From Lighting Design to Fine Art: Julie Neill's Creative Journey


An illuminating interview with the designer reveals the inspiring joy found in artistic expression.

Renowned lighting designer Julie Neill has embarked on a remarkable creative journey that has taken her from the world of lighting design to fine art. In an exclusive interview, she shares her inspiring story and the immense joy she finds in expressing herself through art.

Those who have met Julie know she is fond of starting conversations with a story. "Have you ever heard about the runner who trains with rocks in his shoes?” she asks. "The story goes that on the day of the race, the rocks came out, and he ran like the wind." Just like the athlete who trained with the weight of the rocks, Julie had spent years honing her skills and perfecting her craft in bespoke lighting design. Her collection with Visual Comfort (a significant achievement) became a symbol of her perseverance and determination, a testament to the countless hours she had dedicated to her passion.

Julie's meticulous attention to detail and innate ability to blend form and function seamlessly are evident in every design. The collection showcases her ability to create lighting fixtures that illuminate a space and serve as works of art in their own right. Look at any piece in Julie Neill’s collection for Visual Comfort, and a few words leap to mind. Whimsy. Warmth. Personality. It’s no coincidence that Julie herself could be described along the same lines. Read along as she recounts her creative journey of artistic expression — insisting, in the grand tradition of all great storytellers, that there isn’t much to say. (We beg to differ.)

In a serene corner of her New Orleans design office, Julie Neill sketches new pieces for her Alberto and Iberia series.

After starting her career as an interior designer and decorative painter, she shifted gears to having a family. As she prepared to open a shop in her native New Orleans — mostly painted furniture inspired by 18th and 19th-century French and Italian pieces — she signed on to do a room at a decorator show house. The room needed a chandelier, and in a stroke of pure serendipity, she happened to walk past a flier advertising copper fountains, “the kind of thing you just see in New Orleans,” she says. She figured anyone who could make a fountain could make a chandelier, so she called the number on the ad and designed her first piece of lighting. Julie was captivated by the transformative power of light and its ability to enhance the ambiance of any space. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for craftsmanship, she quickly made a name for herself in the industry. “Making lighting ignited my soul,” she says. “It visited my life, and I let it in.” Enter Visual Comfort.

The opportunity to partner with Visual Comfort meant new audiences, new horizons, and new creative opportunities after nearly two decades at the helm of her custom lighting business. Collaborating with Visual Comfort’s executive vice president, Charles Neal, Julie soon found her collection could be as beautiful as the pieces she produces in her namesake atelier. “I’m not a cerebral designer; I’m a maker, and Charles took the time to understand. He flew to New Orleans to see how I work, which is how he can replicate my process and finishes.” Julie’s lighting design background means she can speak to a junction box's best size and location, for instance, but she says, “All I have to do is come up with an idea; for me, the visual comes first. Of course, the functional element of bringing light into a space is always there. Then it’s about how we can make that fabulous,” she says. "This partnership has made me the happiest person in the world. It has freed me to focus on the creative again.”

The reflective qualities of glass inspired the sculptural beauty of the Talia series.

Farfalle began as a dream about butterflies and transformed into something fabulous.

So, what's next for this curious creative? Julie intends to juggle her partnership with Visual Comfort while pursuing her lifelong ambition: exploring the world of fine art. As she dives deeper into her art, Julie realizes that her lighting designs and her fine art are not so different. Both require a keen eye for detail, an understanding of form and composition, and a passion for creating something beautiful. It was as if her years of designing lighting fixtures had prepared her for this moment. "Lighting design and studio art coexist in the same mental space for me," she explains. "Since it originates from the same person, it's the driving force behind all my creative endeavors." Through her art, Julie is allowed to tap into a wellspring of inspiration and connect with her true self.

Julie continues to push herself, experimenting with new techniques and pushing the boundaries of her creativity. Her creative process is a form of meditation, a way for her to tap into a different side of herself and, most importantly, embrace the chaos. A perfect anecdote that crystallizes this point beautifully: she was arranging a fine art commission, attaching folded paper leaves to a canvas, when her cat dashed across the table, disrupting her arrangement. Delighted, she adhered the leaves wherever they fell. “Here I was mapping out this order, and then life happened,” she says, “and made something more beautiful than I ever could have planned.”

Neill trims gold-foil butterflies for a Farfalle series maquette.

The designer and her sales director (and daughter!) Isabelle inspects the finish on a stately Iberia chandelier.

A close-up view of Julie's best-selling Talia series.

A close-up view of the fluttering Farfalle series.

From that freedom comes a great possibility to create and express oneself – consider the origin story of her bestselling Talia series. “I wanted something beautiful, useful, abstract, and glowed from within.” She knew a glassblower who made her fluted glass ball, and she sat in her studio, cradling it carefully in one hand with a pencil in the other, asking it, “What do you want to become? And before you know it, I’ve got a new chandelier in my hands.” A chandelier that expanded into a "sculptural work of art that magnifies shimmering ripples of light through a cluster of intricately swirled orbs of hand-blown glass," Julie describes. The success of the Talia series serves as a reminder of the significance of artistic freedom and its ability to inspire, entertain, and provoke thought. Spend a few hours under the glow of the Dumaine Chandelier or the Farfalle, and you come away imprinted by a feeling, a memory, a moment. That’s precisely the point. “Lighting brings a thrill to people,” Julie says. “Everywhere I go, somebody comes up and tells me I’ve designed something that lights up their life. I can’t imagine anything better than that.” Each creation is a testament to her unwavering dedication to her craft and belief in the power of artistic expression.

Julie characterizes herself as engaged in a continuous creative dialogue - with herself, her concepts, her materials, and a divine force that drives everything forward and upward. “Do I like what’s happening here?” she asks. “If I don’t, what will I do to bring it back, or what will this teach me about where to go?” Her intuition serves as a North Star, producing tangible, multi-layered, and warm creations with nods to classical art and architecture, craftsmanship and sophistication, and most importantly, nature. "There's a concept, followed by a process, and everything evolves from there," she articulates about the spiritual energy that births her work. Her forthcoming endeavor is no different.

Dumaine Chandelier draws its inspiration from the banana leaves in Julie’s backyard.

Julie's Iberia Chandelier & Alberto Sconce are accompanied by one of her artful paper creations.

When asked to describe the common thread in her multifaceted career, Julie has a ready answer: joy. Her openhearted approach to art and design imbues her work with palpable joy and, she hopes, radiates a joyful energy out into the world beyond her New Orleans studio doors. She feels incredibly grateful for the opportunity to live out her childhood dreams on a grand scale. In her life, art, and forthcoming lighting designs for Visual Comfort, Julie is committed to continually exploring materials she loves and celebrating nature in direct and subtle ways. Guided by love, passion, and the thrill of seeing a finished product – buoyed by faith, gratitude, and an uncommon clarity of purpose.

Julie's story is not just about her remarkable achievements as a lighting designer turned artist but also about the joy and fulfillment she has found in pursuing her passion. Through her work, she hopes to inspire those who dare to dream and remind us that we can all find our unique path to creative fulfillment with dedication, perseverance, and a little courage.

Designer Julie Neill with her Talia Chandelier.

Bring home the warmth and whimsy of the Julie Neill lighting collection.