Crow: Julia, I bought one of your note cards in Santa Fe a couple of years ago and I treasure it. Your contact information was on the back. I’ve been involved in music and writing.. and recently art. We have never spoken or met, but I can tell that you have multiple talents and interests. There is such energy (and joy) in your work. Thank you for being willing to do this interview.
You live in NM now, but tell us about your upbringing and adventures, please. (Oh, If only I could paint my memories of India with your skill.)
Julia: I was born in Oxford, England, a very long time ago (61 years) but grew up in a village outside Oxford called Harwell. I was the second of 4 children. My Mum was a single mother, which in the ’60s was very challenging. We had little money but we were pretty happy. I used to paint and draw on the kitchen table, somehow that creativity sustained me as it does to this day. I loved to ride and was able to buy a pony from the New Forest when I was 13 (they were auctioned off every year for very little money). My best friend’s father was a farmer and allowed me to keep the pony in a field with her pony. Riding became another pastime for me and got me outside a lot. When I was about 17, I bought a motorcycle and drove around the countryside painting. With my painting box, easel, and paints strapped to the back of my Suzuki 200cc I’d tear around looking for the perfect view. Using my motorcycle as a perch, I’d sit and paint for many hours.
At 18 I wanted to travel and left for a kibbutz in Israel where I stayed for many months. This created a wanderlust in me. Every time I returned to the UK I would set to work saving money so I could travel somewhere else. After grape picking in France, I headed to Kenya where I was fortunate to get a job working on a ‘ranch’ that was owned by a colonial family. There was a Maasai tribe living on the ranch and they were permitted to remain there as long as they danced every afternoon for tourists. It was an odd disconnect between an indigenous people and those of privilege but at the time I was not fully aware of this and enjoyed the interaction with the Masai who would come and visit me and the other helpers at the time.
This is where I began to draw seriously, I was fascinated by the Masai and their beautiful elegance. When we brought the tourists up from the Manyatta where the Masai resided and danced to the lush grounds of the colonial house, I was able to offer my drawings for sale. The thrill of having a complete stranger purchase a piece of my art was very exciting. From Kenya, I went to South Africa, which was a real culture shock. Apartheid was in full swing and in Capetown I did not see many Africans, they were all in their ‘homelands’ only allowed into the city to work. I got a job for a few months in an advertising agency and when I had saved some money, I took the train up to Botswana. This was the real Africa for me. I fell in love with the Okavango delta in the northern part of the country and vowed to return when I’d saved some money and could obtain a residence permit.
I did return, a year later, in 1983 when I was 23 years old, permits in hand and a case full of art supplies. From the first week I was there, I had many adventures but did end up back in the Delta where I spent the next 9 years. At first, I lived off the land with a friend I’d made, Sally, who was a photographer, we shot pigeons and fished the rivers, camping out on the islands that were surrounded by the waters of the Okavango. We got around in a dugout canoe, becoming adept polers, knowing where hippos and crocodiles might be lurking.
Every day I painted so by the time we left the swamps for the big city of Gaberone, I had enough work for an exhibition. From the exhibition came the commission by the Postal Service to illustrate stamps for the country. I illustrated 4 series of stamps over the time I was in Botswana. Besides regular exhibitions, I also published postcards and greeting cards which sold very well and kept my VW beetle gassed up.
I was thrilled that my work could support me and I was able to sustain a lifestyle that involved long periods of time in the Swamps followed by time in the city where I did my business. At this time I inherited a black labrador from a woman who had returned to the UK but could not take the dog. Nare (Naree) soon became my best friend, coming with me everywhere. He had an uncanny ability to swim underwater, a talent that saved his life when he was attacked by a crocodile. He lived to tell the tale and even accompanied me to the US when I came here in 1992. I also had a cat, Biggles who I found in the delta. She was not so fortunate as Nare and was taken by a leopard one evening when we were sitting by the fire.
It was in the delta I met my future husband, John Bulger, who was running a baboon research camp not far from where Sally and I had our little camp. On discovering we both had parasites, Sally and I poled our dugout to Baboon camp in order to radio town for some medicine. John’s friend Paul was visiting at the time so the four of us had a party, it was lovely to see some other young people after so long on a little island. John invited me to live at Baboon camp, which I happily did, setting up a little studio in one of the reed huts that was perched on the edge of the island. John went out to watch his baboons every day and I went out to paint. It was an idyllic few years. Eventually, John had to return to the U.S to finish his Ph.D. I was reluctant to leave Africa, especially to go to the States, a country I had no desire to visit, let alone live!
