Interview: Julianna Swaney

Whenever I picture a fox or a bear, the work of Julianna Swaney of Oh My Cavalier instantly comes to mind. She’s one of my favourite artists (I have so many!) and I’m in love with her current illustrations; all of which seem to have a wonderful story behind them that begs to be told.

Name: Julianna Swaney
Location: Portland OR
Blog:, and
Illustration media: pencil and watercolor

Tell us a little more about yourself!
Well hello! My name is Julianna. I’m a pretty hermit-y and stay at home type of person. My many interests include; Crocheting by the fireside in the evenings, going on walks in the woods and seeing how many species of birds I can identify by their songs, collecting antique trade cards, small dogs, tending my collection of ferns, baking and eating bread, making To Do lists, avoiding phone calls, and cleaning the house (putting things in their place is how I relax). I like to get up early and get things accomplished!

Right now I’m living in Oregon but I’ve also lived in Maine and I grew up in Michigan. Growing up I spent a lot of time on my own, playing outside and with our animals. It seems like I am always nostalgic for that time now and I think that influences all my work!

Where do you live currently? What is the best thing about living in your place, and what is your daily schedule like?
Right now I’m living in an apartment in Portland, OR, with my roommate and fellow artist, Rebecca Urias. We have the best landlords who let us use their internet for free and we live in a wonderful neighborhood, it’s beautiful and close to lot’s of parks.

I like to get up early. On a typical day I go for a walk and then have some breakfast as I check and return emails. Then sometimes I update my etsy shop, otherwise I just get right to work drawing, or doing whatever my current project is. Usually I work all day and quit around 5 to make dinner or go do other things. I can’t work at night the way a lot of people seem to, I lose my focus and I’d rather use that time to relax. Some days though I have just chuck all this and go read in the park or go to antique stores, that is always helpful if I’m feeling uninspired.

How did you get your start in illustration?
I think I only got serious about having art at a career soon after I graduated from art school. I got my BFA in Printmaking at Maine College of Art. By the time I graduated I knew I didn’t want to have to also hold down a ‘real’ job, I wanted this to be my real job. Luckily Etsy stared up right about that time and once I started selling there I got a lot more exposure, started getting more commissions and things, and was able to make art full time.

Could you tell us more about your thought process when you start a piece?
It’s not very complicated; usually things come into my head pretty fully formed. I’ll hear or see or read about something and I’ll just get an idea and I’ll try to put it down just as I see it in my head. Usually though I do a ‘pre-drawing’, it’s not a sketch exactly because it’s usually more finished, it’s kind of a test. Sometimes this means I have two or three finished drawings of the same thing.

Do you keep a journal/sketchbook, and would you mind if we had a sneak peek? (a couple or a few images would be good, if you can manage!)
I do keep a sketchbook for jotting things down very roughly.

What or who inspires you?
I’m inspired by tons of little things; antique postcards and ephemera, fairytales and favorite childhood storybooks, trees, animals, Victorian fashion, old aphorisms or rhymes,

I’m also very inspired by my friends and other artists I love, they make me work harder and push myself.

What keeps you motivated?
Sometimes I can get very stressed out about what I’m doing (or not doing) and I lose all motivation. So usually it’s just a matter of actually remembering that I love what I do and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

What’s your favorite tool?
I do most of my work with a pencil, it’s the best!

Are you a full-time artist?
I am.

What advice would you like to give people who are interested in being an artist full-time?
Be really sure of what you want, don’t have unreal expectations at first, make yourself a schedule and stick to it (most of the time), seek out practical advise from other people or online, have a blog and make friends with other people who keep blogs, stay organized. I feel like most people just say “do what you love”, and that’s true but it’s not enough sometimes, you have to be practical too, and very self motivated.

Where do you see yourself within the next few years?
I really don’t know! I hope I am still able to make a living doing art. I would also like to learn a new skill like furniture making or beekeeping!

What message do you want to send out to people about your work?
Hm, no message really, just thank you for looking at it and I don’t mind at all getting feedback or thoughts though email.

Tell us something random about yourself.
I hate making or receiving phone calls and I will go to great lengths to avoid talking on the phone.


{Thank you Julianna!}

For read up on other artists’ interviews, head here!


8 thoughts on “Interview: Julianna Swaney

  1. this made me so happy! i love julianna swaney’s work. & i’m the same way about phones. i wish i never had to use one again. the only people i actually enjoy talking to on the phone are my sister, mother & best friend.

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