An Interview with Julia Lucey


Until the end of August, we are showing etchings by California-based artist, Julia Lucey. We recently had the opportunity to ask Julia a few questions about her work and her experiences, and she gave us some great thoughtful answers. Julia’s interview is the first in a series of artist and studio Q&As that we plan to post regularly in the future. Read on to see Julia’s answers to our questions, and be excited for many more interviews to come!


How many years have you spent backpacking and working in Wyoming and Montana?

I grew up in New England and had not really seen any other types of landscapes other than those around me until my mom signed me up to go to a ranch camp near Cody, WY when I was 14. I remember getting off a plane in Billings, MT and driving to the ranch and being nauseatingly euphoric. The landscape, the shapes, the sky, the whole immensity of it all, was almost too much. I spent a couple of "perfect teenage summer" years there. I went on my first backpacking trip in the Absaroka Mountains there. I was kind of a slow hiker and ended up doing a lot of the hiking by myself and I remember the quiet, and thinking to myself, "I need to do this as much as can in my life."

I realized that I was getting too old for camp, but I was determined to find a way to get out west. It was before Internet, and I remember going to a bookstore and finding a book about guest ranches. I had no job history, but I mailed letters (I wish I could remember what they said) to every guest ranch in the Rocky Mountains. Only one replied, but I got my first job and ended up waitressing and doing housekeeping at a ranch in Jackson, WY and later went on to work at another ranch in Montana, which continued for a couple of years into college.

At the San Francisco Art Institute, a friend and I were obsessed with backpacking and escaping into the mountains. We pretty much tried to fit as many trips as we could into our plans, mini ones in CA, the Sierras, the Lost Coast, and then we would always plan one major couple-week road trip somewhere in the Rockies in the center of it all. We usually ended up in the greater Yellowstone area, but we also ventured into CO. That went on for about 6 years and then ... work, life, marriage, kids. It seems I am on a mini break from backpacking - at least until my kids can carry a pack, which I think may be next summer! I just realized that it was 1993 when I first went to WY for the summer, so it’s been 20 years. I have been obsessed for 20 years.


How have your experiences there influenced your work? Clearly you are very much inspired by wildlife and nature.

I think seeing the immensity of the American West made me think about the fragmentation of nature, of what is wild and what is not. There is nature on the east coast, there are national parks, but seeing the vastness of the western United States and realizing that there once was never ending wilderness on the east coast, too ( as well as the rest of the world), I awoke to how amazing it was that the greater Yellowstone ecosystem existed almost as it had before Europeans entered it. What I also became aware of was our “boundaries”, the way we boxed in our wilderness and tried to fit it into pockets surrounded by our modern, industrialized lives. Obviously that is not how ecosystems are supposed to work.

When I first backpacked in Yellowstone, wolves had not yet been reintroduced. I remember backpacking there years later and being woken up by their yips and howls and being both terrified and happy at the same time. The fact that humans are looking scientifically at how to restore wild places and are doing it, inspires me. That with wolves comes population control of elk and other 1st level consumers, which in turn helps other species, like beavers who have more willows along creeks to build with, which in turn helps other aquatic species. I love that people are trying to fix what we have destroyed, removing dams, being aware of and removing invasive species... Obviously, we still do way more wrongs. The livestock industries’ pressuring to keep Bison from migrating out of Yellowstone and into Montana in the winter (where they inherently, generationally, want and need to go) saddens and angers me. (Please look up the Buffalo Field Campaign at The loss of protection for apex predators, is also frustrating.

I have been trying to build my own "Yellowstones" with my etching plates. One species per plate. In some ways I am realizing it is more nostalgic and escapist for me, but I know it is also about my love of wildlife and my desire for it to be able to co-exist without so much management.


When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?

I have always been drawing animals, always making "stuff." I remember making paper mâché animals in middle school and then in high school, I pretty much lived in the ceramics studio and made tea pots with animal head spouts ( my mom has closets full of them). I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist, the big question was when I realized I could be an artist. I feel like so many Americans (maybe middle class Americans) feel like they have to go to college and then get a job with benefits. I did that. I went to college, studied art, but then felt like I needed to do something else for work. I was a teacher for 6 years. Two years in a high school in East LA and then four at San Francisco's Juvenile Justice Center. It was very rewarding, and I was passionate about doing a good job and giving the students all I could, but in my heart, I knew my true passion was simply making art. I feel guilty about leaving teaching, but I need to try to make art and see if I can do it. It was my husband who told me to stop wasting my skills and at least try it. It might not be a smart financial decision, but I am going to keep trying.


What is it like being an artist-in-residence at the Kala Institute?

Kala is printmakers’ heaven. I love it. For so many printmakers, you get out of school and then you don't have a press or equipment to keep making work. I tried painting for a while, but I needed to be making etchings. I needed access to printmaking facilities. I applied for a residency almost 3 years ago and I am still there. What surprised me was that I thought I would go and be in my own bubble and work by myself, but I have met so many amazing people and artists, been so inspired by what other people are making. There are great classes, speakers, gallery shows. It’s almost like I never left college.


Where did you learn how to make etchings, and what made you stick primarily with the medium?

I was a printmaking major at the San Francisco Art Institute. I took all the etching and aquatint classes I could and then did independent studies. I love etching because I can be focused on the details. You can create sharp lines as well as painterly marks through aquatint. I also just love the process. I think making the plates is my favorite part, it is meditative and quiet. It’s also always a bit of a surprise to see the image, especially with aquatint (which all my animals are created with) I like painting what I think is from light to dark, but I never know if it came out until I print it. I like happy surprises.


What is your favorite color?



...One pet peeve?

Limp handshakes


Are you a morning person or a night person?



Favorite place in the world?

Beartooth will be better when I bring my husband and kids.


Cat-person, dog-person, or other?

Dog - Sally dog!


Julia Lucey lives in Fairfax, California and is currently an Artist-in-Residence at the Kala Institute in Berkeley. If you would like more information about her work and her etching process, you can visit her site here.

Also, visit us here at the Rare Device store to see her works in person! Julia’s prints will be on display until the end of August. You can also purchase her work online, here

We look forward to seeing you soon, but in the meantime, we at the shop wish you all a happy Tuesday!


- Steph