For decades, Sale artist Julie Ward has been drawn by her love of art, music and the sea.

She has a studio at Seaspray where she delights in portraying the much loved beach and ocean. Every Easter she runs the annual Seaspray Easter Art Show (SEAS) in the Seaspray Hall, which used to be a duo exhibition with her friend and fellow artist, Sue Cox from Seaspray, now deceased.

Ms Ward’s sister, Margaret O’Brien, has become her invaluable partner in this regular Easter art event.

Aside from one year off because of COVID, Ms Ward has run the show each year as a regular part of the Seaspray calendar. The show ran from Saturday March 30 to Tuesday April 2. About 80 people showed up each day.

Visitors simply pay entry with a gold coin, and Ms Ward says that donation is all that’s needed to break even with the cost of the hall every year.

“It shows that there is support for us. I believe this is the 27th year we’ve run the show,” Ms Ward said.

‘Deep Sea’ by Julie Ward.

This year was just like most years, as Ms Ward curated and provided a major proportion of the exhibition with her large canvases depicting the ocean. Ms O’Brien complimented her sister’s work with small detailed pastels that turn many heads every year.

But the sisters weren’t alone in this exhibition – Helen Booth paints ocean, flowers and furniture in a unique stained glass style. Olga Potter contributes shining paintings and decorated stones, all influenced by her Russian heritage.

Bill Payne creates encyclopaedic fish the viewer has to see to believe, and Doug Beattie paints whatever is current in his retirement after teaching art for many years.

Gillian Fytch, a relative newcomer to Seaspray, enjoys miniatures and beach wood sculptures. Photographic artists Lotje McDonald and Leanne Peck contribute amazing scenes of Seaspray and fabulous moments in time.

Ms Ward reiterates that this all began with Ms Cox, who started the show by herself.

“Sue Cox asked me to come and join her the following year, and she allowed me to use one wall. And so I worked and worked and worked, until my paintings got better,” Ms Ward said.

“And just a couple of years ago, Sue passed away and as she was ill, I got other artists to come and join us. But they’re all local artists or have a local content, like my sister who (doesn’t live in Seaspray), but comes to Seaspray every year.”

Ms Ward has never been a Seaspray resident, but that may be understating the family connection to the town.

“We’ve been here forever,” Ms O’Brien said.

“Our dad planted the trees on the way into Seaspray, (in) 1937,” Ms Ward said.

The two sisters learnt to swim in Seaspray, and have many family members who live in the town, so the town is like a second home.

In terms of sales of the paintings this year, the cost of living crisis continues to bite, but they sold a number of the smaller paintings that go for about $200. The bigger ones, such as Aqua Marine, (pictured with Ms Ward and Ms O’Brien), go for $1400.

Asked how long it took Ms Ward to paint this picture, she said her standard answer to that question is 45 years.

“It’s because, of course, I’ve learnt the technique the way I want to paint it, and to get the right look for me. I’ve taken that long to learn how to do it,” she said.

Ms Ward then went into specifics, saying the magic begins on a Friday night when she goes to her Seaspray studio.

“I might paint until three o’clock in the morning. And then the next day paint for three or four more hours. And then maybe a couple more hours to finish off,” she said.

“So eight or nine hours for something as big as this. It’s a really small amount of time, because of that 45 years I know what I want to put on the canvas.

Julie Ward changes the layout of the show each year, with stands provided by the Seaspray Surf Life Saving Club. Photos: Stefan Bradley

“People ask if it’s from a photograph. I’ve swum in this ocean all my life. I just laugh and say no, I know what the water looks like in front of me.”

The paintings have been sold to new happy owners in Melbourne, and even going as far as Queensland.

Ms Ward is not just a visual artist, she also has an ear for music, and runs The Julie Ward School of Music in Sale. Some of her singing and piano students came to SEAS and provided musical entertainment.

Ms Ward was born in Sale and at the age of 15 was quite suddenly diagnosed legally blind. After much determination and many specialists, she was fitted with haptic lenses covering the entire surface of each eye, giving good vision for a limited time each day, thanks to organ donations.

‘Sands of Soils’ by Kerry Darby.

Then began her adventure with studying music at the University of Melbourne. With a degree and a husband from New Zealand, she returned to Sale to live at Airly on a dairy farm just five minutes from Stratford.

The Principal of Gippsland Grammar School invited Ms Ward to teach art and music. She soon became the inaugural Director of Music, establishing the department and its fine reputation, teaching there for 25 years, but painting was side-lined as a hobby.

During this time her eyes began to deteriorate more, and corneal grafts became the next stage to retain vision. It is no wonder Ms Ward paints with bold strokes and strong colours.