The Illustration Friday word of the week is journey.

"Journey" © Susan Sorrell Hill

“Journey” © Susan Sorrell Hill

Said so succinctly by these folks:


“The voyage of  discovery lies not in finding new landscapes but in having new eyes.”      ~Marcel Proust


“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”      ~T. S. Eliot


“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”        ~Anais Nin

(Quotes from True Work: The Sacred Dimention of Earning a Living by Justine Willis Toms and Michael Toms)

Hmmm…now where have you seen this image before? A double-fudge sundae to that person who realized quick-smart that it’s my blog’s logo. (And it has also graced the home page of my old Artspan.com site). It’s one of my personal favorites, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never shown it in its entirety  here on a blog post before.


“Journey”   (watercolor, pen & ink, gouache, colored pencil)   “She journeyed with only a bird for company—destination uncertain but certainly assured.”                    **The original painting is available for purchase here.


“Untitled” from “The Emperor’s Pear Tree,” from an as yet unpublished folktale, © Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is repeat.

Have you ever been stuck in one of those no-win situations where the same unwanted (read: bad) results repeat over and over despite your well-intentioned and best efforts? Of course you have. It’s an all-too-human scenario that frequently—and maybe even necessarily?—precedes “learning,” that grand goal of Life. Nevertheless, it is a painful feeling to find oneself, once again, in the middle phase of a seemingly-endless process.

“This too shall pass!” is the handy phrase invented to balm the suffering of those of us in such a learning cycle. Notice that I put a positive spin on it? It seems necessary to keep in mind, if only for one’s sanity, that there is a larger purpose for this suffering, that something is asking, insisting even (if you’ve been in some particular cycle for a while) for Change. It’s not that the Universe is simply hostile, and that your suffering is Valid Proof of your favorite version of “What’s the use of trying anything at all?”

I love the way Portia Nelson’s poem, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters (quoted here from Dan Millman’s book, No Ordinary Moments: A Peaceful Warrior’s Guide to Daily Life) describes this process of change so matter-of-factly and compassionately:

Chapter One: I walk down the street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in; I feel lost–helpless–but it’s not my fault. It takes forever to find my way out.

Chapter Two: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it, and fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place–but it isn’t my responsibility. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it–but I still fall in. By now it’s a habit. But my eyes are open; I know where I am . I take full responsibility; I get out immediately.

Chapter Four: I walk down the same street and come to a deep hold in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter Five: I walk down another street.

Brilliant! The next time we’re in this dreadful, albeit useful, cycle, let’s try asking ourselves, “OK, what am I supposed to be learning here…?” Who knows, we may even be able to skip Chapters Two, Three and Four, and happily get on with our journeys!


Untitled”     (watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil)    “Even Aiko’s best cooking was refused.”    One of the illustrations from my as yet unpublished children’s folktale, “The Emperor’s Pear Tree.”

"Tiddy Mun" © Susan Sorrell Hill

“Tiddy Mun” © Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is invisible.

“Tiddy Mun” was a recent commission for Wit’s End Puppets in Washington, DC. Using the troupe’s research materials, a small group of individual artists was asked to create visual images of particular English fairies, that would then be used as inspiration for the actual puppet building. Their upcoming performance entitled, “Malevolent Creatures” will feature these puppets, as well as the paintings and drawings that inspired them. A very fun assignment! If you’re in the DC area, check out their blog for notices of upcoming shows, as well as ongoing photos and information about the world of puppetry.

Here is the description I was given for “Tiddy Mun.” (I’ve added a special cape because my own research turned up clothing that made this wee creature “invisible at dusk.”

Tiddy Mun of the Tiddy people (also known as Greencoaties, Yarthkin, or the Strangers)

Physical appearance: Tiddy Mun was an elder male of the Tiddy people, a physically repulsive bunch with thread-like limbs, long noses, and wide red tongues dangling from elongated mouths. Standing about a hand’s length high, Tiddy people had large hands and feet, and their drooping heads rolled about on their shoulders. They typically wore green clothes with yellow hats that were the color of fungus.

Lore: Tiddy people had a strong connection with the natural world. When happy, they would help corn to ripen and all green things to grow. They twittered and cheeped like birds, and they were fond of dancing – particularly at night, when they would dance on great flat stones in the moonlight. Sometimes, they would even dance by fireplaces in houses after people had gone to bed, and crickets would play music for them. When angry, the Tiddy people would yelp like angry hounds, and they would stop the crops from growing. In an effort to keep the Tiddy people happy, humans would spill milk or beer beside the fireplace for them to drink, and they would set out the first flowers, fruit, or vegetables from a harvest and lay them on stones for the Tiddy people to eat.

Source: Briggs, Mrs. Balfour


“Tiddy Mun”   (watercolor, pen & ink, pencil, gouache)   The original painting is available for purchase in my Shop here.


© Susan Sorrell Hill

© Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is fragile.

