Artist Profile: Julie Trail, Painter

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2015 16:55

This profile was part of a five-article feature called “The Age of Creativity” that appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Friends and Neighbors Magazine. Featured artists shared how they found their artistic calling, the challenges and rewards of their art, and their advice to other boomers and seniors ready to explore creative callings. For FAN’s list of creativity resources in the foothills, see Creative Outlets: Art Classes, Writing Groups & Much More.

Julie-Trail-cover-2wrk-FN00107-edited-e1431117490679Julie Trail remembers spending much of her childhood drawing and writing, the outward expression of what she describes as “a dreamer’s way of looking at life.”

But the Connecticut native’s 1960s dream of an arts degree did not impress her parents. “They felt that college was about becoming an improved person so that I could enhance my husband’s career,” recalls Trail, who majored instead in political science.

She then taught preschool and elementary school for 25 years, earning a master’s in education in her 40s, all while raising three children and following her husband Shan’s corporate career moves. She took art classes and workshops in many of the places they lived, and enjoyed sharing arts education with her young students.

“But I never thought to make it a career,” Trail says. “It wasn’t until I retired that I just decided, this is the time to do something with my love of art.”

The family lived in the Bay Area in the late 1970s before Shan’s new job in Philadelphia took them back east. When their youngest child went off to college, the couple returned to the West Coast, working in Sacramento until retiring to the foothills in 2001, in part to help friends who’d bought a winery in Amador County.

pallet-knife-FN00200-detail-editedFrom a studio in the garage of their Sutter Creek home, the new retiree began to paint.

“For the first couple of years,” says Trail, now 70, “I was just immersed in the act of painting, and increasingly aware of just how much there is to learn.”

That includes creating a center of interest, understanding perspective and the dynamics of color and texture, learning essential design principals – in short, “how to draw the viewer in and make it an interesting place to spend some time.”

Asked about those first paintings from a dozen years ago, she bursts out with “god-awful – dark colors, browns – no light in my painting. I didn’t understand so many things, like aerial perspective and warm colors that attract the viewer. I didn’t even understand the difference between warm and cool colors.”

Soon after moving to Sutter Creek, she found a mentor in well-known Gold Country artist Howard Rees, whose works “have this wonderful glow to them, a brightness and warmth that is so engaging.”

brushes-FN00194-editedToday, her dream of becoming a professional artist realized, life is a busy mix of learning, teaching, managing Sutter Creek’s Gallery10 and painting almost daily, mostly watercolors. Favorite themes are foothill landscapes, barns and river scenes. Trail was recently honored for a Mokelumne River piece titled “Mighty Being” in the Amador Arts Council’s River Reflections exhibit.

A dozen years into this new adventure, she sees no end to the learning ahead.

“I would like to be able to create more emotion, more feeling when you look at the piece,” Trails says. “I want my paintings to be more active instead of passive, to have more texture but in just the right places.

Retirement allowed Julie Trail to explore a lifetime interest in art

“I want to engage the viewer in an emotional feeling about a place. I love doing landscapes because it’s so beautiful where we live. I want others to see what I see … like the light behind a tree when a bird flies out, and the way it just strikes you. I’m working always toward the emotional impact.”

She enjoys selling her artwork in part “because I can earn enough to buy more supplies.” Even more rewarding is her role as foothills cheerleader and tour guide via her paintings.

“It’s just such a lovely place,” she says. “I want people who live here – and people who come through the area – to notice how beautiful it is and how much there is to see.”

For others who want to pursue creative inclinations in retirement, Trail advises taking the first six months to just relax.

“But once you’re done with all your playing, choose something to busy yourself or you’re going to get bored,” she says.

“Pursue your interests, try it all – take a class in pottery, watercolor, oil painting, quilting, cooking, whatever you really enjoy. Immerse yourself in some of these different ideas, and something will click.”


Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Suzy Hopkins
By Suzy Hopkins March 15, 2015 16:55
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