Hamilton artist Julia Veenstra’s career has taken many twists and fascinating turns. Having lived in two continents, started her own business ventures and worked on unique and creative artisan projects, she has truly incorporated art into her life and impacted the lives of many. Throw in 5 children into the mix and Veenstra has been one multi-tasking dynamo.
“For a time I was a stay at home mom. I worked on commission so couldn’t actually practise my art.”
Veenstra was living in Hamilton when opportunities took her and her family to New York and Virgina Beach. After a brief return to Hamilton, the family moved to Africa for five years before settling again back in Hamilton. She says that they were inspired to move to Africa because they wanted to help.
“We didn’t go with a plan or vision,” she explained. “We went to see what they needed and how we could help.”
Being entrepreneurial, she was very interested with the fair trade industry and how she and her art skills could be applied. She and her husband got involved with Wild Hope International where she is now partnered with the Wild Hope Artisan Project. It is a unique project that Veenstra continues to manage, working with the Maasai women of Tanzania and Kenya. It is a job creation initiative. The project uses genuine African materials like handmade beads to create products of beautiful and extraordinary quality. The purchase of these products supports the Maasai womens’ industry, community and families. The project is there to create a self-sustaining business for these Maasai artisans and it garners income to supply the community’s needs.
Africa really enhanced her interest in working with bold and bright colours and coming home to Canada, the unique Canadian landscape, caught her attention and has also served as sources of creativity.
“I paint a lot of trees. Painting is the medium I choose for this expression. My work borders on impressionism, representationism. It’s the balance of colour and light that I love,” Veenstra said.
That said, she is inspired surprisingly, by cows. “Cows help me to loosen up. It’s all about the shapes and form. The cow shape is wonderful- the great knobby knees! And cows have a lot of personality.”
Today, she hangs her hat in her own studio in Hamilton. She says the local arts scene here has really taken off over the last 10 years. Once a month she participates in the Art Crawl, an art-related festival where all the galleries are open, many of them even moving their work into the street.
She has also continued to teach classes for adults. “With adults it’s funny because they’re established in life yet still vulnerable in class,” she described. She wants her classes to be relaxing and for people to realize it is okay to make a mistake as in the end “it’s just paint and canvas.”
Veenstra’s art career really seems to have taken off in the last five years.
Her paintings are selling almost as fast as she can paint them. She has been written about in a variety of newspaper and magazine publications. Currently she is featured in a multitude of galleries across Ontario and Quebec. She was the recipient of the Readers Choice, Best Local Artist Award from the Hamilton Spectator and was the Poster competition winner at the Royal Winter Fair and at Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts in the last year alone.
“I’m in my late 40s,” Veenstra said. “A lot of women think that if they’ve hit their 40s and haven’t accomplished what they wanted to then they won’t. I want them to know that they can!”