By Frances Figart
A year ago this month, The Laurel’s cover artist was the adventurous Jen Starwalt, who moved with her husband, Chris, to the country outside Brevard in 2015. The couple—both grads of Savannah College of Art and Design—had traveled throughout Latin America and moved a lot during the past decade. They lived for a time in Costa Rica, and had just had the third of their daughters when they moved here.
As the family settled into their WNC environs, Jen began to create large wildlife portraits with detailed layers of highly pigmented color, selling them at Red Wolf Gallery in Brevard. “I am connecting with the soul of each subject,” she said then of the larger-than-life pastels. “Their eyes speak to me even though I have never met them.”
Jen recently got in touch to tell us about what has been going on since we put her amazing image of a red wolf, called Atsila Galvkawetiyu (Sacred Fire), on our cover last October. “I had to share this with you,” she wrote. “A fan turned the red wolf painting for the cover of The Laurel into a tattoo!”
Asheville-based freelance photojournalist Susannah Kay was working at Earth Fare a year ago when The Laurel showed up with Jen’s pastel, created especially for the issue, on the cover. “It was the most beautiful painting of a wolf I’d ever seen and I could not take my eyes off of it for weeks,” she says. “I had been wanting a watercolor tattoo for some time, and the wolf really called out to me. My dogs mean more to me than most anything and the wolf represents the alpha dog, a fitting symbol I’m stoked to carry with me forever. I asked Jen for her permission, and she said yes!”
Jen says, “It’s crazy to think my art inspired a permanent body decision.” But then, nothing really comes as a surprise when one leads the exciting life of a passionate and inspired artist, which seems to be the norm for both Jen and Chris Starwalt, who is best known for his fi lm career as an animator on the movie Avatar.
“The past year has been nothing short of another adventure,” Jen says. “In February, the car was loaded to the rim with all my pastel paintings. Filled with hope and excitement, Chris and I arrived in Charleston for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo. The show was absolutely wonderful. On a high, we headed back home. A few minutes into the drive, Chris received an unexpected job offer—as an animator on all the Avatar sequels: 2, 3, 4 and 5!”
Jen cried, not wanting to leave the beautiful life they had created here in Western North Carolina. But Chris had just three weeks to move to Los Angeles. So the couple packed up their possessions, and moved with their three beautiful little girls across the country once again.
“I ran into challenges creating with the pastels I love,” Jen says. “But not wanting that to stop me, I picked up a paintbrush and learned to paint.”
Thus began the next chapter in Jen’s amazing artistic career. She switched to paint and has been creating large works for Pando Fine Art, a gallery in Park City, Utah. October 6 through November 26, she is in her first group show called Of The Earth: Four Western Women Artists, at Four Corners Gallery at the Tucson Desert Art Museum. She will be back in Charleston again for the Southeastern Wildlife Expo February 16–18, 2018.
“My life has completely changed,” Jen says. “Paint has opened the door to so many opportunities and I feel incredibly grateful for this journey. The animals I paint have so many lessons to share, if we are quiet enough to listen.”
Learn more about Jen Starwalt at jenstarwalt.com, on Facebook and on Instagram @jen.pastelpainter, where you can see time-lapse videos of her creating her work.