Diane Hill is a painter and chinoiserie expert who creates unique, hand-painted artworks and murals for interior surfaces. She works from her home studio in Hertfordshire but can often be found travelling the world for client projects. Here, she reveals what it’s like working in the interiors industry, and the inspiration and routines that underpin her creative process.
I studied textile design at university and then worked for a handmade wallpaper company for six years, so it was a natural progression to set up my own design business. The focal point of my work lies in making hand-painted wallpapers and artworks, painted onto either paper or paper-backed silk. I also hand-paint murals directly onto walls. At the start of a project, I usually make a digital mood board, or for a big project, I’ll print everything out and arrange it. Often a client brief is about evoking a feeling or atmosphere, which I achieve via the colours and painting style that I use.
I’m known for my “fresh” approach: I also try to be as fun as possible with colour, while keeping things sophisticated. I’m meticulous about the fine details, and the precision of each brush stroke. A lot of my work is quite playful, and I think a lot about how design can evoke happiness.
My clients vary from interior designers who need me to execute their vision to homeowners who want to collaborate on ideas. The toughest thing is getting an abstract brief, but most people are happy to trust my judgement if they’re not sure what they want. When I size a place up from an interior design perspective, I always look for lots of light and high-quality finishes, right down to the paintwork and edging/trims.
My most recent project was for a French chateau, as part of a TV show. The clients were extremely knowledgeable on all things nature, and wanted very specific species included on a cotton fabric painting. Most I’d never heard of, so I had to rely on Google to check the scales of certain plants and birds!
The space where I work is really key. I recently had the loft in my home converted into a studio with a bathroom, and I made sure it was painted all pure white. I work with colour so much, I didn’t want to cause any interruption in my creative process.
I have a custom-built desk that runs the entire length of the studio – it’s so important for an artist to have never-ending desk space! I was very specific about installing as many Velux windows as was possible so the space is flooded with light, and I feel connected with the outside world. I’m always inspired by nature, and I pay careful attention to how things grow in the wild. I’ll often take a photo of a nice tree shape and use that composition in my work.
I look to historical references to inform the colour and feel of work, too. I’m really drawn to ancient oriental art, particularly the artist Ohara Koson, and I recently used an Art Deco book of fabric designs as a guide on a project. I make these motifs feel modern and eye-catching for my audience by refining the style, using colour trends as inspiration. Luxury metallics are always a winner, and I’ve started to add some stars and celestial backgrounds to a few new works in the pipeline.
I often get into a state of flow when I’m hand-painting. For example, I’m currently working on a chinoiserie pattern painted onto silk. The colours are soft and calming, so I’ve been on a roll; I’ve shocked myself with how much I’ve achieved in such little time!
I listen to podcasts obsessively, mainly about other women in the creative industry discussing their own career paths. I work alone so their insights really resonate with me, and encourage me to move forward with bigger, better ideas.
I always try and go to the gym in the mornings to get my energy up. I recently got a puppy too, to keep me company – having him here has been great so far! I don’t really take breaks at all, but I do finish at 6pm and try not to work evenings or weekends unless it’s absolutely necessary. I feel it is really important for me to keep my working hours to the week days, to prioritise time with my family.
If you’re thinking of becoming a decorative artist, my advice would be to get as much work experience as possible. It’s important to go to university if you want to work in this field; you learn so much, and it’s difficult to get your foot in the door of a company unless you have a degree.
You need to be extremely hard-working, dedicated and passionate about what you do. Creative lifestyles can be quite consuming at times so if your heart is not truly in it, that will show. Visit as many museums, galleries and exhibitions as possible. It’s important to physically go to art libraries, rather just rely on the internet.
They say a great career is about who you know, not what you know. But I think this is solely down to you. You can force that element of it by making a huge effort to network, in the form of letters, emails, events etc. You’ll then find those “who you know” people and, trust me, they can be the key to your growth. I have found people to be so kind in life, and I always give back what I receive. Sharing information and helping each other grow is important for us all.
Images: Diane Hill