Passion for painting

Washougal resident will use proceeds from her work to fight breast cancer

Camas Gallery featured artist

What: Camas Gallery First Friday Event will run from 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 1 at the Camas Gallery, 408 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas.

Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information about Olsen’s work, visit, or “Julie Olsen art” on Facebook.

Olsen began painting landscapes 12 years ago, but since then has focused on portraits, with animals as her main subjects.

"Ivy" is one of Olsen's paintings that will be on display at the Camas Gallery in September. She has had a love of horses since she was a young girl, as illustrated by her work below of "Zeus." She also enjoys painting other animals. Her art tends to focus on the eyes, giving the subjects a realistic look, almost as if the images were a photograph.

Olsen has had a love of horses since she was a young girl growing up in Oregon, and frequently uses horses as subjects for her artwork.

Olsen's paintings tend to focus on the eyes, giving the subjects a realistic look, almost as if the painting were a photograph.

One day, life was moving along nicely for Julie Olsen.

The next, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer.

When the Post-Record called to interview Camas Gallery’s September Artist, Olsen said she had recently been given the devastating news and that cancer, even more than her art, was on her mind.

“I know this article is about my art,” Olsen said. “But I really want to encourage women to do their monthly self-exams and call their doctor if something doesn’t seem right. It is so much easier to treat this if it’s in the beginning stages.”

Despite her life becoming a maze of doctor’s appointments, dietary changes and the emotional impacts of such a diagnosis, Olsen says painting is, for her, a form of therapy.

She is looking forward to having a portfolio of her artwork on display at the Camas Gallery in September. Gallery owner Marquita Call is even more excited.

“What I like most about Julie’s work is Julie,” Call said. “She has all the elements that make for superb art. It is so pristine. There is a piece of Julie in all of the artwork.”

Olsen has had a “profound love” of horses since she was a girl growing up in Oregon, and always dreamed of owning one. The Washougal resident put her creative talents to work, decorating elaborate cakes while her children were young. About 10 years ago, she was working in an antique store and had a chance meeting with Bill Corwin, whose wife, Phyllis, is a well-known artist.

“I recall telling him my greatest desire is to paint,” Olsen said. “He replied, ‘My wife can show you how to get there.'”

Phyllis Corwin recalls meeting Julie for the first time.

“She was one of those people who is artistic without realizing that they are,” Corwin said of Olsen. “Julie just didn’t really ‘see’ things yet. People will do that sometimes, and see only what they are supposed to.”

The two began their work together by painting landscapes, which Olsen described as “not (her) favorite thing.”

“But I wanted to learn to paint really bad so I did it,” she said.

Corwin introduced her to oil-painting, then watercolors, and they eventually moved on from landscapes to portraits. Olsen developed her own special technique, building up layers of pastels to create contrasting colors. This layering process produces paintings that focus on small details and the look of a subject’s eyes, which draws viewers into the painting.

Over the years, Olsen has never wavered from her love of horses and painting with pastels.

Ten years ago, she entered her work in the Clark County Fair under the professional category, and won six first-place awards, generating a buzz about her art.

“I wasn’t expecting that kind of response,” she said. “It was phenomenal. I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to do this. Maybe art is for me.'”

Since then, Olsen has had her work featured in several local art shows and competitions, including Artists of the Gorge, Southwest Washington Watercolor Society fall and spring shows, and the Battle Ground Art Alliance.

“Marquita tried for years to get me to exhibit here, but selling my art wasn’t really important to me at the time,” Olsen said of the Camas Gallery.

Now, the artist hopes to use profits from her paintings to help her fight cancer, and says she plans to combine standard medical treatments with nutritious whole foods and juices in an effort to best heal her body.

Given her past experience with the Camas Gallery, Marquita Call anticipates selling Olsen’s artwork won’t be a problem.

“I literally cannot keep it in stock,” Call said. “People love it. Julie puts her heart into her work.”