I had a close encounter with a yard waste bin today. Who knew those unwieldy, chest-high squarish things that weigh a ton when full could be lethal weapons in their own right? One moment I’m attempting to push an almost-full bin across a bumpy lawn and the next moment I’m on the ground feeling shocked and fragile with a wrenched and smashed knee, a banged head and compressed neck, a minor case of trauma and a major case of wounded pride. (Those of you who follow mind-body precepts will instantly recognize the correlation between knees and pride in this little story.)

Alas. It was the second time in two weeks that I’d injured myself significantly in my elderly in-laws back yard doing gardening chores out of the reluctant goodness of my heart. Two weeks ago it was a sprained right wrist (now the lesser injury, but since I am right-handed, still a drag) from lifting heavy objects plus shearing off way too many dead iris leaves with a vintage and very heavy pair of tailor’s shears. Tiny wrists and an old injury to the same forearm from stacking firewood several years ago combined to present the (unlearned) Lesson Number One here.

Luckily for my aching body, I’m not going to wait for Lesson Number Three (as in, “Third time’s a charm…”). So here’s my great insight from this experience: Never volunteer out of a sense of obligation to do yard work at your in-laws. If the family dynamics flying fast and thick as dragonflies at sunset don’t get you, the pointy objects and lurking rocks, ladders, waste bins and hoses will. Enough said.


“Burning Bush”   (watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil)    The original painting is available for purchase here.

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.10.35 AM

the new ebook from TYT

Back in March 2014, Susanna Maier over at the Trade Your Talent blog, announced the debut of her new free ebook, replete with a rich smorgasbord sampling of past artist features from the inspiring TYT blog, which specializes in interviews with creative folks of all types (including yours truly). Says Susanna about her blog’s inspiration,

“Where does inspiration come from? How does every artist create their own unique creative process? Whether it is illustration, photography, mixed media or painting – every artist has a way of expressing their emotions and dreams. Trade Your Talent tries to capture these powerful moments of expressing your true self.”

Since I have just now–finally–figured out how to download and read an ePub file, I feel confidant that you too (OK, you over there in the back–quit smirking!) can get there. Visit Susanna’s blog and click on her download link in the sidebar to get a copy, openable with any device that can open files in ePub format (Kindle, iPhone with iBooks, etc.). I opened my file with an ePub reader downloaded for Firefox, whew…am I proud. Now, can I remember how I did it…?

SusanSorrellHillYou can also read my own two interviews for Trade Your Talent in their original blog format here (January 2011) and here (May 2012). The 2012 interview is the post featured in this new TYT ebook.

© Susan Sorrell Hill

© Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is mask.

A young man in full early twenties regalia caught my eye as I drove through town yesterday. At a distance, I couldn’t tell if he was Thrift Store Aficionado or patron of Eco Hemp Hip, but it was clear that he was going through (if I remember my sociology correctly) the Ashes phase. His long hair, slouchy walk, and baggy, faded and layered clothing proclaimed his individuality as loudly as any bright T-shirt slogan or placard. The message was, “I am my own person now!”

Growing up, changing roles has never been a graceful or easy process, and even long before the exuberant era of sex-drugs-Rock & Roll, young men in tribal societies had fewer, but usually ritualized, methods of  relinquishing the childhood role and “cutting the apron strings” between mother and son: kill a bear, take a walkabout, survive a dangerous ceremony, or cover oneself with ashes and hang out by the fire pit being useless and belligerent. But one of them always worked. Mothers got the message, “My little boy has become a man,” and they let go. Boys were free to take on new roles without the emotional impediment of  worrying about how their mothers felt about being left behind. It was an outwardly dramatic process, but probably not as emotionally messy as boy-to-man changes are today–transitions that can last into the thirties, forties, sixties, or even never fully come to resolution. This particular male journey is not the only transmogrification casualty. Writers and psychologists have commented in increasing numbers on the lack of clear guides in modern culture for both men and women for transiting the Stages of Life, and the rippling and long-lasting negative effects of that foggy confusion throughout society.

But I digress a bit. I remember that time in my own life which paralleled this young man’s Ashes phase. I was living in the dorms and later living further away from home on my own, and the sex-drugs-Rock & Roll youths were catnip to this young woman going through her own stage of establishing independence and individuality. I had my baggy and torn jeans, I put away bras forever, and I grew my hair long. I loved the Rolling Stones. But mostly I loved those wild, dangerous and adventuresome boys. They were doing what I couldn’t quite bring myself to do. They were breaking loose, taking flight. For a long time, I felt that I had failed to be truly Free, that I had not taken full advantage of the tumultuous and ‘important’ Sixties and Seventies.

