An incredible journey from BA Trolley Dolly to Pet Pawtrait Artist
What a crazy two years l have just had, you couldn’t have dreamed it up if you tried! One day l am happily walking up and down my favourite aircraft aisle, (the “Queen of the Skies” – the wonderful Boeing B747), laughing and joking with my lovely colleagues and customers; the next, l find myself at home painting people’s pets, sitting at my desk in my lovely little garden studio and starting out on a whole new career at 57 (doing something l had NO idea l could or ever would be doing in my wildest dreams but more about that shortly). Let me explain, I already had the most perfect job, l LOVED it! l had no intention of EVER stopping, the last 37 years have been some of the most incredible years of my life. l have met so many interesting and entertaining people, l have laughed so much, met so many celebrities and served royalty, l’ve been to places l hadn’t even known existed before l started flying and seen so many wonderful and incredible things. I am still trying to get my head around the fact that it has all ended so suddenly and abruptly. I had NO IDEA that the flight home from Hong Kong on the 14th March would be my last flight EVER as a crew member.
l have finally been forced to hang up my wings for the very last time and all thanks to the Covid-19 virus… l am now starting a totally unplanned career as a full-time pet portrait artist but l couldn’t be happier!
My career flying wasn’t something l had planned for either, to be honest. l had only applied to be a ‘stewardess’ as a joke after l had finished my nurse training and was in need of a holiday but couldn’t afford one. In hindsight, l was never really cut out to be a nurse although l did rather enjoy looking after the sick passengers onboard and putting my extra bit of knowledge to good use, l even delivered a baby boy once! BA liked employing people with nursing skills when l joined, back in the dark ages, and it did come in useful from time to time!
This morning, as l find myself sitting in my sunny cottage in Dorset, having been asked to write this blog, l can’t help thinking how amazing it is to finally be doing what l had originally wanted to do many, many years ago. When l was growing up all l wanted to do was to work with animals or to become an artist. When l left school my dearest wish was to become a vet or go to Art College, both careers my father refused to help fund or allow me to pursue. He thought l would be too emotional to be a vet and that art was just an excuse to waste my time drinking and partying. He made me apply to be a nurse, a far more suitable job for me, according to him, but my heart was never in it. It really is rather funny how life has a strange way of doing a complete circle sometimes and l guess what is meant for you really won’t pass you by after all. Finally l really am an artist and painting the animals that l love so much!
Once I get asked to do a commission, l love to hear all about the lives of the beautiful and very much loved creature that l am asked to capture in oil pastels. l can see how much they mean to the owners. Sadly, quite a few are either about to go over the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ or have already taken that heartbreaking walk but there are also many more who are still here and their owners just want a painting. Whatever the reason, l always want to capture the image perfectly and l take the longest time getting the eyes perfect; after all, the eyes really are the mirrors to the soul. I always start and end my paintings with the eyes and, for me, this is my favourite bit. I love watching them come alive under my fingers and l love to ‘talk’ to them as l paint them, hence l always ask the pet’s name too.
l have always been the biggest dog lover and been lucky enough to have been the owner of quite a few amazing characters over the years. We have always taken in rescues and l donate 10% from each commission to street dog charities worldwide. In fact, we have only just lost the last of our two beautiful OAP Romanian street dogs. We lost them both within the last two months so l know just how important it is to have their image kept alive. My painting of Vita, my oldest street dog and my 3rd ever painting, was a runner-up in an ‘Artist of the Year’ competition in 2019. She sits on my wall looking down on us now and l still chat to her every day!
Ben was our first Romanian street dog and was a beautiful old ‘Scruff’ who stole my heart instantly. He arrived shortly after l had lost my gorgeous Australian Shepherd who had also been a rescue. He was about nine when he arrived and due to his lovely gentle nature we felt we could rehome the lovely Vita, who at 13 had spent her life as the very loved pet of a street man who had sadly passed away in a blizzard. Ben passed peacefully aged about 13 and Vita at 16. The house is so empty without them at the moment, but it won’t be for long, we are finally going to get our very first puppy in a few weeks. A first for us as l am now home to do the training and l cannot wait. It won’t be long before she too will be captured in oil pastel! I have no doubt more rescues will follow her shortly too, ha ha!
I guess by now you may be asking how l found out l could actually paint and, contrary to my father’s earlier concerns, l am neither drinking nor partying too much. As an Artist now l am no longer a ‘respectable’ Trolley Dolly (where l obviously drank and partied way too much, lol)
My 50th birthday cake ?
