Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

The next phase started in late July. I started a slightly different series. These were done on a slightly different playing card, one with 2 opposing corners cut off. When I went to buy more cards, I found these. They seemed like the same size, so I just went ahead. The different shape made me think a bit differently about these. I drew a fairly simple grid that was “off”, just a little bit funky. It’s a format that I’ve experimented with in the past.
This format seemed right for words. The off kilter grid left an uneven border. I filled some of the borders with words. Words of prayer, words of hope, words of love. Some days these were prayers for healing and patience. Other times, it might be a thank you for a particularly lovely day, but more often a general thank you for the blessings we often take for granted – Health, Love, Family, Home.


GraceNotesSample1- Large

They have evolved to be part daily prayer and part gratitude journal.

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By June, I had established a routine. I was doing at least one sketch in my sketchbook and one on my origami covered playing cards. And it occurred to me that it might be good to share these with the world. There were a couple of reasons to do this. First of all, art doesn’t do much if it’s stuck in a drawer and no one sees it. The other reason to share it was to see what others thought.

I also had to get over the equally obvious reasons not to share. First, this work is very different than what I had been working on. Second, I’m just starting, so nothing is polished. Third, it was hard for me to decide how much to share.

The most immediate way seemed to be Instagram. I could take a photo with my phone and then immediately post it to Instagram. It was simple and quick. That meant it was simple to add this additional step to my art making routine. To keep things simple, I haven’t done much editing. I’ve posted daily even when I wasn’t overjoyed with my results. You can catch my feed @ethelhills.

This has another advantage. I quickly added a brief review of my feed when I was done posting my pieces. That’s given me the opportunity to see what other artists and friends have been up to.


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Throughout all of this, I’ve been trying to find a daily art practice that would sustain me during a difficult time in my life.

I figured that it had to be small and portable. After doing some daily sketching and thinking, I came up with an interesting idea. Why not use an unusual surface and size? What about using playing cards? They’re easily available, relatively consistent in terms of size, tiny enough to carry easily and just stiff enough for a very small piece of art.

After several false starts, I came up with the idea of gluing colorful Origami paper over the playing cards. That gave me the color I crave while maintaining the simplicity of the earlier black and white drawings.

Almost 10 years ago, I started doing small landscape collages under similar circumstances. I needed something small that I could work on in small chunks of time.  Sometimes, your art has to fit the time and space available. That’s often when something really interesting happens.


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Back in April I started a very teeny tiny art practice. The intent was something small, doable, and daily. Other than that, I didn’t really have a lot of constraints.
I started with just a page in a small sketchbook. It started out as just that, one page. It didn’t even have to be a piece of art, it could be notes, or questions, or ideas for future projects. Just something about art put down on paper.
I started out with a small 4 x 6 sketchbook, just because it was convenient. And I fell in love with these small sketches and explorations, always working in pencil, which is not my normal media. I think the switch in medium and the use of the sketchbook helped me avoid the trap of immediately worrying about a finished product. These felt like thoughts and ideas, not finished works of art.

But it was a beginning. I had the beginnings of my daily art practice. It was very teeny tiny, but it was a start.


Ethel Hills – Sketchbook Spread



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Life is uncertain. This fact is hammered home all the time. You lose a friend quite suddenly, you experience a natural disaster, a crazy driver misses the bend in the road and drives into your house, you trip doing something you’ve done a hundred times and end up in the Emergency Room with multiple fractures and a whole new set of limitations. Life can change on a dime in a million different ways.

When life gets difficult, my way of dealing with this is to take it one day at a time. (A bit of a cliché, but it works.)

• Take it one day at a time, or one hour, or one minute.
• Stay positive.
• Count my blessings. And there are lots of them.
• Keep art in my life.
• Don’t forget to breathe.
• Get some exercise, outside if possible.

About 4 months ago, I started a very small daily art practice to ensure that I “keep art in my life” during a difficult time. That was the beginning of Art Everyday. I started with getting something in my sketchbook every evening before going to sleep. Sometimes a sketch, sometimes just an idea or a project to consider.


