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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.


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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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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″

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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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I don’t enter a lot of juried shows anymore, but I did decide to enter the Open Juried Show at the Barn Gallery this year. I’m a member of the Ogunquit Art Association, so I’m often volunteering for take in and jurying of this show. It’s fun to see the artists and the artwork. When I work the show, I get to see all the artwork, not just the ones that make the final cut. This time I worked on the paperwork, so I didn’t see as much of the juror’s decision making as usual. It was still fun.

I took a chance on entering this exhibit for a very specific reason. I have this painting that I have kind of a love/hate relationship with. Although hate is way too strong a word. I love the colors in this piece and the overall look and feel, but I’ve never been completely confident that it “measures up”. There are gorgeous reds and greens in it, but together, they’re a bit on the loud side. I’ve always been kind of curious about what someone else would think of it.

It made the cut. So, for what it’s worth, this juror thought it had merit. If you come to the exhibit you can judge for yourself. If not, take a look at the image and see what you think. I’d love to hear someone else’s take on it.

Ethel Hills – “Heartland #1″ – Mixed Media Collage on Paper – 11″ x 15”

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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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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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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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