Jodi Hills

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


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Sketchbook.

You might think it would be the opposite. When painting, there is a looseness, a letting go, that must be learned. (Maybe it’s relearned – children seem to have it, but as they get older, it tightens up — I guess because they (we) become too aware, too concerned and it sucks the life right out of the art — I guess the same could be said about life itself.) 

Through daily practice, I gain the confidence of letting go. Letting go of the worry of perfection, and just allowing the image to come to life. Letting the canvas breathe freely, along with myself.  And the beauty comes, in my humble opinion, not in the exact line, but the movement, the strokes. 

Maybe it’s easier on the canvas, but I want the same for my daily life. To let go of the nagging need to please, to be exact. And it comes, slowly, with daily practice. Each day I can see it a little bit more clearly, the beauty of my imperfect strokes — and I have to let go of those who can’t. I suppose that’s the art of living. And oh, how beautiful it can be.


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A soft touch.

The dentist told me that I’m brushing my teeth too hard. That was humbling. You’d think after brushing my teeth this long, I would know how to do it. “Doucement,” she said. (Meaning gently.)

When they say it never rains here, it’s not like the song…we live in one of the sunniest parts of the world. It’s in my nature not to waste it. While the sun is shining I think, “I can do this, and this, and don’t forget… keep going…” And I like it. I enjoy it. I need it. But once in a while, it’s in my best interest to just slow down a little. The universe, being much more wise, saw that maybe it was time for me to be calm. But it took a darkening of the skies, and a few loud rumbles to make it happen.

I turned on my desk lamp. Opened my sketchbook. Took out the colored pencils. Rolled them through my fingers. I like the sound of the wood clinking with possibility. I sketched out a bird. Slowly. Colored in it’s wings. Feathers. Found a pastel stick to create the white areas. Pastels require the softest of touch. Doucement. And there was my bird. My gentle, little, rainy day bird.

Sometimes we are hardest on ourselves. Impatient. Unforgiving. And we need a little reminder to be gentle. Take this bird to be just that. And be kind today — to yourself. Hold the pastel of your heart softly, without judgement, and know that it’s not wasteful to be still. It’s healthy, necessary. Doucement, my friends…Doucement.


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Bound.

I wanted to do some sketching yesterday. Whenever I need an idea of what to sketch, I fall back on the human figure. It is timeless. The purpose of figure painting, or any depiction of the figure in art, relates back to one of the main functionalities of art, and that is the communication of human experiences. It has been practiced since the beginning of time. It rests on the sides of caves, the walls of the Louvre. And just at the fingertips of our hearts.


I have many art books. I pulled a small one off the shelf, entitled Figures. I recognized the scent of the book, or should I say the bookstore. A mixture of wisdom and mildew, that only comes from words lived. The linen cover felt like home. I turned the book over to see if there was a sticker to confirm my memory. Yes. A tag from Magers and Quinn — one of my favorite bookstores in Minneapolis. I love all bookstores, but this was a favorite because of the figure that managed the store — Gary. Yes, the human experience. As we read books. Sold them. Held them. I learned of his life. Personal stories of his loves, his losses, his interests, his health, his heart.


Gary was my friend. We shared love – love of words on the page. It occurs to me now, that we, all of us, are just the words, looking to be bound together. Only making sense when we combine to make a story. An experience. The human experience.


So I paint the figures. Tell the stories. Hoping to connect. Because in this connection there is no time, no distance. When you tell me, “I needed this today,” or “I so related to this,” or “this was our story,” — my heart is full. We are in this together. Humans. Bound.


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Table by table.



We’re always told – “look at the big picture,” “the grand scheme of things.” I understand what that means and most of the time I agree, but I must admit, I can often be overwhelmed by the “grand scheme” of anything.

Every day I swim laps in the pool. Often times 100. But I never start out counting backwards from 100. I tell myself, just do twenty. And when I finish twenty, I think, well, 30 is easy, and I can do twenty easily later. So I do thirty. And slowly work my way to 50. 50 is fine for the day, and if I want to more later, I do it. And most days, I do. Et voila! 100.

This is the way I do most things. It works for me. Bit by bit. I need the tiny wins. So I let myself have them.

It wouldn’t be possible to paint a giant canvas every day. Not for me. It would take too much of my heart and soul and brain. So I make sketches. Small paintings. And it fills me. Gives me practice. Gives me joy. Confidence. Sets me up for the larger works. So I paint a small vase with a small apple on a small table. And it is complete. It is enough. I am enough. And I guess that’s where I’m trying to get to every day — where we all need to get to every day — that place where we know we are OK, we are good, we are enough.

Take the journey today. Lap by lap. Table by table. And know that you are enough. What could be more “grand” than that?


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Worth a second look.

The first time we went to Lafayette, a few years ago, we didn’t really like the city. To be fair, we didn’t really see it. We lost a tire (we found it, as it rolled past our moving rental car) and spent the afternoon at the gas station. By the time it was finished, we asked the station attendant, where was the city center. He seemed baffled and said, “I think we’re in it.”  Banking this as truth, we drove on. 

