More than a week ago, I said a final farewell to my old studio. I’ve been in that studio for almost 9 years. Through good times and bad, building problems and family problems,  it’s basically been a good creative space. I’ve created lots of artwork here and am grateful for the space.


Empty again



Right now, I’m kind of between spaces. I’ve moved into and then out of Lane House Arts Center in Hampton, NH. It’s a lovely new group space with eight separate studios and a gallery and teaching area as well. COVID-19 kind of threw us. We were all just moving in and getting settled when our governor issued a “Stay at Home” order. Since then, I’ve moved my painting into my basement, but am looking forward to the day when I can move back into my new studio.


Why Everyday Grateful?

I’m basically an optimistic positive person. I still find that I need to count my blessings, especially when I’m confused, scared, lonely, or overwhelmed. I think it may just be basic self-care for me. It’s too easy to focus on what’s not right. Doing my little grace notes is a simple way for me to keep my focus on the positive in my life. It also keeps my focus on what I can do, not on where I feel powerless.

Plus, I really like this format. I like the visual. And since space is limited, I need to choose which things to write down. It gets me focused on specifics. It also helps me remember really fun little things that I could’ve easily forgotten about.

Especially on those days when it doesn’t seem like I did anything, it’s especially good to find the highlights or maybe just the one silly thing that lightened my day.

Maybe it’s an ego thing, but I hate to think that I’ve had a day with nothing in it. Also, if the search for something positive to say is really difficult, then maybe I have to be more proactive tomorrow.

It also reminds me that I need a little fun in my life. If I’m working very hard on something, that may not translate into warm fuzzies. I think I need more than accomplishments in my daily life. I need fun and love and family and nature. And sometimes just a nap in the fresh air or a chat with a real person.


Everyday Grateful

That’s my Instagram hashtag for my Grace Notes. It’s a pretty simple way to keep a gratitude journal/diary and play at the same time.

The tools are pretty simple. All you really need are some sort of paper and some sort of writing implement. And a straight edge is helpful. A really simple kit is a pack of 3 x 5 cards, a fine point marker and a ruler.

Basic supplies – 3 x 5 cards, a marker, and a straight edge.

I use the straight edge to draw a funky grid on the card. This gives me multiple places to write and draw. Then I take a couple of minutes to think about the important things in my day, particularly the good things, the things that make me grateful.

I use a house symbol to signify safety, shelter, and even family. That’s almost always a central part of my card. Sometimes I’ll include a reference to the day, may the sun or a rainbow. I also have areas where I can mention something special from the day.

I’m a birdwatcher, so it might be something like – 1st red-wing of the season. YAY!!!

Here’s a sample Grace Note. You can see more on my Instagram account – @ethelhills.

I’m extremely lucky. I have lots to be grateful for and it’s important to me to keep these in front of me. It helps me keep things in perspective.

Do you already keep a journal, a diary, a separate gratitude journal? Do you think that some sort of gratitude or “count your blessings” practice might be helpful? Maybe you already have a gratitude practice. I’m curious how others handle this. Please share in the comments below.

We’re now at day three of my experiment about whether knowing more about a piece of art is helpful or detrimental. Now I get to share all the stuff I was thinking about when I started this series of blog posts.

This painting is part of a series of abstract landscape paintings, lovingly called “The Land Project”. It is one of my favorite pieces in this series and I titled it accordingly. “Simple Gifts” is the title of a Shaker hymn that was written at the Alfred Shaker Village in the mid 1800s.

If you don’t know it, here’s an old Judy Collins recording of the first verse. I think the melody will be familiar. You may also know this music from Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.

Anyway, getting back to the point. Not only is this lovely music, with a powerful message, but it has personal meaning to me as well. For 25 years, I ran a rug hooking retreat at the Notre Dame Spiritual Center in Alfred, Maine. This is the same property that the Shakers occupied up until the early 1930s when the Brothers of Christian Education purchased the land and buildings. The land and the space feel sacred. There’s a peacefulness and quietness to the area. Although the painting isn’t directly about this particular piece of land, I hope it conveys some of the feelings embodied in the words of the hymn.

Here’s a copy of the lyrics. This was given to me several years ago by one of the brothers. He would sometimes sing this for us at dinner.

‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple

‘Tis the gift to be simpIe, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to be gentIe, ’tis the gift to be fair,
‘Tis the gift to wake and breathe the morning air;
And ev’ry day to walk in the path we choose,
‘Tis the gift that we pray we may ne’er come to lose.

‘Tis the gift to be loving, ‘ tis the gift best of all,
Like a quiet rain, it blesses where it falls;
And if we have the gift, we will truly believe
‘Tis better to give than it is to receive.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed;
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.


So here’s the question: Is this further information helpful or not? I often wonder how much to share about a piece of art, so I’m interested in your thoughts.


Ethel Hills – “Simple Gifts” – Mixed Media Collage – 22″ x 30″, Framed Size – 28″ X 36″

“Simple Gifts” is available for purchase through Paula Estey Gallery in Newburyport, Mass. Work is currently on display at Portside Waterfront Restaurant in Salisbury, Mass.




Additional note. The land in Alfred, Maine is now owned by YCSPI, York County Shelter Programs.


OK. Now we’re on day two of my experiment. Yesterday I posted just the image of one of my paintings. Today, I’m posting the image and the title. And tomorrow, I’ll post the image, the title, and the story.

I’m curious if the additional information is helpful in looking at the art. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Here’s the image and now you know the title is “Simple Gifts”.

I’ve often wondered about this. Many artists will say that “the work speaks for itself”, but I’m often intrigued by the stories behind the art.

Let’s try an experiment –

3 days, 3 posts – 1st day – just the image, 2nd day – the image and the title, 3rd day – the image, the title, and the story.

