Hannah Willow is a mixed media artist who creates beautiful jewellery, paintings, icons and oracles and has long been an inspiration to and admired by a number of the AJE team members. She lives in Wiltshire, England, next door to an ancient apple orchard with her family and a small menagerie and is inspired by the ancient landscape and history that surrounds her.
I wanted to share one of my favourite designers work with you but rather than just give you my perspective I asked Hannah if she would be willing to answer a few questions and share a little about herself and was delighted when she agreed – especially as it turns out that we trod similar paths escaping from corporate to creative lives. I hope you enjoy this little insight into Hannah’s creative life as much as I did…
How/when did you first get started with your art/creative work…Do you have formal art training?
I’ve always been creative, even as a very small child drawing and making things for my parents and at school. My father still gets things out occasionally to show me. I always wanted to study art and go on to do my degree but after completing my foundation in art, my circumstances changed and I was no longer able to carry on studying. After that I spent twenty years working in a corporate environment getting more and more unhappy until finally I made the break and changed direction. I spent some time with a silversmith about twelve years ago, learning the absolute basics and everything from there I’ve learnt by trial and error.
What is your greatest inspiration…do you ever suffer from creative droughts and if so how do you deal with it to stay inspired?
My greatest inspiration is nature, our land, our animals and birds and the connection to them that we seem to have lost in the last century. There are so many stories out there, and in history, that are elusive and ethereal and I like to try to imagine what some of those might have been. Working in two mediums means that if I suffer from a creative drought in one, I can usually swap over to the other medium and carry on working. A lot of the jewellery making is ‘process’ and although frustrating when I’m feeling creative and inspired, it can be useful when I’m in a slump as it means I can carry on working and keep the thread going until ideas start to to return.
How/when did your interest in folklore, myth and legend begin? Do you have a favourite myth or legend?
I’ve always had a fascination for myth and folklore, the way history and ideas are passed down and change through the years. I often wonder about the origins of folklore stories, how far back they go and what the root of the story was. My favourite stories depend on what I’m inspired by at the time, but currently I’m working with the Selkie stories from around the UK, stories of seals who come ashore, take off their skins and live as humans for a while before disappearing back to the sea again one day.
Do you have a particular animal you would consider to be your totem?
There are a few animals who speak to me and these are the ones shown most often in my work. Obviously Hare, who are abundant in the land where I live and who I see everyday as I walk my dog. They often streak across the field ahead of me as they see us coming! There is a lot of folklore surrounding hares and of witches shape-shifting into hares. I have a fascination with the idea that animals could have the ability to turn themselves to humans and back again.
What are you favourite mediums/materials to work with…do you have a favourite or unusual tool?
My favourite mediums are silver and gemstone, and in recent months I’ve started to work with carving amber and bone, as well as scrimshaw. Amber is a very ancient stone, deeply connected to the forest and it holds for me the memories of the past and woodland stories. As for tools, I have all the usual silver working tools, probably the most unusual tool I use are toothpicks, they are useful for everything!
As an artist working with related themes in both jewellery and illustrative mediums…How do you balance time…does one take precedence…does one inspire the other or do they cross-pollinate. Any advice for anyone trying to work across mediums?
Although I work in both jewellery and illustrative mediums, my work really is one body of ideas, just expressed in differing ways. My ideas cross pollinate each medium and often you will see similar inspiration and images arising across my work. The jewellery is more restrictive in how I can express the idea, and so can be more challenging to get across what I’m trying to say, however the freedom of the art can in itself make it more difficult than the jewellery as I have no restrictions on what I can do to achieve what I want and this can sometimes be overwhelming. I do struggle to work both together and so usually work in large chunks of time purely on one or the other. At the moment the jewellery tends to taken precedence, but this balance may well change in the future, especially as my eyesight is getting worse and it’s harder to see making jewellery.
What short piece of advice would you give someone trying to find their creative voice and push forward?
Do it. Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ or having enough in the bank, or for others to ask for your work. Just get on and do it, put it up for sale, promote your work, get it out there on a website, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and go for it. Have a vision of who you are, what your creativity represents, and push that forward. Be inspired by others, look at how they work, what they produce (and how they market and price their work) but most importantly, don’t copy. Have your own voice, your own style and spend as much time as you can on it. If you want to be an artist and earn a living by it, it will become all encompassing and take over your life completely, 24/7, there’s no other way. Evening classes can be an amazing starting block to kick start creativity and give you new skills, several artists I know started their whole artistic and creative career by attending an evening class.Practically, having your own space set aside for your work is essential. Having to clear away your work every time you finish in order for the space to be used for something else will not work. It kills creativity and steals time. You will find that if you have your own space, it will be your sanctuary and even ten minutes stolen out there before breakfast will be productive and creative.
What has been you greatest creative achievement to date?
My greatest achievement has been keeping myself alive and fed through my own work for over ten years. My ex husband told me I’d never make it as an artist, so having left my old life and done what I always should have done, answering that life long call, become an artist, been successful, paid my bills, fed myself (and my cats!) and produced a large body of work is my greatest achievement and satisfaction. I’d say to anyone who feels that call, do it, be brave. Don’t go to the graveyard with ‘what if’s’.
Huge thanks to Hannah for sharing so openly with us. If you are in the UK and would like to see some of Hannah’s work at first hand she is currently exhibiting at two locations (click on images for more info):