Julia is primarily a printmaker working in stone lithography and relief (linoleum and woodcuts). Occasionally she works in oil paints and letterpress. She has been at RWS since October of 2019 when she started as an associate in our print shop before moving into a studio of her own. Almost every surface in Julia’s studio is covered in blocks of etched limestone and accessories for her Pearl letterpress. Limestone is no longer mined, so her stones are older but they will last a lifetime. She sourced them from someone she was in a print trade with who knew of a “big grave” in Ohio, 6 feet deep, where there had been a manufacturing business that shut down in 1920. The manufacturer had sold off 30,000 stones and buried the remaining 2,000. The property owners wanted them out of the yard so they sold some to schools and anyone else who wanted them (for $20 a piece!) and shipped the smaller rectangles to her. Julia picked up the large slab (42.5” L x 31.5” W x 3” D) at Two Rivers Printmaking Studio in White River Junction, VT and drove it home in the back of her Subaru. All of the stones have a smooth surface and chiseled sides. Some even have old etchings on them. A lot of commercial printing and labeling were made this way. One stone has four different iterations of the same brownstone building on it, another has two calendar templates for the James Robertson Company Limited with “Atlantic to Pacific” written across it, and another has an advertisement for a food packaging product with a grocery store order sheet template on the back. Then there is her medium-sized slab with a scene depicting a steam engine on the tracks. The largest slab has been levigated to a blank state ready for etching. “Once you're done, you remove the image and it’s gone. You can try to do it again but it’s never the same.” She appreciates this temporality for its forgiveness. Stone lithography is a very technical process that can be reductive or additive and uses chemistry to achieve the ultimate design. It’s collaborative, too; you need two people to work the station, where someone rolls the ink onto the surface and the other has a sponge to keep the surface wet. Julia prefers to work reductively and draw directly onto the stone, but you can also transfer the drawing. She learned the craft from her Professor Bill Cass who helped start the Chicago Printmakers. Levigation is the first step in prepping the stone for drawing and is the process by which the stone’s surface is returned to a smooth and level state, which is important for pulling an even print. This is achieved with a coating of fine powder and a levigator (think of a heavy disc with a perpendicular handle) that you swirl across the stone’s surface like in a spirograph drawing. This process can take hours and is finished by rinsing the stone over a special sink. As tedious as this step is, this is Julia’s favorite part of the process and the levigator is Julia’s favorite tool. “I miss it. I got a really good workout out of it too. It’s essential; it’s the start of the process of making one of these prints and you’re spending time. It’s meditative, the repetitive motion. I like making art or doing this sort of print because it makes me be present. We have to spend time and do it in this order and it has structure. Something may go wrong, but I have the tools to come back.”
Her artistic focus is “mostly observational”, reflecting moments around her home that have a feeling of familiarity and comfort such as her cat wandering around the apartment. She thinks it’s interesting what people pull from her art. She doesn’t have a set intention, but people tend to project meaning onto her pieces because we inherently look for meaning in things. She is an introvert but she likes interacting with people through her artwork or through her work. When she was an intern at Chair City Community Workshop in Gardner, MA people would come in and ask about the printing equipment and she would teach them how to use it and explain why she loves it. She was very dedicated and drove an hour and a half just to get there. “I’m really inspired by communities. A big part of why I enjoyed my undergraduate program was the community based involvement through my professors….Community is a big influence and that’s how I’ve met a lot of people and makers. That’s how I moved to Portland, I met so many people coming here and doing shows or going to see live music. Portland is half the size of Manchester [where Julia grew up] and it’s got twice the culture. That’s why, when I moved here, I wanted to find a space where other people work because that inspires me too. Even if they’re doing something I don’t understand, that I’ve never done.” To learn more about Julia’s process and her work, contact her via Instagram (@juliastarrart).