Stella Bowen had always hoped to become an artist but her mother did not approve of this career for a “respectable” young woman. However, her persistence and talent could not be ignored, and when Bowen was 17 years old, her mother reluctantly allowed her to take life-drawing classes with Margaret Preston in Adelaide. After her mother died, Bowen was free to consider an art career more seriously. She moved to London, with an allowance of £20 per month. There she studied at the Westminster School under the painter Walter Sickert.
In London Bowen formed friendships with some of the greatest writers and artists of the twentieth century. She moved to the English countryside with the novelist Ford Madox Ford, 19 years her senior, with whom she lived for nine years and had a daughter, Julia.