This Artist Makes Wool Art Entirely From Her Own Sheep
Jill Harrison uses wool from her own sheep on her Scottish croft to make artwork so sensual you want to reach out and touch it. Her incredible pictures are a creative outlet that have helped Jill to channel anxiety and homesickness while building artistic and personal confidence. We find out more…
Living on a croft in Scotland may sound to some like a living fantasy. Jill Harrison settled in her Aberdeenshire croft twelve years ago, and moving over three hundred miles to such a remote location hit her hard.
“It felt like a dream come true,” she says, “with the land and the horses that I had always yearned for when I was younger. But after a year or so I really suffered with home sickness, which turned to anxiety and depression. I had a really tough time. That is when my wool images came to my rescue.”
Jill Harrison has been creating wool art for the last seven years, and her artistic direction came as something of a surprise to her. “It’s weird,” she says on thinking about her journey. “I never set out to become an artist… but as soon as I started working with wool I was hooked and have never looked back.”
She works on anything from landscapes to animals imbued with a glorious sense of tactile colour-magic, but her favourites are the portraits of vintage film stars. “I love the dramatic look that they used to have, with the dark eyes and tragic expressions. My pictures started out as naïve little images of sheep, and then I got into the world of silent screen stars.”
Jill considers why she’s so deeply drawn to the queens of the silent screen. “The imagery is fabulous,romantic, moody and sometimes sad. All these things attract me, and the women themselves have tales to tell. Some of their lives have been as tragic as the roles they used to play. Sad, beautiful haunting faces inspire me. I fall in love with them all.”
Her artworks are not only so beautiful and tactile you want to see what they’d feel like against your cheek, they’ve been rewarding in terms of self-care, too. “When I am working on my pictures my anxiety is eased. They have opened up a whole new world for me and I think this sounds a bit cheesy but in my case, something very creative did come from my very distressing experience. I still get the homesick feeling but I overcome it with working on my pictures all the time.”
Jill’s own sheep are the source of all her wool. Initially starting out with four black sheep, Jill now has twenty-five sheep and a mix of breeds.
Hebridean Ewe With Lambs
Her connection with the sheep is a strong one, and the sheep live on the croft as companions, not livestock. “They are all pets,” says Jill. “Some of them we’ve bred ourselves. A few of them have been bottle-fed as lambs so they’re really friendly. They all have special characters and I think they are lovely, underestimated little creatures. I’ve learned a lot about them over the past twelve years and wouldn’t want to be without them now.”
So how does Jill turn her own sheeps’ wool into artwork you can hang on a wall? When it’s time for shearing, she explains how “the fleece comes from the sheep quite dirty and greasy. Usually I wash it, but occasionally I use it just as it is, together with the grass and seed heads that come with it.”
Jill has lots of wool options to choose from, thanks to the variety of her flock. “My favourite wool comes from the Shetland sheep; it has extremely fine fleece. I use all sorts of different fleece in all my images. The black Hebridean usually gets used for hair and shading. ”
Getting the colour into the wool is another key process to consider. “A lot of the fleece is used ‘au naturel’ but I do sometimes use dye to add subtle colour before I start the picture. If that’s the case, I’ll dye the wool as it comes without combing. I like the crimps and curls to remain and give a little character to the imagery. I use the fibre like paint, blending colours together and building up the image in very thin layers. I love the ethereal look that I discovered from working with wool.”
Barn Owl with Mouse
Working like this, step by step, Jill has never had any real artist-disasters or techniques she’s had to learn the hard way. The worst that’s happened is getting pictures smashed in the post. And that’s quite bad enough.
The pieces looks so time-consuming, but the time spent varies for each piece. Smaller pictures usually take Jill a few hours. Larger portraits can take up to two weeks to create, and Jill can find herself entering an art-tunnel when she works late into the evening. She explains that commissions usually take the longest, as it requires more effort to recreate a personal or animal that’s known to the person requesting the artwork.
One of the highlights of Jill’s artistic career so far has been getting featured on the Scottish National News. Doing an interview with STV was an offer Jill felt she couldn’t pass up – and for one so, in her own words, “shy and retiring”, it sent her spinning into a state of anxiety. However, she agreed to an interview and found it overall a positive experience to be filmed and interviewed about her work. “They were so nice and afterwards I felt so proud of myself. It was a massive thing for me to do but I managed it!”
Return of the Swallows
Jill Harrison’s odyssey into wool art has been a long-term exercise in self-care as well as a creative endeavour. “I have been on a long journey with my sheep and my art,” says Jill. “I think my self-confidence has been boosted a little over the years. I’ve been asked to travel all over the world to do teaching workshops! But my nervous nature has triumphed yet again and I’ve so far declined the offers. Who knows? Maybe one day.”
You can see more wonderful wool art on the official Jill Harrison website.