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StoriesChristy Tortland ’15

An Illustrator Takes to the Skies

An illustration by a Lesley alumna now graces the tail of a Dutch F-35

Christy Tortland's image of Diana is applied to the F-35

Every illustrator aspires to see their creations inside a favorite book, on the cover of a magazine, or splashed across a movie poster. But few dream of seeing an image that they created looking down at them from the tail of a military airplane. That’s what happened to Christy Tortland ’06 when her illustration of Diana the Huntress was chosen to decorate the tail of a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35 fighter jet.  

The Roman goddess Diana, with her hunting bow drawn, is the official symbol of the 323 Test and Evaluation Squadron—an air force unit that was first created in 1948 after World War II. When the Dutch Air Force was searching for a design to adorn a special plane commemorating the squadron’s 70thanniversary, they came across Christy’s illustration online and contacted her to ask if they could use it. It was a surprising but welcome request. “I don’t know much about military aviation but I started to learn really quick!”  

The illustration of Diana was the first in a series of pieces on Greek mythology, which has been a source of inspiration to Christy since she was young. “It was partially for fun and partly experimenting with digital styles, but this piece definitely helped me with my future illustrations. I think the combination of being powerful yet feminine is something I was playing with.”  

Christy’s primary focus as an artist is fantasy, sci-fi, and middle-grade children’s book illustration. She first came to Lesley as a sophomore, transferring from the University of Arizona where she’d felt overwhelmed by the huge classes. “I fell in love with Lesley right away—for one, the small classes. I loved interacting with my professors and getting to know them.  I was also able to take all of the classes that I wanted to and really experiment.” A history buff and a fan of illustrated fairy tales and classic novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, Christy has always been inspired by vintage and historical photos. “I like seeing people from history that maybe you don’t normally get to see.” She received her BFA in Illustration from Lesley in 2015 and went on to get her MFA from Simmons in Creative Writing for Children. 

Christy generally sells images of her work through online art sites like Red Bubble and INPRNT. Having her illustration appear in such an unusual spot introduced her to a whole new world of military history and aviation buffs. “It blew up on Twitter and all of these military and aviation sites.” As the F-35 made its commemorative tour of aviation shows in the U.S. and Europe, the image was reproduced on military challenge coins and iron-on patches—prized trinkets for fans of military aircraft.  

Christy currently works as a writer for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is working on her first YA novel. “I’d love to do an illustrated middle-grade book," she says. She doesn’t foresee too many future projects in the field of aeronautic design, but is open to the possibility. “If they want me to paint another plane, I’d be happy to!”

The image of Diana the Huntress will endure either way. “It’s always been one of my best-selling illustrations and I’ve always gotten a lot of really cool comments on it—people love how she’s feminine but also super powerful.” 

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