Spotlight Artists – Alex and Anne Starke

Anne and Alex Starke live in Eugene, Oregon with their four Jack Russell terriers. Anne runs a small graphic design business and Alex is a photographer, writer, and mouthpiece for Thor the dog. You can find them traveling Europe, taking photos, or riding their e-bikes through downtown Eugene. You can also find them online here:

Anne Starke – www.starkeconcepts.com – design@starkeconcepts.com (email)

Alex Starke – www.travelswiththor.com – @travelingjackrussel (Facebook) – @thor_the_jack_russell (Instagram)

You can also find Alex’s book Thor’s Travels on Amazon!

Opera and Living in Eugene

Lane: How long have you been in Eugene?

Anne: I moved here in 1992. Almost fresh out of college.

Alex: I moved up in 1993 from the Bay area. I originally moved out with some friends of mine and lived in Cottage Grove near Dorena Lake for a while. But then I came up here and worked for years at Paper Plus. That’s actually where I auditioned for the opera.

Lane: I was curious about that. How did you get into the opera?

Anne: I got into it, because when I went when I went to college, I studied music, and I was going to be an opera singer. But during the course of studying, I realized the life of an opera singer consists primarily of auditions, which I hate. And so I decided not to do it. But then I heard about singing the chorus here, and I was like, “Okay, here’s how I can use my degree.” Yeah, that’s why I got in it.

Alex: When I lived in the Bay Area, I worked for a big computer rebuilding place, which was part of Bell Atlantic. You know, with the Baby Bells. I had a three wheeled motorcycle, and I used to love opera singing and all that. I don’t read music or anything, but I used to love singing. After about a year of being up here, one of the people that came in to Paper Plus was on the board in the opera. She heard me singing and she says, “Oh, you should come try out for the chorus.” So I said, “Well sure, that sounds cool. I’ll do that.” And man, I want to tell you that— And I’ve been through a lot of tight situations and scary situations. But waiting in that waiting room to audition. I was scared to death. And nobody was there. It was like, “Oh, well, maybe they’re not going to come,” you know, the director and all that. I was just about to get up to leave and here they come, bursting in. They say “Oh, Alex, you’re up right now.” I didn’t have a chance to think about it. I just went out there and did it. And I got in.

Returning to School

Alex: I started to transition to a print house here in town that’s no longer in business: Eugene Print. I went to work for them running their warehouse and deliveries. That was a really stressful job. I mean, it was super stressful. I had just about had it when they brought in a specialist who was supposed to tell us how to run the business. He had all this new paradigm, new lingo and all these ideas he was going to fill us up with. I told my boss, “You know what? You’d better get the torches and storm the castle because you’ve got Frankenstein’s monster up there.”

This was right when we went to Europe for the first time together—to Austria. We had an amazing time. We rented bikes and took them up to Linz, along the Danube, and back to Vienna. Then we got back, and I was stressing about going back to work. I was talking to Anne – she’d already started back to school – and she goes, “Well, you know, you could get loans and you could go back to Lane. And, you know, we could still have enough money to survive and everything. Plus, at that time, Lane had bookstore jobs and all that. So I said, Well, what the heck, I’ll go ahead and do that. I had to take everything again: basic math, English, all that stuff, just to get back up to snuff. And then I started the networking classes and the web design and all that. We were actually in a class together for the web.

Anne: We learned HTML together. For our final project that we did together, we built a website for our trip that we had taken.

Alex: This is before any CSS—it was HTML coding with frames.

Anne: What was hilarious about it was we didn’t know about sizing images down and everything was dial-up, so it took our website like half an hour to load up! Everybody would put all these bells and whistles on them.

Alex: Yeah, I even put music to it.

Anne: That’s totally the way that Alex and I like to go to school: we just dive into the projects and go way above and beyond. Meanwhile, the other students whisper, “stop it!” haha.

Alex: It’s hard, especially with multimedia, for me to contemplate trying to take a full [class] load because everything is so project oriented.

Anne: Two classes is part time, but it takes up all of my time.

Alex: But yeah, [LCC] is really nice. Jeff Goolsby—he’s a very good teacher in photography. He taught me almost everything I know about getting into photography and shooting. The same with Camilla Dusinger. . . she taught me a lot about documentary filming and about light for studio shoots. Also Jan Halvorson, she taught Anne and I about light and shadow, how to see a film scene and appreciate composition, and a host of other things. I use so much of what she taught me in my photography and composites. We owe all of them a huge debt of gratitude. The people there want you to succeed, they really do.

