Intro to Julie Cunningham 

Julie Cunningham is an artist from the UK who has challenged the whole concept of a canvas.  Julie produces all of her works on feathers and encases them in beautiful displays, using slate, glass and wood.  In this frank and honest interview, Julie shares how it was only last year that she returned to art and how she nearly gave up as the struggle to sell was just too much, read on to find out what changed….

Tell us about you, what art you like to make and how you got into art.

The artist, Julie Cunningham, born in Doncaster, but now lives on a smallholding outside a friendly village in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

This move, according to Julie, is one of the best moves she and her husband have made. This has given her the opportunity to pursue her passion for farm animals, wildlife and painting. She has found herself endeavouring to capture some of the character and beauty of nature, experimenting with different materials and media before choosing feathers.

She uses her skills in painting a varied selection of animals, on a very unusual canvas. The thing that sets her apart from other artists in the same field is what the feathers are displayed in. These are a variation of wood, glass and slate. Making each piece, not only the painting its self, but each individual feather and the way they are displayed is quite unique and sometimes a little quirky.

The feather may mean different things to different people. The most common being; A white feather is sent to encourage you, provide guidance and to let you know that you or a loved one is being protected. Feathers have such a profound meaning to a lot of people but have a real significance to Julie. There always seems to be a feather landing on or near her when she is either feeling down or has lost a loved one. They appear in the strangest places at the most inopportune times.

The feathers have been shed naturally from her flock. Her idea to use the feathers as a canvas has meant that they are no longer just a discarded produce of the birds, but are now put to good use.

My favorite art materials and art books are….

I don’t tend to read books. I’m not the best reader. When I first started painting, as a child, the earliest memory I have is painting Airfix models for my dad. He used to sell the kits in his shop and used to display what I’d painted in his display cabinets. I’d have been about 7 years old.

I then as a teenager started to paint in watercolours but didn’t find it was my medium. I know paint in acrylics, which is what I feel is the correct medium for me. I paint animals on real feathers. These are from my own flock of geese, ducks and chickens. I love the delicacy and intricacy that is needed.

The best advice I have been given as an artist is….

“Be patient. You will find your people! Just continue to do what you do, it’s amazing.” This is my husband. I think he listens to Michelle’s videos as much as I do!

What was life like before you became a member of United ArtSpace to now?

Before the Hub, I was just a hobbyist, not really doing much art at all. I mean ‘one’ painting every ten years!! Life had taken over. I always had encouragement from my parents and grandparents as a child, but its not job!

I then meet my husband in my teens. At that time, I had no idea he could paint and used to show off his artwork, which I always encouraged, but was too scared to show him what I did. We got married in 1989, and he still had no idea I could paint. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with our first child that I had time for me. I started painting in watercolours, and I painted a bird of prey, his favourite bird ‘the kestrel’. He was in awe!

I didn’t do any more painting again until I was poorly about ten years ago when I suffered from depression. Art was my savour. I painted my two border collies. It wasn’t until last year that I started painting again.

It was my daughter that wanted a pet portrait doing of her wonderful dog and companion. I thought it was a lot of money for her, so I set the time and did one for her myself. She knew nothing about this until I presented it to her at Christmas. That then kick-started me into painting dogs for family and friends. It was too stressful for me. I was about to give it up again until I found Michelle online doing her training sessions. I was so enthusiastic about what she was saying that my husband paid for the subscription.

I never had any confidence in my work and never let other people know I could paint. I never had any of my work out on display. That has all changed now thanks to the support and encouragement from my family. I now have my kestrel on the wall, and all my feathers that haven’t sold yet are on display. I joined the Hub this summer whilst we were in lockdown.

After the Hub: The Hub membership has been the best thing I have done since having my kids. They always came first. They still do, but they are both young adults now and are living their own lives.

This has given me the freedom to pursue my dreams. They are very supportive and have always tried to get me to paint more. It is only on watching and listening to Michelle, that I have understood more about myself and now have the tools and confidence to do this as a business. Something I would never have imagined possible.

I still have days where I’m not that confident, but then I’ll get a nice compliment about my work and that gives me the reason for carrying on and learning more from Michelle. I have never been a technical person. But going through the 7 keys and watching the videos, I have built my own website, started a Facebook and Instagram page. I have also sold a few pieces of art and a few commissions.

The biggest thing for me is my confidence and ability to push myself to do things I would never have done before. I am looking into having prints and cards of my work. I’ve even set up a landing page, which I had no idea existed. I still have a lot to go through and learn, but I wouldn’t be at this stage now if it wasn’t for The Hub.

What has been your biggest achievement/s so far? No matter how big or small.

The confidence to introduce myself as an artist. My husband even put my occupation as ‘artist’ on our insurance.

What difficulties, doubts or fears have you faced and how did you overcome them?

A few months ago, I felt like I was putting so much time and effort into trying to sell, that I was about to give up. That week I started again with the 7 keys and realised I was looking at it all wrong and needed to focus on my story and not on selling. I think I must have started a chain reaction.

I meet someone for the first time (another artist). I introduced myself as an artist, and she didn’t flinch! She wanted to see what I did. She was so impressed she called another artist over to look. Since then, I have never looked at other people as better than me, more on the same level. We need to encourage other artists to reach their full potential and not knock each other down. We are not in a race or competition.

My favorite quote is….

If you never try, you’ll never know.

If you could send advice back to yourself 5 years ago, what would you tell yourself?

Start going through the 7 keys with Michelle NOW! I wish I had started a long time ago.

What advice would you give to other aspiring artists?

Join the Hub. I would say to start at the beginning and don’t skip any of the 7 keys. You need to go through each piece of work. I continually watch the videos every night when I’m relaxing in the bath. Michelle is talking to me about some aspect of the process. Watch as much as you can and more.

Don’t let other people put you off. Don’t listen to the people that are not your WHO.

Don’t give up it may take a few years or a few months but you will get to where you want to be.