Brush up

Painting is a mental health lifesaver for Dr Kelly. Photography: Lucy Collingridge, Rust & Dust Photography

The artwork of Dr Jillian Kelly of Local Land Services in Coonamble, NSW, is fun, colourful and very popular.

“In 2014, the area around Coonamble was in the middle of a terrible drought. A lot of animals were suffering due to nutrition-related problems so I decided to get a handle on things. I spent two years undertaking a CVE course on ruminant nutrition, eventually passing the membership exams. When it was finished, I felt like I had a lot of spare time on my hands.

“One day, I was shopping with a friend who purchased a set of watercolour paints for her daughter. I had never been very arty but I bought a set for myself too. I started painting in my living room and a friend who owns a gift shop grabbed some of my paintings and put them in her store. I sold six paintings in the first week and I thought, ‘This is the go!’.

“Since then I’ve built a studio in my house and expanded my repertoire to include cards, scarves, posters and paintings—and I’ve got many more ideas. There’s not enough time to fit it all in. I paint most weekends and try to find time around my unpredictable work schedule. I also paint commissions—usually family portraits. By the end of January this year, I was booked out for the entire year.

“Being able to paint and create is a mental-health lifesaver, particularly during drought. I was witnessing terrible things and sharing the pain of farmers and their families. Painting was my salvation and it helped a lot.

“I’ve set up a website called Miss Vet to showcase and sell my art. A wonderful young woman called Grace Brennan set up the program, Buy From The Bush, and it became an online sensation late last year. It boosted my business and lots of similar businesses in the area. During the drought, side-hustle businesses are often all that keep families afloat.

“My work as a vet is fairly dirty and I do lots of tough, blokey things. Despite that, I’m still a girl’s girl. I like to wear nice earrings and lipstick and have my nails painted. I think it’s important to nurture that aspect of my personality. My paintings are brightly coloured and often feature girls in pretty dresses and fancy boots. It’s a lovely way to connect to my femininity.

“As a district vet, I spend a lot of time cutting up dead animals for a living. The art I create is the polar opposite and a great release from the stresses of work. It’s wonderful.”

See the artworks of Dr Kelly at


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