Artist Julie Byrd Diana is always on the hunt for unique angles to photograph and paint



Julie Byrd Diana takes her camera with her wherever she goes. She never knows when she might stumble upon a photo-worthy scene in the Charleston area or one of its neighboring barrier islands, especially in a place known for being the capital of breathtaking natural scenery. She has pulled the car over more than once on her travels from her home on Johns Island to other Lowcountry locations to capture a cloudy sky, turbulent waters or a majestic live oak.

“If the scene impacts me, it usually will impact others, too,” Julie says. “My black-and-white photography and acrylic paintings are driven by the environment. If I do a double take, I know it’s something worth photographing. I love the black-and-white medium. It is moody, classic, and the subject matter pops.”

While nature is one of the biggest subjects that Julie photographs and paints, she also can’t resist using her lens and her paintbrush to capture historic architecture, with its curves that mimic the natural formations in the open-air environment. “We are surrounded by both of these subjects in the Lowcountry,” Julie says. “I often look for historical significance and paint it, such as my Sweetgrass at Market acrylic artwork. I snapped a photo of a lady weaving a basket at the Charleston market and later painted the scene. The Gullah culture is very significant to our area.”

Generally, her subject matter varies because she gets bored if pigeonholed into painting one subject matter, she says. The artist is a sucker for a good angle and is always looking for the perspective that no one else sees. For example, her award-winning Time Train photo shows a locomotive in motion but at an up close perspective that many people would not think to capture. “In my mind, I am converting the image into positive and negative spaces, just like black-and-white photos do. My mind’s eye sees the whole scene—it’s not just a piece of driftwood or a lighthouse but the bigger picture that includes everything surrounding it,” she adds.

Grandpa’s Fisherman at Dawn, acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 16″

Julie also is a fan of clouds. In Stormy Skies, another award-winning fine art photo, she photographed the aftermath of a mid-summer storm on Wadmalaw Island. Julie has won many awards at juried art exhibitions in her native state of Indiana, as well as in Florida and South Carolina, including at the annual MOJA Arts Festival each fall. Her latest award came for another fine art photograph, entitled Embrace, of a driftwood tree on the beach reaching two of its limbs toward the heavens with the Morris Island Lighthouse in the distance.

Julie comes by her love of photography naturally—it’s a generational legacy. She’s a third-generation photographer on her maternal side. “My grandfather was a hog farmer but also a professional photographer known for his racing photos. He received global attention for some of his work,” she explains. Her uncle is both a black-and-white photographer and a physician. And, like her father, she also is a commercial insurance broker. “Like me, the prior generations always worked in two professions at the same time,” she adds.

Julie carves her own path in expressing herself through her acrylic paintings, using thick, textural brushstrokes and palette knife applications of paint to create a three-dimensional effect. “The impasto technique helps the paint rise off of the canvas and makes people want to touch it,” she says. Her impasto application—reminiscent of impressionist painters such as Claude Monet—also helps her control the light in her artwork through the thickness of brushstrokes while highlighting the uniqueness of her style.

Stormy Skies

Bright colors are a hallmark of many of her pieces, including a unique art application of an oyster shell sculpture she painted with vibrantly colored shrimp as a permanent exhibit for Mount Pleasant’s Towne Centre. She designed it as a tribute to the town’s fishing and shrimping industries and painted it in bold indigo in acknowledgment of the Gullah Geechee contribution to the area’s historical cultivation of indigo crops.

Julie accepts commissions and often paints pet portraits. She also creates custom greeting cards for clients, made from reproductions of her paintings. “The notecards are well-loved gift items,” she says. “In this digital age, it is so refreshing to receive a handwritten note.”

Open Waters, acrylic on canvas, 12″ x 9″

Next up is a series of oyster paintings. “My style is vibrant, so I’m going big with open shell paintings,” she says. “It’s an idea that has been on my mind for a while.” Art enthusiasts can see her latest paintings and photographs at the Charleston Artist Guild Gallery.

Above all, Julie hopes her artwork stirs up fond memories for the collectors who take it home. She gives an example: “I photographed and then painted a train moving at 60 mph during sunset. The purchaser told me that trains were important to her family. She was in the process of creating a collection in memoriam to her late grandfather. My goal is to create heartfelt moments like this.” *

Dana W. Todd is a professional writer specializing in interior design, real estate, luxury homebuilding, landscape design, architecture and fine art.

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