Julie Starr AKA JStarr


Julie Starr, or "J/Jae," is known to all of us as simply Jstarr here on the forums. Not that she doesn't mind being called by her given name, but I'm told that she's been going by J or Jae since she was young when women had much to prove to get noticed in the arts. Personally, I wouldn't say that game has ended quite yet. Maybe it never will be. All I can say is that I fully relate! Many of you here may know that I was "Artyczar" for a decade before I ever revealed my true name on WetCanvas. And then I eventually legally changed my first name altogether.

But this spotlight interview certainly is not about me; it's about Jae, and I for one LOVE her artistry. I'm excited to have her featured this month, though I apologize for putting this up a day late. So, on with it. ;)

Where did you grow up, and where do you live and work now?

I was born in Lansing, Michigan, a-long-time-ago. Mine was one of those working-class Catholic families, lots of children, parochial education for early years, Mass every Sunday, a Polish Parish, which meant the scent of kielbasa on most parishioners' breath (garlic!garlic!garlic!), and beautiful Art in the Stations of the Cross, in the statuary, in the carvings of fonts and altars, along with a huge Rose Window and carved two-story high doors. I wasn't much on following Mass (especially in Latin since this was a-long-time-ago), but I studied all that Art every minute I could. It was a terrific childhood filled with trees to climb and a tire swing to ride on, books to read, and chores and pets and siblings to play with. We had a big Audubon book I could copy/draw birds from, and my Mother had a Depressionware plate made in Occupied Japan that had a 'print' of a hawk, a duck, a temple, and various other symbols that supposedly told a story. I was allowed to draw that, too. (Eventually, when I got married, my Mother gave me that plate-glazing cracked, but I used it one last time years later). When the economy in Michigan went to crap in the early '70s, my folks moved us to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where I went through my teen years and came out the other end with still no clue what I "would be when I grew up."


Plate: 18" x 24" Wallis Museum (Titled: For My Mother)

So, since I had no clear path to follow, I got married to a man in the military and immediately started on an itinerant life—with children.

Three sons in four years—then a daughter a few years later—it seemed as if having no clear path to follow could tie one into a path whether one liked it or not. But, as a family, we lived all over the US, everywhere but the far northeast, and spent six years in Germany, and my children and I learned a great deal about how life is for other people in other areas. It was a good life. As the children grew up and became teens, but before they started their own journeys, I went to university with an eye on medicine; however, we were still moving at the whim of the Army. Trying to get into an MD program or even an RN program turned out to be impossible when the waiting list was two and three years long. We moved every 24 months or so. I finally ended my education with a Bachelor of Science, pre-med, minor in Psych and English.

And that's when life opened up into a whoooole lot of opportunity.

How did you begin making art in your life? (Did you study it?)
We always had paper (usually butcher's paper) and a coloring book, perhaps crayons of various lengths to use, sometimes colored pencils, definitely pencils. Out of all my siblings, I was the one who "could draw," and if you think all children can draw, you're wrong; by first grade, my classmates knew who among us could draw: Tracy Goyt, Susan Wolfe, David Varney, and me. The rest, well, they drew, and they colored, but they had no gift of line, let alone perspective or desire to learn what went between the sky and the grass. Art was provided a couple of times each week—learning how to cut and fold paper, learning how to make animals with certain shapes, how to turn numbers into 'things'—like a 2 into a swan—how to make coiled clay pots, how pipe cleaners could become near anything, how to make leaf prints—we were exposed to many different mediums and ways to be creative.

In Junior High (now Middle School), I "took Art," which means once daily, I went to one of two classrooms to be exposed to even more mediums and ideas. I learned lost-wax casting (still have the pewter turtle!), etching, linoleum block printing, silk screening, enameling, book making—from printing to covers to signatures to sewing—pointillism, complements, watercolour, batik—three years of daily art classes! It was AMAZING. But in High School, the Art classes were taught by a man who wasn't in it for his students but himself; he had a paid-for studio space and all the supplies he wanted, and so he mostly just left us to do-- something- something artsy. I wanted to learn how to paint, but this teacher wasn't interested in teaching that, so I never learned much about color; instead, I drew.

