Jillian Lukiwski is a Canadian-born metalsmith, writer and photographer living between Idaho and Washington. She grew up in the outdoors, quite literally, and often adventures solo with her dogs, sometimes hunting for wild game. She documents her personal experiences on her blog The Noisy Plume.
Whether you’re reading this interview from your office cubicle or a local coffee shop, Jillian’s inspiring work will transport you to a place of serenity and awaken the adventurous spirit within.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m Jillian! I’m a Canadian living in the USA. My husband is originally from California. We met in New Zealand. We now split our lives between the states of Idaho and Washington. I’m a metalsmith, a writer and a freelance photographer representing the interior West of the USA and Canada with my work.
Was there a defining moment when you fell in love with the outdoors?
I grew up in the outdoors and I mean that very literally. I don’t mean my family went camping a lot (though, we did go camping a lot). My dad was a park warden in Canada’s National Parks while I was growing up and we lived wherever he was stationed for work in parks across BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. There’s no defining moment for me in the span of my life when I fell deeply in love with the forests, rivers, lakes, trees and sky. Those things have always been the center of my life and the details that sustain me. There’s never been another way for me.
What motivates you to document your experience in nature?
I’ve been using a camera since grade 8. I took 8 semesters worth of dark room theory and graphic arts in high school. I’ve always liked cameras and making photos. I’m trying to think of when I started with self-portraiture and I can remember taking timer shots of myself in different places back when I was using a film camera in my late teens and early twenties.
I take self-portraits and general photos while I am out exploring because I view photo making the same way I view writing. I want to document private moments, and sometimes I want to share the beauty of those private moments with the world.
I am a writer, photographer and metalsmith, but I feel my greater work in life is to uplift, encourage and inspire others; to pull them out of the darkness and into the light; to help them dream and live their dreams; to transport weary hearts into places of peace and fullness.
I’m not always sure I’m successful at this greater work, but I get notes from friends, acquaintances and strangers telling me how much certain images or essays meant to them, how specific photos really pulled them up by their bootstraps when they needed it most…so I know that at times, the greater work I am doing is affecting others which makes the whole of my work all the more meaningful for me and vital to me. I don’t want to let anyone down! So I keep shooting. I keep trying to be there for others by exploring and sharing the beautiful rawness of life as best as I can. Using a camera is simply one way to share how I feel and connect with others which is one of the most important components of the human experience, in my opinion.
When did you first discover your talent for jewelry making? What role does nature play in your designs?
I’ve always made jewelry. I started beading when I was very little, stayed up late most nights in high school making earrings and necklaces; quite often, I stayed home on weekends to bead and read books in my room. My husband and I lived in Arizona for four years while he was a fish biologist for the federal government and I took a very basic introduction to metalsmithing class at a local college — the facilities were quite old-school in terms of the tools employed so I was taught very simple skills — how to saw, how to solder and how to bezel set stones.
Anyone can build a piece of jewelry, all it requires is some cutting and soldering. Not everyone is good at designing. I turned out to be good at both so I continued on with the work and then like most crafts people or artists would tell you, the hobby builds and builds and then becomes a tiny business and then grows from there as your skills develop and your passion for the work grows and the demand for your work snowballs. At least, that’s how most people approach art or craft or small business. You let it grow itself and you let the work develop and you let the business pay for itself.
I love working with metal. I always will.
Nature really informs my work in a very direct way. I make jewelry featuring animals, plants, textures and forms you can find in the interior West. Some folks buy my work because it seems totemic to them. But I don’t feel I’m building totems while I work, I’m not necessarily making talismans for people who need elk power or bear power or folks who need to wear a tree on their finger because they feel utterly disconnected from nature by living in a big city. That’s not the intention behind my work. I make what I make because I live in the interior West and this space has carved my spirit and my life. This is the land I know by heart. These are the mountains I hike and run and ski. These are the trees I know by name. These are the wild animals I watch and cherish and hunt and fish and witness and take into my own life cycle on a daily basis.
I live in the wild and spacious interior West, and my relationship to that wildness has no transition zone, no beginning or end, it simply is what it is — and so the work is, too.
I don’t know many women who can hunt for their dinner. How did you learn to hunt and fish?
