It was always pretty obvious that Juliana Neufeld would grow up to be an artist. From the time she could hold a pen, she was drawing on ever surface she could find. One time her mother caught her drawing on the side of an orange peel because the young Neufeld couldn’t find any paper. “It was always an integral part of who I felt I was,” she says. “The word ‘hobby’ never really entered the equation.”
The Chelsea, Quebec native went on to attend Ryerson University for photography and then transitioned back into painting. With a slew of editorial illustrations in The Globe and Mail, an album cover for Brendan Canning’s first solo album, and an advocacy job with Element Skateboards’s women’s line Element Eden, she began down the path of painting and illustration. Now living and working in Toronto, Neufeld has a new show opening at the Gladstone Hotel, and a new illustrated book coming out soon—so it’s safe to say Neufeld is living out the life she always knew she would.
Shedoesthecity: Tell us about your show coming up at the Gladstone.
Juliana Neufeld: The show is titled Flotsam & Jetsam: a collection of works exploring odds and ends of the subconscious.
The show was born out of a growing need to work from a more subconscious place with my art. Because I work in freelance illustration, much of my work is guided by an existing concept and is shaped by editors, publishers, and art directors. I wanted a chance to show the odds and ends of characters and landscapes that existed somewhere in the back of my brain and needed expressing.
SDTC: How do you balance life and work and staying inspired in the city?
JN: Having a great group of supportive friends helps a lot. I can bounce ideas off them or vent when I need to get something off my chest. Biking around the city is huge for balancing my mood and stress levels. I try to stay inspired by visiting local galleries and friend’s studios, as well as scouring the art section in the library—my library fines are ridiculous. I’ve also found that knowing when to leave the city on small breaks helps a lot to renew my love for Toronto and its sometimes frenetic energy.
SDTC: What keeps you inspired?
JN: Friends who are hustling to make their passion a living. Illustration that goes beyond design and aesthetic and gets at something real and felt. Weird kids, animals, and absurd moments that make me laugh and put life into perspective.
SDTC: Talk a bit about your illustrated books.
JN: My first illustrated book was a collaboration with a friend of mine named Vivek Shraya and titled God Loves Hair. The book explores themes of identity, family, and sexuality, and chronicles Shraya’s experiences growing up as a queer boy in a traditional indian family in Edmonton. Shraya’s stories are hilarious and heartbreaking, and it was a real honour to illustrate them.
The book I just finished working on is titled Treasure Hunters. It’s written by James Patterson and is the first in an ongoing series about a family of treasure hunters living on a sailboat. Treasure Hunters includes 180 black and white illustrations and will be out in bookstores across North America on Sept. 16.
SDTC: Why is art important to you?
JN: Art has been my backup confidence when I’ve felt discouraged or depressed. It’s been a lens for how I see the world. Whether I want to see a nostalgic, romanticized perspective or a dispassionate view of reality, art has helped me filter life in a way that’s manageable.
SDTC: Why should it be important to others?
JN: Because it can connect and transport us to moment that we find meaningful in our own lives, as well as help us to consider important cultural, political, or religious questions or ideas in a context that inspires dialogue.
SDTC: Any advice for other young women hoping to break into the art world?
JN: Work hard and don’t be shy! Show your work to others in your field, get feedback, ask questions, go to art shows, and start building a place for yourself in a creative community. Keeping your butt in that seat for those extra 15 minutes can make all the difference, too.
SDTC: How do you define success for yourself?
JN: For me, success is trying to live in and appreciate the present moment.
Flotsam & Jetsam opens Thursday, Sept. 5 (opening reception from 7pm to 10pm) and runs until Dec. 1 in the third floor Gallery at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.).