Anne: Another thing that’s fun about taking classes at Lane is getting to experiment with different equipment from the media checkout.

Creative Process

Alex: Most of my stories come off of—you know, it’s funny the way I work—I’ll come up with a title and then I build the story around the title. Usually, that’s what I do. It’s really strange.

Lane: Do you work with the title, and then structure or characters or events? What’s next?

Alex: I’ll noodle it all in my head and start putting it down and I’ll, like, get in a zone where I’m sitting there writing and it just – comes out. I don’t know how to tell it to you. That’s the best way to do it though – get it all out and then go back and start digging in and going, okay, let’s develop this a little more, and get rid of this – that type of thing. A lot of the media instructors at Lane wanted me to make plans, drawings, etc., but I don’t work that way in most cases. What I do is I sit down and go down a rabbit hole. [Anne] will tell you, I can sit there for eight or nine hours. I’ll say, “What time is it? It’s time to play with the dogs, what am I doing?”

Lane: Do you make yourself sit down to start and hope that inspiration comes, or do you have an idea and then you sit down and make it?

Alex: Sometimes when I have an idea, I’ll just go down and start playing with it. 90% of the time I try to use my own photographs for stuff. If I don’t have one, I’ll try and shoot something around here. That way I don’t have to worry about licensing and all that stuff.

We’re starting a line of ebook covers right now. We have a website but haven’t put it all up yet because we’re still refining it. That’s one thing what we’re doing composite work for.

Graphic Design

Lane: I’m curious about your graphic design. Do you think of that as being artistic? Or is it more of a product you are putting together exactly according to the customer’s specifications?

Anne: I think of graphic design in relation to art as, like, a cook versus a chef. There’s somebody that is the grunt worker, that just follows the recipe. And then there’s the artist who has all the creative stuff. Graphic design is a little bit more like cooking than actually like being a chef. Although I mean there is a creative element in that the way it works is a client will come to me and say, for example, I want a brochure, and I want the brochure to convey, X, Y and Z about my company. Then I have to apply some creative thought to how can I best visually convey what the feeling that they want to capture while also giving them what they want. I have to spend a lot of time thinking about the client, getting into their headspace. Also, what I know about the market, what other people want to see, and finding a place where those two things meet. So it is a little bit more like just following a recipe rather than inventing something whole-cloth. I don’t have real creativity. I’m definitely constrained by the requirements of what the client wants.

When I first went freelance, my first client was actually somebody that I knew, which kind of made it harder. He was a chef, and he was wanting to make and sell a line of sauces. And so, the first thing that he said to me was, “This will be really great exposure for you!” What I didn’t know then, but I know now, is that it is the most cliché thing than anybody could ever say to you, which means they don’t want to pay you. And then we agreed on a price, but he didn’t know what he wanted. So I said, “Let me work up some ideas for you,” and I came up with [around] twenty ideas. The mistake I made was that I showed him all the ideas because I didn’t know what he wanted. He got overwhelmed, and he didn’t choose any, and he wanted his money back. Gosh, it was a nightmare.

I’ve honed it down now to where there’s three ideas to begin with, and three rounds of edits, and all of that’s included in the price, and anything beyond that is extra. I’ve never gone beyond that because I keep it to three ideas and sometimes, I’ll say, “Okay, here’s idea one and here’s like one A and one B.”

In the past, I haven’t listened to the red flags, and then I paid for it later in stress. When somebody, in their initial conversation with you, starts complaining about their previous graphic designer, hang up. Or if they start complaining about how much somebody charged. . .. Do you want something good, or something cheap? You’ve seen that Venn diagram with good, cheap, and fast. You can’t have all three.

Lane: What’s your typical clientele?

Anne: Usually it has to do with anything that needs to be printed. I have the skills and things to know what needs to happen for something to be printed. When it comes to digital output, I don’t enjoy it as much. Nowadays, when I get requests for websites from a client, I refer them to somebody else. I have a lady that does web, so I send all that work to her, and whenever she gets requests for print, she sends them to me.

There’s a weekly newspaper in Creswell that just hired me to do some magazines! I’m excited. I’m going to do a Cottage Grove magazine and a Creswell magazine—the whole thing. So it is really helpful to have that printing knowledge—because I know how everything needs to be set up.

Alex: That’s the nice thing—just develop a clientele of reliable people you can deal with. That way you don’t have to stretch yourself to bring in a whole bunch of people who complain and that type of thing.

Anne: My favorite thing is to have some clients that have regular needs and we have a relationship of trust.

