Julie Peng, class of ’17, is known for her impressive work within the BB&N arts community. Among other artistic achievements, Julie has claimed three Spectator covers in the past three years, with issues featuring over twenty of her pieces. Julie’s work – typically portraiture – ranges in media from charcoal to watercolor. The Spectator sat down with Julie to talk process, inspirations, and her beginnings as an artist.
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Julie first put crayon to paper sixteen years ago. “My mom and her best friend both had kids at the same time. They gave us paper and pencils when we were both one – which was crazy – and told us to draw something. The other girl drew a chicken, which looked like a chicken, and I drew something that didn’t look like anything. My mom was like, ‘Damn, my daughter doesn’t have any talent.’”
As a child, Julie developed her love of art when visiting Chicago’s local exhibits and museums with her mother. “It’s interesting to think that you as a person change a lot, but the museums don’t really,” Julie says. “As you grow older, the way you look at the same pieces changes.” Works by artists like Caravaggio, Renoir, and Rembrandt drew Julie towards traditional portraiture, which, she believes, requires more creativity than other styles. “Everything about the way you position the person, what you’re trying to convey behind that, takes a lot of thought.” When working, Julie also uses what she calls creative observation: “you are not necessarily drawing what you see, but what you imagine you see.”
Julie works with colored pencil, charcoal, collage, watercolor, acrylic, conte crayon, and, most often, oil paints. In addition to her artistic studies at BB&N, Julie attends a weekly class run by instructor Frank Niu. Last December, Julie drew Grandfather under Niu’s supervision, marking the charcoal piece as one of her “more creative works” in the class. “I generally like portraiture because the human face, capturing the emotion behind it, is very fascinating.”
Julie describes the process of creating portraits, particularly self-portraits, as “a good time to be introspective.” In God’s Dandruff, Julie depicts herself wearing a hood, representing how she conceals “full self, just like at school, at home, or anywhere, really.” Julie also emphasizes the space surrounding her subject to convey loneliness. “I don’t feel lonely,” Julie adds, “but I want to show a feeling that passes by.”
Some of Julie’s other pieces, like Scheherazade, are not intended to be self-portraits, despite the resemblance. Julie refers to a mirror when painting, but she also illustrates Asian people with a greater purpose in mind. “As someone who is Asian, when you don’t see your own group represented, you want to see them reflected in your art.”
With sixteen years of experience, Julie excels as an artist, but her journey is far from over. As a senior next year, Julie plans to do an independent study focusing on portraiture. “Art can often be frustrating,” Julie reflects. “It requires a lot of concentration, but when you’re doing something you love, you get lost in it.”