As an adult, I showed my children how to draw, made sure we had art supplies and exposed them to as many kinds of art as can be afforded on a military salary—not much, at the time—but took them to museums and cathedrals to see world-class art. And I tried to make Art myself, which I called "Giving Artistic Birth at the Dining Room Table," meaning it had to all be cleaned up by supper time. My interest was not at a good time. Didn't mean I stopped; it meant I became frustrated.

What medium do you usually work in? (Or, which is your favorite?)
I couldn't 'get' colour. Colour in the various wet mediums never worked like I thought it would—dirt or dark or light or more dirt—sometimes it lifted, sometimes it glazed, and sometimes it opaque'd, and I couldn't figure out the rules.

Then I got a set of soft pastels—Rembrandts—and suddenly, colour began to click.

I had a pad of Bienfang Translucent Parchment, purchased at an art supply store in Idar-Oberstein, Germany, a few years before, and that surface with pastel was an amazing time. I don't remember when or why I started hanging around WetCanvas! Pastel Forum, but I did, and it was full of actual real-live artists who would tell you how to do things—show you how it worked, encourage you, and demonstrate—what a terrific resource!

glads on buffet early sun.jpg

Glads on Buffet Early Sun, 20" x 26" Wallis Museum (I learned about reflected light!!)

I had also back-doored myself into a Recreational Therapist certification, so was working in Skilled Nursing Facilities, which, along with time marching on and children growing up, meant there was suddenly some spare change in the household budget. I bought pastels—all kinds of pastels. I bought entire sets and entire value runs; I tried 'em all. Rebrandts became my workhorse, especially since we lived just outside Olympia, Washington, and there was an art supply store on the west side; I had to pass it to go pretty much anywhere, and it was only a couple blocks from work, and they sold individual sticks! For like a buck each! Daniel Greene had a store in Tacoma, I think it was, and a friend and I would go there sometimes, but he was NOT cheap—likely his storefront rent was significantly higher than an old frame house-turned-store on the west side of Olympia. I had some works at a gallery in Tumwater and an ArtWalk place at our favorite brunch place (Dungeness crab for breakfast!), and I began to teach out on Steamboat Island—teaching others taught me how much I knew.

Once I knew how much I knew, I no longer worried about the work; I'd figure it out eventually.

How often do you work on your art?
I had a stroke in 2017; turns out I have a bad bit on my MTHFR gene (go ahead and try to pronounce that, and you'll know what *I* call it) that is usually discovered when genetic testing for reproductive problems is done—but, of course, that wasn't a problem so it was never done. I have a 1.5 cm "bright spot," meaning it's dead, on my right posterior basal ganglia—the part of your brain that says "Go!" when you move or react, or concentrate; I lost bits and pieces on my left side, a bit in the hip, the thigh, the ankle, the tarsals and metatarsals, the upper arm and my left fingers and palm are affected with disrupted receptive sensation and what is called paresthesia, meaning the palm and fingers are always asleep. I didn't even bother trying to work on art again until about 2020; I was concentrating more on walking without resembling Igor's step-clump, step-clump, and getting through my workday without left side muscles cramping up and having to take meds, which made me sleepy and...not able to stay focused.

Before then, Dear Husband and I had moved down to Arizona for his work (he'd retired from the military, but his not working was never an option), bought a house on some property, and I had the 12' x 12' two-story barn shed tricked out into a pretty fair studio, and I painted most evenings out there, alone, music blasting, making it work. I also taught at a gallery up in Bisbee, and up on Ft Huachuca, so I was churning out lots of work—had a website, sold some there, did some gallery shows, sold some there. It was enough. But the stroke made me stop, and I no longer liked going out in the desert dark, so far from the house, so clumsy on the drafting chair, and unable to easily get down on the floor to pick up a pastel I dropped, so I didn't do much for a couple of years. Until DH asked (such a nice idea!) if he could move all his lawn equipment into the shed (the man is worse about tools and machinery than I am about pastels!), allowing him to do his woodworking in the garage and he'd fix up our smallest bedroom into a studio for me. We did that, and within a month or so, I was painting again.


