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Art & Culture

Local Artist inspired to create “Reaching” Tulips Painting

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For local artist Julie Graham, it all began on Spring Break a handful of years ago. Leaving her job behind as an art teacher for a week, she flew to Virginia to see a friend, aware that what she needed was adventure, a different pace, different scenery. Julie and her friend hopped in the car, setting out to explore. Suddenly, they saw a lovely church on the corner of a large intersection, but it was thousands of tulips slightly swaying in the warm spring sunshine that became the image she just couldn’t forget.  There were tulips of every color and shape, clearly planted in the medians by the church to delight passersby. “Those tulips stopped me in my tracks,” she laughs. Urging her friend to pull over and stop, Julie was soon out of the car, eager to capture the unforgettable sight. She took her photos and returned to the car to enjoy the rest of the day with her friend. As the miles slipped by, Julie had to do more with the image in her mind. While you or I might be content with photos on a cell phone, she knew she had to paint the tulips. She felt the Holy Spirit calling her deeper, to embrace her gifting and skills. “For me, getting this type of feeling is the very inspiration that I hope for with beginning the creative process,” Julie said.

When Julie got home, she found just the right canvas for the job, but something inside urged her to be intentional, to go back to her training, to take her time, not to rush. She wanted the finished piece to be just as special as the experience had been that day outside the church in Virginia. Capturing the colorful mass of tulips without losing engaging details is not a simple task. She began by sketching a smaller version to get the correct perspective. Then she placed the shadows and highlights, finishing with a study of colors to capture the light, movement and mood of the original scene. Moving thoughtfully through each step of the process made for a slower start and required more work initially, but in the end, it saved time and frustration. Rather than just go with the emotion she felt from the experience, she relied on skills honed over many years.

Reaching by Julie Graham
Title: Reaching
Medium: Oil on panel
Size: 10 inches x 28 inches
Artist: Julie Graham

As Julie reflects with satisfaction on the piece now, she recognizes that the Holy Spirit was directing her steps all along the way, from the surprise of seeing the tulips in person to the finished piece, which now is displayed in her home. It was the Spirit who urged the careful technique, who wanted her to engage in the work of producing a special piece. Julie is a visual person, and she saw gratitude in those tulips, reaching upward toward God. It was as if the tulips represented her feelings of thankfulness for so many blessings in her life. She knew she must finish well to fully and beautifully capture that gratitude on canvas. Now, she will tell you she felt the presence of the Holy Spirit there outside the church, so close to Easter. And she felt a special energy for the work all through the process. 

Julie laughs when asked if it would be the same if she painted it now. “I learned so much about myself and about painting during this project! It would be different now, perhaps even better. But it was meant for that place and time.” Speaking about painting, she says, “It isn’t magic: it is work. There are steps you must go through to make a piece that is finished well. You trust the process. But the artist starts with a vision that is memorable.”

Julie leads Art With Vision, a collection of faith-based artists who work in a variety of media and who display their work at The Woodlands Methodist Church.  She also taught with Conroe ISD for many years, and most recently works with OutSchool, teaching kids all over the world through distance learning. If you have questions about art education and the creative process, or about using your skills and talents to glorify God, please contact her at