Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…


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Black barns.

I have never smoked. I don’t really care about tobacco, but I was interested in the black barns of Kentucky. The woman at the tourist office told us they were used for tobacco. The black kept the barn hotter, and helped in curing the tobacco. So many are no longer in use, but I think they are still beautiful. They are so different from the red barns I grew up with.

We stopped at the Muhammad Ali museum in the next leg of this journey. I was never a boxing fan, but I was interested in the man. He was not a perfect human, but I haven’t seen one yet. I do know that he helped raise awareness for Parkinson’s Disease, the Olympics, the Civil Rights movement, and being human. I think that is beautiful.

It’s getting harder and harder to know who and what we are supposed to like anymore. We are constantly being told you can’t like this painter because he said bad things. Can’t like this music because the singer was a drug user. Can’t shop here, they support the wrong ideas. Can’t be friends with them, they voted wrong. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to eat that chicken.

And I want to support the things I believe in. I really do. But I want to know the world. Experience different things. Meet different people. Eat some chicken. So what do I do? What do we do?

If I write about something you aren’t interested in one day, does that negate the 20 other times you laughed or cried when you read my words. I hope not. I hope we can all be open to each other. I hope we can all believe in different things, and still be kind to each other. Walk different paths, and be open. Look differently. Laugh differently. And still believe in love.

I will sketch the black barns. The champion horses. The beautiful losers just wandering the field. And maybe when I get home I will paint the black barn. I don’t think my red barn will mind at all. I want to find the beauty. I think it’s even there in the search. Probably there, most of all.


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The sweet spot.

I have always been drawn to the still life. And not just in painting. The living as well. That doesn’t mean not doing anything. Quite the opposite. I like doing something all the time. My morning schedule is filled with breakfast, Duolingo, blogging, yoga and swimming. Which connects me to an afternoon of painting, discovering, filling, learning. But nothing is done in a frenzy, or a fever. All work to keep my spinning brain and feeling heart at a manageable pace. If my home is in chaos, it rattles my soul, so I work very hard to keep it calm. Things in place, keep my focus in place. My focus in place, I can find the most real part of me. And this is the sweet spot I suppose. The spot that I want to share. That’s the spot where I want to find people. This, I think is where we can make the true connections. It’s hard to connect to a spinning top.

Somewhere along the way, busy became a symbol of status. I’m not even really sure what the word means. We all have things to do. We all live under the same time, the same sun and moon. It seems like busy means “I’m so important,” or “what I’m doing is my important than you,” or “I have worth.” But how can we see the value in each other if we race around in circles? I want to see your worth, but I’m going to need you to slow down and actually show me who you are. Slow down and let me show you who I am. And here, we won’t be busy, but oh, it will true, still, and forever sweet!


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Pont du Gard

The most visited ancient monument in France, listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the Pont du Gard aqueduct remains one of humankind’s great masterpieces. A marvel of Antiquity and a true technical feat.

48 metres high, it has three vertical rows of arches: 6 on the lowest level, 11 on the second level and 35 on the third and top level. Its upper part reaches a length of 273 metres (originally 360 metres when there were twelve extra arches). It served as an aqueduct until the 6th century before becoming a tollgate in the Middle Ages and finally a road bridge from the 18th to 20th century.  

Perhaps even more impressive, an olive tree lives, over 1,000 years old, next to this masterpiece — a masterpiece in and of itself.  

Nobody takes the time to plant an olive tree anymore. (Or bothers to build real bridges.) You need patience with an olive tree. You can plant it and wait five years for the olives, maybe twelve. 

Yes, twelve years of nurturing, watering and pruning. The reward is not instant. Ah, instant gratification. I know, I get impatient too. But I’m trying, really trying, with my life, to plant an olive tree. Trying to give without worrying about the pay-off, the reward. 

Maybe it’s not about the fruit. Maybe it’s about the tree. Maybe it’s just about the growth itself. I want to have the patience, the beauty, the stamina, the strength of an olive tree. And so I will put in the time to learn, to love, and to live, without measuring the sun, only feeling its warmth. I offer this to you as well. I am here for you. 

No abandonings. For you, for me, I’m planting an olive tree. I am building a bridge. I am taking the time.


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Sans temps. (Without time. )

My mother-in-law is without time. Some days she is forty years old. Some days 60. I suppose after nearly a century you should be allowed to choose your own age. And she does. Without apology, she is young, she has babies, and thinks you are the crazy one for getting older. She’s probably right.

There is a young girl that I have painted. Little girl blue. She is just about to dance. She’s just a tiny bit afraid, but determined. And you know she will do it. I see her every morning. In my bathroom mirror, her reflection is just beside mine. I put on my dress, and I too, am without time. I, too, have the legs of youth, and can hear the music. There is no yesterday, or tomorrow, just the open blue of today, and I can’t waste it. I let go the fear of time passing, and simply dance.


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Cardinal on my sleeve.

We sang a cheer in high school –


“We are the cardinals!

Mighty, mighty cardinals!

Everywhere we go – oh,

people wanna know – oh,

who we are,so we tell ’em…

We are the cardinals… (and repeat and repeat)


I never thought about it then, really, but what a lesson. I’m not sure that people often describe cardinals as mighty, but we did. And why not? It was our decision after all. We were cardinals. That was the mascot we were given. We could choose to wear it proudly, or sink behind someone else’s fragile truth.

So the black and red became a symbol of strength to us. A symbol of celebration in victory. A symbol of perseverance in loss. And we were nothing, if not mighty!


You get to decide what makes you strong. You get to decide who you are. Stand up in the colors you were given, and the colors you create. Even with the most fragile of wings, you can choose to be mighty!

