Though she grew up in an artistic household — the only child of a journeyman and librarian — Jill Myer never imagined she would create art for a living.
“Both of my parents are creative individuals,” said Myer. “I grew up in the ’70s when everyone lived on what they had. We didn’t have credit cards. We made do. We made things, and we fixed things. And that’s the heart of an artist. ‘How do I make that? How do I represent that in a way no one else has done?’ I came by it pretty naturally.”
But even though she was artistically inclined, art was not on her radar as a career. She had only taken one art class in high school and after graduation, started pursuing a degree in social work. She quickly realized social work was not for her. “My grades were slipping. I knew that taking art classes would be easy A’s for me, so I became an art major. It kind of felt like cheating because it was what I knew and what I did. So, I got a degree in art.”
But even after earning her art degree at the University of Montana, Myer didn’t think she could support herself as an artist. “So, I went and got a job.” She worked as a barista, in retail, and as a guide on a dude ranch. She worked in property management and other office jobs before she got a job fundraising at a nonprofit. “It’s one of those things where you just feel good doing what you’re doing.”
There was always an undercurrent of wanting creativity to be a career. A few years ago, Myer said she experienced an art craving, so she bought a children’s set of watercolor paints and painted for 12 hours straight. “The next day, I went to an art store and bought some better paints. It was the smallest investment possible to get started. I watched classes online and loved every second of it,” she said.
Since that day, her work has evolved into encaustic paintings inspired by the beauty of the coast in the Pacific Northwest. “My current work reflects the soft soothing gray rainy days, the frothy roar of the ocean waves, and the wide array of plant life provided by the lush landscape of Oregon,” Myer said.
Encaustic paints are pigment, beeswax and a natural tree resin called damar. To work with encaustic paints, they must be melted from a solid wax to a liquid. Torches, heat guns and carving tools are then used to render an image.
Myers had always been interested in encaustic work, but it is a lot more complicated than what she had been doing. “It needs cross-ventilation. There must be a setup. This is not your dining room table type of art. It’s a commitment.”
The colored wax is placed on an electric griddle to keep it warm enough to remain a liquid. The wax dries almost as soon as the brush touches canvas, or in Myer’s art, the cradle board which is the surface sturdy enough for hot wax. “Encaustic is not a traditional type of painting. The torches are actually the paint brushes because when I put the wax on a dry surface, it would let go. It is not enough time to blend. So, I dab and come back through with the flame and re-melt the wax to smooth and blend and swish.”
Though encaustic is her primary medium, Myer still works with watercolors. She has a current project of creating small paintings — about an inch in size — and leaving them for people to find. “My hope is that it brings someone joy. But if it gets thrown away, I’m not out too much. It makes me happy. I add my Instagram handle to the back along with a hashtag #artlefttofind and I hope that one day someone finds a mini painting and tags me in a photo. To me, this is the modern-day version of a message in a bottle.”
Myer has recently been accepted into the For Arts Sake Gallery — an artist-owned gallery in Newport’s Nye Beach. “It’s a huge milestone professionally for me to be involved,” she said.
After completing a residency with the Corvallis Art Center focused on business training, Myer is also working toward helping other artists think like business owners.
“If you want to make a career as an artist, you not only need to create the art, but you have to market yourself. You are a salesperson. You have to apply for grants. You have to sell yourself to gallery owners.”
She discovered she was really good at sales and very comfortable talking with people. “I’m a chatty lady. I’ve been a communicator this whole time, and now I get to talk about something I love.”
Myer is creating a workshop to help other artists promote and sell their work. “I see a need. Some people think if their art is good enough, people will just buy it without any extra effort on their part. I think it is something that people can learn.
“I see the value of how creativity and being a creative person has enriched my life,” she added. “People need some encouragement. Humans are creative. I want that for everyone.”
Visit jillmyerartist.com to view her current work and projects.