Lake Tahoe woman follows creative dreams to open kid-friendly art school |

Lake Tahoe woman follows creative dreams to open kid-friendly art school

Elena Starr recently launched her new business, Magic Paintbrush School of Art in Kings Beach — a kid-friendly space for creative expression and artistic freedom to help inspire and supplement general education through art.
Courtesy Jenny Goldsmith |

More info

Who: Elena Starr

What: Magic Paintbrush School of Art

Address: 8700 North Lake Blvd., Kings Beach (behind Subway)

Phone: 530-553-1616

Hours: Mon-Sat, noon to 5 p.m. and by appointment



KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Henry David Thoreau once said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

It was a quote retold to Elena Starr while studying Early Childhood Education at Truckee’s Sierra College, and it stuck.

“His philosophies were always kind of in the background of this class about abundance, which was all about doing whatever it is you dream to do,” said Starr, owner of Magic Paintbrush Art School in Kings Beach. “That was one of my biggest inspirations.”

As a single mother raising three kids at North Lake Tahoe, Starr was working two hands-on jobs as a certified masseuse and professional housekeeper to support her family as well as her pursuit for higher education.

“I wanted all my now-grown up teenagers to go to college and none of them would really jump on it so I thought, I’d better go back to school myself to show these kids how great it can be,” Starr said. “It ended up being the best thing I ever did because I found that if I hadn’t gone back, there was no way I was going to survive or chase after my dreams without improving my computer and technology skills.”


At the time, Starr wasn’t entirely sure where her dreams were going to take her, but she was certain of her passion for teaching, so she decided to test the educational waters by becoming a substitute.

However, her creative itch kept yearning to be scratched and after one particularly discouraging day, Starr found herself thinking about Thoreau’s words, her owns dreams, and what she needed to do to make them happen.

“I had never really thought of myself as an artist, but I got so inspired by the art piece of the childhood development program,” said the modest artisan. “I loved teaching and I wanted to be an amazing teacher to these kids, but I kept dreaming of doing something more related to art.”

The very next day, those dreams began to unfold when Starr decided to inquire about a cottage-style space next to Lake Tahoe in Kings Beach that had been vacant for about one year.

“I remember knocking on the landlord’s door and telling him, ‘I need to go after my dreams,’” she said.


It’s been six months since signing the lease that changed the course for Starr.

Although the process has seen its moments of struggling artistry, the ultimate shift into an educational environment where Starr is free to paint her own canvas has been more rewarding than she ever dreamt it would be.

“The idea was to create a space where all people, and especially kids, can unleash their creative passion, build their self-esteem and just feel good when they leave,” Starr said while meandering around the art school.

The former-Pilates-studio-turned-kid-friendly-art space didn’t require much of an aesthetic makeover and most of the furniture was refurbished or donated, lending it a comforting, cozy, and eclectic vibe.

“It’s kind of like an art getaway designed mostly for kids right now, but eventually, I want it to become more of a multipurpose space where artists within the community can hold night classes for adults, and where other teachers can come for inspiration on how to bring more creativity into their curriculums,” Starr said.

Another goal Starr has for the Magic Paintbrush is to build her one-on-one “Creative Tutoring” element — a fusion of general education and creative artistry, which Starr believes can help further motivate and inspire students.

“I noticed that the kids who were having trouble in school would often stay engaged for a full two hours when they were creating art,” Starr said. “It’s not always true that kids have a short attention span, it’s that their attention span is short when they’re not particularly interested in the subject.”


Starr is certain those developments will happen in due time, but with Christmas right around the corner, the new business owner is more focused on spreading a little holiday cheer from her corner of Kings Beach.

At her school, she’s giving kids a place to create homemade gifts like ornaments, decorated pinecones, painted rocks, handmade musical instruments, and pretty much any other piece of art imaginable.

“This is a total reinvention of myself, but I feel like I’m finally putting everything that I’ve learned in my life so far into this,” Starr said. “There are times when I feel frozen or scared in this business, but at the same time, it’s building my confidence and my self-esteem just by being creative, and I want it to do that for other people too.”

It’s safe to say if Thoreau were around to impart any additional words of wisdom on Starr, he may also want to tell her: “The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at

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