Archive for the ‘Artist’s Life’ Category

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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One of the local art associations that I belong to is Newburyport Art Association. We’re in the middle of the Winter Members Juried Shows. Part I, which included sculpture, watercolor, digital art, drawing, oil and printmaking, just finished up. Part II, which includes acrylic, fine crafts, mixed media, pastel, and photography, will be open to the public on Friday, February 12th.

I’m hoping that you will see two of my social media pieces in the exhibit. For this exhibit, the work is actually brought to the gallery and the juror will choose which pieces to include by looking at the actual artwork. Then the pieces not selected will be stored for a few days until the artists can pick them up.

Although this can be a cumbersome process, there are some distinct advantages over selecting from digital images. First of all, the juror sees the real work, in particular the real colors and textures, and can even compare pieces side by side. Secondly, it is easier to judge scale when you’re seeing the real thing. A third minor issue is the framing. And good or bad framing can really change the overall look of the artwork.

Tomorrow is jury day and I get to help. YAY!! One advantage of working on jury day is that you can see what is selected and what is declined. (Because my job is to store the declined pieces.) I get to see at least some of the pieces that don’t make it, but rarely know why they were declined. It’s still fun. And it’s great exercise. The storage area is on the second floor, so it’s a lot of up and down stairs.

It also means that I can pick up my pieces tomorrow if they don’t make it. Hopefully, they will get in. Keep your fingers crossed!

Here are the two pieces I submitted –

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OK. This is really embarrassing. It has once again been a long time of silence on my blog. I’m not sure that I can explain why I go through these phases where I want to share everything I create and other times when I’m not nearly as comfortable sharing. I do find it harder to share when the work isn’t going smoothly or when I’m in a transition period.

I have been working on more of the social media series, but felt like this series is ending, at least temporarily. The pieces were interesting, but not nearly as fun as I thought they’d be. I’ve been feeling that it was time to back off for a while now, but I still had several in process. I hesitated to abandon work that is already started, but it just didn’t feel right. For the time being, I’m abandoning the series and the few pieces that remain incomplete. I’ll go back to finish them up when I feel like it’s time. Trying to force these pieces to be done just hasn’t worked.

So for my next experiment, I’m back in play, search, and experiment mode. My plan, such as it is, is to take the next few weeks, maybe a month, and just play around the studio without expectations – without worrying about consistency, or completion, or product, or even permanency.

In some sense, it’s very difficult to totally let go of results. In another sense, it’s very freeing. It will be interesting to see how this experiment goes.

Yesterday, I did some small sketches, just to get back to playing with paint & line.

Today, I just kind of noodled around, prepped some panels, experimented with some ideas, and painted some scraps of paper to use at a later time. Again, there is nothing profound or even particularly interesting about any of this, but it does seem to be part of my process. I’ll keep on painting and playing until I figure out where I’m headed next.

Here are some shots from my studio:

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Choosing  a title for a painting is always an interesting proposition. In general, I either title the pieces individually or I use a series title and a number. For the large number of small pieces that I make, the series and number approach works well. For larger work, I prefer more individual titles.

Now here is my dilemma. This work is part of a series, but it also sort of has its own title.

The initial title for the series was the Facebook Series. I figured that might get me in trouble, so I’ve titled it the Social Media Series.

This painting is part of a series, so it could be Social Media Series #1, which is kind of how I’m thinking of it. BUT one of the ideas behind this series was to use text as a graphic and a titling element. Most of the text will be covered up or drawn through – obliterated in some fashion. There will however be some text that’s still readable. This could be the title as well.

OK. So should this be “Social Media Series #1” or “”food to last the trip” or maybe “Social Media #1 – food to last the trip”? In some ways, calling it “food to last the trip” is a bit confusing. On the other hand, one of the ideas behind using the text is to put in glimpses of the conversations we have in Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

Any ideas?

Ethel Hills - Mixed Media Collage - Black & White on white background with bits of gold & red

Ethel Hills – Social Media Series #1 – Mixed Media Collage on Paper – 7 1/2″ x 5 1/2




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Now I want to speak about this new series that I’m working on. I’m still in the early stages, so it might end up being a lot of paintings or it might be just a few. I wish I knew at the beginning which ideas will bear the most fruit, but alas I do not have that skill.

First off, I’m calling this my Social Media Series.

Here are some of the parameters. These may change over time.

  • Collage
  • Some type of collage element that relates to people. The initial pieces use torn up phone book pages for this element
  • Strong black & white element
  • Text is used as a graphic element
  • Text is also used as a titling element. Seemingly random bits of text will be visible in the completed piece and will help to title the piece and perhaps give it additional meaning

Where did the ideas come from?

Previous work – I’ve been doing some work that involves using newspaper as a collage element. I recently posted a piece that’s been hanging around my studio for a couple of months. I posted it on Facebook in two different orientations and asked the questions – Is it done? Which orientation do you like?

The second question sparked a flurry of discussion over whether the text in the collage element should be readable or not. So the idea of having readable, identifiable text in a piece came from this discussion. In the past, I’ve usually down played the text – sometimes putting lines through it or flipping it.

