Artist Journey: Julia Iredale
last updated 15 October 2019
Ever since she was a child, British Columbia based illustrator Julia Iredale has been intrigued with creating magical, mythical worlds, be it in her own imagination or through the words of one of her fictional stories. Julia continued to pursue her love of creativity as an adult, going on to earn her bachelor’s degree in illustration from Emily Carr University before joining Bright in 2018. In the spirit of legends and lore that October brings, and with Halloween just around the corner, we thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Julia to chat about all things mysterious, as well as the hauntingly beautiful artwork behind her latest project, Myths and Legends of the World, which published on October 15th with Lonely Planet Kids.
How did you discover your love for illustration, and when did your journey as an artist begin? Were you interested in illustrating from an early age?
As a kid, I was always interested in storytelling and imaginary worlds, playing games outside in the woods with my friends, pretending to be fairies, runaway orphans, mythical creatures, or washed-up pirates on far-flung escapades. I grew up on a small island with lots of wild spaces around me, so I always loved and communed with the natural world. I loved to write stories too, and I remember some of my earliest experiences of drawing were in making the maps for the landscapes and cities in my stories; these little worlds I dreamed up would come alive with mysterious detail, I would get so lost in them. I think that as an adult I’ve always tried to get back to this feeling of losing myself in creating. I love those times when the worlds of my imagination can feel even more real and vivid than the “real world.” As a teenager, I got more seriously into drawing and painting. My work then was more abstract with some figurative elements, but it wasn’t until entering art school that I started to become more focused on representational art, thinking about how I could gain the skills to translate my more complex ideas and inner worlds into images so that others could see them too.
Recent book covers illustrated by Julia. Left: SPINDLE AND DAGGER, publishing March 2020 with Candlewick. Right: THE SPINNER OF DREAMS, published August 27th with HarperCollins
Your style is informed by your love of mythology, dark fantasy, and human psychology. Where do you look to for inspiration when creating your stunning, mysterious worlds and characters?
My main inspiration still comes from my inner life, from my dreams and my imagination, which takes in fuel from all the incredible stories and visions made by other human hearts and minds throughout the world. I love to read, and have always been a huge fantasy nerd, binging on all the classics like Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) and Harry Potter (I’ve listened to the Jim Dale audiobooks of HP probably 500 times, I used to not be able to sleep without them as a kid!). I always had a love for Arthurian tales too, hence my love of knights and heraldry and medieval-era imagery.
Julia paints under the watchful eye of Mr. Honeyfoot, her cat.
As well as fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated with psychology and the many layers and depths to our human minds and subjective experience. I think I was drawn to these themes from a young age, witnessing the complexities and intangibilities of my own mind and constructed self. It was never an easy thing for me to be a person and to feel at home in my identity in the world, and getting to know other humans deeply as I love to do, I think it has felt inherently strange for so many of us. I’m interested in that strangeness, that space between who we really are and who we think we are, between the reader of the story and the story itself. I love to let these concepts find their way into my work. I think of my creative heart as a hot tea within which all the experiences of my life lie quietly mixing and steeping; it’s usually when I relax and let my thinking mind go that new things can bubble up from there, whether I’m dreaming or meditating or laying in the dark listening to music, watching the strange scenes from my subconscious play out in my mind.
Speaking of mythology, you have a very exciting project, Myths and Legends of the World, that debuted on October 15th! Can you take us through your creative approach while working on this book? Is there an element of research that goes into illustrating the epic gods and goddesses of history?
Myths and Legends of the World was an absolute dream project for me, and one that fell into my lap quite unexpectedly very shortly after signing on with Bright. I’ve had a huge love of mythology since an early age, sparked by my love of imagination and story and furthered by my fascination with history and other cultures. The stories for Myths were so fun to dig into from a research perspective. I received a rough draft of the manuscript and was able to do my own visual research for each one. It was so much fun and definitely a challenge too, trying to find ways to portray these ancient stories from so many different cultures, to do them justice, and to interpret them all in my own visual style. My wonderful art director Ryan Thomann and I came together to figure out a visual look for the book. We both wanted to land on a fairly loose and silhouette-based style, to capture the dream-like quality of some of the stories and to avoid some of the pitfalls of misinterpretation and misrepresentation.
