BY CHRIS PLATT

Washoe Valley artist Jill Mueller is one of the fortunate ones. She figured out how to take a fun hobby and turn it into a lifelong career that she loves. Known to the art world as Lady Jill, this impressionistic watercolorist is celebrating her 40th anniversary as a professional artist. She specializes in painting the Sierra Nevada Mountains and wilderness areas. Jill started drawing at age 5, and moved to watercolors after that.

“My mom was a watercolorist,” she says. “I greatly admired her work. She always encouraged me to paint.”

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Lady Jill’s schooling included junior colleges, a well-earned scholarship for Laguna Art School, and mentoring by professional impressionist artists David Millard and Ted Gorschner. But a solid background in art doesn’t guarantee a new artist a living. At one point, Jill found herself driving a bus for the Golden Gate Transit System in San Francisco.

“It was me and 300 men,” she laughs. “I was the first woman driver they’d hired since WWII.”

That career didn’t sit well with Jill’s free spirit. So, after 5 long years, Jill quit her steady job, built a wooden camper in the back of her truck that resembled a gypsy wagon, and hit the road with her horse in tow.

“I was determined to make a living off my art,” Jill says. “I spent the summer driving to places where I wanted to ride my horse. I’d pack my watercolors and art paper and ride into the wilderness. When I’d find a spot that inspired me, I’d stop and paint it.”

Later, she’d take those paintings to town and sell them for a couple of dollars in a flea market. It was a sparse existence, but she was carefree and living her dream of becoming a professional artist.

“It wasn’t always a smooth ride,” Lady Jill says. “On one trip, I was traveling at night and ran out of gas 30 miles from town. There was no one else on the roads, so I rode my horse bareback to town to get help.”

After all her wanderings, Jill decided her heart belonged to Nevada. She moved here in the early ‘80s and concentrated on her favorite place to paint: the Eastern Sierra’s. Looking back over a successful career, Lady Jill has won multiple awards, seen her artwork hung in museums across the west, and toured with her creations.

Today, at 72, the wooden gypsy camper has been replaced by a home in Washoe Valley. But the spontaneous trips into the wilderness continue. These days, the horse stays home, but her faithful Border Collie, Katie, hikes into the backcountry and sits by Lady Jill’s side while the feisty watercolorist paints her masterpieces.

LUCKY LADY

Lady Jill’s artwork can be seen at ladyjill.com, or Eagle Framing & Art Gallery at 1510 S. Wells Ave., Reno, NV 89502. See her website for upcoming exhibitions.

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