As if mastering one vocation wasn’t hard enough, Oakland resident Bill Bailey has had two successful careers in his lifetime.
For years, the 73-year-old worked as an electronic engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration. Then in 1992, Bailey retired and began to pursue his second career as an artist.
In the last 17 years, he has completed hundreds of watercolor paintings and entered almost as many national competitions. Just last month, he was awarded a Judge’s Recognition Certificate at the Memphis Germantown Art League’s Annual National Juried Exhibition Reception.
Bailey admits that he always had artistic ability. But it wasn’t until he began taking Continuing Education courses at The University of Memphis that he realized his passion for the watercolor medium.
“I always knew I could draw,” he said. “I just never had the interest to develop it. When I began taking the courses, I fell in love with watercolor painting.”
Bailey said he can complete a painting in a day, but often keeps them around his home for a short time to make minor adjustments.
“They usually need some refinement,” he acknowledged.
The most he has ever asked for a painting is $2,000. And while he has done well financially at many of the area’s art festivals, most recently the annual Double Decker Festival in Oxford, Miss., he is fully aware that being a professional artist is rarely lucrative.
“I am really glad that I started this up later in life, when I’m already financially stable,” he said. “There are very few people who can make a living doing art.”
Bailey, who moved to the Oakland area three years ago from Memphis, said he almost exclusively paints from photographs.
“Wherever I go,” he noted, “I take a camera with me.”
Among the photos he takes, his favorite subject matter is landscapes.
“I also like to do characters,” he said. “But I don’t do commissioned portraits.”
His favorite painters are Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth.
While he currently attends about 10 art festivals a year to sell his paintings, he said his age has begun to make him rethink that number.
“That’s part of the job that is getting harder,” he acknowledged. “Going and setting up a booth that many times a year isn’t as easy these days, even with the help of my wife.”
However, he doesn’t plan to stop painting anytime soon.
“As long as I’m alive,” he concluded, “I will continue to paint.”