|Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell: On Their Mettle|
Bare-chested heroes single-handedly vanquish giant beasts. Stalwart amazons flex their muscles on the backs of mysterious flying creatures. When it comes to depicting heroism and heroic deeds, few artists can match the masterful Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell.
In their respective painting, prints, sculptures and collectibles, Vallejo and Bell create worlds where the flora can prove as deadly as the fauna. The strong find themselves hard pressed to survive. Even reporters enter at their own risk.
Crescent Blues: Julie, I understand you first met Boris when you took one of his art classes. What prompted you to take the class?
Julie Bell: I had admired Boris' beautiful paintings for many years before I met him. I never actually enrolled in any kind of art class with him, but he invited me to watch him paint and that was the beginning of my understanding of painting. Then I would work on paintings and he would give me pointers and advice to bring my work up to the professional level. Watching him paint is like watching magic happen right before your eyes.
Crescent Blues: Boris, in the beginning, what did you consider the most promising aspect of Julie's art?
Boris Vallejo: Her natural talent, her determination, her fearlessness...everything. She is just an amazing person.
Crescent Blues: What do you feel is the most important thing you've learned from each other?
Boris Vallejo: Happiness and peace of mind.
Julie Bell: Yes, happiness
and peace of mind.
Crescent Blues: How have your styles changed since you began working together?
Boris Vallejo: Styles evolve naturally as you go along. To me, painting comes so naturally I don't really think about it intellectually. If my style changes, it just happens as it should.
Julie Bell: I watch my style develop in the same way a mother watches her children grow -- with a deep respect for its own mind.
Crescent Blues: Do you consider these changes a natural development of your style or did some of them surprise you?
Julie Bell: It's all a big surprise every time I paint. Seriously, I never know what's going to happen.
Crescent Blues: What is it like to work together on the same painting?
Together: What an idea. We do not work together on the same painting!
Crescent Blues: Do you ever find yourselves crowding each other in the same area?
Julie Bell: We like crowding each other.
Crescent Blues: Could you give our readers some idea of your current projects?
Julie Bell: We are painting, and playing music, and running our business, and painting, and going to the gym, and painting. No long-term projects at this time, just things as they come.
Crescent Blues: When did you first know you wanted to be an artist?
Boris Vallejo: Do you mean professionally? Because I have always been an artist as far as I am concerned. I don't remember a time when I did not draw. Professionally I have been doing art since I was 16 years old.
Never anything else.
Julie Bell: I also always knew I wanted to be an artist. I had never known any professional artists, so I didn't have any idea how that would be in reality. My goal originally was to illustrate children's books. I still have plans for some children's stories and will make them into books eventually.
Crescent Blues: How did you set about achieving your goal of becoming professionals.
Boris Vallejo: Like anything else, you don't wonder how, you just do it.
Julie Bell: It really is a "just do it" kind of thing. You just start and keep moving forward. Problems come up, you solve them, shift direction, keep moving. You have to use your artistic mind to stay creative and flexible in your approach, but always persisting.
Crescent Blues: What is your formal training in the plastic arts? How do you feel that training helped or hindered the development of your vision?
Boris Vallejo: Schooling is very important. A good teacher is a wonderful thing, as long as the student can go in their own direction once the foundation has been laid. When you are on your own, you have to listen to what comes from inside, no matter who says what.
Julie Bell: I certainly consider myself to be a permanent student. I do think that an artist should put a heavy emphasis on drawing from the figure for many, many years (forever!) You just can't get too much of that.
Crescent Blues: What do you consider the key life experiences that shaped you as an artist?
Boris Vallejo: Being born!
Julie Bell: And everything that has happened since!
Crescent Blues: Julie, what special insights do you believe your training as a bodybuilder gives you into the human form?
Julie Bell: I have always had a fascination for the human form, and that's one of the reasons I started bodybuilding. Bodybuilding did make me much more aware of the muscles and skeletal structure of the body than I would have been without it. Also, it helped me in understanding movement. I studied many years of dance -- ballet, tap, gymnastics, modern dance -- all of which helped me understand the lines that are created with specific poses. I use all of this background and knowledge when I have models pose for me or when I create a painting.
Crescent Blues: Did your interest arise from your subject matter or did your interest in bodybuilding inspire your interest in heroic subject matter?
Julie Bell: The whole heroic thing -- it's about personal empowerment. I think that's something everybody can relate to.
Crescent Blues: What would you consider your first big break?
Boris Vallejo: The first time I was paid to do art. That was the beginning of my art career.
Julie Bell: When I met Boris, my whole being clicked into place and I became able to fulfill my potential.
Crescent Blues: Which do you consider the key pieces for someone seeking to understand your work? Why do these pieces have such special resonance for you as an artist?
Boris Vallejo: What is there not to understand?
Crescent Blues: What are your favorite media and what are its advantages?
Boris Vallejo: I love the flexibility of oil paints.
Julie Bell: Oils are wonderful. They work so naturally, it feels like it's an extension of my hand when I paint.
Crescent Blues: Julie, how do you achieve your stunning liquid metal effects? What was the genesis of this technique?
Julie Bell: I had an art teacher once who said "If you can paint anything, you can paint anything." The metal is just like anything else -- you first have to study and analyze the original object or texture and understand why it looks the way it does. Take into account light and dark, color, soft lines, hard lines. All of the information is right there.
The reason I started focusing on it was that the man who was publisher of Paper Tiger at the time saw the painting I had done of a girl riding on a metal shark (Beauty and the Steel Beast) and suggested I do a whole book (Portfolio) with the metal as a theme. I figured that it would be great because by the time I finished the book, I'd be really good at understanding metal!
Crescent Blues: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists today?
Boris Vallejo: Work hard and be persistent. Go to a good art school to make sure that you are working hard in the right direction.
Julie Bell: As I said before, stay focused but flexible. Take any and all art jobs that come your way. Even if they may not be your exact favorite subject matter, you're still getting better every time you push yourself through it. Also, be sure to keep your mind open to the criticisms of other people. When you look at your own work, you tend to look at the parts of it that you like best and try not to look at the parts that need help. Getting an outside opinion helps you to avoid this very limiting habit. And you're not allowed to get mad at your critic for pointing out a flaw!
Crescent Blues: On the unofficial Boris and Julie Web site, I noticed the discourse between you and the site owner regarding overuse of images of your work on the Internet. What do you feel are the advantages and drawbacks of the Internet for an artist?
Boris Vallejo: In both cases: accessibility.
Crescent Blues: How would you like to see the Internet used for promoting and/or exhibiting your work?
Boris Vallejo: In gallery settings that respect our requirements for display.
Crescent Blues: Have you considered using electronic media to create or enhance your work?
Boris Vallejo: I do, but just for fun. I have no desire to switch to digital rendering.