10 Julie Dillon


Julie Dillon is an American painter and illustrator from California. She's painted covers for books, magazines, music albums, and games, all from leading publishers and companies. Julie's been featured in Spectrum. She's won four Chelsea Awards (also nominated three times) for her works, 'Planetary Alignment' and 'The Dala Horse' among others. She's won three Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award for best artist. She won two Locus Awards, an Alfie, a British Fantasy Award, and many other honors. She's published two books of her art, Imagined Realms: Books 1 & 2.

'Cosmic Traveler'

Julie talks about her life growing up, in an interview with Rebecca Bennett (Apparition Lit, 2018)

"I grew up in Northern California, where there are lots of rolling hills and oak trees, but not much else. I have drawn and painted for my entire life, but never took art seriously until my early 20s, because I had always thought that art was a hobby, not a viable career. I was terrified of the prospect of student loans, so I only attended the schooling I could afford without loans, which meant going to local colleges, and taking one class at a time in art school. I might have had a more robust career if I had attended an art school full-time, but not having the student loans has afforded me a lot more financial flexibility."

Julie also tells Loraine Sammy in this interview (Apex Magazine, 2014), "I used to also write stories and play music and do different crafts, but illustration ended up being the creative outlet that I focused on for my career."

'Dimensional Guardian'

Julie earned her BFA from Sacramento State U. She then studied at the Academy of Arts U. in San Francisco, and the Watts Atelier. She talks about school and her choice to paint digitally (Bennett, 2018):

"Digital art is something I just kind of fell into. I had done mostly color pencil and pastels growing up, but digital art was popular online in the late 90s and early 2000s, so I bought a cheap tablet and jumped on the bandwagon. I liked that with digital painting, it was easy to apply solid areas color, and I didn’t have to constantly buy supplies. Over the years working digitally has helped a lot with maintaining a quick workflow. My college did not help whatsoever, they were very much against illustration and digital art in general; they had a strict “fine art/abstract art only” attitude, unfortunately."

Sea, Sun, Stars

After art school, Julie began her career in 2006. She tells Bennett:

"The turning point is that I thought I was ready. I wasn’t ready, but I jumped in anyway. I was unsuccessful for a long time, but I kept at it and clawed my way up from the bottom, taking whatever work I could find to build my portfolio and attract new clients.  I keep challenging myself in part because I want to, and in part because I have to if I want to stay competitive and continue to find work. The art and publishing markets are always evolving, and if I stand still I risk being left behind. I used to naively think that there was some magical point in my career where I would have finally “made it” and I could relax, assured in my financial stability, but I’ve found that that doesn’t seem to be the case. From talking with other artists, it sounds like it’s always feast or famine."

She goes on to talk about winning the Hugo award:

"I was incredibly excited, I really thought that it would be a big boost to my career, and that it was a signal that I would finally have some kind of stability. Oddly enough, though, my freelance work dried up almost immediately after my first win. I’m in an odd place now, where on the one hand it’s a huge honor, but on the other hand, I’m earning less money every year despite working harder and harder. I’m not sure what to make of that."

'Saling Laniakea'

Julie paints primarily fantasy and sci-fi themed art. She says (Sammy, 2014):

"I’m probably more drawn to fantasy and magic realism. I’ve always liked those genres in general, and I like being able to create work that resonates with me and lets me stretch my imagination a bit more than if I was doing more scholarly studies. I like taking something that could be a more straightforward fine art subject and twisting it just enough to give it a more magical unreality. Fantasy, scifi and magic realism help stir people’s imaginations, and helps them try to see beyond or appreciate what is often dismissed as mundane."

'Sun Shepherdess'

Julie's freelance career in illustration is based almost entirely on her social media presence. She says (Bennett, 2018):

"Social media is pretty much only way I’ve been able to get any freelance work at all. Art directors, publishers, and potential clients are on social media, and are more likely to come across your work the more active you are. Of course, you have to be careful you don’t present yourself in a way that would make the people you want to work with decide to not hire you. I tend to use different social media for different purposes, keeping some as mostly art only accounts, and some where I talk a bit more. I tend to lean on the quieter side on anything that is public, though, just out of habit."