I grew up fishing the lakes of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, at home in Canada. My dad taught me to use a spinning reel. We did a lot of canoe tripping up North and it’s standard to always have a rod on hand while paddling, but then to also shore fish in the evenings after making camp. I grew up catching pike, walleye and perch. They’re great fish! Very spunky.
My husband taught me to fly fish while we were living in Alaska, when we were first married. I caught a lot of rainbow trout and grayling up in Alaska. It’s beautiful fishing up there. The rivers are spacious and wild and the fish aren’t used to being caught or fished for — they get smart about flys, you know? Fish that get fished a lot, fish with a lot of pressure on them start to be very picky about what flys they’ll slurp up. The wilder the river or lake, the less it is fished, the better the fishing! Alaska was a wonderful place to begin to learn to fly fish.
I didn’t hunt when I was young though my dad was a hunter and we ate a shocking amount of moose when I was growing up. My husband grew up in the Sierras of California and is a proper mountain man. He’s always been passionate about quail hunting and we keep German Shorthaired pointers so I started going out and hiking with him while he was bird hunting in Arizona. It was a nice way to explore the country and I loved watching our dogs work. Eventually I wanted to carry my own shotgun. Eventually I started shooting. Eventually I started shooting successfully. The rest is history. Now I love bird hunting so much, not to mention that I feel I owe it to my dogs to take them out and work them, that I go out on my own quite regularly. Our dogs are so talented and passionate, it’s important to let them work and encourage them in their work. I always say that owning a bird dog and not hunting it is like knowing a concert pianist and never allowing them access to a piano — wasted talent!
I big game hunt now, as well. I started big game hunting the same way I started bird hunting. I went out with my husband a few times and simply hiked along and glassed for animals with him. I watched him field dress harvested animals. I cooked and ate the meat. Eventually I wanted to put in for my own tags and get my own elk or antelope. Hunting is really difficult, hard work. It’s physically strenuous — we hunt high elevation in rugged backcountry. When we get an elk or an antelope, all that weight of harvested meat needs to be hiked out over steep terrain to a trailhead, sometimes in snow and very cold weather, sometimes five or eight miles, in grizzly country. That’s a lot of hard, honest work for food.
We hunt to know the land here better, to explore the mountains and the plains, to get our own clean, organic meat in an ethical way, and because hunting wild animals that are faster than us and equipped with better hearing, sight and scenting abilities heightens our OWN senses and ignites those primal instincts that are another thing I feel are vital to the human experience.
When I hunt, I remember what it is to be wild. Everything else falls away. I’m fleet. I’m strong. I’m bold when I need to be and cautious when a moment requires it. It’s the best of everything that is at the very core of being an animal and being a human.
What do you love most about traveling solo?
I get to go and do exactly what I want! It’s the epitome of selfishness. I don’t need a group consensus. I exist purely for myself, eat for my self, fulfill my own desires, lallygag as long as I want to, lay down in tall grass and daydream for as long as I want. I get lonesome, at times, but I’m usually really happy to be alone. When I want to be with others, I have an excellent pool of friends to draw on.
Do you have any advice for women wanting to adventure solo outdoors?
Sure! Don’t be afraid but don’t be stupid. There’s a wonderful, tiny quote from Little House On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder that goes like this,
The wilderness needs your whole attention.
Leave your phone in your truck. Carry a knife (you don’t realize how handy one is until you always carry one with you — make sure it has a locking blade). Take a dog, if you can, everywhere you go. Wear good shoes. Walk out. Leave the trail and bushwhack for a while. Be aware of your surroundings. Be aware of the forest sounds. Use your nose, your ears and your eyes. Notice where the sun is in the sky. Give the outdoors your entire attention. And lastly, always tell someone where you are going and when you should be back — even the best woodsmen and woodswomen have bad luck from time to time and need rescue.
What are three things you can’t live without in the wilderness?
My knife, a lighter or matches, and a piece of down clothing (vest or jacket).
The perfect s’more:
I don’t eat s’mores! I like a crisp, juicy apple when I’m fireside and a cup of tea.
Where to next?
We plan to summit Mount Borah this week which is Idaho’s highest peak and quite local to us, to boot. Once we come down, I have an antelope buck tag to fill in the Lemhi Valley beneath Mount Borah. Exploring that area will be epic. It is rugged, remote, and fully wild — just a spectacular Idaho valley
Photos © 2014 Jillian Lukiwski