Jann Hill is an Australian artist based in Melbourne, Victoria. After a long corporate career, and many years of being a practising but secret artist, she finally determined a few years back that it was time to follow her heart, overcome her reticence, and focus full-time on her art. She now exhibits in Melbourne and Sydney. Jann works with watercolour, coloured inks and collage.
Jann Hill at home in her studio doing some prelimanary sketches for her work
"I create abstractions of nature and the built environment, interpreted through colour and pattern. I try to recreate a feeling or experience rather than a realistic representation, and use a variety of tools and experimental techniques. I use watercolours and coloured inks because they produce such surprising and beautiful textures, layers of colour, and colour blends as they mix with water on paper." - Jann Hill
What initially drew your towards becoming an artist?
I don’t think I was drawn to be an artist – it’s just an inherent part of who I am. I haven’t stopped painting or drawing since I first played around with coloured pencils and paints as a small child.
However, societal pressures, well-meaning advice, and my own lack of confidence, led me on a different career path. It’s only in the last six or seven years that I’ve finally determined to make my work public and call myself a professional artist.
"Poor Fish Caught", Jann Hill, Watercolour on Paper, 57cm x 38cm, 2017
How would you describe your own personal style?
My work is abstract, focussed on conveying a feeling or experience rather than a realistic representation. I use colour, intricate pattern, shapes and detail, often quite patchwork-like. At the same time I love the wonderful spontaneous effects and colour blends that can be achieved using watercolours and coloured inks as they mix with water on paper. It is my constant challenge to successfully combine the two.
What pushed you in that direction and how can you see you work evolving in the future?
I think I was pulled rather than pushed in the direction I’ve taken, following a natural inclination to work the way I do. Every new painting provides a new learning experience. My aim is to continue to learn and evolve. I hope to never become static or formulaic.
What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?
For me painting is a delight and an escape, a freedom, yet at the same time an intellectual challenge. It allows me to convey my ideas, feelings, experiences and responses to the world around me, without having to find words and explanations, or worry about people’s responses to what I say or how I say it. After so many years in corporate environments it is a wonderfully refreshing release.
"Field of Flowers", Jann Hill, Watercolour on Paper, 57cm x 38cm, 2016
Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, may be even other artists?
Possibly my earliest influence was my kindergarten teacher – I still strongly remember her showing and discussing the works of famous artists such as Marc Chagall and Franz Marc. There were other teachers who engendered a love of painting through their creative and inspiring lessons. Of course a supportive family is much appreciated!
When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?
My favourite medium is watercolour. I’ve tried a range of paint brands and painting surfaces, but tend to go back to my favourites. I use all manner of tools and techniques to create textures and effects – from masks and resists to cling wrap, crumpled wax paper, bubble wrap, wire grids and tapes from the hardware store, spray bottles, and various repurposed kitchen tools, to name but a few.
When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?
I look at the world around me and translate it into patterns, shapes and colour. Nature is a predominant theme.
Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?
I usually start off freely, pouring, splashing, dripping paint and applying washes, resists, masks and other techniques to create texture, shape and form, letting the medium take over as the colours begin to blend and textural effects appear as the paint dries. I let the paintings evolve without too much intervention, maybe throwing in extra colour, tipping the paper where I feel it needs it, or using resists or other materials to create specific effects. It is only in the later stages of a painting that I take more control, adding line and pattern, strengthening colour or shapes, to create a finished piece. Frequently I start with a specific intent and the painting itself takes me in a different direction.
My collages evolve in much the same way. I start with a loose underpainting, or a recycled watercolour (one of the ones I wasn’t too happy with) as a base. I play around with pieces of cut or torn watercolours, matching intricate pieces of pattern, shape and colour, keeping some of the underpainting visible, to develop the overall image and design. Once satisfied, I glue. If needed, I’ll strengthen colours or add pattern or line work.
Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work?
I try to be disciplined, focusing on some aspect of my art, or an art related activity, each day. I set myself goals and make plans, but have to admit it is sometimes difficult to stick to routine.
"Umbrellas & Sand" Jann Hill, Watercolour & Inks on Arches Paper, 56 x 38cm, 2017
When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?
I work on several pieces at the same time. I get impatient waiting for things to dry, so I usually have several works on the go, each at different stages. I often have a number of underpaintings waiting to be worked on, and I have a large box of torn and cut pieces ready to be used in collage.
How has your art evolved to be where it is today?
Focus, practice, experimentation, lots of reading and learning.
Which of your artworks are you most proud off?
I’m usually most pleased when I manage to resolve a painting that’s been difficult to finish and has been put aside for a while.
If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?
Late 19th/ early 20th century – a time of changing values, experimentation and challenge to tradition. Bauhaus painters Klee and Kandinsky are particular influences.
"The Lightness of Being", Jann Hill, Watercolour on Arches Paper, 56cm x 38cm
What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?
The age of technology and social media has made marketing and self-promotion a possibility for everyone. There is a plethora of artists today, all competing to be seen and heard. There’s also a lot of cheap mass produced art available. It’s hard for artists to thrive amongst so much competition, and particularly so if you tend to be a little reticent and retiring, as so many artists are.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?
Believe in yourself, work hard at your art, but these days you also need to have clear business goals if you are serious about making a living from your art.
Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is their another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?
The type of art that draws me in is not a particular style but more the emotional connection I have with it, maybe colour, subject matter, quirkiness and so on I admire most forms of art. I appreciate technical skill and am often in awe of things that I wouldn’t be able to achieve myself.
"Shades of Fuschia", Jann Hill, Watercolour on Paper, 57cm x 38cm, 2017
We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?
I have several unfinished works, not because I don’t want to let go, but because I can’t work out how to resolve them. I find that if I leave them for a while and then come back to them I can look more objectively and work out what they need to bring them to resolution.
I’ve had a few instances where I have overworked a painting and spoiled it. I’ve learned to discipline myself to stop when I’m tired or uncertain and come back with fresh eyes.
Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature?
I don’t believe it is an artistic responsibility to promote or advocate a cause, but I do believe every artist tells a story through their art, some more light-hearted, others more intense and serious.
There is always an underlying intellectual meaning or comment in my work, but for the most part my work is perceived as decorative rather than deep and meaningful. That’s fine by me – so long as people appreciate it for what it is and buy it because they like it, not because it matches the lounge.
"Fractured Flowers", Jann Hill, Watercolour Collage on Paper, 38cm x 29cm, 2015
What are you working on at the moment?
A large collage, paintings at various stages. Also trying different types of fixatives and varnishes to see whether it’s possible to get a satisfactory solution for watercolours framed without glass.
Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?
I’m still a member of an artist’s collective based in Sydney (even though I’m currently in Melbourne). The group was formed to support and encourage each other in the production, sales and marketing of work, including holding group exhibitions. Monthly meetings are held at different galleries and exhibitions. The support and friendship of like-minded and motivated people is invaluable, at a personal level as well as a motivator.