STORYTELLERS (Art with Heart): Juliette Crane

Isn't there a saying that goes, "When God closes a door, he always opens a window?" It was the proverbial closed door that caused Juliette Crane to stop in her tracks, re-stage the scene of her story and begin an artist-life.

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"I’ve always been creative and had loads of imagination," she says, "but I never believed I could allow my own creativity to be the catalyst for my career. I’d hopped from job to job, always creating for someone else or working with flowers and the outdoors."

Juliette ended up working as a gardener and landscaper, which she says was a "turning point" because she was actually happy in one of the first jobs she ever really loved. "And then I was fired via a phone message and I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath me."

But instead of floundering at the door shut abruptly in her face, Juliette took flight and found the freedom of a window--a window called art. "That event ignited this thing inside me where all I wanted to do was create for myself. And the way for me to do that was to go back to what I loved most as a child ... dragging out all of my art supplies-crayons, watercolors, markers- and painting on my belly in the backyard."

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During the summer of 2009 Juliette became like a child again and got lost in a mess of art supplies and a few "fabulous vintage wallpaper books"--a gift from her sister-in-law. "I adored creating and cutting out outfits for characters, then making up their stories."

And all of this creating was part of Juliette's "healing process." It was as if her broken heart finally gave her the boldness she'd needed all along. "I hadn’t painted in ages because I always felt like, 'what good is having all of these paintings in my basement or a back closet where no one ever sees them?' After I lost my job, it didn’t matter who saw my art. I began painting just for me and having tons of fun with it all."

Soon, the "fun" Juliette was having on canvas began to fill the walls of her house. At the encouragement of her friends, she began to consider having an art show--and doors quickly flew open within a matter of weeks. "I had an art opening for [my show at the local library] and invited friends, family, neighbors--everyone!" Juliette says. And she was thrilled to discover that not only was she suddenly showing her work, but she was also selling her work! "It was all so exciting and so nice to hear feedback and have support, especially from many unexpected people, that all I wanted was to create more and build on that feeling!"

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By January 2010, Juliette had planned another art show at a coffee shop, signed up for an online creative business class (with Stephanie Fizer Coleman), and added art to her Etsy shop. "And that’s when I felt that it could really work," she says. "I could be a full-time artist. I knew then, that’s what I was supposed to do. That’s what I’d been searching for all along."

From the layers and layers of mixed media play in her backgrounds, to the soulful expressions on the faces of her little girls, owls and other creatures, it's clear that Juliette's work is all about creating character.  And as a self-proclaimed "incredibly messy" painter, she knows that sometimes messiness is the the best place for character-building.

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"Backgrounds are all about getting the emotion out for me. It a way to free blocks and just see what colors I’m loving in that moment."  But creating a character--"that’s a slower process of the painting," she says.  Like in her own life--where an abrupt halt in the story-line was what she needed to find her true purpose--when painting a character Juliette always starts "with a pause," so she can connect with the emotion and "sketch a character and posture" that truly reflects what she wants to express.

Juliette says that painting the third layer--the details and face of the character--is a focused and sometimes frustrating phase.  "I paint over and over a characters’ face until the eyes really resonate." This is where Juliette sometimes feels like she "just can't get it right," and she says, "it's always because I'm trying."

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The secret to getting out of a rut?  Juliette says it's simply to start having fun again.  So she moves on to a new painting until she is refreshed, until the childish voice of the character in her first painting calls to her again and she feels ready to finish the canvas. "The last layer of a painting is the most fun--creating my character's scene and embellishments. Since I already have my character's face at that point, the rest just falls into place and I can feel who that character is--it’s almost like the character leads me to where the painting needs to be."

Because she is so at home in this world of whimsical owls, emotional color and beautiful mess, Juliette sometimes wishes she "would have just been a painter in the first place."  She studied painting and even had art shows in college, but she says, "my art then was basically the first layer of my backgrounds now--very abstract without any character. It took all of those years of working other jobs and growing into myself to create my current paintings. I’ve learned so much along the way that has prepared me to run my creative business successfully right now. And it couldn’t have been any other way."

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Her backyard--the stage of her re-connection with the creativity of childhood and the scene of her artist "awakening"--is still Juliette's favorite place to work.  "During the summer, I have two sawhorses and a piece of drywall I set up as my studio table in my backyard. It’s my favorite place to be, just creating in the sunshine all day!"

Just as her creative career was sparked by a bold step into the unknown, Juliette is still inspired by adventure--her way of "recharging" is to travel, to experience new places, or simply to get lost in the drama that waits in a book and even just outside her front door in Madison, Wisconsin.  "I soak in all that’s around me…maybe it’s a conversation between a couple that I overhear, a story someone tells me, or just being in the beauty of birch trees on a nature walk…it all brings new life and energy into my creativity."

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Juliette shares bits of her daily adventures on her blog and website.  And of course, her Etsy shop is brimming with the winsome wisdom and dramatics of her captivating owls and other friends--plus, Juliette offers e-courses that teach others to paint characters with similar depth and emotion.

Thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful work, Juliette!  I hope others will be inspired to tell a story of their own...


  1. Oh I loved getting to hear Juliette's story! I've followed her for awhile and find her so inspirational. Thanks Sadee and Juliette!
    My Blog

  2. Looks beautiful - love the colors! :-)

  3. thank you so much for having me here :)

    xo, juliette

  4. again you have brought an amazing artist to my attention
    thanks Sadee

    Love and Light

  5. Love Juliette's artwork...inspirational.. just missed out on her "How to paint an owl"course...


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