Colorado Creek, 9" x 12" UArt (This is the last version so far, best so far, done in like three hours.)

I usually have something on the easel, or, at least, being considered every week or so. I am less bothered by selling things. I don't care to put my limited energy into that. If someone wants to buy something, all well and good. If not, guess what my kids all get in their inheritance?

I also find I will revisit some compositions over and over—some that I never got right in my mind and some that I want to see if I can do it again. Cobalt Camillas is one of my repeats, as is the Colorado Creek, which I keep trying to get right. Did it this last time, I think. (I noted the right side narrow ribbon of water hit too far forward, so I deepened the bottom space of that middle rock and tossed a shadow in there, which knocked the dribble-stream back enough to work).

What is your favorite subject matter or color palette?
I struggle so with the landscape—I admire so many of them, but find it difficult to allow the landscape to be what it wants instead of what I see. Still-life has always come far more easily to me, and portraiture. I think it is because those two genres rely on me being able to reproduce what it is I see, not what it wants to be.

Is there a place where you draw inspiration from?
I am smitten by strong light and shadow—it gets me every time. And I love tautly-balanced compositions—the tension is so attractive to my eye.

Do you have any specific artistic influences (artists or styles)?
I know in real life a few excellent artists—some who hang in museums, like Dianna Ponting and Kitty Wallis, Sue Choppers Wife, Barb Noonan, Tom Christopher, Preston, King, and even Jackie Simmons, who is across The Pond and no longer working in pastels but in glass. They have each and every taught me and shown me so much. They influence me by showing me what they can do in pastels, which allows me to reach for more and different in my own work in pastels. I'd still be frustrated at not understanding how colour worked if it weren't for each, and many more (Deborah Christiansen) of them. I admire each of them most for being able to do what I am still learning to do: Let it be what it wants to be.

Can you share your (typical) painting process with us?

Step 1) Consider references. I have SO MANY references. Sometimes, I see something that has a zing! to it and set up more references. Matters not. Once I have a reference, I decide the size.

I would prefer to work on Wallis, but that isn't in existence anymore; Kitty Wallis lost a supplier for the coating, then came CoVID, then came a dawning knowledge she just couldn't do it anymore, so she doesn't. So, I work on UArt. I used to buy roll ends from Kitty—yards of paper I could cut to whatever size I pleased, but no more. UArt is not as good—it curls, and its tooth is either waaaay too aggressive eating pastels right up or so smooth two layers is all you're going to get.

Step 2) Cut paper, hinge paper, maybe tone paper—likely not—then lay in a light sketch. I'm a slap-dash starter. I'm not interested in fine detail at this point, just a spot and a shape unless it's a portrait, and then I slow right down. Once the bare bones are on the paper, I lay out my palette. I don't care about brand so much (although I am miserly with my Terry Ludwigs) because, humble-brag here, I can make a passage appear to be any colour in any value with whatever colours I have.


Two Dozen Eggs in Milk Glass, 18" x 24" Wallis Museum (lovely grays)

I like to make "interesting grays" using primary, secondary, and tertiary layered complements; my favorite still-life background is a violet of whatever chroma and a green of whatever chroma—those two hues make a terrific background that can lean warm or cool as needed, that softens edges perfectly, that just works. A pink and turquoise is also very workable, especially in an otherwise 'warm' subject.' A mango and blue-violet works, too, although is better as a shadow.

I don't like to use black, white, or an actual grey; they just hit my eye like a visual hole. I prefer to darken an area with one of those complex greys and lighten with a warm or cool light.

Colour in pastels is so limitless that it seems a shame to me not to use them instead of black, white, and grey. I finally figured out why the rule in using colour really and truly is: "If the value is right, the colour doesn't matter" when I saw Barb Noonan use an in-your-face, no-mistake, brilliant turquoise as a shadow under an eye on a portrait, and it *worked.* Who could resist learning how to do that?!


He Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead, 12" x 18" UArt (Gave it to my elder sister who likes quirky art.)

As long as I still find it interesting and a challenge as opposed to a frustrating knotty experience, I'll probably keep seeing what I can do.

