Working from her home studio, which includes her kitchen table and arctic entryway, Homer artist Julianne Tomich creates paintings that depict some of her favorite Alaskan themes — bears, birds, and life in, on, and around Kachemak Bay.
Using a combination of acrylic paint and coffee and repurposing found wood and frames, Tomich’s paintings are whimsical and quirky. Currently on display at Grace Ridge Brewing is her exhibit, “Pandemic Chickens,” inspired by the flock that she interacts with and guards on a daily basis, their coop just 10 feet from her front door.
“This exhibit is chickens, chickens, and more chickens,” Tomich shared.
Tomich refers to her flock as fancier chickens that include Silkies and Naked Necks with their big, fluffy heads, and Showgirls that combine the features of Silkies and Turkens. Among the chickens portrayed in “Pandemic Chickens” is Pearl, whom Tomich describes as a tall, sexy, spotted Naked Neck.
“Pearl is about 3 years old, has beautiful blue ears, and is independent and keeps to herself,” she said.
Having purchased her original chicks from the Wagon Wheel, for the past years, Tomich has been getting her eggs from sellers on eBay. Pearl is a southern girl, heralding from South Carolina and the mother of all of Tomich’s Naked Neck chickens. The “Pearl” painting sold on First Friday, the first of the paintings to sell.
Boo is a Blue Cochin, a breed of large, domestic chicken who is unable to see and is easily scared, and of all of Tomich’s chickens, is the one she considers to be her baby.
“Boo is just so precious and humble, shy, and gentle,” she said. “She looks like a powder puff mop, appears in a lot of my paintings and is love in chicken form.”
”Chickens on the Boat” features Tomich’s original flock, including a Brassy Bahama Mama, two Ameraucanas and a Barred Rock.
“Baby Boo” was a painting of her black Naked Neck that sold early on and “Ginger” is a painting of her 4-year-old Ameraucana.
A Homer resident for the past 10 years, Tomich grew up on a farm in Ohio with a variety of farm animals, including chickens. It was not until 2019 that she decided to creep cautiously into the world of feathers and eggs.
“I hesitated to get chickens because I thought they’d be eaten by bears and I wasn’t prepared to fend predators off,” she shared.
When her neighbors got chickens, she decided to follow suit, letting her flock free range with access to an insulated coop her husband Nick built her.
“There’s always something trying to eat my chickens,” she said. “Ravens, Goshawks, eagles, falcons and once, a bear tore the door off, but I’ve only lost one rooster to date.”
Her show statement for “Pandemic Chickens” includes, “To keep a chicken is to welcome chaos and hope.”
What began as a hobby for Tomich of simply raising chickens has for the past several years become what she describes as an obsession for breeding chickens to get the perfect egg in color and size and the perfectly tempermented chicken. Using an incubator, she hatches the eggs, which she chooses for their coloring and the color of the eggs those chickens will then lay. For example, she crossed the lavender Orpington with a Blue Maran and got a black Orpington Maran that lays olive-colored eggs.
Tomich shared that this passion turned obsession was nurtured during the start of the pandemic.
“Being stuck in the house for so long, the chickens entertained me and kept me grounded, focused and busy,” she shared. “Ever since I was a child, I’ve been merging art and nature, and now I’ve turned into a feral housewife.”
While her journey into chicken breeding is more recent, Tomich’s path into the art world was inspired at a very early age by her parents who were both teachers and creators, and by being raised on a large working farm in the Ohio Valley.
“We were poor and we had to make a lot of the things that we needed ourselves,” she said. “Mom made our toys and dad invented farm equipment and I spent a lot of time outdoors, making things from clay and drawing.”
With an art degree in sculpture from Ohio State University, after college, among other jobs, Tomich painted murals for Walt Disney and worked as a stagehand for Cirque de Soleil. She met her husband, Nick, in Ohio and in 2011, the couple moved to Alaska, following their love for the mountains and desire to have a child in a small town, and drawn to Homer for its art community and natural beauty.
In Homer, Tomich has exhibited extensively, including at Homer Council on the Arts, Fireweed Gallery, Grace Ridge Brewing, as well as in group shows. She has work permanently on display at the Homer Harbor Master’s office on the Homer Spit thanks to a 1-percent-for-art commission through the City of Homer. She also paints murals at the Homer Theatre both on their windows and popcorn machine glass, rotating them based on movies playing, and at a local hair salon, and other Homer businesses, transforming windows into works of art.
Tomich’s paintings all have elements of coffee in them — coffee on wood, coffee on canvas, and coffee mixed with acrylic.
In 2018, she began experimenting with coffee as a medium and today incorporates it into nearly all of her paintings.
“From painting wildlife and superhero murals in Homer for over 10 years and with a lean towards textured painting, I finally decided coffee as an art medium must seriously be explored,” she shared.
In “COFFEE MI AMORE,” a previous exhibit at HCOA, Tomich used coffee as a medium to paint, sculpt and model, incorporating a variety of techniques to showcase Alaskan themes.
“I love coffee — how it tastes, how it brings people together, how it looks on wood and canvas,” she said.
While her earlier exhibits have showcased bears and flowers, her attempt to feel less fear around bears, sandhill cranes, a depiction of her love for birds nurtured while living in Homer, marine life, showing her passion for all things Kachemak Bay, her current exhibit, “Pandemic Chickens,” pays homage to her feathered friends.
Whether it is bears, birds or the beauty of Kachemak Bay inspiring her, for Tomich, the magic exists in the spark of desire that compels her to create.
“Nothing is more exciting to me than a blank canvas or an old picture frame,” she shared. “My creativity keeps me sane and I’m grateful for my chickens and for time to make art.”