There are few artists on Etsy who have made an impression on me over the past few years. If you’re at all familiar with the site, you’d know how easy it is to get lost in the digital crowd, shuffled under the tidal wave of neverending crafts and bridal cake toppers. Many items are both cheaply made or copies of many other products available, and it’s also hard to be found. But Janet Hill has risen above the current, navigating the waters of the massive selling platform with genuine talent and unique style, all by selling high-quality prints of her magnificent paintings and the occasional original canvas too!
I’ve been an early fan. Opening her shop back when Etsy was relatively under the radar, the Canadian painter built a solid following through the years with consistent new work and an expansion of themes and settings. I bought my first prints in 2011, enchanted by the color palette and beautiful scenes that first attracted me to her aesthetic. And through the years, her paintings and prints have only become better — captivating dynamic stories of characters in the throes of their lives, painted with skillful brushstrokes that showcase light and color. And did I mention they’re simply beautiful? They inspire little daydreams, wanderings in faraway places, dressed in pretty clothes with a pack of dogs and a mission. Each one makes me think, wonder, and aspire to be more like the chic and dynamic women she portrays.
I recently added this print to my collection – a great counterpoint to my 19th-century miniature portrait of Napoleon that hangs in my bedroom. Titled “Fair Captain,” it is the embodiment of all I aspire to be: beautiful and bold, delicate and fierce, a leader and a lady!
After all these years of being a dedicated fan, I’m so grateful to be able to share the following interview with Janet on her painting style, her process, and what makes a canvas come to fruition. Enjoy her thoughts and insight below!
It is clear women and the female body most inspire you. What is it about the ultra-feminine that appeals to you? Are these pretty worlds someplace you would like to inhabit too?
I think it relates more to my experience as a woman. I’ve always been interested in fashion and style, and I try to reflect that in my art. I love the idea of traveling to these exotic places, but I know the realities of travel. Depicting these worlds in my paintings just seems like an achievable form of escapism.
Despite having variation of subject, setting, and point of view, your paintings are cohesive and very much a body of work. I think this is because of your beautiful color choices. Do you use a limited or curated color palette? How did you make the decision, so it wasn’t too limiting or with too much variation?
I never spend much time planning colour for a painting. I just start painting, and subconsciously I’m selecting colours as I go.
Some of your portraits, like Comet and Oranda (a favorite of mine), are incredibly life-like. Do you paint from real life or photographs? How do you nail the fall-off of light so well?
It’s mostly out of imagination, but I do source reference material for lighting, etc. if I’m struggling. I find it really interesting how when I post my portrait pieces on Instagram, they immediately illicit responses that they look like certain people—often celebrities. I think people want to connect real people to fake portraits—give them an identity, but I personally prefer the mystery behind unknowable and unreal people.
I know that art doesn’t magically translate from one’s head to the canvas. What is your process for taking an idea and making it into a finished painting? (Do you sketch, pull colors, pin inspiration, etc.?)
Ideas always seem to randomly pop in my head, and I try to write them down as often as I can. Scattered around my office are little post-it notes that make little sense to anyone but me. Once the idea grabs hold, I try to think of the best ways to communicate that idea to the canvas. I never sketch (I can’t draw) so I usually give it one good shot and hope it works. Many times I fail though and will abandon it, only to later revisit it.
All of your paintings are little vignettes full of story and quirks, and I get the sense that there is a lot more depth to your art. This intrigue is really what attracts me – the more you look, the more there is to see and the more questions I have about the subject. Is your art full of little mysteries to solve? Do you come up with the story first, before you paint, or does the process of the painting create more inspiration? How do you decide when the painting is finished?
I usually have the painting planned in terms of story/content before I begin. My husband always says that my art is much more subversive than what most people realize—including myself. In spite of the colour choices and often pretty settings, there is often peril and loneliness. The women I paint are often alone and/or facing a dangerous element- tornadoes, fire, and wild animals. But I try to depict it all in a light-hearted way that either defuses the situation or makes it humorous.
I love the vintage style that is often depicted in your paintings. Do you find yourself having to research different clothing or hairstyles in order to nail your intended image or period? Do you also collect vintage items?
I’m not a collector, but I do spend quite a bit of time looking at old photos to get a feel for vintage style. I am also a child of the ’70s, so I do remember things like rotary phones, suitcase record players, and when cars were actually cars and not computers on wheels. I recently painted a painting called ‘Selfie at the Mermaid Public Fountain’ and received a little bit of blowback about the depiction of a cellphone!
Your portrait paintings are some of my absolute favorites. They are focused and restrained without being stiff — this makes them all the more appealing. How do you limit elements like color and form to keep them striking, yet not overdone?
I think that’s instinctual, but I’m also a little lazy, so I never really struggle with overworking a painting.
You’re basically a painting stylist! How do you work to combine hair, makeup, wardrobe, and setting? Does the design of the woman come first and things go from there, or vise versa?
It depends. Sometimes I’ll center a painting around a hairstyle or an outfit or a setting, meaning that the entire painting is intended to be decorative. Other times the painting will be more about the narrative, and often the style is more of an afterthought.
From French shops to Indian jungles and beyond, you seem to be inspired by many locations. Do you travel a lot? What about these old world locales make you excited to paint them?
I actually don’t travel much at all. I have a terrible fear of flying which fortunately I’m able to medicate now, so I usually only take one big trip a year and hopefully less than six hours flight time. I’ve never physically been to many of the places that I depict, but I have in my imagination.
As an artist, discovering one’s distinct style is a challenging task. However, you have done this so well! Do you have any tips for others as they work on honing their art and making their voice more unique?
I actually rarely study another artist’s work. I may admire it, but I never break it down as to why I like it. To me, copying or even emulating another artist’s work shows a lack of imagination and confidence. My paintings don’t evolve from other paintings, rather the ideas manifest from other sources like books, movies, old photos, etc. I’m very interested in things that scare me or at least make me uncomfortable. A good painting has to be more than visual—it has to stir the imagination.
Quick Fire Questions:
Coffee or Tea?
France or England?
Cats or Dogs?
Favorite canvas size?
Favorite Book or Movie?
No Country for Old Men
Self-care for you is…
A dry vodka martini
The motto of your life?
If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased. — Katharine Hepburn
Thank you so much, Janet, for your excellent interview. I cannot wait to see all that is ahead for you and your wonderful work!
What do you think of Janet’s paintings? Share with me in the comments below! And if you’re interested, buy a Janet Hill print or greeting card here on Etsy or visit her personal website for more information. Be sure to give a follow on her Instagram @JanetHillStudio to see behind the scenes of her studio, paintings, and life. All images copyright Janet Hill Studios.