Just before arriving in Lafayette this year, I asked Dominique, “Have we been here before?” We relived the runaway tire story and laughed. We both decided, “Not really.” In the daylight this time, we could see all the signage urging us to try the boudin balls. We love trying local food. Winding our way through the barriers set up for the Mardis Gras parade, we stumbled upon a small restaurant that said, “still open.” We ordered the pride of Lafayette – the boudin – not really in a ball, but more of a sausage – and it was delicious. We started to really see Lafayette. We went to an antique shop. They had real antiques, not Chinese remakes. We browsed slowly, thoughtfully, wishing we had more room in our suitcases. We visited with the owner. He was delighted we were visiting from France. We praised his store. Offered our apologies for not being able to buy anything because of the travel. He went into the back room. Came back with little packets. “I want you to have these.” They were flower seeds. Almost weightless, but for the meaning. “Plant them when you get back, then you will have a part of us there.”

Lafayette in the light of day. In the light of the people. Beautiful. We really saw it. 

It is springtime now in the south of France. Soon we will plant these flower seeds, and get a second look (or third) at Lafayette. And I suppose that is what spring is all about – giving us a second look, another chance. Another chance to see the beauty that this world holds. The weight of this! The importance! I don’t want to miss a thing!


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Passing Through.


I guess if you want to be inspired, you’ll be inspired. The responsibility lies within.


Most of the towns we have visited in the last couple of days, won’t find their way into travel brochures. Some, not even on the map. I have been guilty of passing by, sure, but I want to be someone who passes through.


We have been to the Louvre in Paris, the Met in New York, so you might think that we wouldn’t stop to see the museum of art in Tyler, Texas. But we did. There was no signage for a front entrance. We walked around the entire building (to be fair, it didn’t take that long), until we found a door. There was a single woman at the front desk. She seemed excited to have us. “Take as many postcards as you like,” she said, “Magazines even!” They had two exhibits. The first was Norman Rockwell. Familiar sure. Was I a fan? That might be a stretch, but in we went. The first drawings were of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Elaborate, beautiful drawings, depicting wonderful phrases from the books. Now, if you follow me here, you will know that just the other day I wrote of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. This is not lost on me. It felt like a connection. From the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez, to this lovely little museum on dry land in Tyler, we were connected. Entwined. Within. Passing through. I felt inspired. Back at the hotel, I took out my tiny sketch pad and made an attempt at a Rockwell character. It felt grand. Grand in the biggest way — in this tiny town, on this tiny sketchpad, it felt larger than life.


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Fortune.

In grade school we made simple origami “fortune tellers.” Parts of the “fortune teller” were labeled with numbers that served as options for a player to choose from, and on the inside were eight flaps, each concealing a message. The person operating the fortune teller manipulated the device with their fingers, based on the choices made by the player, and finally one of the hidden messages was revealed.


Oh, how everyone loved this game! And I did too! But I think what I loved most of all was the paper itself. Folded, manipulated, decorated. While everyone waited for their fortune to be told, I think I knew then that my fortune was actually in the paper itself. In the creating.


Yesterday, my publisher and I were making plans for new prints to be made on new paper. We were exchanging emails with different paper samples. And my heart ran with the wobbly legs of youth, chasing my fortune across the schoolyard playground.
Isn’t it wonderful to still be chasing! Trying new things. Learning new things. Being alive.


I hold the corners of the paper in my hand. We all do. And we choose. We choose hearts racing, and we live this glorious day!


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Have to say it.

The other day, driving on the road to visit Dominique’s mother, we passed the same building as we do once a week. This day was different. They started construction on this building, well, destruction I suppose. There was a giant space in the middle, and suddenly the view was completely different. A lovely old church with a steeple stood center stage. Was that always there? Of course it must have been. It was beautiful. We only hope when they construct the next building, they remember what’s behind.


Maybe it’s too spot on – tearing down walls to get to the heart of it…changing your view so you can see something spectacular…what you need has always been there… Some might say, well that’s just too obvious. It goes without saying. But does it? In so many instances, I think we think that. “Well, she must know how I feel…” or “He knows he’s talented…” I don’t have to say it. But I think we do have to say it. Bring to light the things that are there. Tell people how we feel. Share our compliments. Our encouragements. Our love. We won’t lose anything. But oh, how much there is to gain!!!


Today, let’s say the things we never said. Let’s not take the chance of missing what is there. Let’s share the thank yous. The good mornings. The I love yous. Nothing to lose. So much to gain!
Good morning!!!!


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Chances are.

The statistics teacher thought that if he showed us a real life example, it would be easier for us. So he began explaining the amount of possibilities that existed for our combination locks. X could be this. And solve for Y. And what if this? And show your work. The numbers and letters banged around in my head. I left my locker unlocked for the rest of the school year.

People really love us in the clunkiest of ways. We’re all so different. And to match what is needed with what is given, well, when you think about it, (here comes all that banging around again), it’s really something that we can get along at all.

But when we are open, and let each other fumble along in our own peculiar ways, it can be so magical, so uplifting. Maybe we can all be a little better at finding the beauty in the attempts. I want to be better. Better, not just at loving you, but letting you love me. And I suppose, if we did that for each other, well, chances are, as the song says, our chances are awfully good.


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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.