The Hanks family moved west to Wheeling in 1817. Jarvis Hanks decided a year later to set out on his own and with a partner opened a cabinet-making business in Gallipolis, Ohio. This did not last and he began traveling and painting as an itinerant throughout Virginia and Ohio. He moved to Cleveland in 1825 and in addition to continuing his own painting, gave painting lessons to such students as James Henry Beard, another well-known Ohio painter.
Staying in Cleveland for only a short time, Hanks moved to New York in 1827. While there he painted, learned the art of cutting silhoutte portraits, and worked for a gallery. He also began exhibiting his work at the National Academy of Design and other colleges and galleries in the area. Active in political and Masonic issues, Hanks briefly published two small newspapers while living in the east. While the publications did not last, Hanks remained outspoken in political affairs throughout his career.
He moved back to Cleveland in 1835 and opened a painting studio. Hanks advertised his painting business extensively throughout Ohio and surrounding states and was often traveling for painting commissions between the late 1830s and 1840s. He supplemented his painting income by teaching music lessons and playing the violin in the Mozart Society. In 1853, at the age of fifty-four, Hanks died after a long battle with tuberculosis.