Eventually love won out. We married in 1992 in Kasane, a little town on the edge of the Chobe river in N. Botswana. Living in the U.S was a huge culture shock for me. I began to paint the Africa I remembered, creating stylized figures and animals. I met a lovely woman in Davis, CA, who owned a gallery and took my work on. She sold everything I painted and I was able to pay our rent for many months until John graduated.
We lived for 13 years by the ocean, just north of Santa Cruz, CA. In this idyllic spot, we raised two children. I continued to paint and found a licensing agent in N.York who took me on. My work found its way onto many products from jigsaw puzzles to shower curtains and gave me a ‘passive’ income for many years.
It was in 2000 that I got my first children’s book deal, with Scholastic books, a book entitled ‘The Spider Weaver’ which is no longer in print but gave me a leg up into the world of children’s book illustration. I have to date illustrated 12 books for children, the latest of which will be published in January of 2021.
We moved to Salt Spring Island in Canada for a year in 2007 but the rain chased us back to the U.S. We settled in Santa Fe, NM where the sun shines for 300 days a year.
Since living in Galisteo, a little village just outside Santa Fe, I have continued to paint. I began teaching shortly after arriving in NM, teaching classes in my studio and the local Community college. I also traveled to Canada and the UK to teach. Recently I’ve been teaching classes on Zoom which has been such a blessing.
Over the years I have traveled to Brazil, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Morocco, and India. Each culture has inspired me. When I return from my travels I am able to use my experiences to create a series of paintings.
Crow: Have you always drawn and painted? What other creative activities do you enjoy? Do you have a favorite kind of music.. or musicians?
Julia: I have drawn and painted for as long as I can remember. I am also a yoga teacher which I also teach online. My passions, besides painting and yoga, are swimming and hiking. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful place with many hiking trails. Both my children are musicians, my daughter plays the fiddle and my son the guitar. They do not make a living from it but love doing it and are very good. I do not have a musical skill but enjoy listening to whatever music they suggest I listen to. Right now I love the Ruen Brothers.
Crow: Can you tell us more about your personal life and how you developed your style. If you don’t mind my being so curious.
Julia: I am 61, married to John Bulger for 28 years. I have one sister, two half-sisters, and two brothers. All except my younger sister live in England.
I developed my style many years ago, realizing that the background of a painting could be as important and colorful as the foreground. I love using negative space. Watercolor is perhaps my favorite medium although I have done a lot of work in mixed media and acrylic. I love to vary the themes of my work and cannot imagine painting the same thing every day. Even though I began painting landscapes, and still do, I love to use my imagination and play with color. I have not published any books about my style but have illustrated many children’s books.
Crow: What are the highest and lowest points you’ve hit? How do you get yourself back into balance after upheavals?
Julia: Highest point, probably bringing up the children in California and finding success with my work simultaneously. My time in Africa was also a high point, my memories and experiences are still very much a part of my work today. Low points, probably this year and the covid pandemic. My father died of covid in April and I have not been able to get back and see my family in England. (Crow: this is heartbreaking to hear.)
Crow: How has the pandemic changed your life? Have you discovered things that you might not have discovered without this global disaster?
Julia: The pandemic did bring opportunities for me. I discovered zoom and am able to continue teaching art and yoga on that platform. I also took part in 100 days project in Scotland where I did a painting a day for 100 days. That was a challenge but I did it and it kept me working when I could easily have just wallowed in the sadness of everything. I have also discovered that people are basically the same everywhere, we all want the same things, and in that way are all connected. Our son has been home with us since March when he returned for spring break and was not able to return to college. He graduated on zoom. It has been wonderful having him around for so long (even though it’s driving him nuts!).
Crow: What do you look forward to exploring next? I sure want to follow whatever you are going.
Julia: I am excited about a project that I’m going to be working on with some people in L.A. I am not at liberty to say what that is but I’m excited to be going in a new direction with my work.
Crow: Thank you so much for sharing your life and work with us. As I read I was saying “I was in London ’68 -72… and my degree was in Zoology, — well, we are all connected.