Anete Vanaga has worked at airBaltic for almost eight years as a senior flight crew member. One of her favourite pastimes is painting beautiful pictures. Recently she held her first solo exhibition at the Kaņepe Culture Centre in Riga. In this interview Vanaga reveals her inspirations and how falling in love has helped her creativity.

How did you begin to work at airBaltic?

I hadn’t originally planned on becoming a flight attendant. During my studies I was doing an internship at a culture centre and didn’t like it at all, so I dropped out of the programme with no other job prospects in sight. My classmate was working as an air traffic controller and advised me to apply for a vacant cabin crew position at airBaltic. At first I resisted the idea, but eventually he talked me into applying for the job. Soon after, I was invited to an interview, and one week after that I began my training. I hadn’t felt satisfied at my previous places of employment and I guess that was because I hadn’t found the right position. Initially, I didn’t know how things would turn out here, either. I thought I’d try flying for about a year and then see what happens. Now eight years have already passed since I joined the airline!

What is a typical work day like?

My day starts with a briefing of the cabin crew and an inspection of the cabin equipment. Once that is done, we are ready to take passengers on board and serve them. We have many responsibilities and procedures to carry out, but at the end of the day, the main thing is ensuring the safety and comfort of our fliers.

What do you like most about your job?

My colleagues! I really like working with people. Bad days are good for experience, while good days are a reward for my cares and efforts. I get charged by other people’s energy and I also try to give this positive energy back. Although the flight attendants with whom I fly constantly change, a wonderful sense of intimacy develops in aviation when you have to spend all day working together to ensure a successful and satisfying flight for the passengers. You have no way of avoiding each other and you end up developing close working relationships. I also enjoy travelling very much.

Do you get to travel outside of work?

I try to. Last year was practically ideal, as I got to fly somewhere every month! Usually I manage to go on a brief vacation every two or three months. Over the past few years, I’ve really grown fond of the USA and Israel. I’ll never get enough of America and I hope to visit the country again soon. I still haven’t discovered Asia. Practically all of my colleagues have been to Thailand on vacation and I hope to go there one day as well.

Being a flight attendant isn’t always a bed of roses. What challenges do you face on the job?

I feel a great deal of empathy for the passengers, which means that I really feel bad if something doesn’t work out, if misunderstandings or problems arise, if someone misses a connecting flight or loses something. It’s hard for me to distance myself and say that it’s only a job. On the other hand, that empathy also has a good side. If the flight has gone well, the passengers are happy and all problems have been solved, then I feel extremely happy.

You also have an interesting hobby – painting.

I really love to paint, and this May I held my first solo exhibition. I hope to gain more recognition for my work and eventually to open my own studio and gallery. I definitely want to paint more than I do now.

Is anybody else in your family involved with art?

My aunt enjoys drawing and painting and she’s quite good at it. My grandfather’s brother Imants Vanags is a poet in Liepāja, the “city of the wind.” He regularly publishes books. I have relatives on my father’s side who are creative in both the arts and in music. My ten-year-old nephew (my sister’s son) is also quite talented for his age.

Have you studied painting?

I applied several times to take preparatory painting classes, but everywhere I went I was told that I don’t have what it takes to paint. In my work as a flight attendant, I don’t mind following set procedures, as they discipline you. But I’ve never liked it when people tell me what I should paint and how I should do it. After being rejected several times for the painting classes, there was a period when I lost the desire to paint and decided never to take a paintbrush in my hands again.

What made you change your mind and pursue your passion for painting?

I have liked to draw, colour and paint since my childhood. Believe it or not, but the biggest push came when I fell in love with a composer! [Laughs.] I began to spend more time in creative circles and felt the need to express myself through art. I liked painting the best and was good at it. I was so happy about my first painting! I boasted about it to my colleagues, as if it was a first-born child. The captain heard the commotion and came out of the cockpit to ask what the fuss was all about. When I showed him the photograph of my painting, he immediately offered to buy it. I drove home to pick it up, and he later bought other paintings as well. My work colleagues have been really supportive. I received so much help, encouragement and recognition! Now I have also realised my long-held dream of holding a solo exhibition.

Where do you draw inspiration for your paintings?

I never paint when I am in a bad mood. I don’t think it’s right to share one’s negative emotions with others. No work that I’ve painted while feeling sad or angry has ever come out well. I always paint something else over such works afterward. I am mostly inspired by love stories. They don’t necessarily have to be my own personal experiences. I also get inspired by the people around me, as well as by music, movies or even strangers on the street. I still find it odd that people actually want to buy my paintings. That is a huge compliment to my work, but sometimes I don’t yet feel ready to receive all that acclaim.

Can you tell us why images of women dominate in your paintings?

I wouldn’t say that this has been a conscious process. Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote that “the creative adult is the child who has survived.” When I was a child, I liked to draw paper dolls. Perhaps the child in me has awoken to communicate with the world through the women in my paintings. I grew up in a broken family with my divorced mother and two sisters. There was always a lot of pulsating female energy in our household. Now I also see myself as a strong and empowered woman. Through my works I try to celebrate the power, sensuality and energy of women.

Where can one view your paintings?

Soon another exhibition of my paintings will open at the airBaltic Training Centre. Welcome one and all!