But for a motto: If the value is right, the colour doesn't matter.
What do you like to do when you’re not working on art?
I'm a reader, so I read when not doing chores or working in the studio or whatever. DH and I are both rather beat up physically, so we don't do as much hiking and such anymore. I'm a TERRIFIC cook, and in my element right now as it has cooled down and I can make the winter foods I love. Tonight is chicken and dumplings made with the boned leftovers of a bird I grilled a few weeks ago over applewood. *Yum,* trust me.

Lastly, do you have a website and/or social media platform(s) you would like to promote?
I let my website go—I started finding my stuff for sale as prints on Russian art sites and didn't like that one. So I let it go. I have a few folks who see what I've done when I post on social media, and they'll enquire, and I'll consider. We usually reach an agreement. Good enough for me. Besides, what else would I leave the kids??

For now, I'm content doing what I do and not worrying about any of it.

I'm glad to have found CreativeSpark—this is a nice spot to socialize, discover, and learn about lots of Art and Artists.

We are so happy to have JStarr as part of our Creative Spark Family. :) Thank you, Jae.
A very interesting read JStar. Your energy is awesome. Your paintings are a pure delight and your sister has a good eye for a good piece of art. He Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead,...that is a family of penguins if I ever saw one. Awesome Job. Good to know you, even if is through print.
Exceptionally well written and fascinating interview with an amazing talent! Thanks ever so much for sharing your story and your art with us.
Terrific interview! Thank you so much for participating with the interviews, Jae! Wonderful to read of your life experiences and how art seems to stayed with you, even after disappearing occasionally. Your art is beautiful! Those soft whites in Two Dozen Eggs in Milk Glass are divine! 👏
Wonderful interview, Julie. I've (virtually) known you for years but now I know so much more about you. Very interesting life you've lived and I loved seeing these works of yours. I've never seem these ones. I just love the red glads! Thanks for sharing with us. ❤️ :love:
A very interesting read JStar. Your energy is awesome. Your paintings are a pure delight and your sister has a good eye for a good piece of art. He Should Have Quit While He Was Ahead,...that is a family of penguins if I ever saw one. Awesome Job. Good to know you, even if is through print.
Well, or Bosc Pears....

It's always educational and interesting to see your work, Wayne!
Yes, a fascinating interview and such a pleasure to see all of these gorgeous pastel paintings, Julie. I'm sorry to hear about your health issues but I'm glad you've found your way back to the dusty sticks of pure pigment. I used to like Wallis Belgian Mist paper for plein air work. I could wash off multiple flops and it just kept holding up.
Thank you, Kay! I am truly honored by this opportunity.
Yes, a fascinating interview and such a pleasure to see all of these gorgeous pastel paintings, Julie. I'm sorry to hear about your health issues but I'm glad you've found your way back to the dusty sticks of pure pigment. I used to like Wallis Belgian Mist paper for plein air work. I could wash off multiple flops and it just kept holding up.
And yes- that's one good thing about Wallis- I found a few pieces I'd forgotten completely and looking at them again, well, I could let the work go if it meant another few pieces on Wallis---

It takes layers and layers and layers.
I found the story of your life's journey fascinating to read, Jae. I wish you had written a longer account! 👏
You know, reading this, I immediately thought of the Steve Martin movie, The Jerk
  • Navin R. Johnson: Well I'm gonna to go then! And I don't need any of this. I don't need this stuff, and I don't need *you*. I don't need anything. Except this.
  • [picks up an ashtray]
  • Navin R. Johnson: And that's the only thing I need is *this*. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray... And this paddle game. - The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need... And this remote control. - The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need... And these matches. - The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball... And this lamp. - The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that's all *I* need. And that's *all* I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one... I need this. - The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I'm some kind of a jerk or something! - And this. That's all I need.
  • [walking outside]
  • Navin R. Johnson: The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, and this magazine, and the chair.
  • Navin R. Johnson: [outside now] And I don't need one other thing, except my dog.
  • [Shithead growls at him]
  • Navin R. Johnson: I don't need my dog.

    🙃 🤩🙃