Second Wind: From business and engineering to oil painting
From business and engineering to oil painting
“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.
“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.