I was using the Gelli plate for collage material, and I made a series of prints that I liked as finished prints themselves – I couldn’t tear them up! I exhibited these prints and some abstract paintings in June 2017 at a local café. Since that time I have been more productive than ever before. I set up my online presence in late 2017 and joined some artist communities like Get Messy (online) and the Newburyport Art Association (in person). In 2018 I joined the Monotype Guild of New England as well.

In early 2018, a friend asked me to teach a block printing class at her yarn shop in Salem, MA after seeing some of my blockprints and I have now offered that class a number of times in my area – with her shop and at the Newburyport Art Association and at my church. I have a menu of classes scheduled for 2019 and am looking forward to what 2019 will bring!

Can you talk a bit about your process? How has your work evolved over time? What are you working on right now? What's new or different about it?

My process has evolved over time. Currently, my daily practice is very important to me and I usually have a few threads I am following. At this moment, I have a series of oil and cold wax paintings that I am aiming to complete for an exhibit with my mother and sister planned for August 2019 in North Creek, NY. In printmaking, I am working on a series of oil-based monotypes for a June exhibit in Newburyport, MA. I participated in a number of daily challenges in 2018 (The 100 Day project, Inktober, Carve December) and have a daily visual journaling and sketching practice. This year I began exploring watercolor illustrations and I am excited for where those are going as well.


Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?

Nature and spirituality are my most common themes as well as layers and experimenting. While most of my work is abstract and exploring this theme, I also enjoy working on realistic watercolor paintings and sketches. When something gets near to the finish line, it rises to the top of my work and I focus my efforts there as I am wrapping it up. Then I will settle back into my piles of projects until the next “thing I want to focus on” rises to the surface.

 

What is your studio practice like? Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into the creative zone? Do you ever get creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?

I just get down to it. I make a little bit every day in some way. If I am tired, I’ll do a little collage in my journal or ink up a sketch in my sketchbook or just cut collage ephemera out of a magazine. I am very busy in my day-to-day life so just starting is the best approach for me.

Let’s talk about art journaling! What is it? How did you discover it? What’s great about it?

I explained above that I came across a class by Roxanne Coble in 2016 and just loved it. I have always admired other visual journals and craved this style for myself, but it never came naturally to me before. I have kept a written journal for most of my life and require time to write and reflect just about daily. I find the same now with a visual journal. It is a place to work out ideas, feelings, emotions, or experiment with materials and can be private and just for me.

Are you a full-time artist or do you also have a day job/side hustle? If you do have a day job, does it tie in with your art practice?

Totally have a day job, I am a consultant for non-profits. I also have two active kids, which could be a full-time job in itself! I work from home and my office is five steps from my art studio … easy commute and that saved time make a difference! When the consulting is a little slower, I can switch desks and jump right into the art. I do keep my time pretty structured overall so that I can get the results I am aiming for.


H ow do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?

I do prioritize time with family; I have a nice relationship with my kids and value the time we have together. My kids will sometimes make art with me and have a seat in my studio that is always available to them.

However, I do have some nice chunks of time each day to work. I am pretty good about tracking what I need to do each day and carving out time for work, art, and family. I try to keep weekend afternoons, for example, as a quiet time where I can work and the rest of my family tends to relax or make other plans. I try not to do consulting in the evenings or weekends unless a deadline comes up that I can’t make otherwise. I am not supporting my family on art at this point, so art will get the back burner if I’m facing a crunch time at work.

What does being an artist mean to you?

Making every day. I enjoy exhibiting, teaching, and sharing online for the community that brings into my life, but I don’t feel I need any of that to be an “artist.” Just need to get down to making some marks!

If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

When I was 20 I was pretty distracted in terms of my art-making. I didn’t prioritize it. I would tell my 20-year-old self to get a little more serious about making time for art and staying focused.

Thanks, Julia! For more information about Julia Bethmann, please visit her website. You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube (for more tutorials!).

Do you have any questions or comments for Julia? Add them to the comments below!


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