In school, Juliette Toma would constantly be drawing in the margins of her homework. She drew figures, carefully curating their clothes, and presumed she wanted to be a fashion designer. She soon realized, though, that it was not the clothes but the creation of the characters she was so fixated on.
Her current style is not so far from these beginnings. “I’ll draw a character and basically dress them up, giving them a fun hairdo, interesting make up and some cool clothes,” she says. She begins by taking and gathering photos to use as a reference, putting them into a collage to craft her own image. Then, she sketches the image onto bristol paper and begins to paint with acrylics. “My favorite part of painting is doing tiny little details,” she says. “I love my tiny brushes.”
Juliette’s dad was a painter, so she was introduced to art from a young age. “He would work on large scale oil paintings, hand me a brush and let me paint with him from as early as I can remember,” she says. Fast-forward to the present, and she makes portraits that are a much more refined version of the caricatures you might expect to see on a boardwalk. Her pieces burst with color and vibrancy, and what’s noticeable is how accurately the light and shadows fall on her subjects’ faces.
Just like her school days, Juliette is happiest creating her own characters, with personalities and backstories and all. With vintage magazines and photos as her inspiration, she builds the characters gradually, adding in a pair of shoes or a piece of clothing that she’s been wanting herself. “When painting a person that I make up, their personalities often develop as I paint them,” she says.
Poolside was inspired by a vintage nudist magazine Juliette came across, and then she added items that she found interesting or funny to build a personality. “I gave her a bad tan line, a thousand freckles and a bright red Farrah Fawcett haircut,” she says.
Besides these characters of her own, Juliette often paints celebrities, sometimes through her own interest in them, but often just to show clients that she can capture a likeness. “I’m drawn to features I think will be fun to illustrate, such as colorful hair, fun makeup, face tattoos or grills,” she says. “I like to draw people who have something unique about their features and aren’t too perfect.” Hence, her ode to the unique face of Post Malone.
Juliette loves to capture people’s imperfections, and she feels they’re what make people unique and interesting. “I think subconsciously I put a lot of focus on people’s ‘flaws’ because it’s what I find the most interesting,” she says. Asked if she’s ever taken this too far, she laughs and admits that some subjects don’t find their portraits very flattering. “I don’t do it to poke fun at anyone though. I think being pretty and perfect is boring and overrated!”
All of her subjects, celebrity or not, carry their flaws with an assured poise. This is intentional. “I’ve always considered myself somewhat shy and awkward. Things I once found embarrassing I choose to celebrate in my artwork,” Juliette says. “The characters I paint have bad make-up, braces and acne, but they embrace them with the confidence I always wished I had. I hope other people can resonate with my paintings, laugh a little and feel less alone.”
Words by Alex Kahl.