Article by Ceri Wheeldon
Jane Mackay shares her midlife reinvention story, from GP to artist.
I currently live in London. I am single and I have three sisters, two brothers, three nephews and two nieces. I’m an artist, and create all my work in a converted loft studio in my house.
What were your main activities (job, commitments etc) before 50?
I was a doctor, firstly working as a junior doctor in several London Hospitals. I later moved to Papua New Guinea for a year and a half with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). Once I got back to the UK, I worked in the VSO headquarters for five years, where I was planning training programmes for medics and nurses going to overseas aid projects and travelling to Third World countries vetting projects. Following my time at VSO, I spent a year in Southwark as a trainee GP, which resulted in my becoming a partner in the same GP practice for 20 years. During this time, I was already doing my art.
What were your main activities since turning 50?
I’ve been a full-time artist since 2000. I built a studio in my roof space to commit to my work and have about 1,500 works catalogued to date.
What prompted you to think about becoming an artist?
I have always wanted to be an artist as well as a doctor. I started painting as a young child and always found creating art totally absorbing, fascinating, satisfying and, probably, quite addictive!
What has been the best aspect of becoming an artist?
For me, there are several aspects that I thoroughly enjoy about being an artist; having the freedom to be creative whenever and wherever I want is one of them. I am following my dream, have no ties and I’m now self-directed and self-sufficient. I never have to rely on anyone else for my results.
What difference has it made to your life?
The biggest change I feel is that I have more energy and a total zest for life. To be honest, I earn a lot less money than I used to and live more frugally, but that also means I live more sustainably, which fits in with my ethical framework.
What were the main skills from your pre-reinvention life that you could bring to your new life?
I gained great organisational skills through my career and learnt to cope with being self-employed as a GP. My computer skills and financial organisation also improved.
What challenges did you initially face?
Working out how I could possibly fit a studio into my loft was a great challenge that I managed to overcome. Living on less money wasn’t easy at first, as I needed to make some sacrifices.
On reflection, are there things you would have done differently?
Not in the short term, but if I could live a second life, I would love to be a theatre designer.
How did the opportunity /reinvention come about?
I made it happen: I gradually phased out of general practice, down to less than half time, and increased my artwork. I was building up my client base first and organised exhibitions and selling work at the same time.
What other opportunities have happened as a result?
So many! These have included TV, radio, films appearances, teaching adults painting, running workshops, working with musicians, designing cards for charities, designing CD covers for classical labels, multiple exhibitions and much more. Note: I can expand in detail, if required, there is more info on my website bio: http://www.soundingart.com
How have friends and family reacted?
At first, there was some doubt about the wisdom of giving up a medical career. Now my friends and family are uniformly positive and supportive.
What 3 tips would you give other women over 50 looking to do the same?
1) Write your ‘dreams’ list.
2) Prepare your plan of action to get there
3) Just go for it. Life is short!
I have commissions and exhibitions in the pipeline, which I have started working on. I have just completed an MFA (Master of Fine Art) at Wimbledon College of Art, University of Arts, London and am currently working with Swedish design company Photowall, who turned my work into a canvas collection called Shades of Music.
All time favourite book or film?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
How would you describe your own style?
I would describe my painting style as abstract with figurative elements.
Three words that sum up your life over 50
“What an adventure!”