Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hands & Hearts: An Interview with Julia Luymes

Hands & Hearts is an interview series showcasing various Canadian artists and delving into who they are, what they make, and why they do what they do. Today I'm featuring the photography of artist Julia Luymes.

I met Julia while studying at Haliburton School of the Arts where I couldn't help but be drawn in by her intriguing work - her cyanotypes especially! Julia has a bright spirit and a fascinating vision. Are you ready to be ensnared? Because her photography will cast a spell over you...

Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

My name is Julia Luymes and I enjoy living in Peterborough, ON where I grew up. I use a variety of artistic mediums but am at present focused on digital photography and seasonally creating cyanotypes.

How long have you been a photographer? Tell us about your journey.

My artistic background consists mainly of painting, whether it be watercolour, acrylic, or oil. Only recently have I become immersed in this frontier of photographic processes.

While studying at Haliburton School of the Arts in 2013, I had the opportunity to learn how to develop and print a photo in the dark room. I remember the moment, crushed in between students in that hot claustrophobic room, when I watched a photograph develop before my eyes for the first time. I thought to myself, “I HAVE to do this.” and decided in that moment to throw caution to the wind. I embraced this new love and took Photo Arts to complete my diploma instead of drawing and painting where I felt more comfortable.

As intense as the Photo Arts program was, I learned so much. Delving into analog photography helped me think about the “why” behind what I’m photographing. When you have to painstakingly develop and print the photos you take all by hand, you think more about what you’re taking a photo of and if it’s really worth it. This has affected how I shoot digitally. I try to put more thought into the moment and choose an angle I’m happy with rather than taking multiple shots and having to sort through them later. I really enjoyed experimenting in the dark room during school, but recognized the affect the chemicals were having on my health. I was sick abnormally often and so decided to pursue more digital than analog in my everyday work.

When we learned how to create cyanotypes, I was obsessed. I connected instantly with the simplicity of the blue & white and the textural quality of the prints. For the rest of the semester, I spent all the time I could spare experimenting with cyanotypes. This summer I found the chemicals to make my own formula and have been printing cyanos whenever the sun is out.

Have you had any mentors? Who are they and how have they helped shape you? What inspires or influences you and your work?

My biggest mentor is God. The closer I draw to Him, the more I am inspired to create. I see so much beauty in our world. I’m obsessed with qualities of light, shadows, reflections, shapes, the cycles of nature, and dreams. I love the little details of everyday life.

Tell us about your process. Do you have a favourite part? A least favourite part?
No matter what I’m doing creatively, I have to organize everything first. My space has to be visually organized in order for me to organize my thoughts and ideas mentally. I’ve come to embrace this and take it into consideration when starting a project. Even the way in which I am about to answer your questions need to be organized into sections…

1) Cyanotypes:

There are so many steps! First of all, I combine ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferricyanide with water to create a light-sensitive formula. This is my least favourite part because you have to be very precise with the measurements and be careful to not inhale or allow the chemicals to contaminate anything.

My 2nd step is choosing a subject. I’ve used large negatives of my own digital images, but usually go for a walk in the woods and pick up anything that interests me. There’s something about using the elements of nature to make a print. It’s so magically organic.

The 3rd step is painting watercolour paper with the prepared chemical formula. I love doing this because I feel that I am embracing my past love of watercolour but using it in a new way. I usually have an idea of which plants or negatives I want to use in relationship with the painted paper, but often change my mind when it comes to the next step.

The 4th step is matching the dried paper to the subject. I so enjoy experimenting with positioning of the subjects and deciding which paint strokes have the best connection with the object. I try not to overthink this part but simply follow my instincts.

The 5th step is securing the paper & subject and placing it out in strong sunlight to expose. Using the sun to expose the prints is tricky because you have to watch to see if the quality of sunlight changes based on the time of day or clouds. Making cyanotypes this way can only be done in the summer and early fall because of the sunlight. This time of the year is very precious and important to me because it changes the context of my prints and allows me to connect with nature in a very specific way. I love the experience of soaking in the rays of the sun and watching them slowly alter the quality of my prints.

The 6th and final step is rinsing and drying the prints. I can never predict exactly how a print will turn out until this point so it’s exciting to see the exact colour, sharpness, and complete feel of the print.

2) Digital photography: 

My process is very sporadic. Sometimes I plan to shoot something specific in a certain way. But usually I try to keep my camera with me wherever I go and simply frame my perspective on what I see. I love to remain flexible to whatever is happening around me or what I am experiencing. I enjoy capturing a feeling or moment through photography and illuminating or abstracting elements.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace for digital photography is everywhere and anywhere!

My workspace for cyanotypes is another story. At the moment, it consists of different areas of my home, primarily what I call “The Art Corner” which is simply my work desk that lives in the crook of the dining room.

Tell us about a time (art-related) where you absolutely and utterly failed and what you learned from that.

I can think of so many examples of this but the funniest has to be my experimentation with styrofoam. I was trying to push myself out of my comfort zone by choosing to work with something completely different to me. I took the styrofoam apart, glued them, tied them, used them as stamps, traced them, painted them, painted with them, poured ink into them, and generally became COVERED in little pieces of them for weeks.

Everything I made was horrifyingly awful.

But I was able to draw ideas from this experimentation that has helped me with other projects. From looking at some of my styrofoam pieces, I recognized that I had a strong interest in the abstraction of shapes. I continued on to create a black & white series, “Dreamscapes” which was based on tracing hundreds of puzzle pieces on paper. “Dreamscapes” adjusted my perspective on myself, what interested me artistically, and why. Doing this series has helped me make bold decisions in how I shoot digitally. I often abstract my photos by removing the context of the subject to leave more questions than answers.

What I learned from this big messy mistake of a project was to value the process no matter the outcome. There is always something to discover from your artistic experiments.

Where do you want to be in five to ten years (in art or life or both)?

I love travelling. I want to visit other cultures and landscapes and use art to share my experiences. I hope that this will become a part of whatever is ahead for me. And of course I enjoy the idea of having my work in galleries and in people’s homes.

Why is photography important?

Photography is an incredible tool of communication and sharing of ideas and perspectives between humans. It is a beautiful way for us to relate to and understand one another. Photography sheds light on the beauty of life, the issues of humanity, and the hope that lies in all of us. I see photography as an honest way to share my perspective with others and recognize it myself.  

Where can we find your work?

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