Jodi Hills

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


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Easy now…

When I’m painting a portrait, I like to find what I call the soft beauty. The resting face. So comfortable in their own skin. The true elegance of ease. It’s the face that a person gives you when they trust you. No tension. No tightening. Nothing awkward. Nothing to worry about. Just the welcoming softness of being.


I want to feel that softness in my own face. Oh, to trust you. What a relief. But perhaps, even more, I want to be the face that allows you to feel the same. The face, that when you look at me you think, this is a safe place, for my feelings, my fears, my joys, my dreams, my not so secret garden.


If we could do that for each other, be a safe place to fly, a safe place to land, oh, my, how beautifully gentle, how elegantly soft this world could be.


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There, there.

It’s easy to get too far ahead of myself. In painting. In life. I want the answer. The finished piece. The resolution. The “Veruca Salt” voice sings in my head, “I want it now!” But it doesn’t work that way. Painting. Life. Stroke by stroke. Patience.


I’ve started a commissioned painting for a lake. Blue. Well, that’s simple. Right? Done? No. Each color must be given it’s equal time. The shadows of the almost blue black, to the glistening whites of the sun’s reflection. Each needs attention. Time. To find the movement in the stillness of each color. This is the goal.


Vincent van Gogh said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” I understand this – on canvas. I take the time in my sketchbook. Work at it. Color by color. Stroke by stroke. Oh, yes. Bit by bit, it all comes together. Slowly in the stillness of my sketchbook. I want this for life.


It was Mrs. Bergstrum who first taught us this. “Sound it out,” she said. But there was the whole alphabet right in front of us! All the possibilities. We wanted it all. Every word. Every book. Every library. “Slowly,” she said. And we made the sounds. Letter by letter. Into words. Each word a victory. Great things were coming together.


There is so much to want. So much I want for those I love. I want healing and grace and hope and joy. I want it all! I know this furious speed. I know the furious speed at which you are trying to get over and around. Wanting every color, every word, now! I have traveled that wind and hung on for dear life. But the dear life I found came only in the quiet slowing down. The letting go. No longer rushing to get past, but easing my way through. Color by color. Letter by letter. Sounding it out. And the peace. Smiled. Knowing it had always been there, as I whirled. Peace, sitting quietly next to joy, and hope, and OK now. There, there. Still. Great things are coming together.


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Nothing small.

“Why didn’t you tell me I was small?” she asked her mother.
“Because I never thought so,” she replied.
“No really. Am I small?” she asked again.
“You fill my heart with joy. Could anything small do that?” her mother replied.
She smiled. And felt a world of possibility.
“I wish I were beautiful,” she told her mother.
“You light up the sky, my love.” Her mother showed her the stars.
“What if I’m not smart enough?” she cried before leaving.
“You are stronger than you think.” Her mother held back her tears.
“What if I’m not strong enough?” her mother asked the open sky.
“I love you,” she sang to her mother as she flew.
Love held her. Could anything small do that?

(Chickadee – from the book “Bird Song” by Jodi Hills)

I found something huge yesterday. (Yes, I’ve been deep diving in the cleaning department). Well, what I found is only about 1″ x 1/2″, but to me it’s huge! A pencil sharpener. Even in its original packaging. Unopened. Sometimes the universe just knows what you need. (Or maybe it always does, and we’re just not looking.) And the most important thing of all – it works!!! That may not seem extraordinary, but believe me, I have a lot of pencils, for all types of drawing, and I, until yesterday, did not have a pencil sharpener – that worked. I have one that you just spin and spin and spin and nothing ever happens. I don’t think you should have to lose weight while sharpening a pencil. I have another that, no matter what you put in, it only takes out that one side, and you’re left with the shard of wood that you try to pick off, and it gets stuck in your fingernail, and you start all over again, getting the same result. I have another that absolutely fits no pencil that I own. I have no idea what it’s for. And my last one, has the most voracious appetite, eating everything inserted. None of these I actually purchased. They were all left behind from Dominique’s family. (Maybe left behind for good reasons.) But yesterday, aah yesterday, I found it. I opened it with such hope — oh, the tenacity of HOPE! — yes, I opened it and tried the closest pencil. The most perfect point. I tried another. Perfect. Easy. I tried charcoal. Yes. Lead, yes! Colored – sure, why not! Soft – no problem. Perfect points all. I wanted to fling open the doors of the studio and shout to the world – it works – it really works! I raised up my best Sally Field’s impression to the sky, “You like me – you really like me!”

I know it’s a pencil sharpener, yes, it’s small, but it takes that one thing in my life and makes it so much easier, makes it delightful. Nothing small can do that.

I guess it’s always the little things that make up a grand life. If you look at the ingredients of a croissant, it’s almost nothing, and extremely ordinary, but rolled and rolled, it becomes something magical. And shared with someone you love — even better. While eating our croissants at breakfast my husband said, “We have to find or make these for your mother, because she would really love them.” I told my mom that later in the day. She beamed – I could feel it over the telephone. He had thought of her. Just a little thing, but oh, so magical. The universe does this for us every day. Certainly we can do it for each other.


