Sec­ond Wind: From busi­ness and engi­neer­ing to oil paint­ing

From busi­ness and engi­neer­ing to oil paint­ing

The Dallas Morning News - - SE­NIOR LIV­ING - By MARY JA­COBS Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

“In art, there are ups and downs. Be­ing older, I un­der­stand that about life. I’m much more will­ing to stick out the bad times.”

In 2009, Julie Eng­land not only took the leap out of the cor­po­rate world, she landed in an en­tirely new arena: oil paint­ing.

Ed­u­cated as a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer, Eng­land spent 30 years at Texas In­stru­ments, work­ing her way up to vice pres­i­dent in the com­pany’s mi­cro­pro­ces­sor and RFID busi­nesses. Now, at age 58, she’s an artist with her own stu­dio in the De­sign Dis­trict. Her work has been fea­tured in var­i­ous ju­ried art shows and hung in pub­lic places in North Texas and Santa Fe.

How’d you end up piv­ot­ing from engi­neer­ing to art?

Af­ter I left TI, I took a few years to do a lot of ex­plor­ing. Get­ting off a tread­mill I’d been on for 30 years, it took a lot of time to de­com­press. Ini­tially I did some busi­ness con­sult­ing and in­ter­viewed for a few jobs. I re­al­ized I was look­ing for some­thing more cre­ative to do. In 2011, I gave my­self per­mis­sion to take an art class at Brookhaven Col­lege, with no ex­pec­ta­tion that it was go­ing to take me any­where.

But I’ve had an in­ter­est in art for years. TI is a big sup­porter of the arts, and I had been on the board of di­rec­tors of the Dal­las Mu­seum of Art.

In 1999, my hus­band and I bought a sec­ond home in Santa Fe, and I be­gan spend­ing hours in the gal­leries there, gazing at paint­ings, and won­der­ing: Could I do that? I started col­lect­ing art, and I re­ally liked ab­stract land­scapes.

I got in­volved in the Ge­or­gia O’Keeffe Mu­seum in Santa Fe, and there I found out how metic­u­lous O’Keeffe was in work­ing with her ma­te­ri­als. I learned that painters are very in­ten­tional about look­ing at the land­scape, re­duc­ing it to its es­sen­tial na­ture, and about choos­ing col­ors. It’s not just all in­tu­itive flow. That helped me be­cause I do have an engi­neer­ing per­son­al­ity. So I saw some pos­si­bil­ity that some­one with my per­son­al­ity could be an artist.

You went back to school — first at Brookhaven, and now you’re work­ing on a bach­e­lor’s de­gree at SMU Mead­ows. What led you to choose the route of a de­gree pro­gram, rather than sim­ply tak­ing classes?

If you shift gears, you’re go­ing to need train­ing, ed­u­ca­tion, men­tors, friends and teach­ers to help you adapt to the new thing you are try­ing to mas­ter. When you know noth­ing about a sub­ject, go­ing to school gives you a struc­tured start­ing point with ex­perts who know what they’re do­ing.

What has been your big­gest chal­lenge in mak­ing the move from busi­ness and engi­neer­ing into art?

Art is taught in the mas­ter/ap­pren­tice style. There are no textbooks. But the most dra­matic dif­fer­ence be­tween engi­neer­ing and art is, in art, there is no one right an­swer. You’ll have 20 stu­dents all do­ing a paint­ing of the same fig­ure and they will all look dif­fer­ent.

I had to sus­pend judg­ing my­self the first sev­eral years be­cause my work was so bad. So I fo­cused on: “Am I hav­ing a good ex­pe­ri­ence in this class­room? Am I en­joy­ing the process of paint­ing?” For some­one start­ing some­thing new, my ad­vice would be, do not fo­cus on the out­come. Of course it’s not good. You just started. I learned to be pa­tient with my­self. I started com­par­ing work I’m do­ing now with what I did a year ear­lier. I would even make Pow­er­Point slides com­par­ing paint­ings of the same sub­ject, year over year. I can see im­prove­ment, and I’m en­cour­aged.

In art, you have to be in­ter­nally mo­ti­vated. There are so many tal­ented peo­ple, there’s not go­ing to be enough ex­ter­nal pos­i­tive feed­back to keep you go­ing. I put my work in com­mu­nity art shows, but that’s not why you cre­ate art. The process of creat­ing art gives you joy and plea­sure.

Have you set an ul­ti­mate goal for your­self?

The goal is to be a work­ing artist, sell­ing art through a gallery. I’m do­ing that now. I’d just like to keep ramp­ing that up and not be a hob­by­ist. Based on some con­ver­sa­tions I had, I think that could be a 10-year path. I’m com­mit­ted to push­ing through. I see my par­ents liv­ing so much longer than their par­ents. I know I’ve got the time that I need. Also, in art, there are ups and downs. Be­ing older, I un­der­stand that about life. I’m much more will­ing to stick out the bad times.

What ad­vice would you give to some­one con­tem­plat­ing a ma­jor new en­deavor later in life?

What­ever you’re do­ing, give your­self at least two years to re­ally try it. Find some for­mal ed­u­ca­tion that gives you the struc­ture of learn­ing and meet­ing peo­ple with ex­per­tise. Start to build a com­mu­nity with friends and men­tors or teach­ers who will sup­port your path. And have the courage and will­ing­ness to put your­self out there. I en­ter a lot of ju­ried shows, and that in­volves a lot of re­jec­tion. There are en­try fees, so I’m pay­ing to get re­jected. But I’ve got a fairly thick skin.

Paint­ing is pretty soli­tary work. Do you miss your con­nec­tions from your pre­vi­ous ca­reer?

I still do cor­po­rate board work. I’m on two boards, each of which in­volves travel about five times a year, for two or three days at a time. I have two spheres of peo­ple I in­ter­act with, and there’s al­most no in­ter­sec­tion and no over­lap. Ex­cept when I have a show, and I in­vite ev­ery­body.

Pho­tos by Ash­ley Lan­dis/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

“What­ever you’re do­ing, give your­self at least two years to re­ally try it,” says Julie Eng­land, at work in her De­sign Dis­trict stu­dio.

Im­mel Creek 2 by Eng­land. “The most dra­matic dif­fer­ence be­tween engi­neer­ing and art is, in art, there is no one right an­swer,” she says.

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