Advice for Students—Current and Future

Lane: What would you say some avoidable road blocks are for people looking to get into photography, graphic design, or writing?

Alex: From my standpoint, if you’re talking to people that are older, coming to learn a new skill at LCC, tell them not to be afraid. You’re going to be in there with a lot of kids, which is okay. It’s actually refreshing for the most part. But don’t be afraid. I went back and rebuilt everything, and I had a great time doing it. That’s the challenge – get in there and learn new stuff, keep your mind active. The people there want to help you. Now, when you go to U of O, that’s a different story.

Anne: I think what he’s referring to is this fear. I think the older people get, the more they give in, they listen to the fear that they can’t. Younger people don’t have that. What that does is it results in a kind of rigidity, like a hardness in your thinking. You’re not willing to step outside the box, you’re not willing to try something new. So, my advice, and the biggest hurdle for people – older people – going to school, is to either regain or retain that mental flexibility that you had when you were younger. And it’s all about not listening to the voice of fear.

Lane: That’s great advice. What would you say for younger students looking to start their career?

Alex: What I would say is that, when I started, I wanted to do networking. And I decided, you know, this isn’t really fun. I mean, it’s interesting. But do I want to do this for a living? No, I want to do something I enjoy. And at that point, it was history and writing and stuff like that. So that’s what I was going to do, transfer to the U of O and develop those skills. Don’t look at going to LCC just so you can make money. Make money, of course, but make sure you enjoy it. Don’t get stuck at something like being a chartered accountant… Do what you enjoy and everything else will come.

Anne: That’s pretty much what I would say too. Follow what Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. Follow what makes you happy. Follow what makes you feel good. A lot of people will tell you that you shouldn’t. A lot of people will tell you that it’s not practical, that you got to get your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds, but life experience has shown me that that is actually not true. All of those people that tell you that you have to do a certain thing a certain way are wrong.

Lane: Do either of you have any last comments for artists or people at school?

Alex: I’ll tell you one thing… when I first went back, I’d been working at Eugene Print—highly stressful. And catching the bus up to LCC, I used to just love thinking, “Why do people go to work at shit jobs when I’m going back to school, learning new stuff, and loving it?” You know, learning is great! Never be afraid to switch things up.

Anne and Alex Starke live in Eugene, Oregon with their four Jack Russell terriers. Anne runs a small graphic design business and Alex is a photographer, writer, and mouthpiece for Thor the dog. You can find them traveling Europe, taking photos, or riding their e-bikes through downtown Eugene. You can also find them online here:

Anne Starke – www.starkeconcepts.com – design@starkeconcepts.com (email)

Alex Starke – www.travelswiththor.com – @travelingjackrussel (Facebook) – @thor_the_jack_russell (Instagram)

You can also find Alex’s book Thor’s Travels on Amazon!

Opera and Living in Eugene

Lane: How long have you been in Eugene?

Anne: I moved here in 1992. Almost fresh out of college.

Alex: I moved up in 1993 from the Bay area. I originally moved out with some friends of mine and lived in Cottage Grove near Dorena Lake for a while. But then I came up here and worked for years at Paper Plus. That’s actually where I auditioned for the opera.

Lane: I was curious about that. How did you get into the opera?

Anne: I got into it, because when I went when I went to college, I studied music, and I was going to be an opera singer. But during the course of studying, I realized the life of an opera singer consists primarily of auditions, which I hate. And so I decided not to do it. But then I heard about singing the chorus here, and I was like, “Okay, here’s how I can use my degree.” Yeah, that’s why I got in it.

Alex: When I lived in the Bay Area, I worked for a big computer rebuilding place, which was part of Bell Atlantic. You know, with the Baby Bells. I had a three wheeled motorcycle, and I used to love opera singing and all that. I don’t read music or anything, but I used to love singing. After about a year of being up here, one of the people that came in to Paper Plus was on the board in the opera. She heard me singing and she says, “Oh, you should come try out for the chorus.” So I said, “Well sure, that sounds cool. I’ll do that.” And man, I want to tell you that— And I’ve been through a lot of tight situations and scary situations. But waiting in that waiting room to audition. I was scared to death. And nobody was there. It was like, “Oh, well, maybe they’re not going to come,” you know, the director and all that. I was just about to get up to leave and here they come, bursting in. They say “Oh, Alex, you’re up right now.” I didn’t have a chance to think about it. I just went out there and did it. And I got in.

