Basically a self-taught artist von Haunalter drew and painted the animals and plants on the Connecticut farm where she grew up. After earning a BA in English from Tufts University, she turned to painting in her back yard in Philadelphia while the oldest of her five children napped. Her first formal art instruction was at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art, where she studied printmaking.
Moving to California, she was awestruck by the beauty of the countryside and the coast. She took watercolor classes and printmaking at the Pacific Art League and through a Palo Alto Adult Education class which became what is now the Peninsula Outdoor Painters. She also studied painting, drawing and computer graphics at Foothill College.