Archive for the ‘Workshop’ Category

As I mentioned yesterday, I just finished up a workshop. Now I’m trying to digest the information and make some changes to my studio practice.

One part of the workshop was weekly assignments.

In the past, I haven’t been that organized in my studio. Basically, I paint intuitively. This means that I’m not terribly structured about what I’m going to be working on in any given day. I’m often off on a tangent based on a new idea of some sort. The idea of going into the studio with an assignment is something of a foreign concept. It may not be exactly the right way for me to approach my work, but I’m willing to experiment.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I’ve come up with a similar idea that I think may work better for me. Instead of an assignment, I’m going to try a “What if?”

Our last class assignment involved the idea of repetition. My solution was to do lots of small paintings with repeating elements – straight pencil lines to mark the painting, then watercolor painted on the pencil grid and then pencil embellishment on top. I didn’t have all of this worked out ahead of time. It was more of a – What if I made lots of tiny paintings based on these ideas? This looser idea was more a place to start than a specific assignment and seems to fit better with the way I naturally work.


Here are some of the results:


One of the larger paintings in this series –

Ethel Hills - Series Class Assignment #6 - Mixed Media - 11" x 15"

Ethel Hills – Series Class Assignment #6 – Mixed Media – 11″ x 15″


A few of the tiny paintings that I did.

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This turned out to be a great What If? I love these tiny little paintings. I started out by dividing my paper with masking tape into smaller blocks. Then I drew lines in pencil representing potential divisions of land. I didn’t think about this too much, just that I wanted some larger and some smaller shapes.

Then I painted these with just a little bit of watercolor, not to cover the paper, but to separate and emphasize the different shapes. After this dried, I started looking at the pieces and trying to picture farmland.

The farm where I grew up was part  , part wood lot, part garden and part pasture. Where we just had a small family garden, the farmer who now rents the land has various types of veggies and sometimes sunflowers. The orchards have been replanted and there are still some cattle on the property.

With all these thoughts whirling around in my head, I used pencil to draw in the indication of some of these elements – orchards in almost all of the paintings, wood lots with dense pencil marks, trees – lighter pencil marks, row crops indicated by pencil lines in rows and then a few small dark rectangles to indicate buildings.

Clearly some of these are more successful than others, but in general, I really like them. Unfortunately, I was rather casual with the masking tape, so they are not all the exact same size. That means that I’m going to have to custom cut the mats for these, which will be a little bit tedious. And I did a lot of these odd sized ones before I figured out how to do a better job of sizing them. I’m embarrassed to say that figuring that out took me way too long.

Tomorrow I’ll show you the next batch of tiny paintings.

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I just finished up a 10 week on-line class with Lisa Call. I took her class on working in a series, so I’ve been diligently working on one of my ongoing series of land paintings. I’ll be showing you some of the work from that series as I move forward, but today I want to talk more about the process of ending a class/project/whatever and sorting out where to go from here.

This happens to us all the time. You take a workshop, go to a conference, meet with other artists, listen to a great lecture or series of lectures. And you’ve got all these great ideas.

Quick grab one before it disappears!! To get the most out of something like this, you need to implement some of the great ideas that you generated.

So my first step in solidifying what I learned is to pick one idea and implement it. The class had weekly assignments, generally based on a specific design element – for example, color, line, value, etc. This seems like a great place to start.

The first thing I’m going to try out is the idea of going into the studio with an “assignment” of sorts. I tend to paint intuitively, so this will give me a bit more structure than I normally have, which I think will be a good thing.

There are a few things about working with an assignment that worked out great during the workshop. First of all, there was a deadline, a due date for the assignment. Secondly, there was a plan, a very rough plan, but still a plan. Thirdly, there’s a point of comparison. And finally, I think that this fairly light structure will help me keep the work moving forward.

Having a deadline helped me start working, keep working and also made me stop working and finish a piece when I ran out of time. That may not be the way I want to run my studio practice all the time, but I think having an element of that will be helpful to me.

Having a plan, even this really simple plan, is helping me to be more thoughtful about my art. It helps me focus on my objectives. And even when I totally lose it half way through the painting, I still have that idea to come back to at the end of the day. I have the option of trying again or moving in a different direction and I do it by choice, not by accident.

Having a point of comparison was very helpful in evaluating and critiquing the art. Knowing what I planned to do was very helpful in evaluating the finished product and the process.

Having this relatively simple structure is going to be very helpful in keeping the work moving. Over the next few months, I’m going to be experimenting to develop a simple system for recording and evaluating, but it must be something that works for ME. For the moment, I’ve just taken a ruled journal to keep some notes on what I’m working on and why. I’m thinking that the simpler I can keep this the better off I’ll be.

