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A Second Act Career Story: Julie England, Engineer Turned Artist

In this series, we interview Prime Women who have made the transition to a second act career. This month, we are interviewing PrimeWomen contributor and artist, Julie England

Julie, can you briefly discuss your corporate background – where you were before you began this second act?

After my chemical engineering education, I spent my first career at Texas Instruments working my way from the factory floor to vice president leading the a microprocessor business and then Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) business. After retiring from TI in 2009, I became an independent corporate director sitting on public and private company boards of directors. I currently serve on TTM Technologies, Inc. and Smartrac N.V. company boards.

In 2011, I wanted more to do between board meetings. I started attending art classes at Brookhaven College. I began oil painting. When I graduated with an Associates Arts degree in Studio Art in 2015, I transferred to Southern Methodist University. I expect to graduate with a SMU Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in 2018.

What was the tipping point that led you to commit to art more or less full time?

In 1999, I modestly started collecting art while visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico. I would gaze at the paintings and wonder, “How did they do that? Could I do that? “

In addition to my corporate life, I sought something creative to do. In 2004, I began landscape design services on the side for friends. In 2010, I searched for part-time education taking 6-9 credit hours per semester. The first two years in art school, 2011-2013, was ugly with a lot of bad drawings and paintings. However, I loved the touch and feel of oil painting. The best advice I received was from SMU Professor Mary Vernon in 2011; she said, “Paint a lot. The paint will teach you.” I have been committed ever since.

second act career

Did you have support from friends and family when starting your second act career or did they think you were losing your mind? 

The short answer is yes. After a career at Texas Instruments, Inc., I am an engineer at heart and somewhat analytical; that’s how my family and friends knew me for many years. They are slowly getting used to my change into visual art. Engineers are problem solvers. My explanation is painting is solving visual problems with chemistry (oil paint).

second act career

I have changed functional roles many times over the years, For example, from factory manager to business executive. My husband is supportive of all my career adventures. I understand the change process of being confident and competent at one thing; then hitting reset, being incompetent and going back up the learning curve.

Having a corporate background and rather a clear measure of success in business, how do you measure your artistic success? Or do you?

I paint for the joy of painting. Creating something new is like building to an architect. It’s an internally driven process. I enjoy the acknowledgement that comes with art exhibits, art competitions and the feedback of art sales. It is a success to me that I had the grit and persistence to continue painting for the last six years. I enjoy the studio work life. I am grateful for a new circle of art friends and destination art travel. After my formal SMU art education, I plan to paint daily in my Dallas Design District studio, painting a new body of work. I may then seek art gallery representation.

How long have you been exhibiting?second act career

When you can say you’ve sold dozens of paintings and have exhibited for four years, it feels like a successful transition to art after starting from scratch in 2011. It’s been a turning point to get my art “out there” in the public eye either in small group or solo exhibits or in juried exhibits.

I entered a lot of art juried shows. There are entry fees, so I am paying to be rejected. It helps to have a thick skin – art can evoke a variety of reactions from people.

Tell us about the upcoming shows you have in November and December. What pieces are you showing and what was your inspiration for those works? 

This fall I am fortunate to have two exhibits up for several months. A solo exhibit of botanical and landscape images is currently on view at TWV Capital offices in Dallas, Texas until January 2018. These paintings were inspired by the landscape of New Mexico and North Texas.

The second is a two-artist abstract exhibit that will be on view at the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas from Nov. 1- Dec. 20. The abstract images in this exhibit were inspired by life experiences from time in an airport to personality profiles.

If someone else is thinking of taking a vastly different path from their current one, what advice would you give them?

If you change dramatically in your second act career from what you currently do and it’s not an extension of your past experiences, you will need training, education, friends and teachers along the way. You will need guidance to adapt to the new thing you are trying to master. Going to school gave me a structured way to learn, of course, with experts who professional practice in parallel. It also gave me a circle of new friends in art.

Give yourself two years to really try it. Have the grit and tenacity to stick with it so that you can get past that “ugly phase” when you are first incompetent. Don’t judge the outcome of your work. Of course it’s not good; you just started. Be patient with yourself and enjoy the learning process. Be happy that you are doing something you had desired for a long time.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Art is taught master/apprentice style. Unlike engineering, there is no ONE right answer. You’ll have 20 students all painting the same still life or figure; however, each image will be different. This is diversity illustrated to the maximum.

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