Welcome to my first female ‘Artist of the Month’ blog – Julie McDonald
I chose Julie not only because of the joyful art she creates but because of the positivity she spreads throughout the art world. Julie is also a beautiful writer; she is someone who writes from the heart. You will often find Julie’s words of encouragement and praise on numerous artist creations on Instagram.
Julie creates the most enchanting art, art that makes you think of happy childhood memories. I particularly love Julie’s Christmas illustration of forest animals in the snow around a Christmas tree. I also absolutely adore her latest work of Binkie the Badger.
Emma: Before we start a massive congratulation on your recent children’s picture book, which is now available at Waterstones.com called ‘Binkie’s Great Egg Paint Off!
Where did the inspiration for this book come from? What inspired you to create the famous ‘Binkie the Badger character?
Julie: Three years ago, whilst walking in the local woods with my family, we discovered a set of badgers. There were lots and lots of them! About seven to eight adult ones and numerous baby cubs! It was so wonderful to see them foraging, happily in the woods, with the moon shining down from above.
That night, once I had gone to bed, my mind was full of thoughts and ideas. Words were springing into my head, in rhyming couplets, about a badger called Binkie. In the end, I came downstairs and sat writing these thoughts down, before I might forget them. This is what usually happens when I am inspired to write a poem! I had a vision that this was going to be a book that I would one day illustrate. But how and when I was going to do it, I did not know.
About a year later, I was approached to prepare some illustrations for a local author, which gave me my first experience in preparing digital illustrations. Then I started designing characters for my own book. Throughout lockdown, I worked long hours creating pencil sketches and digital illustrations. Eventually, I was ready to publish my book!
Emma: Can you tell us what is next for Binkie the badger?
Julie: The next book in the Binkie & Friends’ Adventure series, ‘Binkie’s Sparkling Surprise’, is already written! In fact, I wrote this book before I wrote Binkie’s Great Egg Paint Off!’ I was going to publish this one towards the end of 2020, but there wasn’t enough time to do it properly and with Covid still affecting schools and shops being allowed to open, I thought it would be better to wait until 2021.
Then, in November 2020, I was asked to make a Binkie Easter activity book for a local fish and chip shop. Whilst doing this the idea for ‘Binkie’s Great Egg Paint Off!’ came along. I decided to make this my first Binkie book and use it to introduce the characters as well as tie in with Easter! So, I worked extremely hard throughout January and February to complete all of the illustrations and have the book ready for 1st March!
Emma: How did your art journey begin? Did anyone inspire you?
Julie: I always loved drawing as a child but never believed I could paint. I always thought artists were ‘born artists’ and that it wasn’t something you could learn. It wasn’t until my husband bought me a birthday present, to attend a day’s painting workshop with local artist John Thompson, at Nymans Gardens (a National Trust property nearby), that I discovered painting is a skill you can learn. Since that day I have not been able to put my paintbrush down!!
Emma: How would you describe yourself as an artist and your work?
Julie: I would describe myself as a very creative person who lives and breathes life in colours! I am passionate about the planet, wildlife and animals, as well as health and the environment. Previously I qualified and worked as a Nutritional Therapist, so health has always been a strong interest. In fact, art has been a great healer for me. Since discovering painting, I have noticed major improvements in my own health. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who needs a little healing.
‘Art has the power to heal’
As an artist I am a bit of a butterfly really, tending to flit from one project to another. I generally seem to have at least five or six paintings on the go, all at the same time! I come back to them when I am in the mood. One of my paintings, I have been working on for over a year, but it is quite large - well that’s my excuse anyway! But hopefully, I will manage to finish it soon.
I love trying different things. I do a little lino-printing and paint in all sorts of mediums; watercolours, acrylics, oils, pastels, inks, charcoal, etc. I have used my hands as well as brushes. I paint large and small! In fact, I have had much fun collaborating with another artist (and friend), Jayne Crow (@jaynesartdesigns) painting murals for local schools.