What’s going on in my head – This may be a bit harder to explain. I’m just starting to really use Facebook, both for my art and to connect with friends and family. The whole social media thing is really interesting, but still confusing to me. In some ways, it’s just great to be able to easily connect with others. On the other hand, it sometimes feels artificial.

This is a different world for me. There are some very short exchanges that are heart-felt. I’ve gotten great advice from friends over problems or questions. I’m “Friends” with people I’ve never met, but I feel like I know them, at least a little bit. It’s confusing.

What’s going on around me – There are several things here which tied into this. I already mentioned Facebook and social media.

I’ve just read Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work. This book includes some of his Newspaper Blackout pieces, which just fascinate me. I keep wondering how he does them. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing that they’re the result of a different type of seeing than I have. Sort of like my father could just glance at the ground and find the four-leaf clover.

I’ve been making collage pieces from newspaper with lines drawn over and through the words to render at least most of them unreadable. Is that a coincidence?

Resources – I don’t think this is as much of an issue on this series, because I don’t feel like there’s a limitation that’s imposed by my materials or anything like that. However, I did start out with a stash of collage pieces that were already prepared and that worked well with the initial painting. They were newspaper pieces with most of the words obliterated with black lines and squiggles.

Now I wonder if I’ve shed any light on the creative process or if I’ve just muddied the water. I guess one of the things that I need to remember is that creativity does not fit into neat little boxes or nice easy steps. It’s exciting, messy, and confusing.

Here are the next two pieces in the series. I’m still considering these pieces as works-in-progress. They may look very different in a few days.

Ethel Hills - In Process Collage

Ethel Hills – In Process Paintings – Collage – Social Media Series #2

Ethel Hills - In Process Collage

Ethel Hills – In Process Paintings – Collage – Social Media Series #3

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I’m starting a new series and am finding the circumstances and ideas swirling around are really interesting. I want to share some of that with you. I want to put this in some sort of framework to make it easier to understand.

Let’s start with some generalities. I’ve identified 4 things that factor in to what I’m working on and how I tackle it. I’m not sure if this list is complete though.

  • Previous work – Almost always there’s some connection to earlier work. It may be really obvious if it’s just the next piece in the series. It might be more subtle if it’s just a color combination from an earlier work or even a discarded idea from a failed painting.
  • What’s going on in my head – Well that makes sense doesn’t it? Whatever I’m thinking about is going to factor into my current creations. This can be really interesting, because it’s often not visually connected. For example, when I was in the
    Hills Farm - Applehouse 11" X 15" Watercolor

    Hills Farm – Applehouse 11″ X 15″ Watercolor

    process of settling my mother’s estate, I started a series of farm paintings which combined family history with physical geography. My head was swirling the difficulties of clearing out the house and particularly the barn. The barn took on epic proportions in the earliest of these paintings.

  • What’s going on around me – This is often connected to what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been discussing with friends, what I’ve been looking at. For example, when I first started doing the small collages on panels, I had seen a fabulous exhibit of collage at the Portland Museum of Art. Although I took copious notes, I think the new ideas simply came from seeing LOTS of possibilities and different approaches to collage.
  • What I have available for resources – Sometimes what I work on and how I work on it is connected to what I have for materials & resources. For example, I first began doing landscape collages during a time in my life when I only had short periods of time for art. I couldn’t do big wet & juicy watercolors when I had only 15 or 20 minutes to spend in the studio. My art practice reflected these limitations.

This is just a general introduction to where my ideas come from. In the next post, I’ll discuss these factors in relation to my new series.


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I posted an in process painting on my Facebook Page and asked for feedback on two things – Is it done? And which orientation do you prefer?
What I hadn’t really considered was that one of the collage elements was a piece of newspaper with a few words readable. I thought of it as mostly a piece of blue with a little texture. That’s not how most people saw it. For a lot of people the decision about the orientation of the piece was about making the words readable, something that I often try to avoid. Interesting, isn’t it?
I’m working on another piece which is primarily text, but almost all of it is covered up in one way or another. It’s

Ethel Hills - in process collage in black, white, orange & red on white paper

Ethel Hills – In Process Paintings – Collage – New Series

almost done. After looking at the scan, I can see a change or two that I’d like to make. I don’t think the fact that the piece isn’t done will detract particularly from the conversation.
The Facebook discussion has me thinking more about whether I want to let text be more than just a graphic element in my paintings. This is a change for me. In the past, I’ve often worried that the text would be too legible. I didn’t want to add that sort of almost random content into how the painting will read. Now I’m thinking about embracing it.
I did make a concession to this by tentatively titling the blue and orange piece as “Visit” based on the newspaper text.
The new piece might carry the title – “food to last the trip” or even “To Last the Trip” based on the one line of text that hasn’t been covered up. I’m not sure, but I think I might be okay with letting the random bits of text add to the content of the painting. I’m contemplating a new series based on this idea. I’ll share more in the next week or so as I see if it will actually work.

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