Julie Bell: Nature, Textures, and Form

Dragon Con welcomed (virtually) 2023 Artist Guest of Honor Julie Bell to the Hyatt Grand Hall C Sunday evening. Moderated by Amanda Makepeace (who got pulled away during the hour to receive an award in her own right) Bell reflected on her life as an artist, her passion for the human form, and the power of nature as inspiration and source material.

Bell was born in Beaumont, Texas and for as long as she can remember, she has wanted to be an artist. She attended several schools studying art and moved a number of times. Bell never doubted though that the road would eventually lead her to a career as a professional artist. That road included raising two creative and talented sons, who became artists in their own right, and a career as a professional bodybuilder.

Bodybuilding had a significant impact of her art. She was always athletic, enjoyed gymnastics and appreciated the physicality of ballet. Bell was taken by the human form, finding great beauty in human musculature. That fascination and appreciate for the form, particularly the female form, became a hallmark of her work as a fantasy artist.

It was over the course of the 1990s that Bell’s career really took off. She felt she had arrived as an artist when she received the commission to do a series of paintings of Marvel superheroes. She has done more than 100 fantasy and science fiction cover illustrations over the course of her career. Bell was the first woman to illustrate Conan for a Marvel comic and has done commissioned work for both DC and Image comics.

Since the early 2000s Bell has been painting wildlife. Nature provides great inspiration to Bell, and she is fascinated by the texture and colors that can be found there. She has become one of the top painters in the field, garnering numerous awards and recognitions including being named a “Living Master” by the Art Renewal Center (ARC) International Salon (2013) and holds the distinction of winning the highest number of awards ever given to an artist in a single year by the ARC.

Art is a process, a progression, and Bell’s teachers long ago taught her to recognize that. That process will likely include an idea for a piece that came from something she read or saw in the past. It was important, she declared, that when that happens you must not go back to the source and reread it. Rather, an artist should allow the internalized and processed memory of the original source serve as the inspiration for the piece. What’s important is to be open, spontaneous, and to allow something to inspire you even though it won’t work out every single time. Experimentation in and of itself has value, and the artist can learn from the process. It’s important for the artist to stay calm and allow the creative process to occur.

When asked about her work and methodology, Bell develops the image in her head. When she approaches the canvas, she already has a clear sense of the work’s final form. At that point Bell is executing her vision.

As the hour concluded, Bell reflected upon her place in the fantasy community. She has always felt at home and is grateful to it. Dragon Con is grateful for the work that Bell has done and the significant contribution she has made to the field. Julie Bell is a most deserving Guest of Honor.

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