Returning to School

Alex: I started to transition to a print house here in town that’s no longer in business: Eugene Print. I went to work for them running their warehouse and deliveries. That was a really stressful job. I mean, it was super stressful. I had just about had it when they brought in a specialist who was supposed to tell us how to run the business. He had all this new paradigm, new lingo and all these ideas he was going to fill us up with. I told my boss, “You know what? You’d better get the torches and storm the castle because you’ve got Frankenstein’s monster up there.”

This was right when we went to Europe for the first time together—to Austria. We had an amazing time. We rented bikes and took them up to Linz, along the Danube, and back to Vienna. Then we got back, and I was stressing about going back to work. I was talking to Anne – she’d already started back to school – and she goes, “Well, you know, you could get loans and you could go back to Lane. And, you know, we could still have enough money to survive and everything. Plus, at that time, Lane had bookstore jobs and all that. So I said, Well, what the heck, I’ll go ahead and do that. I had to take everything again: basic math, English, all that stuff, just to get back up to snuff. And then I started the networking classes and the web design and all that. We were actually in a class together for the web.

Anne: We learned HTML together. For our final project that we did together, we built a website for our trip that we had taken.

Alex: This is before any CSS—it was HTML coding with frames.

Anne: What was hilarious about it was we didn’t know about sizing images down and everything was dial-up, so it took our website like half an hour to load up! Everybody would put all these bells and whistles on them.

Alex: Yeah, I even put music to it.

Anne: That’s totally the way that Alex and I like to go to school: we just dive into the projects and go way above and beyond. Meanwhile, the other students whisper, “stop it!” haha.

Alex: It’s hard, especially with multimedia, for me to contemplate trying to take a full [class] load because everything is so project oriented.

Anne: Two classes is part time, but it takes up all of my time.

Alex: But yeah, [LCC] is really nice. Jeff Goolsby—he’s a very good teacher in photography. He taught me almost everything I know about getting into photography and shooting. The same with Camilla Dusinger. . . she taught me a lot about documentary filming and about light for studio shoots. Also Jan Halvorson, she taught Anne and I about light and shadow, how to see a film scene and appreciate composition, and a host of other things. I use so much of what she taught me in my photography and composites. We owe all of them a huge debt of gratitude. The people there want you to succeed, they really do.

Anne: Another thing that’s fun about taking classes at Lane is getting to experiment with different equipment from the media checkout.

Creative Process

Alex: Most of my stories come off of – you know, it’s funny the way I work – I’ll come up with a title and then I build the story around the title. Usually, that’s what I do. It’s really strange.

Lane: Do you work with the title, and then structure or characters or events? What’s next?

Alex: I’ll noodle it all in my head and start putting it down and I’ll, like, get in a zone where I’m sitting there writing and it just – comes out. I don’t know how to tell it to you. That’s the best way to do it though – get it all out and then go back and start digging in and going, okay, let’s develop this a little more, and get rid of this – that type of thing. A lot of the media instructors at Lane wanted me to make plans, drawings, etc., but I don’t work that way in most cases. What I do is I sit down and go down a rabbit hole. [Anne] will tell you, I can sit there for eight or nine hours. I’ll say, “What time is it? It’s time to play with the dogs, what am I doing?”

Lane: Do you make yourself sit down to start and hope that inspiration comes, or do you have an idea and then you sit down and make it?

Alex: Sometimes when I have an idea, I’ll just go down and start playing with it. 90% of the time I try to use my own photographs for stuff. If I don’t have one, I’ll try and shoot something around here. That way I don’t have to worry about licensing and all that stuff.

We’re starting a line of ebook covers right now. We have a website but haven’t put it all up yet because we’re still refining it. That’s one thing what we’re doing composite work for.

Graphic Design

Lane: I’m curious about your graphic design. Do you think of that as being artistic? Or is it more of a product you are putting together exactly according to the customer’s specifications?

Anne: I think of graphic design in relation to art as, like, a cook versus a chef. There’s somebody that is the grunt worker, that just follows the recipe. And then there’s the artist who has all the creative stuff. Graphic design is a little bit more like cooking than actually like being a chef. Although I mean there is a creative element in that the way it works is a client will come to me and say, for example, I want a brochure, and I want the brochure to convey, X, Y and Z about my company. Then I have to apply some creative thought to how can I best visually convey what the feeling that they want to capture while also giving them what they want. I have to spend a lot of time thinking about the client, getting into their headspace. Also, what I know about the market, what other people want to see, and finding a place where those two things meet. So it is a little bit more like just following a recipe rather than inventing something whole-cloth. I don’t have real creativity. I’m definitely constrained by the requirements of what the client wants.

