More Painting Methods I’d Steal From Julie Heffernan

2 Jun 2011

Julie Heffernan, Self-Portrait Sitting on the World, oil on canvas, 2008, 78 x 56.
Self-Portrait Sitting on the World by Julie Heffernan,
2008, 78 x 56, oil on canvas.

I started with another post about Julie Heffernan’s out-of-the-box conceptual acuity and dynamic oil painting methods, but I just couldn’t stop there. Here are a few more ways of working that I’ve gleaned from studying her oil paintings.

Still life—A piece of fruit, a flower, decorative plates, climbing ropes—Heffernan has a unique use for them all. What I like especially about the still life elements in her work is that she turns non-still life elements like castles or manicured gardens into “still life” just as easily as Old-Master fare.

Pattern—The more complex the pattern, the harder it is to detect. The patterns that Heffernan uses—with color, form, and rhythm—make for complex yet unified final products.

Landscape—Natural elements aren’t just set design or background in Heffernan’s work. She uses reams of sod like the skirts of a ballroom gown. Plant tendrils, flowers, and fruits morph into otherworldly landscape elements of their own. Most of all, Heffernan doesn’t allow the expectations we all have about what “nature” is—what it looks like, how it grows, its colors—to dictate how she presents nature, which is a strong sign of how well-crafted her concepts are.

Julie Heffernan, oil on canvas.
Julie Heffernan subverts the idea of still life by casting
objects like castles and tents as her subjects.
After spending a lot of time looking at Heffernan’s work I was sort of struck by how her art would have been received if she’d been working four centuries ago in the heyday of the Mannerist period and into the Baroque. She No doubt she would have given the whole scene a run for its money. One of the most noteworthy aspects of Heffernan’s work is that it supports the idea that oil painting is not just about paint application. It is also about utilizing a set of painting practices that have been refined for centuries by thousands of artists.

Accomplished artists all start by learning everything there is to know about these methods. To put myself on that road, I know I need to develop a strong foundation in technical practice and conceptual development. David Leffel is an artist and instructor who teaches just that to his students. In An Artist Teaches, Leffel reflects on how to turn painting into an art with technical and compositional approaches. Self-Portraits is an illuminating resource on how to conquer one of the most time-honored genres in all of art: self-portraiture. Empowered, expressive artists like Heffernan are what we all strive to be—and David Leffel’s instruction can be your art school-in-one.

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peezo wrote
on 3 Jun 2011 9:33 AM

Not only is she a wonderful artist, but a wonderful teacher as well.  I wish you would do a feature article in your magazine on Julie.  More people should be aware of just how great she is.  

nikki112459 wrote
on 3 Jun 2011 11:36 AM

Does Mrs. Heffernan have and email address. I sure would like to talk to her. I am trying to paint in the old master style and it is coming out good, but I am having trouble with lighting and color.

Corliss3 wrote
on 3 Jun 2011 12:04 PM

Had the great privilege of seeing Julie's work up close and personal about 10 years ago at Robert Kidd Gallery in Birmingham MI.  As interesting as the images of her paintings are here seeing the them live is breathtaking, astounding and magical!

Mertboy wrote
on 3 Jun 2011 1:29 PM

Thank you for featuring Julie Heffernan's work!  What an inspiration!

on 15 Jun 2011 9:12 AM

I am so glad you guys love Julie's work as much as I do. And believe me, I'm pushing for the article...written by yours truly.

Any other artists of the same ilk that come to mind and deserve attention?