JANESVILLE—Hallie Kohn didn’t always see herself as an artist.
Despite growing up in a tight circle clamoring with creatives, she opted for a career in elementary education. Her chosen path led to a bachelors degree from UW-Whitewater, a masters degree from National Louis University in Chicago and a teaching job at Jackson Elementary on Janesville’s south side.
But after reaching her professional goals, Kohn realized the memories of the dynamic colors and deep textures that decorated her mind as a child had never truly dissipated.
“We had this family friend who was an oil painter. I also have an aunt who was an artist, and my grandmother was actually a watercolor painter,” she said. “I was always inspired by the people who were around me at a young age.”
When one of life’s setbacks struck in 2005, Kohn sought the comfort of art as a necessary diversion—and Hallie Kohn Art was born.
“I was looking for an outlet, a way for self growth,” said Kohn, who will display her oil paintings Aug. 1 at the 63rd Tallman Arts Festival on the Rock County Historical Society campus. “I told my now-husband (Chris) I had always wanted to be a painter like my family friend (Madeline Saxer), and he said, ‘Let’s go get some supplies.’”
A self-described “homebody,” Kohn transitioned from teacher to full-time, at-home artist. She works exclusively in oil paints on hardboard panels, creating every day with few breaks.
“I had two kids (Oliver, 14, and Marlon, 11), and while I was pregnant and nursing, I didn’t work with oils because they’re toxic,” she said. “I turned to watercolors, but they weren’t bright, thick or rich enough. So I was off and on for a bit, but for the past 10 years, I’ve been pretty consistent.”
On average, Kohn’s pieces tend to measure 6 inches by 6 inches. She tends to complete a piece each day, and she estimates she has created about 1,400 works in the past 16 years.
A conscious observer of the world around her, Kohn concentrates mostly on still-life images.
“I love to cook, so to be honest, most of my inspiration comes from fruits, vegetables and things found in the garden,” she said. “I also love birds, flowers ... anything in nature. I don’t think you could believe how excited I get watching the seasons.
“I sort of feel like a farmer. I get so excited if the peaches are ripe or the peonies are in season.”
Admitting she doesn’t part with everything she creates, Kohn said the majority of her work tends to find its way to buyers’ homes. Despite her personal investment in each piece, Kohn said she feels no separation anxiety.
“It feels good because I’m creating for me, and if someone else wants to buy a painting after I do it, I can let most of that go,” she said. “There’s no attachment. For me, it’s more about the process. (Selling art) allows me to feed my own passions, buy supplies and travel.”
A self-taught artist, Kohn said she is amazed by how her customer base continues to grow. Because she prices her work to appeal to the southern Wisconsin market, buyers in larger cities also have taken notice.
“I definitely have repeat collectors,” Kohn said. “But I price for my area, so I sell a lot to people in metropolitan areas because they think (her work) is super affordable.”
The Janesville native and Craig High graduate also is humbled by the interest her work has gained worldwide.
“I’ve sold pieces internationally, and I think that’s just crazy,” she said. “I’m just a small-town person from Janesville, and to sell a painting to someone in Sweden or Australia or Germany really just feels amazing.
“It’s like leaving your own little touch on the world.”