The Micro and Macro Worlds of Julie Miles

By Claire Stuart

There is a tiny world of extraordinary beauty right outside our doors, if we only pause to look. That world came to light in artist Julie Miles’ recent exhibit, opening in tandem with the concert by Appalachian/roots band Furnace Mountain at the Barns of Rose Hill.
Miles takes us into an enchanted micro-realm where we can peer at the ephemeral magic of dandelion seeds escaping on their feathery parachutes, a bursting milkweed pod, the delicate fuzz and finely-detailed wing veins of a bee. She captures the mystical perfection of dewdrops, seeds, flower petals and lacy leaves on backdrops of silver or gold leaf.
But Miles’ work can’t be pigeonholed. She is just as at home in the macro world as in the micro. She has turned an Airstream travel trailer into a watermelon and painted pet portraits. She has brought the world indoors with murals, transforming walls into seashores and ocean depths, woodlands, flower gardens and African plains.
Miles, a Virginia native, says she started painting in childhood, describing herself as a nature girl and a cowgirl. “When I got grounded in the tenth grade, I started painting murals on the wall of my room,” she recalls with a laugh.
She received her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University and headed west, where she painted murals for a museum in Tucson, Arizona. Returning east, she moved to the Washington, D.C. area and studied decorative painting with a group in Leesburg. In decorative painting, she discovered a way to use her talents productively and she continued to take classes with European masters.
Decorative painting includes faux finishes, wood graining, murals, trompe l’oeil, painted floors and ceilings, plasters, glazes and old world glaze finishes. “Wall glazes add depth to a room, make a more interesting wall,” she explains. “It’s always creative, always new.”
In 1991, she founded J. Miles Studios, a full-spectrum decorative painting and fine arts studio, where she works with interior designers, builders, and homeowners. Sometimes her work has her travelling to Europe. “Some people use designers,” she says, “and some have their own ideas as to what they want.”
Her work is labor-intensive, with wood graining taking seven to ten pigment layers and Venetian plasters nine or ten super-thin plaster layers topped with wax. “It’s tedious, detail-oriented, and methodical, but I like it,” she says, adding that there is a Zen she can achieve in her work.
She says painted floor cloths are regaining popularity. They were very popular throughout the 18th century, but were killed by the patenting of linoleum in 1860. They are made of duck canvas with pictures are painted on them. They are finished with several layers of urethane, and you can walk on them.
“They’re easy to clean and durable,” she says. “And they’re good for quirky spaces—they can be cut to any size or shape.”
Miles says that she had been so busy creating for clients that she had not painted for her own pleasure for decades. Then, a few years ago, local artist Winslow McCagg asked her to participate in a group art show he was organizing in the Dairy Barn in Middleburg. Inspired, she started her journey of painting again. She had never painted small before (some of her new paintings are 8×10), so this was a new experience. She loves to paint organic matter, an outgrowth of her love of gardening, and her gardens provide inspiration.
Miles has had three successful shows in the Middleburg Dairy Barn. Her recent show at The Barns was also successful; with the Furnace Mountain concert sold out and she had excellent art sales. Sometime next year, she plans to do another show with Furnace Mountain, with paintings that go specifically with the music.
Miles lives on three beautifully-landscaped acres in White Post; the old White Post Store is on her property — she hopes to transform it into a studio. She is happy to be a part of the diverse and strong community of artists in Clarke County,
Julie Miles is looking forward to participating in the Clarke County Studio Tour, October 1-2. See more of her at