Ethel Hills - Sketchbook Page - 02

Ethel Hills – Sketchbook Spread

Ethel Hills - Sketchbook Page - 01

Ethel Hills – Sketchbook Spread

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It’s time to get my 6 x 6 panels ready for our annual 6 x 6 exhibition and sale. The exhibit starts the first of November, but the work needs to be delivered shortly.

I thought you might like a sneak peek at the process. We all use the same panels – 6″ x 6″ MDF with a key-hole slot on the back. After prepping the surface, I painted the panels with a couple of coats of white acrylic paint.

And then I start to glue on pieces of paper – newspaper, phone book pages, pieces torn from damaged books, along with my normal selection of bits & pieces of discarded painting pieces.

To continue with the social media idea and to keep in mind the shape of the panel, I started with cutouts shaped like a generic icon (of a woman’s head) similar to what you sometimes see displayed when a user hasn’t provided a profile picture. These were glued onto a rectangular shaped colored background.

The initial pieces look like this –

I’ll be adding more Work-In-Progress shots as these paintings develop.


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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 was invited by talented artist and fellow WCA-NH board member, Deb Claffey, to be part of this blog hop.  The project consists of answering some questions about my art and my process and then introducing three more artists/creatives whose work I admire. They will continue the hop by posting their answers next Saturday.  Thanks so much Deb for this opportunity.

First of all, here are my answers to the questions asked of me for the blog hop project.

1. What am I working on/writing?

Basically, what I’m working on now is my artistic development. I’m taking some time to basically work on anything that takes my fancy. I call it noodling. I’m just trying things, experimenting with my materials, experimenting with my process and experimenting with my imagery.

I’ve recently finished a few paintings based on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” as part of a “show within a show” in the Abstract Artists Group of New England’s annual exhibit. Producing paintings based on music is not part of my normal process. Consequently, the pieces that came out of this are just a bit different.

The materials are mostly acrylic with only a little collage. The process involves direct reference to something outside, where my normal process is much more intuitive and internally focused. Even the forms are showing differences. For one piece, I took 4 paintings and bolted them together to form a larger one. Now I’m wondering how I can expand this idea. On another piece, I built one relatively complete painting and then glued a smaller painting on top.

All of these thoughts, methods and ideas can be explored further. I’m in the middle of a series of questions and possibilities, which is kind of exciting. Although, I enjoy the more stable work of being in the middle of an established series, this is also exciting and just as much a part of my process.

2. How does my work/writing differ from others in this genre?

I consider my genre as semi-abstract landscape. My pieces run the gamut from stylized to almost non-objective. My current work is primarily collage based small-scale paintings.

These collages differ primarily in my choice of materials, forms and colors. I use a variety of materials to assemble my collages, but all of them are my own hand painted pieces, either bits of old paintings or new pieces painted specifically for a project or painting. In general, the pieces are either torn or cut with a straight edge. You will find very few hard-edged cut out shapes. The forms are simple, strong horizontals with vertical and angled shapes in lesser amounts. The colors are strong and bright, not the normal traditional “landscape” colors. You’ll find a strong positive emotional component to all of my work. If it doesn’t “feel” right as I’m making it, I’ll make changes until it does.

3. Why do I do what I do?

I think we all do what we do for some very simple reasons. I believe the urge to create is universal. So we create in whatever form makes sense at the moment.

Some choices are almost soul-deep – the way we look at the world. As a child, I loved the little details of the landscape, patterns made by the lengthening shadows in the woods, the ripples on a pond, or the intricate swirls made when water freezes in a brook or puddle. Long before I knew anything about art, I was viewing the world in terms of pattern, movement and simple intimate compositions. I was noticing abstract design elements, not just objects.