So one simple idea that I’ll be implementing immediately is really not much more than the old adage – go into the studio with a plan.

Tomorrow, I’m going to explain a bit more about my own twist on the idea of an “assignment”. Something a bit looser that fits my personality better and is closer to the way I naturally produce art.

Since I really like posts better if they have images, I’m including one of the pieces from my land project series that began this whole thing years ago.

Ethel Hills - " Hills Farm #5" - Watercolor - 22" x 30"

Ethel Hills – ” Hills Farm #5″ – Watercolor – 22″ x 30″


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Back to School!!!

It’s Labor Day, September 1st, traditional back to school time. (I know that kids go back to school earlier than we did, but Labor Day still seems like the day before school to me.) Time to buy new notebooks, sharpen my pencils and organize my notebooks.

It seems like there should be a special smell for back to school, in the same way that there’s a special smell to early spring. I guess it’s just a state of mind. It’s supposed to be cooler now that we’re in September and the days are shortening very quickly. I just want to run to Staples and buy notebooks, notebook paper, file folders and all kinds of little tools to help me stay organized in the new year.

It always seems like a good time to start something new and this year, I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in education. I’m taking an on-line class with Lisa Call which started over the weekend. That’s going to be fun. And in two weeks, I’m going to be taking a one week workshop with Gerald Brommer at Northeast Art Workshops and Retreats in Gloucester. I have two of his books and am really looking forward to this workshop.

My back to school projects for the day – get my notebook set up and ready to go for Lisa’s workshop and work on my supply list for the class in Gloucester. Anyone else involved in back to school plans?

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Thursday evening was the reception for my exhibit “The Hollis Land Project – Paintings of Home” at the Hollis Social Library in my hometown of Hollis, NH. Thank you to all who came out for it. We all had a lovely time. I already knew most of the people who came to the reception, which was great. Since these paintings have such a connection to a specific place, it was easy to talk with people who shared some of that history. The paintings all have little landmarks, which for me represent some sort of touchstone, a connection to a memory. In this painting, the small reddish marks in the left center panel represent cows. When we were kids, one of the local dairy farmers kept cows in that field for the summer. They’d come to the gate and they had such beautiful big brown eyes!  And then there was the maple in the backyard that had a swing for us kids and for my mother, the most beautiful fall color. That’s the bright red shape near the top of the painting. 

It was fun to discuss some of those memories with people who shared that history, but it’s also fun to share those stories with people who are newer to the area. Doing these paintings has made me realize that land and place are more important to us than I ever realized. We’re tied to land by our stories and our history, maybe in the same way that we’re tied to family and friends by our stories. 

Ethel Hills - "Home on Pine Hill Rd. # 2" - Watercolor - 22" x 30"

Ethel Hills - "Home on Pine Hill Rd. # 2" - Watercolor - 22" x 30"

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I enjoy it when I have a chance to take an art class or workshop. I don’t do this very often, but try to get at least one or two in each year. The last 3 years, I’ve taken a one week workshop in Maine with Skip Lawrence. It is always fun and it is always inspiring. This year, I have been working almost exclusively on watercolor and mixed media collages. Because of the very slow process of building up the collages, it’s not very practical for a workshop. So for a week I painted in watercolor, which was a joy. I love paint.

That’s not to say that these were great paintings, but it was nice to feel the paint again. And I painted with an incredibly talented group of artists, some I knew from before and some I didn’t know. Just to see what everyone else was doing was inspiring.  And each day I hoped for the “two o’clock miracle”. This is where I start out the day with enthusiasm and an idea. Then I attack the paper and make a painting. And then I make a mess. And then I sort of pull it out, but not quite. Sometimes it goes back and forth a couple of times. All the while looking for the “two o’clock miracle”, where at the last minute, my painting starts to pull together just in time for the three o’clock critique. This is actually a compressed version of the way I often work in my studio. Only instead of the “two o’clock miracle”, I want to come into the studio the next morning and find a miracle. The painting always looks different the next day, sometimes better, sometimes not.

The first year I took this workshop, I came out with some very personal paintings based on the loss of my mother earlier in the year. I only did a few of those paintings, but will probably go back to that series again. Last year, I was still working on the idea of family issues and began the series of “Hollis Paintings” based on the farm land where I grew up. This year, I’m still working on the land paintings, but trying to find a different approach. The jury’s still out on these. With any luck, I’ll find my way and you’ll see the new paintings on this blog later in the year.

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