Archive for the ‘Abstract Art’ Category

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.


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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I was recently talking to another artist about the bright cheery colors of my paintings and I realized something that I have never said before. “My paintings are always positive.” I’m not sure that I had ever thought of it before. Once I said it though, it felt true. I tend to use very bright cheery colors.

Ethel Hills - Arrangement in Blue & Orange I - Mixed Media Collage on Paper - 6 3/4" x 6 3/4" - Framed to 12" x 12"

Ethel Hills – Arrangement in Blue & Orange I – Mixed Media Collage on Paper – 6 3/4″ x 6 3/4″ – Framed to 12″ x 12″ – SOLD

As I learn more about myself as an artist, I know that my art is instinctively about love and joy and wonder. For me, that all ties into the landscape. I love where I live and spent my life with my husband. I love the marsh and the birds that live there. I love walking the beach. I also love where I grew up, on land that had been in my family for generations. So I not only love these spaces, but I Iove and revere the family connections and love these spaces remind me of.

Although most of my paintings are abstract and don’t represent specific land, I think that they’re always about those things which are important to me – love, family, wonder, joy, peace and tranquility.


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The second exhibit I have coming up next month is at the Barn Gallery, home of Ogunquit Art Association. I will be one of the Showcase artists for our last exhibit of the season. The exhibit runs from September 12 – October 8, 2018. There is a gallery talk on Thursday, September 13 at 6pm and a reception on Saturday, September 15 from 5 to 7:30pm.
I’m very excited about this exhibit. It was a chance for me to take some time to explore and experiment with a few of the ideas swirling around in my head and some already on paper. I’ve been working on my Land Project paintings off and on for a number of years. This was a chance to do some concentrated work on my abstract take on the landscape.
Paintings of my family farm include bits and pieces of family history and make me think of a treasure map more than anything. Other paintings are a combination of aerial view and map view. These depict geographic variances as well as the “imaginary” boundaries of property lines and political divisions. Some are more sketch than anything else. Some are relatively realistic and others are just whimsical.
Although, it’s been fun to just play around with these ideas, it’s daunting to figure out where to go next. I want to explore all these different paths, but in what order and intensity?


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I have two exhibits coming up in September. Kind of odd, since I haven’t been doing much exhibiting the last couple of years. But that’s another story……


I’m really excited about both of these opportunities. The first one is at The Gallery at WREN (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network) in Bethlehem, NH. I’m exhibiting with two other NH artist friends, Rosemary Conroy and Ann Trainor Dominque. Although I’ve known both Rosemary and Ann a long time, this is our first group exhibit. “Color Love – 3 Artists, 3 Visions” will run from September 7th through October 1st. Our artists’ reception is Friday, September 7th from 5 to 7pm.

And let me tell you, it’s all about the color! There will be a roomful of vibrant color for you to check out. And in quite a range of sizes. I can pretty much guarantee that my pieces are the smallest, most of them ranging from 4 inches square to 8 inches square, the perfect size to tuck a bit of color and inspiration into a corner, a bookcase, or a nightstand. Ann and Rosemary will both have larger pieces, strong enough to hold the focus of your room. I think this is going to be an incredible exhibit with lots to offer both buyers and viewers.

Come on the evening of the 7th to meet the artists or come later in the show when it might be a bit quieter.


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I mentioned yesterday that I’d be working at Newburyport Art Association today to help with the jurying.

And – YES!! I did get in. And I think I was really lucky. There was a lot more work submitted for this show than there was room. So there were some pretty wonderful pieces that did not make the cut.

So thank you to the universe and all my readers who had their fingers crossed for me.

The reception is Saturday, February 13th from 7 to 9pm. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go as I have another commitment that evening. I’ll have to pop in another day to check it out once it’s all properly hung.

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