Jodi Hills

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


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Come in, you and your heart sit down.

For many it is a tradition to drive around neighborhoods to look at all the houses lit up for Christmas. That’s fun, I suppose, but for me, I looked at it a little differently. I was never so much in search of the light, but the warmth.

Since giving up our home when I was a little girl, I began the search. I would walk by. Bicycle by. Look at the homes. Wondering what they were doing inside. How did it feel? What was it like to be gathered in? Wrapped inside the warmth. Not the heat, nor the light. For it wasn’t about that. It could be a summer’s day, and I would search for the warmth.

What was that warmth? If I had to give it a definition I would say the feeling of belonging. The feeling that if you went there, they would not just have to take you in, but delight in it. They would sigh with hearts, that you made it here – home. They would not care how you got there, just that you were there, here, in the warmth of this place.

And so I painted. Houses. A yellow house. A green house. White houses. Doors. Entries. Windows. Shutters. I painted it all. Willing it to life. And I did, you see. I found it in the search. The destination was my heart. (I guess Glinda from the Wizard of Oz was right — “You had the power all along, my dear”)

I still paint the houses, even though I have found my way home. I’m no longer searching, but presenting. Maybe you need to find it too. So I paint them. Again. With a palette that will draw you in. Open arms. No judgements. No restraints. I want everyone to feel that. Not just Christmas in December. Or July. But every day!

Welcome home.


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Any Wednesday

I never imagined you could barbecue sardines. In my head, they were only those tiny little fish in a tin box. So many things to discover. Yes, they do come in bigger sizes. Yes, you can barbecue them. And yes, you have to separate the head and the bones on your own plate. And yes, they are delicious!

There is a certain luxury to having a barbecue on a Wednesday afternoon. Drinking a cool white wine, in the shade of the provencal sun. No longer reserved for a Sunday, but an any day. So was our Wednesday. He was grilling sardines as I sipped the wine and I thought, what a picture of France! (but I never stopped to take a photo) After we got home I thought, I should have taken a picture — capture the moment. But sometimes, when you stop to capture the moment, it disappears. So I didn’t have a picture on my phone, but I had one in my head. It raced down to my hands and on to the paper. The beautiful sardines. So black they turned blue. Grays turning into greens. The moment, not captured, that sounds too harsh, but more embraced. Embraced in the permanence of heart and acrylic.

I don’t know what this day will bring. This Thursday. Perhaps it will turn into a Saturday, if I let it. Why not?! There are so many things to learn. To see. Nothing to be confined in tiny tin boxes, but spread across summer skies and welcoming canvas.

Happy Day, everyone!


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Stumbling into joy.

It was no surprise that we stumbled upon the Storybook Sculpture garden in Abilene, Texas. I’ve been trying to get there my whole life. I didn’t know this sculpture garden existed, but storybook land…I stepped foot into it when I was a toddler, grocery shopping with my mother at Olson’s Supermarket, and in many ways, I’ve never left.

The shopping carts were lined up just after the automatic doors, in front of the large front windows. The sunlight seemed to lead directly to the first display of books and magazines. The bottom row, just in reach, was set aglow with Golden Books. And what a perfect name for them – for they were golden — treasure! Less than a dollar each, my mother allowed me to pick out one, not every visit, but quite often. My legs dangling from the silver cart, I held it. Smelled it. Hugged it. Knowing the adventure that would come when it was read to me that evening.

Soon, I no longer fit into the cart, and Mrs. Bergstrom taught us to read in the first grade at Washington Elementary. I picked out the books now by the title, and not just the pictures. I could read them myself, sometimes even before the shopping was done. What a world! Opening golden! I knew I would never leave.

I have traveled around the world. I really believe it has been possible, only because I started in these words, these books, this land where all things were possible. And it all still seems as magical to me as the day I was placed in front of the bottom row of books at Olson’s Supermarket.

I still keep a stack of Golden Books on my bedside table — a reminder to live in the magic, to keep believing, to keep dreaming, keep searching for the daily treasure.

I will be the first to admit, I sometimes wander off the storybook path, and get lost in the worries of the day, but somehow, I always find my way back, stumbling into joy. How golden!


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Look what we’re protecting.

The Art Institute of Chicago was the first major museum I ever visited.

