Jen Hill has been creating art her whole life.
She recalls turning disciplinary timeouts into outlets for her creativity when she was 3 years old.
“My mom would tell me to do something constructive during my timeout,” said Hill, who grew up in Kernersville, “and I would make a colorful sorry note out of construction paper.”
She graduated from East Carolina University in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in general industrial art.
But it was not a straight trajectory to her current art-filled life: She spent the first two years out of college doing marketing and sales for a pharmaceutical company in Raleigh.
She used her 2010 layoff as the push she needed to get back into art.
“Instead of being upset, I was relieved,” says Hill, 31. “I realized it was time to do something with my art.”
Hill moved to Charlotte in fall 2011 and now lives in NoDa. She took a job tending bar for Leroy Fox restaurant, where she still works.
When the chalkboard over the bar needed decorating, Hill volunteered, and the restaurant realized they had employed a very artistic bartender.
That first chalkboard design led to others, and Hill now does signs and chalkboard art for 30 local restaurants.
“It really caught on,” said Hill, who signs all her artwork with her Instagram handle so admirers can track her down.
Before long it wasn’t just restaurants wanting to commission her chalk art.
“It is popular at weddings,” Hill said. “I decorate the frame for group photos, and I can customize it.”
“Chalk is a really easy medium to work in,” Hill said. “It blends nicely. And it is very forgiving. If I mess up, I can just erase my mistake and fix it.”
Hill said she is somewhat of a perfectionist, and sometimes restaurant patrons watching her work marvel at how many times she erases and starts over.
The fact that her art isn’t permanent is a double-edged sword. Hill changes her chalk designs every few months.
“It is kind of heartbreaking, to put hours and hours into it and then have to come erase it,” she said.
When a restaurant or other client approaches her, she first tries to get a sense of what they want. Some are very specific; others leave it up to her. Either way, she shows them a mockup beforehand, then gets to work.
An added perk for Hill is the connections she makes at the restaurants that hire her. She has done chalkboards for, among others, Leroy Fox in Cotswold, Cowbell uptown, Bistro La Bon in Plaza Midwood, Highway 55 in Fort Mill and Local Leaf in the 7th Street Market.
Hill still tends bar but says she now is doing art about 60 percent of the time.
“My dream is to have my own brand, from leggings to stationery, signs to pet portraits,” she said.
She also wants to get involved in art programs for children. She said she wants to encourage young artists to pursue their passion and to help them realize, “You can make a living from art. It doesn’t just have to be a hobby.”
“As long as I’m making art every day, I’m happy,” said Hill. “I’m doing what I was put on this earth to do.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.