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Iowa Artist

Julie Houghton

11/4/2020

Julie Houghton holds her self-portrait.

As an artist, Julie Houghton paints with materials, such as charcoal, paint and ink. But her latest obsession is with alcohol. Not the drinking type, but an alcohol-based ink, which creates distinctive artwork.

Houghton searched for alternative art as a way to keep her mind and art fresh. She researched the methods online and attended a class at the Des Moines Art Center.

“I started doing it as a way to loosen myself up,” she says. “Abstract art is a big departure from what I’ve done previously.”

To paint with alcohol ink, she first lays out a piece of Yupo, a synthetic slick paper that is non-absorbent. Then she mixes in rubbing alcohol, pouring liquid ink on the paper, brushing it into different shapes, colors and textures. The result is a kaleidoscope of shapes before it dries. Often, she’ll use a blow dryer to further mix and enhance the shapes.

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“I really like the look of it,” she explains. “The transparency makes it look magical, the way it spreads and makes patterns. It’s intriguing to keep playing around with it. I find it really cool.”

Houghton began painting as a child. She and her father both enjoyed the pastime. In high school, her art teacher suggested applying for a scholarship at Grand View, where she obtained her commercial art degree. She then received her bachelor of fine arts at the School of Art Institute of Chicago.

Houghton worked for 10 years at the Art Institute and was awarded a prestigious grant as an emerging artist, where she created a wall-sized figurative painting with four separate panels. The piece, influenced by the Sistine Chapel in Italy, was eventually taken apart and sold.

“The fact that I got a grant to do artwork was really cool,” she says.

She illustrated a children’s book about adoption, “A is For Adoption.” As her daughter is adopted, she collaborated with the author, who adopted her daughter’s siblings.

Another illustration she’s created is for a book by Shoken Winecoff, an abbot at the Ryumonji Zen Monastery. The book, “Passing Through the Dragon Gate,” will be available in late 2020.

She has shown her art at the Iowa State Fair, Heritage Art Gallery and The Great Frame Up. In pre-COVID times, she displayed her art at festivals.

Houghton’s artwork is influenced by spiritualty, dreams and nature — and working intuitively. A journal of thoughts and images directs her artwork.

“Sometimes the journal might turn into something,” she says. “It’s an abstract process of experimentation, and I don’t have a preconceived idea of what it looks like. It’s like a therapeutic process in making a piece of art.” ♦

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