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  • Karen Hamilton-Viall

Haz John Art: Bringing legends to life

The stunning cover art for my novel, The Curious Life of Ada Baker was designed by the very talented Haz. Here she reveals to us what makes her tick:

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Haz John, a Welsh artist living in Somerset. I’ve been drawing my whole life and always found comfort and enjoyment in creative outlets. For the last decade especially I’ve relied on art as a way to express feelings and try to make sense of my own muddled thoughts. I studied fine art at Aberystwyth University but dropped out in my last year. While formal training can be immensely beneficial to some, I feel I made much more progress in my art after I left. When I’m not making art, I run a YouTube channel with my husband called The John-Taylors.

Your art is strongly influenced by myths & folklore. Why are myths such a big influence on you?

Growing up attending a Welsh school, we were lucky enough to have our folklore taught to us alongside our history. There are downsides to this, mind; more than once I’ve had to actually Google whether Owain Glyndŵr was real, so blurred are the lines between legend and history in my head! But it’s a wonderful thing to have the importance of folklore instilled in kids, it just adds a whole other layer to the history of a culture, and it’s how most of these stories survive generations, which is amazing.

Taking Y Mabinogion for example, the tales themselves are so interesting, and inspire creativity, but there’s also something magical about the way these myths survive. There’s an ancestral element to it that feels connected (you’re hearing the same stories as your ancestors! Madness!), but even when you look at the myths of other cultures, the process of preserving tales person-to-person, then later in books, is fascinating. It feels timeless and mystical.

What other influences are there on your art?

I’ve always struggled a lot with my mental health, which sucks in general, but the upside is it inspires a lot of art! Nonsensical, depressed scribbles can become beautiful pieces of art once the fog lifts, and I’m able to look at the difficult times with objectivity and even humour. Another huge influence of mine is nature. She’s magnificent. When all else fails, I can always take comfort in nature and that connection is usually apparent in my art.

What's your favourite medium to work in?

I use a mixture of watercolour, pencils and digital.

You have a very unique style and work in quite a restricted palette. How long did it take you to develop your style? Where did the influence for the colours come from?

Thank you! I spent a long time trying really hard to find a style, then eventually I gave up trying to force it and started making whatever I felt like making, and eventually my style developed itself. It’s the annoying answer but time and practice are really the things that help develop your style! As for the colours, it’s not even a deliberate choice I make, but I find whenever I try to change up the colour scheme, I always come back to the same earthy greens and dark blues! There’s just a mystical and natural feeling to them, and they pop well with dark orange, which is always a good bonus.

Do you see artwork as a form of storytelling in itself?

Yes, definitely! And I don’t only say that because I like stories but I’m crap with words! Images can do so much storytelling, and it’s not even necessarily the story you intend to tell; art is so objective, one piece could tell three different stories depending on who you ask.

Do you plan your pieces carefully or does inspiration sometimes strike fully-formed?

There is the occasional piece that springs to mind almost finished, but mostly things start with doodles/diary entries in my sketchbook. Sometimes an aimless scribble will inspire things later, other times I’ll have a vague notion of what I’d like to do and just doodle around the idea until it’s good enough to attempt on fancier paper.

Do you find repeated motifs come up in your work that have special meaning?

One thing that springs to mind is when I give humans physical attributes like roots or branches, or sometimes leafy skin. I’m also partial to making a person’s lungs visible and full of the surrounding environment. All not-so-subtle ways of emphasising that we’re part of nature’s cycle; we’re made from it and one day we’ll return to it. Cheerful, I know!

If you could have any artist, alive or dead appraise your art, who would it be?

I would absolutely buckle under the pressure if I had to deliberately choose someone specific to appraise it! The Welsh artist Shani Rhys James followed me back on Instagram a few months ago, and I was maniacally checking my profile to see if I’d posted some bad art recently, or said something stupid in a caption (an overwhelming probability), just on the off chance she actually looked at my profile!

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

If I was stuck in a lift, I’d quickly descend into chaotic panicked madness and it would be completely irrelevant who was in there with me. But for the sake of the question, probably Dave Grohl and all the members of Paramore!

You designed the beautiful book cover for my novel, The Curious Life of Ada Baker. Is this your first book cover? Would you like to do more?

Thank you. It is my first book cover, I’m honoured you trusted me with it! I’ve done a few album covers, which is cool as a music fan, but as an avid reader I’d definitely like to do more book covers in the future.

Have you ever exhibited your art in an exhibition? Do you have any exhibitions upcoming?

Yes, I’ve been in a few exhibitions in the past but have none planned at the moment. It’s one of the many things that Ms Rona (Coronavirus) made impossible or unappealing in recent years, but it’s on my list to start looking into the possibility soon.

What areas other than painting / illustration are you interested in and how do they feed in to your practice?

My day to day hobbies usually consist of knitting and reading, with some Sudoku puzzles sprinkled in because it’s good to walk on the wild side now and then. I’m also partial to music, like every other person in history, and if you look at any of my art pieces you can rest assured it was created to the sound of me hollering along like a banshee to a diverse selection of music. I also enjoy making comedy videos with my husband on YouTube, as The John-Taylors. It seems like pretty much all my hobbies revolve around creativity, I’m either using my own or consuming someone else’s. This probably feeds into my art through motivation and inspiration.

Where do you create your art? Do you have a studio?

I have an insanely messy spare room, which I optimistically refer to as an office! It serves full time as my studio, until we have family visiting, when it gains a blow up bed and becomes a very art-filled bedroom.

Do you have a strategy for overcoming artistic blocks?

If you’re struggling with a specific project, put it to the side and try working on a different project for a while. If you feel like you can’t be creative at all, indulge in an unrelated hobby for a couple of hours. Sometimes taking the pressure off, gets the creative cogs moving again. Other times it’s another one of those annoying things where nothing but time helps.

Where can fans buy your art?

My main shop is but sometimes I’ll post in my Instagram story about prints that won’t make it to the store!

You can find out more about Haz or buy her art here:

@hazjohnart on Instagram and TikTok

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