When I first went freelance, my first client was actually somebody that I knew, which kind of made it harder. He was a chef, and he was wanting to make and sell a line of sauces. And so, the first thing that he said to me was, “This will be really great exposure for you!” What I didn’t know then, but I know now, is that it is the most cliché thing than anybody could ever say to you, which means they don’t want to pay you. And then we agreed on a price, but he didn’t know what he wanted. So I said, “Let me work up some ideas for you,” and I came up with [around] twenty ideas. The mistake I made was that I showed him all the ideas because I didn’t know what he wanted. He got overwhelmed, and he didn’t choose any, and he wanted his money back. Gosh, it was a nightmare.

I’ve honed it down now to where there’s three ideas to begin with, and three rounds of edits, and all of that’s included in the price, and anything beyond that is extra. I’ve never gone beyond that because I keep it to three ideas and sometimes, I’ll say, “Okay, here’s idea one and here’s like one A and one B.”

In the past, I haven’t listened to the red flags, and then I paid for it later in stress. When somebody, in their initial conversation with you, starts complaining about their previous graphic designer, hang up. Or if they start complaining about how much somebody charged. . .. Do you want something good, or something cheap? You’ve seen that Venn diagram with good, cheap, and fast. You can’t have all three.

Lane: What’s your typical clientele?

Anne: Usually it has to do with anything that needs to be printed. I have the skills and things to know what needs to happen for something to be printed. When it comes to digital output, I don’t enjoy it as much. Nowadays, when I get requests for websites from a client, I refer them to somebody else. I have a lady that does web, so I send all that work to her, and whenever she gets requests for print, she sends them to me.

There’s a weekly newspaper in Creswell that just hired me to do some magazines! I’m excited. I’m going to do a Cottage Grove magazine and a Creswell magazine—the whole thing. So it is really helpful to have that printing knowledge—because I know how everything needs to be set up.

Alex: That’s the nice thing—just develop a clientele of reliable people you can deal with. That way you don’t have to stretch yourself to bring in a whole bunch of people who complain and that type of thing.

Anne: My favorite thing is to have some clients that have regular needs and we have a relationship of trust.

Advice for Students—Current and Future

Lane: What would you say some avoidable road blocks are for people looking to get into photography, graphic design, or writing?

Alex: From my standpoint, if you’re talking to people that are older, coming to learn a new skill at LCC, tell them not to be afraid. You’re going to be in there with a lot of kids, which is okay. It’s actually refreshing for the most part. But don’t be afraid. I went back and rebuilt everything, and I had a great time doing it. That’s the challenge – get in there and learn new stuff, keep your mind active. The people there want to help you. Now, when you go to U of O, that’s a different story.

Anne: I think what he’s referring to is this fear. I think the older people get, the more they give in, they listen to the fear that they can’t. Younger people don’t have that. What that does is it results in a kind of rigidity, like a hardness in your thinking. You’re not willing to step outside the box, you’re not willing to try something new. So, my advice, and the biggest hurdle for people – older people – going to school, is to either regain or retain that mental flexibility that you had when you were younger. And it’s all about not listening to the voice of fear.

Lane: That’s great advice. What would you say for younger students looking to start their career?

Alex: What I would say is that, when I started, I wanted to do networking. And I decided, you know, this isn’t really fun. I mean, it’s interesting. But do I want to do this for a living? No, I want to do something I enjoy. And at that point, it was history and writing and stuff like that. So that’s what I was going to do, transfer to the U of O and develop those skills. Don’t look at going to LCC just so you can make money. Make money, of course, but make sure you enjoy it. Don’t get stuck at something like being a chartered accountant… Do what you enjoy and everything else will come.

Anne: That’s pretty much what I would say too. Follow what Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. Follow what makes you happy. Follow what makes you feel good. A lot of people will tell you that you shouldn’t. A lot of people will tell you that it’s not practical, that you got to get your feet on the ground and your head out of the clouds, but life experience has shown me that that is actually not true. All of those people that tell you that you have to do a certain thing a certain way are wrong.

Lane: Do either of you have any last comments for artists or people at school?

Alex: I’ll tell you one thing… when I first went back, I’d been working at Eugene Print—highly stressful. And catching the bus up to LCC, I used to just love thinking, “Why do people go to work at shit jobs when I’m going back to school, learning new stuff, and loving it?” You know, learning is great! Never be afraid to switch things up.

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