A few years ago now I took a day trip to Door County with a girlfriend and we explored the day together. One of our stops was a beach (I couldn’t tell you which one), but it was a bit cloudy and overcast and so very gorgeous out. As we approached the water we saw a painter and so we stopped to chat for bit. I asked if I could take some photos, we chatted a bit more and my girlfriend and I both left with a business card. Shortly after, we put two and two together and I realized that the painter we met in Door County was a classmate of my older brother and had grown up in Appleton. Small worlds I tell ya!
Anywho, since that day I have followed Julie’s work and admired her talent from afar. I usually saw her at a show or two each year and always made it a point to say ‘Hi!’, and to peek through her pieces. I am always excited when I meet someone and our personalities jive allowing conversation to fill an hour or two so effortlessly. (I hope it’s not all in my head ~ Julie feel free to set the record straight if you think I dominated conversation and you were itching to boot me out of your studio the day of your session ~ hahaha!).
I think the Fox Cities is pretty darn lucky to claim Julie Jilek as a native. Her talent amazes me and I will continue to put a twenty or two into my ‘art jar’ to one day hopefully commission a piece of my own. I would be thrilled to hang it with pride!
Name: Julie Jilek
Business: Visual Artist (Julie Jilek Art)
When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to do a little bit of everything (this has not changed with age). I was interested in working in the medical field or becoming a lawyer when I was young. I was always involved in the arts, primarily music. My curiosity in the visual arts didn’t develop until later in my teenage years.
What does a typical day of work look like for you start to finish? I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day, which is an element of appeal for me being my own boss. On average I wake up a bit later (8 or 9 am) drink coffee, read, catch up on emails. Now that it is summer I try to go for a run early in the day before it gets too hot outside. I head into the studio around 11 am and work for a few hours, take a break mid-afternoon, then head back for the remainder of the day. Much of my studio time is spent addressing less-creative business activities: social media, website work, shipping, framing, building canvases, emails, etc. It is safe to say more than 50% of my daily efforts are dedicated to these types of tasks. The remaining time is for painting and drawing commissioned and personal work. Recently, I’ve been really inspired and find myself working late into the night, and on occasion into the early morning hours. I struggle with motivation and inspiration often, so when it strikes I become a bit obsessed and follow with every ounce of energy I have.
Any favorite projects you’re currently working on? Yes! After many years of working primarily in oils painting landscapes and abstracts, I recently dove back into charcoal drawing, specifically portraits, many of them based on musician, Julien Baker, and her work which I have been drawing endless inspiration from. It may seem a bit overly grandiose or sweeping of a statement but her album changed me (this seems to be a common sentiment from most who listen to her record and/or see her perform live), but that is power and importance of art. Her work is a seriously welcome reminder that vulnerability does not equate to weakness. Through the process of dissecting another artist’s material, I find it helps me to understand (and inform) my own work. The drawings are indirect self-portraits, I suppose. I am drawing her and drawing myself. Drawing will always be my most cherished medium. It is how I rationalize my place in the world. It helps me find my way back when I stray.
I’ve also been collaborating with a friend on some projects, incorporating video, music and photography which has been exciting. We developed a time lapse reel documenting the process of one of my drawings (you can view it on YouTube). It is really refreshing to tap into that child-like curiosity exploring new and different mediums to temper the stagnation that can come from working in a singular field. I hope to make this interdisciplinary work more common moving forward.
How do you use social media and what is your favorite way to connect with your audience? I spend more time on social media than I would like to admit but I try to use it for advertising and also a way to stay up to date on upcoming deadlines, other contemporary artists work, art news, etc. I post on a variety of sites, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter in an effort to direct viewers to my website. The majority of my commissioned work is from individuals who find me on the internet. I do my best to keep each site updated with important news and events. There are certainly days when I would love to completely unplug and do away with the draining elements that come with the constant connectedness of social media, but I try to focus on the positive ones.
How do you find inspiration? I find it in a variety of places; from other artist’s work, nature, travel, music, books, etc. There are times when it is very difficult to find and there is little to no desire to create and I have to show up and drag myself forward until I’m lucky enough to get slammed with inspiration again.
What are your struggles with being an entrepreneur and how do you grow from your tough experiences? I would say the biggest struggles for me are the unpredictability of workload and the overwhelming responsibilities that are attached to running a business solo. Admittedly I am not an A+ business owner. I do just enough of what I need to do to continue to pursue my passions but it is no secret that my strengths lie in areas outside of running a business. It gets a little easier every year and I am slowly navigating my way through this bizarre career choice. It is a constant hustle to make ends meet but the positives typically outweigh the negatives. I am very grateful to make a living as an artist. It can appear a bit manic with highs and lows but I don’t know how I would live any other life than this.
Who or where is your go to for creative criticism when you are questioning your work and why? I have a few friends whose opinions I trust with my work when a piece is still in progress. I don’t like too many opinions while things are developing. I’m extremely susceptible to criticism and it can muddy my own thoughts towards the work, so I try to keep much of it to myself until I feel the art has reached a stage close to completion. In general, it’s just me… followed by whomever is willing to look at it when I paste it all over the internet.
What was the best piece of advice you ever got? I had a visiting adjunct professor early on in college when my work was radically different (very controlled photorealism) who kindly acknowledged my technical abilities but was determined to push me and my work both aesthetically and conceptually. He would say something to the effect of, “Put yourself out in open water, alone, on an iceberg. You have to find your way there.” It was terribly abstract to me at the time but his gentle suggestion to fearlessly create stuck with me (although acknowledged, its application has been intermittent). This has been a drive and recent focus with my work, to be fearlessly intentional. Say what I want to say. There will always be people there to judge and criticize, but at least the output will be genuine.
What’s your secret for productivity? Impossible deadlines. Fits of panic and inspiration. The desire and drive to be the best I can be at what I do. Unhealthy amounts of coffee.
Who are some of your other favorite creatives to follow? I love the photography of Kyle Thompson, I can page through his imagery for hours. I follow so many artists for a variety of reasons. I’m attracted to work from the painfully traditional to strangely fantastical. I’m a fan of April Coppini’s drawing style, bold and active. I love Emilio Villalba’s portrait work. He also has a really great podcast interview over on Artist Decoded. Mia Bergeron, Nicole Watt, Nicomi Nix Turner, William Wray….There are so many talented musicians, illustrators, writers, photographers I follow as well. I suppose that is an upside to social media, endless access to crazy talented artists. It is all so fascinating.
Anything we missed that you would like to share? I don’t think so! Thank you for asking me to be a part of this and for photographing my studio and my work. I appreciate it!