'Pearls & Stardust'

Julie talks about her methods and references (Bennett, 2018):

"In the case of cover art, I’m always given the stories first to work from. But for my own work, a lot of times the story evolves as I work on the piece. I’ll have an idea for a scene, and the narrative develops as I sketch."

"Even the most fantastical art has roots in reality. There is usually almost always some real life reference I can utilize, it’s just matter of exaggerating it and transforming it. I can utilize pictures of crocodiles, lizards, elephants, etc to help me figure out how I want a dragon to look, for example. I have huge folders of reference photos of landscapes, plants, clothing, textures, faces, and architecture to give me guidance on all stages of an illustration. The trick is trying to figure out what exactly you need as reference, and how to go about finding it."

'Space Sirens'

Julie talks about her digital painting process (Sammy, 2014):

"Years ago, I used paint straight with color without doing a sketch or greyscale composition. However, when I started doing more freelance work, it became necessary to send black and white sketches to my clients for them to approve before I began the color stage. I didn’t like working with line art, so I had to figure out how to add color to my messy greyscale paintings, and I found that using color blending modes in Photoshop (Overlay layers, Multiply layers, Hard light layers, etc) gave me a good way to do just that. It turns out it’s similar to how some oil painters work; you create a sketch, and then tint it with an quick wash to create an underpainting before beginning the main work of the painting."

'Artificial Dreams'

She says more in this interview with Andrea 'Redhead' (Little Red Reviewer, 2014):

"I think traditional media is vitally important, I think there are a lot of benefits to working in traditional media, and I enjoy doing working with real paint when I get the chance. But I think digital media is a valid tool, one that has it’s own strengths and weaknesses. So often I see people dismissing digital art as somehow cheating or not as valid or important as traditional art, but the computer is just another tool. It doesn’t do the work for you, you still need to have foundational drawing and painting skills to make a good digital piece. I personally prefer working digitally because it allows me to work quickly and cleanly. I don’t have to buy paint or brushes or canvases, I don’t have to wait for paintings to dry before sending them to clients, I don’t have to photograph or scan my final work, and I can make edits immediately and easily. But, I also do not have a physical original painting that I can hang up or sell, and I do miss out on the fun and satisfaction of working with real paint."

'All the World to See'

Some of Julie's influences include Alphonse MuchaJon FosterJohn Waterhouse, and Andrew Jones

On her website, she says that she enjoys hiking, pottery, and volunteering at her local equine rescue.


Julie talks about 'Ariadne' (Sammy 2014), "A while back I was asked to do some mythology sketches, and one of the ideas I came up with was a sketch with Ariadne searching for the Minotaur in the labyrinth. Unfortunately the concept was rejected by the client and we went in another direction. I really liked the idea, though, so I kept it on the back–burner for a while. Months later, I was musing on the idea again, and it occurred to me how interesting it might be to have the Minotaur looming huge beyond the horizon line, dwarfing the labyrinth instead of being dwarfed by the labyrinth. When I started sketching it out, I started thinking about curving the horizon. It doesn’t necessarily make a lot of narrative sense, but I really like the visual."

"The perspective was definitely a challenge, but what helped was finding the right perspective grid to work from. I did a Google search for pictures of wireframe spheres and fish–eye perspective grids, and used those to help give me a reference for how to structure the labyrinth while still making it look like it was a spherical surface."

'Gold Sea'


'Breaking Through'

'Planetary Alignment', 2010 Chelsea Award

'Life in Motion'

'Beneath the Surface'

'The Lady of the Lake'


'Afternoon Walk'

'Beyond the Stars, New Suns'


'Gate World'

'Launch Point'

'Horse & Banner'


'Arid World'

'Down Time'


'Uncle Flower's Homecoming Waltz'

'The Dala Horse' 2011 Chelsea Award