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The show

The show.

My first solo show in France was in a cathedral in Carpentras. You can imagine the size by its title “cathedral” – had it been small, I guess it would have been a church. And it was huge! Both impressive and intimidating. How would I fill such a space?

The answer was in the window of the small house next to the cathedral. It was one of the most beautiful windows I had ever seen. It stopped me in the street. Bold red shutters framed the window, dressed in the most delicate lace, and accented with flowers that grew on the sill. The marks from the latches breathed a daily opening. This window was alive. It was filled with life. And I knew what my show would represent – a life – my life.

I filled the cathedral with my story — with the same hopes of presenting, I guess, just like this window, that someone lives here. Someone lives in these paintings. Amid all of these colors and strokes is a life, framed with the boldness of red, the fragility of lace and the daily growth of a flower.

The largest cathedrals we have to fill are the lives we are living. And life, for sure, can be both impressive and intimidating, but oh, how beautiful! What a show! How are you going to fill yours today? Open the shutters wide — let’s begin.


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A beautiful mess


There is a trend on Youtube where creators give sketchbook tours. They film as they page through their perfect sketchbooks – each page the best work they can possibly do – masterpieces. It’s not unpleasant to look at – but it feels a bit inauthentic. (I’m not sure I even sure I like that word – “authentic” – since Oprah it has become so overused – ironically taking out the authenticity of even the word.)

The sketchbook was created as a place to work things out. Find yourself – your strengths, your weaknesses. Explore new ideas. A safe place to simply try. I look at it like a true friend, maybe a family member. That person who not only allows you to be yourself, but encourages it. That person who wants nothing more than for you to create the best you. And the only way to do that really is to explore the options. This true friend, this sketchbook, allows you to take that trip. Fall. Rise. Change. Grow. And they remain, steady, true, with you throughout the journey.
To not embrace the beauty that the sketchbook allows, to me, is really saying, “I don’t trust you enough to show you myself, all of my imperfections and talents.” The gift exchanged between sketchbook and hand, is the trust, the journey. These are the gifts exchanged, I believe, between real friends.

Each day, I trust the pages and playfully explore the gifts I’ve been given. I am not perfect. But I am me.
What a blessing to be yourself. I give thanks each day for the open pages, the people in my life who allow me to be me. I hope, I pray, I promise to try to return the favor every day — to open this day and get joyfully, imperfectly, and delightfully messy.


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Becoming.

My plan today was to show you a time-lapse video of me painting an apple.  There is no video.  I’d like to say that the battery died, which it did, right from the start, and I changed it. But I guess in my excitement to start painting again, I forgot to hit the button, and now I have a delightful little apple, but no video.  So today’s offering is not a video, but a painting of an apple.  I like the apple.  I liked painting it.  You didn’t get to see it happen, but it did. And I hope somehow, in knowing the story, you can see the love in that. 


I am not the same person I was when my canvas was blank.  I have worked and blended and stroked and changed, and I have become.  You haven’t seen each step along the way, but I show you now, who I am, who I have become, and I hope you can see the love in that.  Maybe we could all do that for each other — accept  who is here today, right in front of us — and know that it took a million strokes to get here — a million blends to reach these colorful lives.  And if we could see the beauty in these vulnerable presentations of these little apples, these little and beautiful lives, then I guess it would be hard to miss the love in that.   


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The process


Yesterday I painted Fran Lebowitz for the soul purpose of painting Fran Lebowitz.  I would not sell her (in fact, I knew I would be giving her to a friend who adores her). I would not gain any exposure. There are no hashtags. Fran Lebowitz does not own a phone.  She would not see it.  She doesn’t own a computer. She would not come to France, because she doesn’t leave New York.  No, this was about the process. The joy of taking a blank piece of paper and creating an image. Seeing her come to life with each stroke. I love to draw. To paint. To create. I really love it. And I get to do it!  Imagine that!  Imagine – doing what you love!!! Maybe the best way I have to show my gratitude for this, is to do it – to enjoy it – for all that it is.  And so I painted Fran Lebowitz, not for the money, or the selfie, or the hashtag, but simply to give thanks for the opportunity to do it.  And I am grateful.  I packed her up this morning and she is on her way to my friend’s house in Texas, where I know she will be loved.  Gratitude keeps giving. 

Today I encourage you to enjoy the process.  Of living.  If you are baking a cake, lick the batter – share it with your kids, your husband, yourself. Smell the sugar melding with the butter as it bakes.  Pour some tea and enjoy. 

If you’re drawing in your sketchbook, don’t be afraid to scribble.  Scribble – it’s fun to even say the word.  Life is not perfection, it’s process.

Whatever you do today, take a minute to enjoy it.  This is how we give thanks. And if we’re lucky, truly blessed, we’ll get another day tomorrow.  Enjoy!