Julie Smith has always loved building her own worlds. As an architect, she has helped shape the local landscape in many communities throughout the Southeast. As an accomplished local artist, she builds beautiful artwork in a world of its own. She creates in several different mediums from watercolor to acrylic, from mixed media all the way to hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind maps.
She is currently licensed as an architect in three states and continues to design modern and classical residences for discerning clients. While architecture is structured, her art gives her a chance to break free just a bit.
Inspired by the unique and ever-changing colors of the Gulf of Mexico, Julie moved to the area in 2012 after vacationing here for many years.
“It’s an artist rule to always, always mix your paint and never just use it out of the tube. This way it’s your color, which means it’s always slightly different than someone else’s. In this same way, the ocean is always different every day.”
She adds, “I’ve drawn and created things my whole life. Living here and sitting by the vast ocean allows me to refuel and, I think, see differently. I start to connect things in my mind that were previously unconnected.”
When she was a child, the backyard was the canvas for building little cities. “It was mostly the construction, the creating part that I enjoyed,” she said. “Once a tree house was built, it was time to renovate and add on.”
When tree houses turned into real houses, her creativity only continued to grow and change.
In 1991, she began to draw and paint maps of some of the places she has lived and visited. Each watercolor map she designs is hand-drawn from scratch after much research into the exact specifications of her subject, be it Mobile Bay or the world hemispheres. And, in today’s age of GPS in your pocket, it raises the question… how did she start to draw and paint maps?
“I love how maps cause you to interact. Everybody can look and see their history on a map.”
“It’s fun to draw different scales of maps, close up where you see the pedestrian pathways, and zoomed out, showing regions, vistas and such,” said Julie.
She has been commissioned to make maps of Seaside, Florida and by couples who want to remember where they traveled on their honeymoon. The response to her maps has been overwhelming. Her “World Map Coastal Cities” map won a National Honorable Mention from the North American Cartographic Information Society in 2016.
Smith’s watercolor petite series features local icons and beach scenes inspired by watching people take pictures with their phones then show it to their friends. “We live in a small, hand-held world of art now.” Each piece she paints is created individually, with small differences in colors or signs on buildings, but each ends up being a 2.5” square, tiny original piece of art.
These petite pieces become more than just a picture on someone’s phone. They challenge her and others to interact with the world around them in new ways.
Analog versus digital. Paper versus screen. Talking versus texting. We could all take a lesson in slowing down from Julie Smith and maybe find a new spot on the map to unwind and be happy.
JESSICA ROBERTS is a Santa Rosa Beach writer and event producer. When not working or writing, you’ll find her out on the water or traveling somewhere new.