Christy Tortland has always loved fantastic stories: since she was little, her wish was to make a living writing about and illustrating larger-than-life heroines.

But as a 26-year-old now making her mark as a free-lancer, she’s experienced enough of the world that when an appealing offer regarding her art arrived “out of the blue,” she was astonished.

“I could hardly believe it,” said Christy, explaining how someone with the Royal Netherlands Air Force contacted her last October for permission to put her depiction of Diana the Huntress on a jet fighter. “It was crazy.”

It was also quite genuine.

Christy Tortland

Unconventional Beginnings

The tale of Christy’s high-flying artwork started with her parents’ decision to homeschool.

Wanting to pass on their religious beliefs, and impressed by the achievements of other homeschooled students, Christy’s parents determined that their children would learn better at home than in a conventional setting.

The decision was ambitious, because “here in Connecticut the schools are really fantastic,” said Christy. “But homeschooling is what they wanted for us.”

And it didn’t take long for this educational choice to produce results.

“My mom always bought the most beautiful books for us,” Christy recalled. Fascinated by wide-ranging adventures from Greek mythology to the Chronicles of Narnia—and even comic books (“My icon is Wonder Woman!”)—Christy said she soon realized that she wanted not just to consume children’s literature, but to create it.

Homeschooling accommodated this desire.

In public school, said Christy, “you waste so much time just sitting in class.” At home, “we could get all our school done by 11, and we had the rest of the day to focus on our creative endeavors: writing and illustrating.”

Connecting with a Publisher

Christy continued her creative studies in college. She earned a bachelor’s degree in illustration from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University (now Lesley University College of Art and Design) and a master’s degree in creative writing for children at Simmons College (now Simmons University).

She interned with publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for nine months, an experience she describes as “really unique and wonderful.” This led to her being hired in March for an exciting job writing youth novels for the same company.

“There was a ton of research involved in those, which I love,” said Christy. “It keeps my skills sharp and has allowed me to continue to work with some of the best editors—and best people in the industry.”

Her current freelance job leaves a few goals as yet unfulfilled. Christy has her own fantasy and science-fiction novels she wants to see published, and this year she hopes to focus on her illustration career alongside writing freelance.

But Christy added that she realizes how hard it is to break into the realm of professional art: “It’s a very competitive field, and you compete with people all over the world.”

Wild Blue Yonder

That’s what made getting her Diana image on an air force fighter such an unexpected triumph.

Christy guesses the whole thing started when the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s 323rd Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron began planning for its 70th anniversary which fell on November 15, 2018. 

The unit, which operates out of Edwards Air Force Base in California, uses Diana as its emblem. Their Latin motto is “Impetu Feroci”—”fearless in attack.”

So it’s easy to imagine a unit member viewing Christy’s online portfolio and immediately gravitating toward her image of the mythological huntress—her robes billowing, her bow poised to unleash a gleaming arrow.

Christy completed her original version of Diana the Huntress while she was in college.

The image was modified to fit on the tail of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II—an aircraft that stands 14 feet tall and can fly 1,200 mile per hour.

Christy said she shared news about the decorated airplane not just to draw notice to her skills but because, as she says, “it’s such a crazy, cool thing to happen for any artist!”

A technician applies a modified version of homeschool graduate Christy Tortland’s art onto an F-35 fighter jet used by the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s 323rd Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron.

But some of the most meaningful feedback she received on the Diana image came from the squadron itself, others with ties to the military, and someone whose opinion bears a great deal of weight.

“My grandfather was a naval officer,” she said, “and he loves it!”


Photo Credit: Cover photo (Members of the Netherlands Air Force Unit) used by permission of the 323TES. Second and third photo used by permission of Christy Tortland. Final picture used by permission of the 323TES.