Julie Pederson Atkins Detail in Graphite

Julie Pederson Atkins describes working with pencil on paper as though she’s working with clay. “It is a matter of caressing the paper,” Atkins said. “I baby it. Paper isn’t just a surface to me. Right from the beginning I want it to be transformed.”

Adkins is drawn to people, animals, and landscapes for subject matter. Each piece of art has distinct mystery with a sense of a captured moment in time. Each line of the pencil is blended into a perfect replication of the subject, the subtle grays melting together to create form. She describes her technique as “all over the place” because she uses black to white and all the grays in-between.

“I love to draw people and their expression. I want to capture them as them—not as a posed person, but more so a true representation of them,” she said.

Graphite drawing of Julie’s father

Born in North Dakota, Atkins grew up mainly in Montana from a young age. She studied fine art in Bozeman, and has resided in Billings since the late 80s. She turned to visual arts because she’d always loved to draw.

“My first memory is from when I began drawing,” Atkins said. “I must have been four and I don’t know if I had seen a lot of other drawings, per say, but I do remember thinking I want to make that look as real as possible.” The drawing, a simple coffee table and loveseat in her family’s living room, began her obsession with the medium.

“I just drew all the time,” Atkins said. Trees, animals, blades of grass—her atmosphere became her muse. She was drawn to the medium because a pencil and piece of paper “is always there; it’s always available,” she said.

Atkins reflected on her father, who would sketch small pictures for her as she watched. “He wasn’t an artist, but he just had fun doing it. He’d laugh, and I thought, ‘Hey, that’s what I want to do.’”

Was drawing an easy form to embrace?
I am the kind of person that has to have something to create. My hands have to be busy creating something all the time. There are times that my husband might say ‘Let’s do something else,’ and I can’t because I am stuck in that mode where it is all that I can do. I do think a lot of artists are like that; hopefully I am not the only one.

What attracts you to portraits and landscapes?
I mostly paint landscapes. There is detail, and I like to create large-scale with lots of contrasts. Pencil work lends itself to more realism. For portraits, it’s the natural person, not a posed person. If I can catch them off guard that’s better. I love textures and portraying hair and fur and things like that. I like tall blades of grass, leaves in the trees in a distance, or peeling paint off old barns. And there is something about wheat fields. We farmed in North Dakota, and that is what I know. Everything I do comes from where I grew up.

Download the article, originally published in Magic City Magazine.

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About Anna Paige

Anna Paige is a writer, poet, and photographer advocating for live music culture, visual and performance arts, and the creative class in Montana through writing. More >>