Years later, I realized that changing costumes and masks, was not the ‘meat’ of change at all. The process of Change was about so much more than changing one’s attitudes, lifestyle, or even one’s religion. It was about so much more than reinventing oneself. It was so much harder than these outward changes, and yet, at the same time, so much simpler. The change was to realize–at any age of life–that I was not the roles that I play, my history, the way that I look, the things that I do or even the things that I make, learn or believe. The change was to realize that I am–and always have been–the Awareness that watches ‘myself’ do all of these things in this thing called My Life. I am, simply, myself.  I am. No apologies, no explanations needed.

What a relief.


“Untitled”   (acrylic on paper)   This painting, circa 2000, was inspired by an interaction with a wild raccoon who left a paw print on our side door’s window. Later, my husband found him staring into the rain, totally soaked by the side of the road and brought him home. The wildlife advocate we took him to later told us that he had died of one of those relatively rare but not unusual diseases that wild creatures sometimes get. Clearly, though, he was seeing Mother Nature coming for him. A collector (who was facing prostate cancer at the time) bought this painting without knowing the raccoons’ story. Isn’t the unspoken language of art amazing?

SusanSorrellHillUpdate: 8/20/14  Prints of this image (which I’ve now titled, “Raccoon’s Vision”) are now available in the Other Works gallery over at my Artspan site:  www.susansorrellhill.artspan.com





"Of Two Minds" (watercolor, pen & ink) ©Susan Sorrell Hill

“Of Two Minds” (watercolor, pen & ink)
© Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is temptation.

The New Age has come up with a lot of wonky slogans, formulas and fads, but a rare few of them can be quite useful. Some of them can even shift a person out of her meaningless, status quo life. Take, for example, the Mission Statement. At first glance, this seems to be simply a trendy reinvention of that age-old question, “Who am I?” But wait…isn’t this a very useful question to ponder deeply, whether one is a New Age advocate or not?

Artists have had to face this question forever, even before the Artist Statement was de rigueur in the contemporary Art World. Blank canvas, pristine paper, lump of clay and the palette of rainbow color all shout out the endless possibilities for creativity, and simultaneously point out succinctly that Life is Short: one simply can’t do everything. “What are you going to do with it?” an artist’s materials constantly asks.

It’s a good (but not an easy) question, one that can only be truly answered moment by moment, artist or not. The world would be a very different place if asking, “Who am I?” was an accepted part of school, family and spiritual life. Today’s suggestion: Avoid the temptation of relegating this one to the “Later” file.

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SusanSorrellHillFor those of my readers who haven’t gotten around to visiting the Etsy shop, here’s a quick no-click look at the About the Artist page:

Telling Stories with a Brush… Pencils, paint and the thrill of a good tale are my inspiration…and fairytales, dreams and psychology inevitably find their way in too. I like to make paintings that feel personal, almost private, like reading a favorite book under blankets with a flashlight. Making images is how I weave all the parts of my world together.

Most paintings start with a detailed drawing on tracing paper. Sometimes an idea arrives all at once, clear in my mind, but more often, the objects and figures unfold gradually as I draw, erase, and draw again. I use a light box to transfer a successful drawing to archival paper, and the paper is soaked, stretched and allowed to dry before beginning with dip pen, ink and watercolors. Because watercolor is transparent, there is little room for mistakes or drastic changes–sometimes beginning again is the only option. BUT when the painting process goes well or surprises me wonderfully, no other medium compares to the glow and delicacy of watercolor.

I love combining words with pictures as well: my first two author-illustrator picture books, “The Emperor’s Pear Tree” and “The Teapot’s Tale” are currently seeking their publishers.

Painting and drawing happens most days in my tiny studio in the Northern California Gold Rush town where I live with my sculptor husband. Lizards, deer, blue jays, jack rabbits, very tall trees (and the occasional mountain lion, bear or skunk) are our neighbors. They remind me that my own small story is part of the much larger and immensely inscrutable Mystery of Life. Great love and attention goes into my paintings, and I hope you will love them too. Thank you for visiting!

I work mostly from imagination, but sometimes a little reference helps.

I work mostly from imagination, but sometimes a little reference helps.


Watercolors with backgrounds have an irregular edge that extends beyond the crop marks.

Watercolors with backgrounds have an irregular edge that extends beyond the crop marks.

A painting in progress--the table is never quite big enough.

A painting in progress–the table is never quite big enough.

In my studio: finished paintings, color charts, books, tools...and a dozen or so fuzzy friends.

In my studio: finished paintings, color charts, books, tools…and a dozen or so fuzzy friends.

Favorite images in my scrapbooks are a great source of ideas for the next painting.

Favorite images in my scrapbooks are a great source of ideas for the next painting.

Susan Sorrell Hill (formerly Aunt Soup) is the  Etsy shop where I sell original, one-of-a-kind watercolors that tell a quirky, mysterious story...handmade by me with love and care. Welcome!

Susan Sorrell Hill (formerly Aunt Soup) is the Etsy shop where I sell original, one-of-a-kind watercolors that tell a quirky, mysterious story…handmade by me with love and care. Welcome!


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