Her career suddenly disappeared, so she turned to her passion


February-March 2018 BOOMER

The end came without warning. One day, Pauline Clay was returning from vacation to her job at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The next day – well, the same day, actually – she was without work.

“We had just come back from a three-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand,” she explained. “That day I was laid off. It came out of left field. It left me reeling.”

We sat down recently for coffee at the Delta Hotel in downtown Richmond to discuss her end – and her beginning. Many baby boomers – first careers behind them, productive hours ahead – seek a rewarding change of pace, a “second act.”

Pauline didn’t have the choice. She had been three months short of the 30-year mark at the Times-Dispatch when she and a dozen others, mostly senior staffers, were jettisoned last spring.

She had a wealth of newspaper experience. [These days, that and five bucks gets you a latte at Starbucks] Didn’t matter. Rejections piled up.

“Not many people want a 60-year-old woman who doesn’t have social media experience,” she said.

So she turned to her artwork.

Personal disclaimer: I know Pauline from years ago, when I was at the Times-Dispatch. I knew she was talented and personable.

I had no idea she was an artist.

Actually, she didn’t, either. Not entirely.

“Many years ago, I was dabbling in pastels,” she said. Then, almost two decades ago, she took botanical illustration classes at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. One class, using colored pencils, clicked. “I really enjoyed it,” she said.

“But you get busy, work gets busy, life gets busy. I put it aside.”

“On the Surface” * colored pencil on Ampersand pastel board

But in 2013, she began taking classes in colored pencil and then joined the Bon Air Artists Association.

“I felt I had found my medium,” she said, adding with a laugh: “No mess, no cleanup.” She could draw for a couple hours at night after work. It was perfect.

“This was going to be my retirement hobby,” she says.

“Then I got laid off.”

Last summer was tough, and she had no interest in drawing. She turned to her other love, gardening in her one-acre yard in rural Dinwiddie County.

There are all types of perennials. “I have 121 hellebores,” she said, laughing. “I know from trimming the dead blooms.” [OF COURSE she counted them. She was an editor.]

At last she turned to her art.

“A Rainbow of Colors” * Australian Lorikeet in colored pencil on Ampersand board

Pauline brought a couple of drawings to our discussion. They were striking. One of a lorikeet bird she saw in Australia was particularly detailed. It appeared to me [Being the renowned art critic I am, of course] to be a painting, not a colored pencil drawing at all.

People often think that, she says. The richness comes from the time spent layering layer upon layer – up to 20 or more layers. A small portion of the flowering branch, for instance, took her 15 hours.

Her work already has gotten attention, being one of about 150 featured in the Colored Pencil Hidden Treasures annual publication and, in January, being accepted into the Colored Pencil Society of America online juried show, Explore This!

“Intense Gaze” * colored pencil on suede mat board

Meanwhile, you can see her work Feb. 24-25 at the “Artful Healing” art show at the University of Richmond, put on by the Bon Air Artists Association to benefit the World Pediatric Organization. (Details:

The new artist admits to being lucky that her husband’s paycheck allows her the luxury of not having one, though she has picked up a part-time copyediting job. Eventually, she hopes sales from her work will at least pay for materials.

“But even if it doesn’t, I’m going to continue because I love doing this,” she said. “If I’m having a really bad day, I go into the studio … It’s better than therapy. It’s better than yoga. … Everyone says I seem happier.

“I am.”


“Fall’s Fading Beauty” * colored pencil on film

Ray McAllister, former Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist and former Boomer editor, is the writer of six books, including four award winners on the North Carolina coast and a history of The Richmond Forum, and the publisher of several others. In April, he is publishing Ocracoke Lighthouse and The Old Salts, by Ellen Fulcher Cloud.


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  1. Alice H Rodriguez says:


    I love this article about Pauline. At the time she was laid off, I was shocked – still am, actually. But when I first saw one of her drawings on FB, I was blown away. I never knew she was an artist, and a fantastic one at that.

    Are you semi-retired now? A friend of mine, Connie Thome, is a huge fan of yours and of Randy Fitzgerald. She recently loaned me the book you published, Flights of Fancy, which chronicles the “adventures” of Randy and his wife, Barbara. What fun it was to read. Can’t you see this as a SitCom on TV? Hope all is well with you.

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