Belated but Merry

A very belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!  I hope you had a magnificent holiday.  I shut my Etsy shop down two weeks earlier than usual in order to spend my energy on some other important things and to give myself a great, wide open creative exhalation.  I managed to let the studio rest for three full weeks which is pretty unheard of for me!  If I am home, I am working.  I love to work.  I thrive when I am working.  But there’s something so special about those times when we let ourselves lie fallow like great tracts of dark earth, to soak up the sun and the wind and the rain and to spin nutrients into gold and growth.  Yesterday I sat down at my bench to blow the dust off my tools and scrub the rust from my hands and I had a tremendous sense of simply being full on rest and ready to work again.  I tinkered most of the day, not wanting to over commit myself to any of my ideas.  My compass was swiveling in too many directions and I find it’s always better to begin again with a strong sense of “THAT-A-WAY” than to spend a few days pandering to whims.

My muscles remembered my work space, the distance between tools, the swirling rhythm of the pellet stove and the staccato of birds at the feeders.  It was a lovely re-entry into work.  I’ll be in the studio again today and I’m looking forward to going gently as I tap my hammers to the beat of this new, beautiful year.

While I wasn’t working, I thought much about what I specifically value regarding creative work.  It’s not the finished products.  I like what I make.  How could I not?  It’s all a direct reflection of my life and my experiences.  I’m finding what I value more is the process behind the work (which is ultimately the sum of my living).

I drew a late season cow/calf tag for the Idaho side of Hells Canyon this year which is one of the biggest reasons I shut my studio down earlier than usual, so I could focus on my hunt — and it was a great hunt.  The territory was snowless so herds of wapiti and deer remained up in the high country which is where we had to go to find animals.  It was strenuous hiking (can I still call it hiking if I was using bunchgrass as handholds as I covered ground???) in treacherous country and once we found animals, I made a great, intuitive stalk.  I had a lucky, strong wind to blow away my noise and my scent.  The herd was bedded down, chewing on cud, puffing cold smoke into winter air, oblivious to my presence.  I had all the time in the world to set up, watch the herd and enjoy their beauty through my scope.  I was patient enough and lucky, too, when a cow stood up for me, perfectly broadside, on the edge of the herd at 300 yards.  I took my shot calmly, steadying my reticle with a sharp eye as I had practiced so many times, and it was perfectly placed.  She died well and this meat does not taste of fear.  When I finally approached her where she lay, I took off my gloves and buried my hands in the soft fur around her lovely ears and there, on my finger, was the Diana Ring I kept for myself which depicts an elk standing on a ridge in a puff of clouds and I thought, “This is a moment in my life that gives context and spirit to my work.  Without this, without my experiences and the stories of how I live, the work would mean nothing.  This would be a ring with an elk on it.  I would be making hollow objects that resound with nothing.  Because I live what I make, these objects are more than meets the eye.”

I keep thinking this very thing, repeatedly, when I am out riding Resero in the canyon, when I am running and I stop to explore a rock outcropping and find a hare skull, when I am hunting behind our birddogs in the sunshine and basalt with Robert, when I am tending my garden or my hens, when I am warmed by a sage fire in the nook of a rock safe from the claws of a ghastly wind — all of those life details matter to me and inform my work.  The point is not to to go my studio every day and make as much as possible as quickly as possible.  The point is not to tie myself in knots trying to immediately appease people.  The point is to live my life as beautifully and wonderfully and curiously as possible so that when I do sit down to work, my work is born of depth and power that comes from the true story of my life.

I wasn’t art school trained.  I quit university (numerous times) before I was taught how to be an artist (and I am 100% unapologetic about that).  I’m not sure what would have been impressed upon me but I have come to know it’s all this living I am doing that directly fuels the work of my hands.  Without it, my work would have a different truth…a different everything…a different degree of believability…a different context.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past decade at my bench in the studio it’s that I want to know that my work and my ideas are my own, that they have stemmed and branched and grown directly from the elements of my life and the details and ideas I find communicable therein.

I’m not one for making resolutions in the new year, I think every day is a new start that can be full of intention and momentum in the direction of our choosing, but I am always curious to hear about how others are approaching a new year.  I begin 2018 with a continued commitment to living my life with depth, gumption and courage and thereby creating with that same essence when I sit at my bench to work or when I stand afield with my camera in my hands.  What about you?



  1. So good to read your words and see your imagery again. Happy 2018! What a blessing to have such a successful hunt. I love how connected you are to the animals, the process, and what is given and taken. May your year be full of many more blessings, dear one!

    • Happy New Year, Cat!!!

      Seriously. We failed to fill two general hunt deer tags here this fall. Robert successfully shot a spike bull on his muzzleloader hunt but he lost it to a pack of wolves (true and incredible story that was woeful for our freezer…I’ll tell you it sometime in person). So when I walked up on this elk I felt utterly flooded with thanksgiving. Her life is such a gift to us and it’s an honor to carry her forever in our very cells.


  2. Chris Moore says:

    Good post! It is so sweet that even though Farley is a senior citizen, he is still hunting!

    • Thanks Chris! Happy New Year to you! Farley is definitely our old, sweet, senile boy but he will STILL hunt. His ears no longer work but his nose is as hot as ever. Every time I get to take him out it’s a special time. I appreciate him in a whole new way in his old age.

  3. Beth Harris says:

    Happy New Year to you, Jillian! I was thinking of you recently, as I was filling out my “Unraveling your Year” workbook (from Susannah Conway), which I think I found through your blog years ago. I’m not a big believer in New Years resolutions, but I feel like it’s a good time to pause and reflect on where you’ve been, and where you hope to go, or achieve in the future. For me, I wanted more sailing time last year, so I’m making that happen in 2018.
    I think part of why I’ve loved your work and followed your blog for so long is your authenticity. I hate to use that word, as it makes me think of #liveauthentic and all that buzzy, inauthentic nonsense, so maybe the word is genuine? Real-deal? True-blue? You walk the walk. I admire you for it.

  4. Beth Harris says:

    Also, can I just say… Go get ’em Farley! I love seeing the ol’ silver snout crew still in action! Seems like all the dogs I know and love are getting to that stage these days. Strong hearts, but tender hips and selective hearing, I tell ya what. Smooch your beasties for me!

  5. Happy New Year, Jillian! Your description of the hunt got me all teary- eyed this morning. Thank you for stewarding the gifts of the land so well; I admire that deeply. Beautiful photos as always! Your pack of creature friends looks so happy to be doing the work of their bloodlines <3 All the best to you this full moon season.

  6. love that photo of resero where his head is turned to the stirrup and your boot. he looks so wild and free in this capture.

    and the hunt. “she died well and this meat does not taste of fear.” so beautiful. and such a testament to your ability as a huntress. i’m so proud of you.

    happy new year to all at the ranch.

  7. This is what makes you a joy to watch and follow as an artist… how you live is reflected in your work. It’s something that stays with me as I think about how I represent my art and letting where and how I live influence what I make.

    And now I’ve followed you for more than 10 years and seen Penelope and Farley grow from pups to seniors! It’s a bittersweet stage of life having the privilege of stewarded their sweet little lives through live.

  8. Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your wild and beautiful way of life!

  9. I am late to this party, but what a beautiful post!…how your life and work and work and life are inextricably woven together is a thing of beauty….and thank you for sharing the journey you have taken over the years to arrive here ( and boy have you arrived!)……Happy Merry New Year to you all!…xo, xo , xo

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