Emma: What has been the standout moment for you as an artist so far? Is there an artwork you are most proud of?
Julie: Well, my first painting to sell at an exhibition was ‘Moonlit Badgers’ and I remember the exhilarating feeling I experienced when it was reserved on the preview night. Also, I was extremely pleased when the same painting won first prize at a competition at Horsham Art Academy. So, it is not surprising I decided to write a book that included a badger. I only recently sold another print of this one and I have sold many greetings cards displaying it on the front.
Emma: Where do you make your magical creations?
Julie: I create most of my art inside my home unless the weather permits me to paint ‘en plein air’. I live close to the South Downs National Park, so it is great for painting landscapes and fields of poppies. Currently, I have a space at home where I can paint uninterrupted! We call it the Art Room. However, many of my earlier paintings were done on an easel in the kitchen, in between cooking dinners and looking after my two children! One day, I would love to have my own art studio!
Emma: Not only do you create amazing artwork, but you are also a writer – what came first, writing or painting?
Julie: I started writing poetry when I was in my twenties, whereas I only started painting five years ago, so, in answer to your question, the writing came first. Quite often I am inspired to write something down. Words just come into my head at the most unexpected moments. I love rhyming verse. Over the years, a few of my poems have been published in the local newspapers and one day I plan to compile a book of all of my poems and decorate it with my own illustrations.
Emma: Finally, what advice and tips would you give to fellow artists and writers?
Julie: My most important advice would be to create what makes your heart sing!
This will bring you happiness, joy and fulfil your creative appetite. Follow your natural instincts and don’t follow any rules. It is your art, and you can do it any way you like. There is no right or wrong way in art. Just go with your own natural flow of energy and you may surprise yourself!!
Furthermore, whatever painting ideas feel good for you, will most likely give many other's pleasure too! Never be afraid of what anyone will think. Be true to yourself.
Emma: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to create and publish their own picture book?
Julie: There is so much I have learnt over the past 12 months, through researching online and my own experiences, it is difficult to summarise everything in a few sentences. However, I would point out that many publishers prefer to receive manuscripts without illustrations, as many of them have their own in-house illustrators. So self-publishing can be ideal for a writer who wants to produce their own illustrations. Avoid vanity publishers though who will often take lots of your money for basically doing very little apart from printing off your books (which you can arrange yourself for a much smaller cost).
There are a number of online print-on-demand companies that now offer support to self-publishers but I do not have any experience of these so I cannot say how well they work.
If you do decide to self-publish, you will need to arrange for your book to be converted into a high-resolution digital PDF print file so you can send it to the printer in the correct format. Find a local printer who can offer you support with this. You will also need to obtain an ISBN number and barcode from Nielsen’s ISBN store, although if you are using a print-on-demand company they may do this for you.
The biggest task you will have, without a publisher, is promoting your book. This almost takes more time than writing and illustrating the book itself! So be forewarned, you will need to work very hard contacting bookstores and persuading them to stock your books. Also, this will mean offering a discount, usually between 30 and 60% or the retail price.
You will also need to promote your book on social media (so start increasing your followers now), organise local campaigns such as media coverage, interviews on local radio stations, book readings and signings etc.
If you have any questions or would like to talk to me for some more guidance, please contact me via my website or Instagram, I would be very happy to help.
Emma: Where can people see your work?
Julie: You can see my art in the gallery on my website www.juliealisonmcdonald.com and my Instagram Page - @juliealisonmcdonald. Or why not buy a copy of my book, available from my website or Waterstones.com! It makes a great eco-friendly Easter gift (printed on recycled paper) and can be purchased directly from my website. Also, 10% of the sales proceeds will be donated to the badger trust.
Emma: Julie, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you and I cannot wait to see what you do next and hopefully, maybe you and I can work on a collaboration piece together.
Blog by EJ Wilcox Art (someone who writes and creates from the heart).