Julie Lounibos

Julie Lounibos did this acrylics painting, Sea Ladies, from an old family photo of her grandmother, right, with two friends. In the photo, they are shown in the Peace River in Arcadia. Lounibos changed the setting to show her love for the ocean and the color blue.The tangerine hues reflect her love for Florida’s citrus industry. JOHN BIONDO PHOTO


St. Lucie County native and artist Julie Lounibos started sketching when the slender British model known as Twiggy was all the rage in the 1960s, but now she’s inspired mostly by what’s around her, from orange trees to mangroves and oyster shells.

“When I was 10 years old, I drew models from magazine photos, like Twiggy,” she said. “I got my first paint set, an oil set, when I was 12. I didn’t like it. I painted something right away, a scene that was on one of our Christmas cards. Eventually I got into pen-and-ink drawing when I was in my late teens.”

After graduating from Fort Pierce Central High School in 1975, she enrolled at the University of Florida, intending to major in fine arts. She took classes in design, drawing and art history before returning to Fort Pierce after less than a year to marry her high school sweetheart.

Later, she took a course in watercolor painting from artist and art historian Jane Howard at Indian River Community College.

“Watercolor was very frustrating to me,” Lounibos said. “Oils are easier to control, so I should have started with that. I did watercolor first.”

When she took an oil painting class later from Ellen Fischer at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, she also found oil to be frustrating because she was accustomed to working with watercolors.

For two decades, Lounibos’ aspirations in art were relegated to a secondary role. After six years, her first marriage ended in divorce, so in 1984 she enrolled at Indian River Community College and became a registered nurse. She worked 22 years at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center before retiring in 2006.

Now, she paints nearly every afternoon in the sunny studio of the two-story riverfront home she shares with her husband Phil, two plump indoor cats and one docile outdoor feline in St. Lucie Village. Flocks of painted buntings gravitate to the backyard, where unusual bluish purple bromeliads bloom beneath live oaks and amid orchids, herbs and vegetables.

“I like old Florida,” she said.

Lounibos’ roots go deep in St. Lucie County. Her great-grandparents, John Dixie Almond Sr. and Maggie Almond, moved to Fort Pierce around the turn of the 20th century. They operated a boardinghouse in town and had a 40-acre citrus grove near Ten-Mile Creek.

Her maternal grandparents, Oscar and Linnie Frink, owned Frink’s Furniture and Music Store on Avenue A, just west of U.S. 1 in Fort Pierce. Her great-grandparents, Asbury and Vermelle Frink, had owned furniture stores in Vero and Okeechobee as well as the Fort Pierce store, which remained in business until the mid-1970s.

Julie was born in Fort Pierce but moved with her family to St. Lucie Village when she was 4. Their home on Chamberlain Boulevard is a stone’s throw from where she lives, and her mother Arlia Almond lives next door.

Julie has had an affinity for the Indian River Lagoon since childhood when she said she almost literally grew up on the river.

“Mangroves are a recurring theme in my paintings,” she said. “We had a mini orange grove behind the house where I grew up. We had a wonderful grove and a variety of fruit. I love to paint groves and citrus trees.”

She paints with oils and acrylics and says she sometimes feels she can be more spontaneous when working with acrylics.

“You can do a lot with oil, too,” she said. “I paint with a rag sometime instead of a paint brush to remove layers of paint.”

She said she’s done some of her best work when frustrated about something unrelated to the painting. Once after a tense phone conversation, she headed straight for her palette.

“I went to work on a painting of a banana bloom,” she said. “I just started slapping leftover paint on it. It started looking like an underwater scene. It was a phenomenal scene and it taught me to let go and paint from the right side of my brain, just to see where it goes.”

Her paintings of colorful parrotfish and triggerfish are reminiscent of underwater scenes in the Bahamas, where she used to snorkel with her first husband.

Lounibos has shown her art at the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery, Platt’s/Backus House and Art Mundo, all in Fort Pierce, and at Gallery 14, Art on 18th and the Artists’ Guild Gallery in Vero Beach. Currently, she’s showing her work in Studio 3 of the One Eleven Building in downtown Fort Pierce.

Her favorite artist is Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist known for her self-portraits, vibrant use of color and mix of primitive and classical painting styles. The subject of several biographies and a film, Kahlo was married to the muralist Diego Rivera. The Louniboses visited the couple’s former home in Mexico a few years ago.

“She painted only what was important and interesting to her and not what was fashionable or marketable,” Lounibos said. “I can relate to Frida’s mind-set.”

For the next few years, Lounibos plans to continue painting what she likes.

“I’m painting what I have a passion for,” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Name: Julie Lounibos
Age: 58
Hometown: Fort Pierce until age 4, then moved to St. Lucie Village
Education: Fort Pierce Central High School, 1975; College of Fine Arts at University of Florida, one semester; nursing degree from Indian River Community College, 1985.
Professional background: 22 years as a registered nurse, mostly in labor and delivery, at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce. Retired in 2006.
Family: Husband Phil, an entomologist; son from first marriage, Justin Price of Fort Pierce, daughter-in-law Katie Price and grandsons Daniel and Jack; Phil’s daughter Andrea of Portland, Ore., and son Andrew of New Zealand.
Who I am proudest of: ”I am proudest of my son. He has grown up to be a wonderful father and husband and he owns a business in Fort Pierce.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I always wanted to play a musical instrument, so now I’m learning to play the guitar.”