Here’s one of my paintings.

Anatomy of a collage….

Abstract landscape in Blue and orange
Ethel Hills – Bands of Color – Mixed Media Collage on Paper – 7″ x 5″

I posted this image earlier this week to give you an idea of what I’d be teaching at my upcoming workshop. Not all pieces will be this complicated or this colorful, but I wanted to give you at least a bit of an idea.

I started this piece earlier this month with just a hint of an idea. The idea came from an old figure painting that I wanted to reuse.

I loved the blues and oranges in the original, so I tore off a fairly quiet piece for the background/sky and a much busier colorful piece as the “major player” in the painting.

One thing about this piece that makes it a bit different is the use of thinner, lighter weight papers. In the past, I’ve primarily used watercolor paper for the collage elements. Unfortunately, gluing heavy papers like this is time consuming.

For my workshop, I knew that I was going to need to use some lighter weight papers that we could glue and then keep going. For this reason, I have all kinds of alternative papers in my studio. I’ve taken to painting on sketchbook paper, oriental papers, drawing papers, etc.

Turns out that using the lighter papers really helped me out on this one.

I usually try to have a pretty good idea of where I’m going before I start gluing. It doesn’t always work, but it makes it easier if I’m not making major design changes in the middle of the gluing process.

At one point, I decided that I really needed to start on this painting, so I went ahead and glued the first couple of pieces. I still wasn’t sure of the rest, but I knew that the blue that became the horizon line was right – the right color and value, and also the right location. The next piece was the dark red just below it. That was a much larger piece of paper. It’s the dark red just below the horizon line, but also the darker blue at the bottom of the painting.

Now, I just needed to figure out the placement of the rest of the elements. I was pretty sure there would be quieter blue and orange bands to contrast the more complicated blue and orange piece from the figure painting. I still needed to sort out the order, the size, etc. A lot of it is a question of relationship – how this piece relates to that piece – color, value, size, space between elements, etc.

After gluing down one of these pieces, I realized that the spacing just didn’t “feel right”, so I adjusted it by gluing on an extra piece. This was much easier because these collage pieces were watercolor painted on a lightweight drawing paper. It was a simple fix and basically invisible to the viewer.

I finally decided on the final touch. I added two small verticals in the orange band. They’re hardly noticeable because I kept the values very close, but the painting feels so much better with them than without them.

When I finally finished it, I was so excited. The painting has depth that I just wasn’t seeing until it was complete. The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.

If you’d like to see the original, the painting is up at the Barn Gallery in Ogunquit, Maine until we close on Columbus Day or until it sells, whichever comes first.

Workshops – what fun!

Last month I taught a workshop at The Barn Gallery in Ogunquit, Maine. I was teaching a technique that I use when creating my colorful abstract landscape collages.

I don’t think of myself as a teacher, so this felt like a stretch to me. Although I was very nervous about it, I knew the process and I knew the basic things I wanted to share. I had to make a few minor adjustments to materials to make it work in the time allotted, but most everything else stayed the same.

What I didn’t realize was how much fun I’d have. I was worried about whether I’d be able to explain things well enough, whether everyone would “get it”, and also whether everyone would have fun.

I had the ideal class. It was a great mix of artists and styles. And it was amazing to see what these artists created with a brand new technique and a relatively short amount of time. What a rush!

I pull my paintings together a bit at a time over the course of several days, but we only had one day. And these artists made the most amazing paintings. I suspect that a good chunk of them are already framed and on the wall by now.

The great thing about this is that I got to share something that brings me great joy. To me this is a fun process and I wanted to share it with others.

So, I’m going to do it again. Several friends and acquaintances couldn’t make it to that one, so I’m doing another one next month.

Here’s an image of one of my most recent pieces –

Abstract landscape in Blue and orange
Ethel Hills – Bands of Color – Mixed Media Collage on Paper – 7″ x 5″

Mockingbird Joy

Ethel Hills - "Summer Day Rhapsody" - Watercolor - approx 7" x 7"
Ethel Hills – “Summer Day Rhapsody” – Watercolor – approx 7″ x 7″ – Framed size 12″ x 12″

My father used to say that mockingbirds were one of the birds that just sang for the pure joy of it. They sing anytime of the year, not just when they’re courting or raising a family. Not sure if this is true, but mockingbirds are amazing. If you’ve ever lived really near a mockingbird, you’ll also know that they don’t keep traditional hours. We used to live quite close to a family of mockingbirds and they were always up and singing in the wee wee small hours of the morning.

There’s often been one that will sit on one of the telephone poles down near the ocean. It is such a joy to go for a morning walk and hear him singing his little heart out. And sometimes there’s an unexpected twist to the song. They’re not called mockingbirds for nothing.

Whether it’s just a beautiful song or an imitation of a tree frog, it’s always pure joy for me to hear him.


Ethel Hills - Ocean & Sky #3 - Mixed Media Collage on Panel - 12" x 12"

Ethel Hills – Ocean & Sky #3 – Mixed Media Collage on Panel – 12″ x 12″

My mission is to help others appreciate, acknowledge and embrace the love and joy and wonder in their lives in the moment.

This morning, I did a quick walk down to the beach to get a bit of exercise, some fresh air and a good start to the day. The first person I spoke to was a young gentleman new to the area. I’m not sure if he’d never seen the ocean before or if he’d just never seen this one. He was in awe and had a smile that went from here to there and back again.

I also saw a young couple further down the beach. They were talking and then embracing.

I was only on the beach for a few minutes, but that was a lovely start to my day. It reminded me of similar joyful moments in my own life.

It also made me wonder if my mission is needed. These people certainly didn’t seem to need help with this.