It felt like I had been walking forever in the cold and wind from the hotel. Barely looking up. The cold of the sidewalk seemed to seep into my shoes, up my legs, slowing each step. The sidewalks were clear of snow, but I still felt like I was trudging. I could see the crowd of feet before me. The stairs. I stopped. Looked up. There they were. Standing guard. The lions. So majestic. So beautiful. Proud even. And why not?! Look what they were protecting! Before I stepped one foot inside the museum, I knew this was important.

It was easy to recognize what the lions represented. I had seen it my whole life. I had lived it. My mother had always been the lion who stood guard in front of my heart. Told the world it was important. Valuable – this life. As I grew older, I tried to do the same for her. I hope I did. I hope I still am. Because it is something. She is something!

The roles can and will reverse, at any given moment, throughout our lives, switching back and forth from the protector to the protected. But if we can approach both roles with a ferocity of grace, then each cold and trudging step along the way, will be more than worth it!


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This face.

I went down to the coffee shop in the hotel. About to rattle off my usual order, (I could say it in my sleep), when I looked up to this face behind the counter. This delightfully unusual grin that not only wished you a good day, but almost dared you to have one! I couldn’t help but smile back. Wearing my badge for the New York gift show, he knew I wasn’t a local. I ordered my coffee, and he said I could probably use a big cookie too. “Oh, no thanks” – I was on a tight budget and the New York prices were, well, New York prices! “Oh, look, my hand slipped,” he laughed and put a cookie into a sack and handed it to me with my coffee.


The cookie was, of course, delicious, but it was this random act of kindness that was even more delicious! I tasted it throughout the day. I hope I passed it on to my customers. I think I did.


The next morning I returned. And there was this face again. How could I be so blessed to start my morning with this extra sun? He was weird and wonderful. Had crazy stories to tell. And so did I! I went every morning that week. I could have gotten coffee anywhere. In New York, you could fall over and be at the next coffee shop. But I went back to this face. On the last day of my show, he handed me a large sack of cookies. “Oooooh my hand slipped! Share with your friends,” he said. And I did. I passed them out at the show, and I was a hero.


If you didn’t know the story, you might ask, “Why would you paint this face?” But now you know. And maybe you see this face differently. Maybe you see this face and think he’s beautiful! I do!


What if we took the time to learn each other’s story? What if our hands slipped away from our phones, our distractions, and we took the time to see each other? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? Maybe even delicious?!!!!


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Tiny portions.

I guess the question is, and always has been, “Can we do the small things?”

It’s like the old joke —

The food here isn’t any good.
Then why do you keep coming back?
Well, the portions!!!!!!

Large paintings have the advantage of being seen. They definitely make a grand statement just by their presence alone. And most people assume, well, it’s big, it must be good. Or it’s big, so it must be more expensive. And both of these statements can, of course, be true. I love a big painting. To take someone’s breath away when they walk into a room, well, that feels wonderful! But big doesn’t mean more important. More value. It doesn’t mean that it took more skill. To paint something small, and still make it significant, this takes a special skill. To convey sentiment, with the smallest stroke, this takes attention to detail. You really have to love doing it, to put in the same effort for a small result.

Yesterday, I stretched a small canvas. I may never put it up for sale. I may never even put it in a show. I did it because I love doing it. It feels good. And it may sound crazy, but I think even the smallest canvas deserves my attention. Deserves to be noticed. Taken care of. So I do.

I suppose it is the same with us humans. We all want to make the grand gesture. Be seen for the grandiose good deed. But when you think about it, the big things usually have a way of working out. We can rely on the firefighters to put out the big fires. The doctors to prescribe the medicine. But who is going to take care of the little things? Be there to hold a hand? Have a conversation? Share a laugh? It’s not that hard to remember a birthday. Buy a big gift. But are we there on Tuesdays? Or lonesome Sunday afternoons? Some might say, “Well, you know I’d be there for you if you really needed it?” But don’t we? Really need it? Every day? I know I do. I really do. I hope I’m giving them as well, the little things. Hugs and laughter. Time spent. Meals shared. Smiles. I want to share in all of these things. Because, Oh! how filling, these tiny portions.


