We started this Becoming interview series in 2019. We wanted to hear from women in different walks of life and how they were approaching creativity, career goals, and more–mostly the WHY and HOW beneath it all. It’s been amazing to conduct these interviews and get a “behind the scenes” look at so many inspirational women! You can see them all here.
Jill DeHaan is our guest today. She is the amazingly talented artist behind the wood carved balusters made for the staircase in our home as featured in In With the Old on Magnolia Network. I’ve worked with Jill on a number of projects in the past (remember this mural? and of course our birth announcement!. She’s an incredibly talented illustrator, designer, artist and she can do it all! I might be her number one fan!
Jill grew up in the glorious mountains of Utah making bows & arrows and collecting unusual rocks. She reveled in her grandparent’s massive garden and workshop and drew artistic inspiration from the vintage items in their home. Her work today often combines illustration and lettering infused with natural elements. A lifetime learner to the core, Jill loves trying new mediums like woodcarving, pottery and embroidery, as well as learning anything and everything about science, art and nature. She currently lives in the magical woods of upstate New York with her family.
Read below for more!
Becoming: Jill DeHaan
What do you consider yourself? Example: Artist, designer, illustrator, maker, business person, educator, etc.?
I consider myself an artist, illustrator, maker and lifelong student.
Where did you grow up? Were there aspects of your childhood that have influenced what you do now?
I grew up in South Ogden, Utah, on the mountain. I was outside ALL day playing “fairies” by the stream, endlessly looking for geodes and miraculously avoiding getting bitten by rattlesnakes. My love of nature started from my earliest memories and I incorporate it into most of the work I do.
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger?
I always dreamed of being an artist like Beatrice Potter, painting cute little critters all day in the tall grass and the soft rain.
Is there a person who has been influential in your chosen career path?
My favorite teacher from Salt Lake Community College, Kerry Gonzales, was absolutely influential. It was her gentle discipline that pushed me to always do my very best, to not be afraid to try new things (and fail!) and to take pride in each step of my work from thumbnails to final art.
What sparked your interest in art?
My older brother Nate is an incredible artist so I grew up admiring his sketchbooks chock full of beautiful drawings he whipped out with ease. But it wasn’t until I won a 4th grade coloring contest that I thought, “hey! I think this could be my thing too!”
What inspired you to become an illustrator/artist?
Honestly, just the fact that I had a huge passion for it! After a brief stint in nursing (bless all nurses forever!!) I quickly realized that the medical field and holding people’s lives in my hands was definitely not for me, lol.
Being an illustrator is a skill that stresses me out in a good way. I get to be an artistic scientist, where every project is a new puzzle to solve in my own way. Every day I see things and I think, “how would I interpret that?” It’s baked into who I am and is a natural fit for me.
What is one piece of work that you are especially proud of and why?
I am super proud of the work I got to create for the Utah Natural History Museum. Dream client!! Was incredible to get to research the local flora and fauna and draw them all up into a giant line art mural centered around the massive importance of invertebrates, “the little things that run the world”. Combined my love of nature, learning and illustration.
What is your design process like? Where do you find inspiration for new creations?
My process always begins with research on the topic/subject, then thumbnails (usually in a notebook), then more solid sketches from those thumbnails on my iPad. After the client chooses a sketched direction, I move on to color roughs, then final artwork from there. And there are the obvious inspirations like nature and old packaging but my job has taught me to see the beauty and possibilities in literally everything I encounter.
We would love to hear a little about your beautiful wood carving work on Brittany’s banisters! Can you tell us more about the project?
I had been posting on Instagram about some flower carvings I’d been working on and Brittany called me to see if I’d be comfortable trying out carving some flowery banisters and I nearly fell out of my chair I was so excited about the idea. Every single part of the carving process is an absolute joy and I couldn’t be more thrilled to work on this project for Brittany. Was hard to say goodbye to them when I was done!
What artists and creatives do you look up to, both historical and present?
I super look up to curious creatives. The scientific illustrators of old: Maria Sibylla Merian, Ernst Haeckel, John James Audubon, etc. and modern artists like Teagan White, Katie Scott and Owen Davey who were/are so curious about the natural world and illustrate it so beautifully.
But then there are honestly countless modern illustrators, letterers and makers that I’m inspired by. I love the wacky, modern stuff and the classic, beautiful styles as well as the organic, juvenile types. Simply too many to name!
What is a piece of advice that you have carried with you and who is it from? Do you have a personal motto?
I didn’t get this advice/motto from anyone, it has just been very relevant to my life the past 10 years. “Change is good and should be embraced.” Whatever challenge it presents, whether success or failure, it has the potential to improve your life. Just depends on how you react to it.
How do your surroundings influence your work?
We are so very lucky to live in the upstate New York woods and inspiration ABOUNDS. I want to draw and paint and carve every little creature and plant we encounter and I am often overwhelmed with the project possibilities. My personal work space has all my beautiful science and nature books and artwork and half-started projects and I find it hard not to be inspired when I’m around those things.
What is a typical day like for you?
It honestly changes from day to day. Mainly revolves around my two curious and hilarious kids and my desired snack for the day, lol (usually some sort of pastry shop we have to drive to). Any project I think of throughout the day is sketched/written into a little notebook and revisited in the evening, or when I can get a free minute.
We’re lucky to have our sweet nanny every other day so that’s when I get most of my work done. Any passion projects (of which there are MANY) have to wait until I’m done with freelance work or when I’m in need of a creative boost.
Do you have a secret talent? What is one skill that you are working on?
I have a pottery wheel just hanging out in our basement and I have so many ideas that I want to try in the ceramics realm. Just have to wait until I have more alone time in the day to be able to cultivate it. I am also always honing my carving skills and am working up to doing a larger scale piece. I super secretly love to sing and practice guitar as well. Perhaps I’ll start a rad older lady band one day when I feel confident enough in my musical skills??
What advice would you give to someone who wants to self-teach a new hobby or skill?
Just jump in! And don’t be afraid to fail because you absolutely will—but that’s how you learn. So just go for it! AND it always helps if you know someone who can show you how to do something in person, at least once. There is something about learning in person, for me, that really helps solidify new concepts in my mind.
Nobody likes to talk about it, but can you share any advice regarding financing your business?
I am super fortunate to be in a partnership where my husband has a full-time job and I am able to freelance whenever it comes in, and then do personal work when I don’t have freelance work. I also have artist representation with @wearesnyder and they help me deal with all the crappy financial stuff that my brain hates, like paperwork and how much to charge for projects, etc. etc. Thank goodness for them!
Is there anything more you would like to “become?”
Oh absolutely! I change my future career with almost every science podcast I listen to, lol. I will ALWAYS create art. It’s just in my bones. But I am desperate to go back to school to learn intensely about something involving nature/science. Geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, botany, zoology, entomology, mycology, teach me everything!!!
What is your long-term goal? or What do you hope to accomplish within the next 10 years?
I would LOVE to do a gallery show with some large wood carvings. And I really do want to go to school and learn a ton of new things, perhaps with the end-goal of writing and illustrating nonfiction children’s books. I can really see that in my future. It would be incredibly fulfilling to marry the two worlds I love so much. Illustration and learning.
I feel like a child myself, discovering new things every day with my kids and seeing the wonder in their eyes when we look up new creatures and learn about this miraculous life that we are so lucky to get to experience. I have a whole list of children’s books I’d like to try to create, just need a bit more knowledge and resources (and the next 10 years!) to bring them to fruition.
Thank you, Jill!