Julia Cairns
Julia Cairns

Julia Cairns

Julia Cairns is a full-time fine artist and illustrator known for her colorful images and her joyous, whimsical style. In addition to creating illustrations for children’s books, Julia has exhibited her fine art in numerous shows and galleries. Ms. Cairns provided the distinctive illustrations for Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale (January 2021), written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed. It is a Somali coming-of-age tale about a boy who needs to win a race but who must first discover how to capture the spirit of that fastest running animal on the planet in order to accomplish his goal.

Julia Cairns grew up in Oxfordshire, England where she started her working career with horses, her first love. When she was 18 she got the traveling bug and traveled to many places, but it was during her travels in Kenya that she became inspired to paint, attracted by the colorful Maasai and their intriguing lifestyle and with whom she worked for several months. Traveling south to Botswana, Julia discovered a country that was to become home to her for nine years and where she began her painting career in earnest. Living for many years in the Okavango Delta, Julia painted the landscape and natural history, often perched in rustic dug-out canoes or sitting on a sand bank keeping one eye open for crocodiles!

During her time in Botswana, Julia was commissioned to design four series of postage stamps for the country and was asked to paint a portrait of the then President, Dr. Quett Masire. Through observing the African people and the daily life there, Julia developed a more whimsical style of painting that has become somewhat of a trademark for her and enabled her to continue with her work when she came to the U.S.A.

In 1992, Julia married an American biologist, John Bulger, who had been working with baboons in the Okavango Delta. They came to live in Davis, CA where John could finish his studies, but it was a very difficult transition for Julia. There was not much to inspire her in this small college town, so she began painting the Africa she remembered and finding refuge in the bright colors and subject matter that were stored in her memory. The paintings became popular with the local gallery. Since then, Julia’s work has been licensed on jigsaw puzzles, mugs, calendars, fabric, shower curtains, and many other products. Julia has more recently published her own cards and continues to publish giclée prints of her work.

The colorful, cheerful style that Julia has mastered lends itself perfectly to children’s book illustration and thus far, she has illustrated eleven books for children.

Julia and her family have moved from California to Canada and now to New Mexico, where they are happily living outside Santa Fe in the historical village of Galisteo. The light, colors, and unique natural history of the area are compelling to both Julia and her husband and it is where they hope to be for some time to come.

Below, Julia Cairns summarizes some of her attitudes about art and why she has found so much inspiration in African life as a frequent setting for her work:

I have been painting professionally for over 30 years and even though only ten of those were spent in Botswana Africa, it is that period of my life that has inspired me the most. My work has been described as “whimsical,” “naïve,” and sometimes “Folk Art,” but I don’t believe it can be really categorized as any of these. I often paint African life and that can be translated into any life, it’s just that the people I paint describe a moment in time that happens to be in Africa. Africa is a joyous place, despite the ravages that natural disasters and political unrest bring to it. There is a resilience and fortitude in the people, and they have the ability to overcome intense hardships, never dwelling on what has been but on the present moment which after all is all we have. Animals play a large part in my work too and more recently my own animals have had roles in my pictures. This may be in a small way my entry into painting the beautiful landscape of New Mexico where I live. I don’t offer any lofty explanation of my work, that is for the viewer to interpret. I simply paint whatever is in my heart. I hope that you find joy in these paintings just as I have in making them.

  • Awards Won by This Illustrator’s Books

    • Spirit of the Cheetah: A Somali Tale, written by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed:
      • Distinguished Favorite in the “Multicultural” category of the 2022 NYC Big Book Awards
      • Silver Medal in the “Interior Design” category of the 2022 Midwest Book Awards
  • Author Extras & Links

    • Readers can learn much more about artist Julia Cairns on her website. The website includes her blog in which she shares her thoughts on life, art, and our world. Another section of the site focuses on her art.
    • Some years ago, an important news website for the San Francisco area, SFGATE, featured an article on Julia, with a particular focus on her years in Africa. Click here to read it.
    • The website of Lee & Low Books (a publisher of multicultural children’s books) has an interesting discussion between author Marilyn Singer and illustrator Julia Cairns about their book A Full Moon is Rising. Their conversation covers some interesting aspects of nature, cultures, and more. You can read it by clicking here

Sample Page Spreads from This Contributor’s Books

Click on the image below to see a larger image and a caption for this and any additional page spreads.