Jodi Hills

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


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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.


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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.