Jill Bliss is a naturalist who lives and travels in the Salish Sea islands, an intricate network of coastal waterways stretching from British Columbia to the Pacific Northwest. She left her job and city life, selling nearly everything she owned in 2012 to reconnect with the slower natural pace of living among nature. Bliss creates artwork with wild local plants and other natural things she finds in the forests, along with photography, illustration and animation. She donates ten per cent of the proceeds she gets from her artworks to local charities, social justice groups, and organisations involved in environmental restoration.
Where are you from originally, what did you do before and what inspired you to have the lifestyle you do now?
I spent my formative childhood years on a 45-acre orchard farm (plums and walnuts), surrounded by a 1000-acre cattle ranch near the Sacramento River in central Northern California. Many days after my chores were completed, I'd roam and explore the area with my dogs. I'd make forts out of found supplies and draw/paint the world around me. During my teen years, my family relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area suburbs. I'd spend whole days in the forests and at the beach. I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium instead of school often enough that my mom bought a yearly family pass (she was often my accomplice for ditching school in favour of spending time in the natural world).
I read that you worked in New York for some time. Was there any particular incident that led you to leave your city life?
I spent time briefly in NYC in my 20's. It was such an overwhelming place and so different from my childhood in the country. I was compelled to move there and dig in for a while to understand it better. Ultimately, I had to return to the west coast and San Francisco. No matter how much people love city life, it wasn't my home.
How do you sustain your lifestyle in the forest?
Now that I have a small patch of my own island land on a small island, in the good weather months, I do odd jobs for island neighbours such as yard work, gardening, house cleaning and simple repairs. For many years in the summer months, I'd live in my van on the main island, catering to tourists working as a naturalist tour guide on the weekdays and selling my art wares at the open-air markets on the weekends. Winters have been devoted to holing up in makeshift art studios, house-sitting island homes/properties on the smaller islands while the owners vacation in warmer climates. The past three winters, however I've been living in a small shed while building my forever home/studio on my own land! I have yet to have much opportunity for painting and drawing.
What are the challenges of living in the woods, and do you ever feel like you can't go on living like this?
It's getting challenging as I get older to keep up with the physical work involved, especially as I'm building my own place from scratch. Finding and nurturing community while researching and implementing the simple new/old sustainable nature-based ways of living is key.
When did you start creating art?
I've always drawn or recreated parts of the world around me as a way to understand it. I'm a visual learner and thinker.
What makes you decide that a particular material you collected would make good art?
The colour or texture of the first few pieces I find on a hike/walk, as well as what's available, determine my collecting for making nature medley.
Tell us about a day in your life as a naturalist through the different seasons of the year.
Spring/Summer/Fall: I work to make money for the entire year, tending and expanding my three-year-old half-acre veggie garden and orchard, working on my home/studio build as weather and schedule allow.
Winter: rest, make art, and prepare for the upcoming year.
What are some of the things you want to achieve in life? Some ultimate goals?
My life goal is to have my own cabin/art studio in a wooded clearing near the ocean, living a simple nature-based life and making art.
Are you working on any new art projects at the moment?
My home/studio build is my main art project at the moment, and will be for the next few years.
What would your advice be for young people in the cities who want to make a difference and do good for the environment?
The internet brings so many opportunities to learn in-depth about environments different from your current one. Be curious, and embrace the process of life-long learning. Reach out to people living the life you'd like, take classes or workshops, explore, read, study, begin where you are with what you have and keep going. Be prepared to alter course when presented with new information or an unexpected opportunity. Flexibility, resiliency and redundancy are vital keys to nature; nature is our home and our best teacher.