Janet's hidden talent inspires new dream life

The news of redundancy can be a devastating blow.

Wednesday, 28th March 2018, 10:26 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th March 2018, 11:15 am
Redundancy has been the start of an exciting new life in art for Janet Whitley. (s)

But for a Burnley mum it has been the catalyst for an exciting new life.

Janet Whitley felt lost when she was made redundant in January 2017 from her job in payroll after 19 years of employment - that was until, at the age of 52, she discovered a hidden talent for art.

"I was pretty gutted at first," the mum-of-four said.

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The portrait that spurred Janet on to adopt an arty new life. (s)

"I thought, 'What do I do now?'

"At first I was looking for similar payroll jobs but then I thought, 'You know what, that's not what I want to do anymore.

"I felt it was time to do something different and I like new challenges.

"I needed a bit of mental sanity so I started drawing for fun, just to take my mind off the stress of job-hunting."

One of Janet's portraits. (s)

But what began as only a bit of sketching turned out to be the very thing which helped her to begin rebuilding her life.

Because when she created her first ever portrait - a drawing of her grandson, which she gave to her son as a Christmas present - and posted a picture of it on Facebook, praise and requests came flooding in.

"I'm completely self-taught and I've never been to art college or done an art degree," she said.

"It's just something that's in me and if you're passionate about something it pours out of you.

One of Janet's portraits. (s)

"It was so out of the blue that I started drawing again, and then I started getting messages from people asking for portraits.

"It was just a hobby to save my sanity and this is the first time since being made redundant that I've had some mental peace."

The budding artist has now completed six pieces since she began her new chapter at the end of August - and she's even been contacted by someone in Australia to create a picture.

After leaving St Hilda's RC High School, Burnley, Janet's work life has taken her down a meandering path: a summer of temping work; six years in telesales at Nelson Colorol; another six years as a stay-at-home mum; then nearly two decades in payroll at Zen Internet.

The artist works from a relaxing creative workshop in her garden which allows her to keep a close eye on her pet goats. (s)

But this is the first time in her life when she has turned a passion into her day job.

"I'm just trying to be brave," she said.

"My first thought was, 'I can't make a living out of art' but then I told myself, "Look, you enjoy it, so if it turns out badly, then what's the worst that could happen?

"Fortunately, the feedback's been great and I do believe things fall into your lap for a reason."

You could even say that everything in her life has been leading to this point - for the signs of her talent were there from an early age.

At school, for example, she beat 110 pupils to land the top grade in an art exam.

Janet's drawing of a client's Rag-doll cat. (s)

"It was my best achievement at school, even though I only did a bit of sketching here and there, so I really regret dropping art," Janet said.

"I also used to make clothes and would be up until 3am each night sewing away, and in my 20s I went to night school to learn both languages and cake decorating.

"Then at 21 I did car maintenance and aged 29 I went back to night school to study interior design.

"Up until now I've always had a day job with creative hobbies outside of it, and with the drawing, I did it just for pleasure in my early 20s, picking up a pencil every now and then.

"Today, sketching portraits has been the most random thing, as I've not done much drawing since high school."

Janet even had the perfect art space at home before she even picked up a pencil.

She and her husband Scott - a musician who makes his own bass guitars - built their own log cabin in their garden which now doubles up as a music studio and an art workshop.

"It's the most relaxing work environment," she said.

"It's just beautiful: birds are tweeting and our goats Sid and Clarence are pottering about in the garden.

"For so many years I had tight deadlines in my last job but drawing is just so enjoyable.

"I'm just going with the flow and it's a really nice feeling.

"For years, singing was always my outlet and I went all over doing gigs and even met Scott through music in 1990.

"When we performed as a duo, all the stresses of my day job would pour out of me but still, I don't think I've ever been as chilled in all my life as I am right now - I couldn't be happier."

Since swapping her office desk and computer for a pad and pencils, and more time at home with her dogs and goats, Janet has felt a fire in her belly like never before.

"I did the sensible job for most of my life to pay the bills and often you find that when you work full-time you're really tired when you get home from work and don't always feel like doing hobbies but nowadays I'm really inspired to push myself and do more," she said.

"I've been watching videos on acrylic painting for example and I'm inspired to try it, even though I've never painted before in my life!"

Her number one fan is her husband. As she added: "Scott is 110% behind me and he's adamant that I make it work."

Unsurprisingly, Janet doesn't regret her career change for a single second.

"It's brilliant making portraits - the satisfaction of seeing the finished product in its frame is ridiculous because people are giving them to others as presents," she said.

"The thought of people having them on their walls and that they might go down the generations is wonderful.

"I'll never be rich but I'm happy and we're not bothered about fancy stuff - we like the simple things in life.

"We had the best adventure for example when we went camping in a tent around Europe - we always try to grab moments and take hold of life."

And, she added: "You're never too old to make a fresh start and do something you love.

"It's been a tough journey because I was in my payroll job since the company was in its earliest days.

"I'd say it's only now that I'm looking on it as a blessing as it's taken me about 12 months to make the leap.

"It wasn't a career I'd planned and it was the push which made me say, 'Hang on, what am I doing?'

"It's sad really: when I was 20 I probably would have taken another sensible job but now I'm older I take stock of my life and want to do something I love.

"Because, after all, none of us know how long we've got."

To order a portrait or find out more about her work, visit https://www.facebook.com/JanetWhitleyArt/ or https://janetwhitleyart.com/

A portrait for a client in Australia. (s)
The latest commissioned portrait created by Janet. (s)
The portrait that spurred Janet on to adopt an arty new life. (s)
One of Janet's portraits. (s)
One of Janet's portraits. (s)
The artist works from a relaxing creative workshop in her garden which allows her to keep a close eye on her pet goats. (s)
Janet's drawing of a client's Rag-doll cat. (s)
A portrait for a client in Australia. (s)
The latest commissioned portrait created by Janet. (s)