In July 2018 my lovely friend and dog sitter (who took care of our various pets whenever my husband and l were away travelling), suddenly fell sick and was diagnosed with Cancer. It was very sudden and fast and it was all over within 3 weeks. It was a terrible time and a shock to us all, l still miss her terribly even now. Her sister had arrived to take care of her as she had asked to go home to pass. One day l was duly asked to collect some Morphine for her from our village Pharmacy. There was a mix-up with the prescription as to where it would be available for collection, so in my haste to get her the medication as soon as possible (having taken a few hours to resolve where it would be collected), l decided to rush with it, never a good thing for a woman of my age, lol. No sooner had l started to run, l went sliding and slipped over on some pea shingle. Having thought l had only twisted my ankle a bit, l proceeded to hobble the 500 yards to my friend’s home. However, during the wait for the medication to be dispensed to the correct pharmacy, the doctor had finally arrived and had administered the morphine instead. She never did need my contribution and she passed away peacefully later that night. I hobbled back home for the night and after defrosting a bag of peas over my ankle l went off to bed. Unfortunately l was clearly in a much worse condition than l had anticipated and ended up at my local hospital the next morning. For the first time in my life l had broken a bone, well, a few bones as it turned out… my ankle, my collar bone and some smaller bones in my left hand. I have always liked to do things properly, ha ha. Over time l had the various physio therapies on offer and as l was unable to fly in my lovely “Beckham Boot”, remained grounded. One day when l was feeling particularly sorry for myself, a leaflet fell through my door advertising a local art class in a neighbouring village. As l couldn’t do very much else, l thought l could at least do the class as l was obviously going to be off for a long time. My ankle was refusing to heal and l had then been told l would be needing additional surgery. I hobbled along to my first art class since school, really excited. I thanked the teacher for putting the leaflet through my door at just the right moment. She looked at me blankly and said she hadn’t advertised any classes for over two years and had only just taken up teaching again when l had phoned about joining. She said she was surprised at my call asking to join a class but thought nothing more about it as someone had just dropped out right before my phone call and presumed l had known the person! How spooky is that? Anyway, needless to say, l LOVED it and have attended every class since, up until Covid closed it down. l fully intend to return when they start again as they are so enjoyable.
The classes were a bit of an ‘all sorts’ really, introducing us to many different mediums and styles of art, they are really good fun and l highly recommend them. l had NEVER heard of Oil Pastels at the time. In fact l thought they were crayons when l first saw them and made a naughty comment about ‘colouring in’, ha, ha… little did l know they would change my life!!! As l enjoyed the art class so much, l also found myself enrolling onto another art class in another local village hall, this time it was with a gentleman who is an incredible artist in his own right. He has since hit the ‘big time’ and is far too busy to teach now – l was so lucky. Here there were both morning and afternoon classes and l soon realised that the afternoon one only had two students on it, this was in comparison to the morning class where there were about 20 of us. I sneakily asked to change to the afternoon class very quickly. That’s when the magic happened! We now had the most incredible tutor with the time to teach the three of us how to ‘really draw’! When the day finally came that he was doing a class on oil pastels, he chose dogs as the subject. I couldn’t wait and was really excited. I confess, it wasn’t the best dog drawing and painting in the world but he showed me how to get the proportions correct and told me what l was doing wrong. I went straight home and produced my VERY FIRST pawtrait… an oil pastel painting of my beloved Australian Shepherd, Burstie.
From there on l realised l had found my true passion, l quickly went on to paint both of my beautiful street dogs and then every one of my friend’s pets. I just couldn’t stop myself, lol, l still can’t! Incredibly my art teacher now puts people in contact with me whenever he is asked for a pet portrait – high praise indeed! Eventually, after 18 months away from flying, l finally got fit enough to fly again, thankfully, and couldn’t wait to get back in the air. I started to take my pastels away with me and continued painting in my room, especially in some of the less salubrious destinations we sometimes find ourselves in. If they asked, l found myself showing the crew whatever pawtrait l was working on. Suddenly l found the crew asking me if l could do their pets too and, of course, l was always happy to oblige. l then noticed a website set up on facebook by crew, for crew and it advertised the many projects, hobbies and skills crew were doing when they were not in the air. We were and are a very diverse and talented bunch, with many strings to our bows, so l eventually plucked up the courage to add a few paintings of my own. From there on, my art work has just taken off and grown in both strength and numbers. I am so lucky to have been asked to paint so many wonderful crew pets now!
Spot the intruders…
I had no idea two years ago JUST how important this new hobby would become in my life, the day l set foot in that first art class, it was just a lifelong daydream. Suddenly l have swopped my very long and happy career as a stewardess to one of a very busy and happy artist almost overnight. The icing on the cake was when l was recently approached to do a five-page spread in the magazine ‘Dog Monthly’. It was due to be published in July but due to Covid-19 the date has been delayed a bit, but how amazing is that?
Losing my job as crew was devastating, as it has been to so many of my friends and colleagues, it’s an incredibly hard lifestyle to give up but how lucky am l to have found something l love doing equally as much as l have loved working in the skies. So it’s onwards and upwards for me. From my little garden studio in Dorset, l can now say, sometimes when something really bad is happening in your life, something truly wonderful is waiting in the wings. You may be lucky enough to find a hidden talent you never knew you possessed and from a hobby it can become a whole new job. Every cloud really does have a silver lining and the sun still shines high above the clouds once you get through them!
Much love to my very special flying family, you will always be in my heart… Thank you for the most incredible 37 years. Thank you for believing in me and letting me practice my paintings on your pets. My studio door will always be open for coffee and cake, or something a little stronger…
Onwards and upwards, here’s to the next adventure… Julie xxx
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