I paint the birds again and again. They are my heart. My fragile, but ever-winged, mighty heart! The heart I wear proudly on sleeve, and in song, because I still think, maybe, you just “might wanna know – oh…”


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Feeling yellow

Feeling yellow.

He was probably only 12 when he came into the studio, but he asked a very intelligent question. He looked at the large painting of lemons, and then the checkered taxi. He compared the simplicity of the large lemons to the intricate details of the cab. “Is it easier to paint the simple things?” he asked. I smiled. I liked that he was thinking. Pondering the strokes. I told him it was a good question. “No,” I said, and went on to explain why. “You would think so, just at first glance – but the details actually work as a map, directions…the details give you more of the answers than the simple shape of the lemon or the bowl or spoon. With the detailed paintings, you are provided with more tools, but with the simple ones, you have to supply the tools, contribute the interest – the feeling. You can create a story with a cab, and a person and a city… but can you do the same with a bowl of lemons. Because that’s the goal, with all creations, I suppose, is to create a story, evoke meaning, sentiment, feelings.”

“How do you make the yellows different?” he asked. We stepped closer. I showed him the yellows were not just yellow, but yellow and white and blue, and red, and gray, and orange. Yellow is never just yellow. “I can feel it,” he said. What a perfect answer. Not just see it, but feel it.

Today you will be given a multi-colored, yellow sun, filled with the simple and the intricate details of a day. Celebrate the beauty in both. Create your story. Find the meaning. Today is never just a day. Feel it!!!


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Complementary.

Opposites, in painting, are also referred to as complementary. Isn’t that interesting? They are on the opposite side of the color wheel, completely different, but when placed next to each other in a painting they create the largest contrast, making each color the most vibrant. In other words, they bring out the best in each other. Hmmmm….

I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s strange that we haven’t found a way to do that for one another. We could, you know, be joyful in ourselves, and stand next to our opposites, those different in race and religion, those with different ideas and lifestyles, different interests and bank accounts, different capabilities… we could stand next to our opposites and bring out the best in them, and they in us. What a tableau that would be!

Maybe today I could be the yellow to your blue. And we could both be vibrant!


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I have to believe my feet will take me where I need to go.


When I was in high school I had surgery on my right ankle. For the first time, and eventually the sixth time. For many years, and for good reason, my ankle was very weak. The doctor recommended that I wear work boots. Work boots. This would be a new addition to my wardrobe. I wanted to be a girly girl, like the girly girl my mother was. Fashionable. Pretty. I saw her get dressed for work. Taking care with each piece of clothing. Right down to the shoes. Shoes. Not work boots. But I needed them. So there was only one thing to be done. Not hide them. Celebrate them. (This was long before chunky was in. Long before Dr. Martens boots.) I had to make them my own. So I wore them with everything. Pants, rolled up and pinned, of course! Dresses! Full view. I was proud of them. I had my own style. I walked steady, and sure — even when I wasn’t — probably the greatest lesson my mother ever taught me.


It wasn’t easy for her, to get dressed for work each day. Answer the school phones with a greeting that people still remember to this day. But she did it. Broken, weak, for sure, (also for good reason) but she put one foot in front of the other and did it with style. I would do the same, in my own way.


Some people in this world stomp and trudge and carry on. While others, they make a path — believe in those people. Be one of those people. And your feet will take you where you need to go.


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What if!

The Edina Art Fair was my first art show. I didn’t even sign up for it. A friend of mine filled out the forms. Applied. And I got in. She didn’t tell me until I had a booth assignment. There was no backing out. Sometimes decisions get made for you. And thank goodness for that!

My booth was very rudimentary. I had no idea what I was doing. But my mother stood bravely beside me, and we laughed from the inside of our hearts and exchanged the art for their money. I sold out the first day. I spent that whole night creating and creating. Fueled with a new confidence and joy. The next day. Sold out again. This was actually happening.

It probably took her 10 minutes to fill out the form. She maybe doesn’t even remember doing it. But I will never forget. It changed my life. It changed my mom’s life. What an impact!

Through the years, when I’ve relayed this story, some people have said – oh, that was way too risky. What if you wouldn’t have sold anything. She would have made things miserable for you. No, I say. Because just the fact that she believed in me enough to fill out the forms, that told me something, gave me something. That alone would have changed my life.

And we need to stop with all the “what if it doesn’t happen?”… and believe in the “what if it does!” Believe in each other. Stand up for each other with wildly high hopes. Stand beside each other with wildly full hearts! And believe that the best could happen! And what if it does!!!!!


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U-turn.

She had to make a U-turn in traffic to capture a photo of this Vespa. While driving on this busy road, with as many thoughts as one woman normally carries in her head about the what ifs and the what to dos — this sky blue Vespa caught her eye and she thought about me. Me! She thought about me and turned the car around. Thought about the Vespas I had painted. Stopped her day and captured a picture. Sent it to me in another country, all because she thought about me.


I have a million images to paint. The ones dancing around my head. The ones people want to commission. But yesterday I stopped. I stopped to make a small painting of that blue Vespa. Because I thought about her. I thought about how good it felt to have someone across the globe take a minute of their day to say “I thought about you, and it’s important enough to take action.” That’s something!


They say it’s the thought that counts. Not really. If someone is thinking about you, but never tells you, never shows you — who cares? What good is that? Thoughts need to be expressed. (well, at least the good ones – some thoughts can certainly be kept to yourself :))


Maybe today is the day you show someone that you care. Make a simple U-turn and give them a smile. It matters. It is time worthy. Paint worthy. Word worthy. Heart worthy! Take the time.