My main source of inspiration and renewal, in life as well as art, has always been the natural landscape. The constant transformations taking place in Nature intrigue me because I think our spiritual and creative life is in similar flux, and that observing the natural way of things can give us guidance for living as well as comfort in aging.
Though there is a connection between how my brush makes strokes that move and grow and how tree limbs move and grow, my paintings are not about trees. They are about tenacity and perseverance, and about how we are all intertwined.
There are two major influences on my technique. Training in designing typefaces has heightened my awareness of how the edges and spaces between things define what we see. And my admiration for Chinese brush painting has shown me how you can create opulence from the humblest of tools.
Anyone who grows up in a diaspora will feel a dichotomy of the soul. For me, painting brings the East and West in me into some kind of fresh synthesis.
Juliet Shen grew up in New York, city where her father was a translator at the United Nations, and has lived in Seattle, Washington since 1983. She started painting in childhood and spent the 1970s making art and working for design firms in New York. After moving to Seattle in 1983, she had a long career as a graphic designer, running her own firm from 1989–2012 and teaching typography at the School for Visual Concepts. In 2006 she earned a masters degree in typeface design from the University of Reading, UK. Since 2012 she has been painting full time, exhibiting in group shows and solo shows around Puget Sound.
After a 35-year career in graphic design, she resumed drawing and painting, her original passion. She owes her reconnection with fine art to the supportive artists of the Duwamish River Artist Residency for their acceptance and encouragement. Starting in the summer of 2012, she began making drawings in Seattle’s industrial Duwamish waterway with them, and continued by herself in the Union Bay Natural Area, a reclaimed wetlands on top of an old waste dump. When inclement weather finally forced a retreat indoors to the studio, she used her observations of the shifting Northwest landscape to create drawings combined with relief printing.
Juliet has experimented with compositions that pay homage to the Chinese landscape tradition, but with a contemporary approach. She has made paintings reflecting environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest, such as the restoration of the Elwha River following dam removals and the daylighting of urban streams in Seattle. She paints forests, wetlands, wild rivers, and tidal currents in a semi-abstract style that relies on fine brushwork. Her work is always infused with a sense of place, recognizable or fantastical. A month spent in Greece in 2016 resulted in the Aegean Series, a departure from her Pacific Northwest color palette. Residencies at Willapa Bay and on the Duwamish led to a fascination with patterns created by water currents moving in contradictory directions. A residency on Vashon Island resulted in a body of 10-foot scrolls of complex forest scenes.
Juliet is a founder of CoDraw Seattle, a collaborative drawing cohort that has been suspended since the pandemic.
Juliet is a freelance typeface designer. Her font design for Lushootseed, the indigenous language of Puget Sound, has been acclaimed for its adherence to traditional Salish aesthetic sensibilities. It was included in Type is Beautiful: the Story of Fifty Remarkable Fonts, by Simon Loxley (2017). She has designed OUP Earlybird, an early reading font Oxford University Press; the Latin component of AwanZaman, a multiscript Arabic font by Mamoun Sakkal, and Bullen, a roman font inspired by metal type faces from American Type Founders Company. She taught typography for 17 years at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, curated the speakers at two Type Americana seminars, and also served for 5 years on the Board of Directors of SOTA, which produces the annual TypeCon conferences.
Research and Writing
For a list of publications authored by Juliet, see the Typography section of this website.