Artist of the Month: Ria Hills

Olives in a Colander (pastel, 7×5) by Ria Hills was an Still Life finalist in the 26th Annual Art Competition. Hills is our March 2010 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Uxbridge, Massachusetts


Her start in art: The first thing I did when I got my driver’s license was drive into New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the beginning of learning about art; I spent countless weekends at museums. I wasn’t interested in going to college when I graduated from high school, but I took many art classes at various schools, including the Worcester Art Museum School in Massachusetts.

I’ve been painting professionally for seven years, but I don’t make enough money to live on it yet. Before then I worked as a graphic artist. My resume includes everything from freelance art to web design and jewelry making, with a husband and four children thrown in the mix. Since 2006, I’ve been selling work online as a daily painter at Although I don’t always finish a painting each day, it helped me develop the discipline to paint daily.

Medium and genres: I’ve worked in many different mediums, but soft pastel became my medium of choice nine years ago when working on a children’s book. I fell in love with the vivid color and the direct contact with the medium.

The subject of a painting isn’t as important translating blocks of color and light into something discernable. This wasn’t always the case: I struggled for years with wanting to paint something meaningful and unusual. Once I joined the Daily Painting movement, I began to focus more on the process. What amazes and inspires me is that simple objects can become very meaningful and symbolic.

Inspiration for this painting: I caught my husband eating olives from the jar and saw a painting opportunity. I immediately began to set up the still life for this painting with a mini-colander. I took a photo of it under bright lighting at night because I just love the intensity of night shadows.

Her process: I prefer Wallis sanded pastel paper and Art Spectrum Colourfix boards. They provide the tooth I need to apply many layers of pastel. My pastel painting method is conventional — I work from hard to soft. I start by carefully drawing my shapes with pastel pencils. Then I block in the colors and shapes with Nupastel and work my way into progressively softer pastels, adding greater detail.

Most of my small paintings are still lifes. When I first started, I’d photograph my arrangements and work from the photo. Lately I’ve been setting up still life scenes in my studio to work from.

I typically spend one to three hours on a daily painting, which are always small works. Olives in a Colander took me about three hours to paint. Once I start painting, I lose track of time and because my lifestyle does not require a schedule, I don’t check the clock too often.

Why she creates art: It keeps me balanced and happy. If I’m not painting, I’ll write or learn a new craft to satisfy the creative need. Painting also gives me a sense of self worth and confidence that I don’t get anywhere else. There are days when I lose my direction and wonder if I should continue. What keeps me going is the feedback I receive from collectors. The knowledge that a simple painting can uplift the spirit of another person makes it all worthwhile.


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