Other choices are based on seemingly unrelated events or physical restrictions. For example, I worked in straight watercolor for a number of years, but switched to small-scale collages due to a change in my life. When my mother became quite ill, I simply didn’t have the time to do the larger wet in wet paintings that I had previously been working on. I also found a book on collage which I read a few moments at a time. So I started making small collages, which fit in perfectly with the small bits of time I had to devote to art making.

So the size and the technique were a combination of circumstances (limited time) and chance (finding a book on collage to keep up with some art during a difficult time.)

And having found this direction, almost by chance, I fell in love with the process and the finished product. I love the juxtaposition of color and texture that is a natural part of the collage process, but not easily achieved with straight paints.

4. How does my writing/working process work?

I still think of myself as an intuitive painter even though my collages are usually pretty well planned before I start to glue.

My collages usually start with a painted surface to work on, either watercolor on paper or acrylic on panel. I’ll paint an idea for the sky, the middle-ground and the foreground. Then I look for pieces to build a space, pieces that either match or nicely contrast with what I’ve already painted, trying to find a beautiful combination of color and texture.

One of the things that I’ll often do as I’m beginning a piece is to just stack, layer, and overlap possible papers, sort of the way a quilter will stack fabric. That gives me an idea of color, texture, value, etc.

Once I have the basic idea down, I’ll start gluing. Since my papers tend to be heavy, I usually glue one layer at a time, then weight it down and leave it overnight. After each step, I’ll look again to decide it if still looks right. If not, I’ll go looking for something else. Some pieces go right in order as I originally planned. Other times, I’m “off schedule” in the first few steps.


Thank you Deb for inviting me to participate in this project. The process has been fun and informative. Answering the questions has been a rewarding project and actually quite timely, so thank you for that. And choosing three more artists to participate was both easy and hard. I loved your answers and sometimes wish that I was that much clearer on my art and my process. Read Deb’s post here.



Debra Claffey is a visual artist who uses encaustic, oil, and mixed media in her work. Raised in Connecticut, schooled in Massachusetts, she now lives and works in New Boston, New Hampshire. She holds a BFA in Painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Tufts University and an Associate’s Degree in Horticultural Technology from the University of New Hampshire.

Claffey writes a blog, Making Something Out of Nothing, and a Facebook page. In June 2013, she organized her first curated exhibition, Natura Viva: Flora, Fauna, and Us, at ArtCurrent Gallery in Provincetown in conjunction with The Seventh International Encaustic Conference.

Debra Claffey’s blog: http://debraclaffey.blogspot.com


And now for the fun part, introducing three more artists to this project –

Madalene Axford Murphy

I met Madalene a little over a year ago when she joined an artists group that I belonged to. Her art quilts are exquisite.


Madalene Axford Murphy

Madalene Axford Murphy

I took my first quilting class over thirty years ago and immediately connected with this tactile approach to working with color and pattern. I dutifully learned the basic skills I needed but I soon realized that what I enjoyed the most was translating my own images and visions into fabric. When I further realized the same elements and principles of design that governed painting also applied to fabric, I knew I could spend a lifetime with this medium.

My lifetime has also included teaching college English, working as the director of an art and cultural center and gallery and later as the assistant director of the town library, and homeschooling my three creative children. I have lived in Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and, finally, Massachusetts. Now I spend most of my days working with cotton and silk that I hand dye and print and then often hand stitch with perle cotton.


Madalene Axford Murphy’s blog:  http://workingwall.blogspot.com



Laura Morrison

Laura is one of the first people I met when I joined WCA-NH, ( Women’s Caucus for Art, New Hampshire Chapter) and I’ve watched her build lots of amazing things since then.

Laura Morrison

Laura Morrison

Laura Morrison, primarily a fiber artist, combines traditional fiber art techniques such as felting, embroidery, crochet and knitting to create her artwork. Rich in color and texture, the work is so tempting to the viewer that Morrison often finds people subversively “petting” her sculptures and wall hangings. Morrison muses, “My art tends to take on a life of its own. By touching the artwork, something that is often forbidden in the art world, people become more intimate with the work and connect on a deeper level.”

She attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she studied graphic design. After graduation, Morrison worked as a designer in Chicago. During that time, she became fascinated with the needle arts and worked on embroidery projects during her train commute into the city. However, her move to New Hampshire was the catalyst that changed her life. It was then that she decided to concentrate her creative energy more fully on her art. “Moving to New Hampshire opened my eyes to the beauty of nature with its wild, open spaces. My surroundings directly influence my art. Here, I can truly breathe deeply and be the artist and person I want to be. ”

Morrison exhibits her work in galleries throughout New England. Her public art commissions were awarded through The NH State Council on the Arts Percent for Art Program and are installed at the New Hampshire Technical Institute’s Dental Building in Concord, NH and at the Merrimack Courthouse in Merrimack, NH.

Laura Morrison’s Blog:  http://lauramorrisonart.wordpress.com
Laura Morrison’s Website:  http://www.lauramorrisonart.com

Rosemary Conroy

I’ve also know Rosemary for a number of years as well and I just love her work. Her love of the natural world and her joy in her subjects shines through in her paintings.


Rosemary Conroy

Rosemary Conroy

Rosemary Conroy’s path in life has been somewhat off-beat in nature. She only came to art after two previous (and quite) successful careers — the first being an explainer of computers to stockbrokers in New York City; and the second being a promoter of land conservation to the good people of New Hampshire.
Rosemary was inspired to fulfill her life-long dream of painting full-time after the witnessing (from afar) her former office building collapse on 9/11. Largely self-taught, she nevertheless has enjoyed ever-increasing success as an artist, exhibiting her work on both the regional and national level. Rosemary truly believes that passion for your subject is just as important as any formal pedigree.
“I feel so blessed to be living my dream and doing what I love,” says Rosemary. Passionate about wildlife, she regularly visits nature centers to find inspiration for her colorful paintings and has served on local land trust boards to help protect habitat. Rosemary shows locally in several galleries in New Hampshire and hosts an open studio each fall. Please visit her website at www.studiobuteo.com and sign up for her mailing list or visit her fan-page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/studiobuteo.

Rosemary Conroy’s Blog:  http://studiobuteo.com/blog/
Rosemary Conroy’s Website:  www.studiobuteo.com


Look for their posts next Saturday.


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Today it’s pouring.  I came back from my morning walk soaked to the skin, but it was worth it. My walk takes me past a small tidal pond and then along the ocean. It gives me a chance to observe the birds, the marsh and the ocean.

Ethel Hills - Color Block #7 (4" panel) - Mixed Media - 4" x 4"

Ethel Hills - Color Block #7 (4" panel) - Mixed Media - 4" x 4"

I’ve been noticing for a couple of weeks now, that we’ve started the transition from summer to fall. The weather is changing. The days are getting shorter. The birds are starting to gather for their migration south. This morning the changes seemed more dramatic. The ocean which acted so meek and docile for so much of the summer is turning back into the North Atlantic. Perhaps we even had a “clam tide”. That’s what I call it when the ocean rips up the clams and deposits them on the beach for the ultimate seagull buffet. There were lots of gulls on the beach. Some were picking and eating, others were sitting there looking out to sea. None were fighting over food. At the pond, there were egrets, cormorants, small shore birds, larger shore birds, a few ducks and overhead a flock of swallows. The swallows will be gone soon, as will our egrets and most of our shore birds. We won’t be totally deserted, but in the dead of winter, I will be looking forward to next spring when they’ll all be coming back. 

I’m not sure of other artists, but I go through similar transition periods. They’re not quite as predictable as the changing of the seasons and the changing of the guards that accompanies it, but it may be a similar process. I know that I’ll go through a particularly rich and productive season where I’ll produce a lot of work that’s all closely related. And then I’ll go through a slower period where I’m searching for whatever is to come next. Some creativity experts consider this the incubation period. That’s pretty close to where I am now and my walk this morning made me realize it.

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