After finally settling into Asheville, I was eager to immerse myself in its eclectic art scene. Thanks to Pastimes for a Lifetime‘s art student, Alex Twersky I was introduced to local Asheville artist Jeff Kinzel. After having a lovely chat with him, he introduced me to the talented and kind Julie Armbruster! She graciously gave me a tour of her cute art studio at Wedge Studios in the River Arts District. I was in awe of her beautiful character paintings! We then grabbed a yummy latte at Ultra Coffeebar where we discussed moving from large cities (she from Brooklyn and I from Los Angeles) to the funky little town of Asheville. I’m pleased to present my interview with this talented and friendly artist.
JLS: What is your style of painting referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
JA: My painting style aligns with the Pop Surrealist movement – bright colors, fun subject matter, illustrative style. It’s an art movement defined by the high art community and helps to describe and connect current art to art history.
JLS: Very cool. Much of your work features illustrative characters, animals, and creatures. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter? Do you create your characters off the top of your head or look at reference photos?
JA: The characters are based on intuitive drawing (just free line work with yellow ink on paper, then figuring out what it is after staring at it), and also I like to propose imagination exercises for myself that will develop a body of work along a specific set of guidelines. My “Lunch Buddies” series and “New Constellations” series are examples of an imagination exercise.
JLS: Inspiring! I’d love to be able to draw from my imagination someday! Our students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire, what is your preference for paints and brushes? Do you paint on canvas board, panels, or…? Do you finish with a varnish or leave as is?
JA: I use mostly Liquitex Basic acrylic paints and acrylic ink from FW. I use Trekell paint brushes and paint brush cleaners. I prefer painting on wood panels from Artist and Craftsman. Once a painting is finished I use Golden Archival UV spray varnish in Satin, two coats.
JLS: Thanks for the intel! I noticed you also make stickers and t-shirts! So cool. How did you get into that line of work?
JA: My husband was in punk and hardcore bands and I always loved the challenge of a “merch table.” I also follow the brilliant example of Keith Haring who sought to make art accessible to everyone!
JLS: Nice! I’ll have to check out his work. At what age did you realize you wanted to be a professional artist?
JA: I studied art education in undergrad at SUNY New Paltz, but it wasn’t until I tried teaching that I decided it was more important for me to make art than teach it. I was 22. I re-evaluated my life and enrolled in grad school at NYU for painting. That took three summers. Then I took two years off to join the Americorps. After that I had two part-time jobs and a studio and slowly replaced my side jobs with studio sales.
JLS: Thanks for sharing your story. BTW, did anyone happen to try to talk you out of venturing into an art profession? How did you handle it?
JA: Yes. My mom wanted me to study art education and become a k-12 art teacher. She was trying to help structure my future, so I wouldn’t have to worry about insurance and money. She was an elementary special ed teacher and we had a great middle class life. Well, I got my NY teaching certificate and tried teaching in private and public school, but I couldn’t handle all of the resistance and bureaucracy. I knew that painting was something that I could do and I was willing to supplement my income with service jobs until that was possible.
JLS: So glad you were able to follow your dream. Are you currently represented by any galleries? For our students, what do you believe are the pros and cons of gallery representation?
JA: Yes! I am represented by Horse + Hero Gallery in Asheville and just picked up Rabbit and Owl Gallery in Burlington, NC. The pros are they are open predictable hours and take care of everything once the artwork is delivered. The downside, always, is sharing the retail sales price. Most galleries take 50%. This requires a restructuring of prices when you sell yourself, either taking a cut on gallery sales or upping the cost on studio sales. It is a negotiation, but the consistency of galleries has made it work for me.
JLS: That’s great. I still have to check out Horse & Hero! I recall you mentioning that you used to live in Brooklyn. What were some of the challenges/advantages of moving to a smaller art community like Asheville?
JA: At first I was worried it wouldn’t have enough happening to encourage growth. I made a few great decisions when I first moved here to help with that. I decided to start a drawing club with some local artists and make it a weekly collaborative hang. This helped with skills, community, and local opportunities. The reason I decided to stay in Asheville, was at the time I moved here (2004) it was very affordable to rent a house with a shed or garage space and spend lots of time working on studio projects. The most important component of artist growth is time spent working in your medium. Brooklyn was too crowded and expensive. I spent all of my time working at jobs for money.
JLS: For sure. I can relate. What is some advice you can give the artists studying at Pastimes?
JA: Make time for your studio practice. That is the real magic. Show up. Work the materials and let them guide you.
JLS: Thanks for the sound advise. 🙂 As you know, art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my boss Linda Wehrli, partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like our readers to learn more about?
JA: We have something similar in Asheville, called Arts for Life NC. Artists and musicians work with kids in the hospital to learn an art discipline or instrument and brighten up their days with imagination and creativity. I have assisted them when I used to work at the hospital as a part-time activities coordinator. They are amazing!
JLS: Wonderful! Sounds like a great organization. Thank you so much, Julie, for your time and thoughtful interview! It was a pleasure.
Julie’s head shot was taken by photographer Luke Van Hine.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.