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One

She, at the age of ten, already has a vastly greater grasp of the french language than I do. It is humbling for sure, and that’s not a terrible thing, but sometimes I wonder, what do I have to offer if I can’t convey it? Then we go to the studio. My paint. My brushes. My canvas. This is my language. And she wants to learn. I give her a small canvas and ask her what she’d like to paint. Immediately she looks around – at everything I’ve done. (And that’s when I think, I do have something to offer.) The apples. She wants to paint the apples in a bowl. I place that painting in front of her. Tell her to just draw in pencil at first. Give herself a good start. She chooses the paints. We create a palette. Slowly we go through each step. The light. The shading. The mixing. She is interested. Curious. And she is learning. It is a beautiful thing. We are different in age and culture and language and knowledge, but here, we are one heart, one creation, and that is everything.

It’s not easy to come together. Efforts need to be made. Egos must be put aside. We have to be curious. Interested. Yes, it can be difficult, but the rewards — immeasurable. Stop looking for the things that make us different – because you will find them — it’s so easy. Look for the things that can bring us together. And look again. And again. One creation. One heart. Everyone. That’s everything.


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Underpainting.

You wouldn’t think it makes a big difference, but it does. When you begin a painting, you need to start with the first layer, called the underpainting. This sets the tone for the painting. The underpainting develops the composition, placement, and value relationships at the outset. It’s the ultimate foundational approach.

And it’s always your choice. Do you want cooler tones? Warmer? Deeper. You choose. Right from the start. How do you want your painting to look to the world?

I guess it’s true with people too. We are who we are, at our core. And it always shows through. We think we are so clever at times, in what we do and what we say. We think people won’t notice what we really mean. But they do. Our hearts always show through. Always. So when you’re making your decisions today, and there will be a lot to make, choose well. How do you want to present yourself? Remember, with each action, every step you take, your underpainting is showing.


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The cracks

I wish I could have learned everything when I was six. I wasn’t afraid then. I took swimming lessons every Saturday morning at the community pool. It was so easy to jump into the water. Even before we knew how to crawl stroke, we splashed and floated and became one with it. I guess that was the key. We didn’t fight the water. Oh, there was always one kid, terrified, kicking, thrashing, who would disappear from the pool never to be seen again. Never to learn how to swim. Never to join in the birthday parties, or summer afternoons at one of the 10,000 lakes. What a thing to miss!


Adult days can be overwhelming. We face unimaginable things. Things that seem unpassable. But there is always a crack to get through, if we become like water. Water can always get through, even the smallest opening. When Bruce Lee said, “be like water, my friend” he simply meant to be flexible in both mind and body. It’s about not being rigid and stubborn in your beliefs and practices. But instead, about being open-minded and able to change and adapt to the circumstances we are put into. The older we get, the easier it is to be rigid. But I don’t want to live like that. I want to be forever six, loose and open and possible!


Perhaps that’s why I paint the water, again and again – as a reminder to “be possible,” I tell myself with each stroke – find the openings, become the water, get through. The water moves through my hands, my heart, my head, and I learn today’s lesson again. And, I give thanks for the cracks, thanks for the six year old heart that beats within me and says, “Everything is possible! Don’t be afraid.” Because this day, what a thing to miss!


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A nice thought.

We arrived at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe a little later than expected. It was only going to be open for about an hour longer. We went to the cashier to buy our tickets. She greeted us nicely, but we could tell she was a bit distracted. Her computer was giving her problems. We’ve all been there and know how distracting that can be. “Two?” she asked, and kept willing the machine to work. “Yes,” we smiled. I could see the beautiful works out of the corner of my eye. I was so excited to go inside. I had read books on Georgia. Read her letters. Studied her paintings. Visited her home. Even painted her. My smile must have been huge – as I’m smiling while I write this. “Go ahead and go in,” she said. Not out of frustration any longer, just kindness. “Oh, wow – that’s great! Thank you!” It made the whole experience even better than I could have imagined. Kindness will always do that I suppose. In the best of situations. In the worst.

Georgia wrote in a correspondence to a close friend, “You are one of my nicest thoughts.” I think about the museum — the woman who let us in for free, even though she was clearly having a hard time. She created an image as lovely as the paintings inside. We are all creating images, all the time. With our actions, our interactions. Our faces. Our hearts. I think the best we can do is to try and make them beautiful.

We may not always succeed, but there is beauty in the attempt, and anyway, it’s a nice thought.