© 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!

For all my Etsy fans…the Etsy shop of Susan Sorrell Hill (alias Aunt Soup) has just re-opened. You’ll find a veritable plethora of original watercolors with that surreal, fairytale flavor here. Looking for prints? You can find museum-quality prints from the watercolor, oil and drawing archives in my other shop here. Mats and framing are available too.

Thanks for stopping by…those visitor numbers are always very encouraging in my Stats counter!susansorrellhill.artspan.com


© Susan Sorrell Hill

© Susan Sorrell Hill

The long work of transferring a preliminary drawing to a one-and-a-half times larger canvas is finished. Now to vacuum up the zillions of eraser crumbles in my studio’s rug and break out the oil paints! At some point, I plan to paint this image in a 16×20″ watercolor format too. Really looking forward to that one.


“Alice, Falling”  (work-in-progress, shown as the 16×20″ pencil drawing on tracing paper and also as the scaled-up watercolor pencil preliminary drawing on 24×30″ canvas)

Artists often develop what might be called ‘a visual language.’ They become known for recognizable (but still often mysterious) symbols, and many also revisit ideas and subjects that continue to hold challenge and fascination. Alexander Eldridge’s houses and eggs, Van Gogh’s numerous self portraits and sunflower paintings, Gustav Klimt’s multiple visions of mermaids, couples entwined, and pregnant women, Michael Parkes‘ goddesses and beasts, are just a few that come to mind. But the tendency to repeat subject matter goes back much further than our records of well-known artists and their works. Archeologists, mythologists and art historians, including notables Joseph Campbell and Marija Gimbutas, have written extensively on the clear evidence that creatives of the ancient past (who rarely signed their art) worked with common themes and universal subject matters (which are still common today), whether in sculpture, painting, ornament, or pottery. It seems that beneath our surface individuality, there are similarities that run deep. It is somehow comforting to know that we humans are all thinking about, wrestling with and exploring the same things…

"Parlor Persona" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Parlor Persona” c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Persona  is a theme I’ve painted from several times. The first version, “Parlor Persona” was painted in oils in 1995, as part of my Transformation Series. Sold to a collector long ago, this particular painting is still one of my favorites. With the up-front disclaimer that every viewers sees—and should see—something personal and a bit different in an image, here is one interpretation for this painting: a wild-ish female figure (note the hair) stands on a luxurious carpet in the middle of a well-furnished parlor or living room. There is art hanging on the wall behind her which is, in fact, changing from wallpaper to dark forest. This mysterious figure, wrapped in a magical robe or drapery, holds a shining mask before her face, a mask that is striking in it’s smiling perfection of female beauty. What do I think it all means? The title holds the clue. Without having ever intended a specific scene or composition before I began, this image feels like a symbol of a particular human dilemma: the hiding of one’s deep nature behind a socially-acceptable mask of smiling blandness. How sad that this might be necessary!

In a second version of the persona theme, this time in a smaller watercolor format, the same draped figure stands within the white space of the paper’s background. The surrounding space implies that she stands somewhere within the great expanses of time, without specific place or reference to era. But the night sky that opens up behind her head is the real change in a revisitation of this theme. This figure is slowly dissolving into the beautiful, timeless vastness of space, just over her shoulder. Here again, that subtle theme of what a person truly is behind a socially-approved mask or persona… but this time on a grander scale. The figure represented is not simply wild behind the mask, she is something much bigger, much more unknowable. This version hints at the depths and breadths of the Soul, the inconceivable Mystery of being human and Spirit at the same time.

"Persona" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Persona” c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Persona is a subject of contemplation that I find myself returning to over and over, and I am sure that there will be many more paintings inspired by this idea. ❦ What do other people see in these two versions of the “persona” theme, I wonder?

“Parlor Persona”    (oil on board )

“Persona”   (watercolor, gouache, colored pencil, pen & ink)

SusanSorrellHillMuseum-quality prints (optional mats and framing) for both “Parlor Persona” and “Persona” are available here.

"Burning" c. Susan Sorrell Hill

“Burning” c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Mini-news ~ More print size options now in the Watercolor Gallery. Optional matting and a selection of frames are also available. Visit the shop here. Tip: click on the “view all thumbnails” link for an overview of available images in each of the watercolor, works on paper and oil galleries.

Thanks for stopping by!

Update (6/12/14):  My Artspan print shop is now closed…

Spring Greetings, dear readers!

The mini-news of the day: there are now nifty links on my Artspan (print & gallery) site to my three favorite Artist Interviews so far. They’re really nice conversations (with me, the artist) and loads of images, all in one place. I’d be delighted to have you visit them here. While you’re visiting, sign up for the email list to receive hot-off-the-press news about new prints in the shop.

Update (6/12/14): My Artspan print shop is now closed…


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