“Julia’s work is beautiful and haunting, and from the moment I was introduced to it I knew she would be the perfect artist to tackle MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD. Her approach to illustrating these age-old tales was fearless, but with a remarkable reverence for each individual legend and its culture. She was able to put her own distinct mark on each story while still maintaining its authenticity and roots. Julia’s MYTH art feels totally fresh and mysterious, yet somehow ineffably familiar, as if it was pulled from a collective unconsciousness where the stories themselves reside.” — Ryan Thomann, Art Director at Lonely Planet Kids
From early sketches to final spreads, where do you begin on the page? Do you work digitally, by hand, or with a mixture of both?
I go back and forth between traditional and digital mediums a lot in my work. For Myths, I did most of the thumbnail sketching on my iPad using Procreate, which is such a lightweight and fluid app to use for sketching, I usually gravitate to it when I need to tackle something like composition sketches and don’t want to grind my paper to pulp with my eraser. Once thumbnails are approved, I move on to final art, eventually overlaying the thumbnail sketch in my layout with the final artwork, and gradually eating away at the mountain of work (I feel like a teeny, tiny worm chewing slowly through a gigantic apple, hehe). For the final artwork of Myths, I worked mainly in gouache and ink, after which I would scan the paintings to my computer and compile and finalize them digitally. I wanted the artwork to have the organic, ethereal feeling of watercolor, while still being able to use digital tools to sharpen and add details where necessary.
Final interior spread from MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Many of your illustrations are rendered in deep, dark, dreamy hues. Can you tell us a bit about the process behind your palette choice and the relationship to the subject matter?
I tried to use a variety of colors for Myths and Legends, but I always seem to gravitate towards the deeper end of the spectrum in my work. A lot of the stories in Myths have a darkness and a depth to them, despite being simplified for a younger audience, and I wanted to let that come through in the artwork so that the pieces would speak to older readers as well as young. Even as a kid I was drawn to a certain degree of depth and complexity in the images I loved, so when working on projects I try to keep in mind that even though kids respond to slightly different things than adults, they are still able to appreciate subtlety and depth. On another note, I’ve just been having a straight-up love affair with a particular tube of cerulean blue gouache that I bought, so I think that found its way into the book more often than not.
Where do you do your best work? What does your workspace look like nowadays?
I was actually in the middle of moving cities when the project with Lonely Planet Kids came in, and did some traveling in-between, so the work for Myths and Legends got done in a few different creative spaces. I was going through a big life change around that time and decided to sell most of my belongings and furniture and leave Vancouver (where I went to art school and had been living for the past nine years) and move to the smaller city of Victoria over on Vancouver Island. Before landing fully in Victoria, I also tried working on the road for the first time, taking advantage of the freelance lifestyle and staying in Montreal and NYC for a little while.
I remember working on the final touches for the front cover of Myths and Legends out of a little coffee shop in Brooklyn; it was incredible to be working on this project while surrounded by the heady, bustling creativity of New York City, I’ll never forget it. After that, I returned home to the west coast and spent most of the dark winter months holed up in my little studio here in Victoria, pulling 10-12 hour art days with Mr. Honeyfoot, my cat, who likes to step in my paints and flop on my keyboard every chance he gets.
Julia adding the final touches to MYTHYS AND LEGENDS at her studio in Victoria
You joined Bright just over a year ago! How has working with the agency helped develop your career as an illustrator since then?
Joining Bright has been an incredible experience for me professionally! It has really helped me take the step into full-time freelance illustration, with steady work coming in from my wonderful agents in NYC and London. I’ve had the opportunity to work with major publishing houses all around the world, learning more about the industry and pushing myself into new creative territory. I had a really wonderful opportunity to visit the Bright office when I was in NYC and meet some of the lovely folks there, which really helped me to feel part of a larger illustration community of good-hearted, creative people (something that can be hard to feel as a freelancer in a remote corner of the world!).
Click here to view Julia’s full portfolio.