Archive for April, 2010

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

This Illustration Friday word of the week is cocoon.

Twenty five years ago, two good habits found me. It was not an intentional meeting… more like the unplanned arrival of a pair of suspicious compulsions.

The first habit was, and still is, the collecting of images that make me smile. Cut from magazine, newspaper, card and brochure, Xeroxed from book and borrowed from Internet, they are art images as well as drawings and photographs of patterns, plants, shoes, toys, chairs, dolls, walls, gates, gardens, fences, trees, clouds, faces, hands, bodies, food, clothing, artifacts and antiques.

To become part of my collection, an image must pass through three stages of potential rejection: first to be clipped out at all… then later, when trimmed with scissors… and finally much later, when pasted in. I paste them in no particular order onto sheets of white paper, punch three holes and store them in large notebooks of the old-fashioned blue cloth variety, eschewing their ugly vinyl descendants. (Searching for these old notebooks gives me an excuse to frequent thrift stores, where I also find the orphaned white porcelain dishes I love for watercolor.)

The second habit is the collection of meaningful quotes. Scribbled on the proverbial napkin, scrap of paper or deposit slip, these precious words of wisdom accumulate until I copy them into plain-page books with a sharp pencil… the same kind of notebooks which I have been mostly unable to sketch in. Calling myself an artist, I am sure that a therapist would have a field day with this paradox…

I suspect that my collecting is a way to look within... to understand who I am through what I resonate with. A Creole proverb says this so well…“Tell me whom you love, and I will tell you who you are.” When I lose the thread of myself in the mad rush of Life, it is reaffirming to leaf through scrapbook or notebook. Here is a place where my Soul says “Yes!” to things that I recognize so clearly as somehow part of myself… even when it is wisdom or beauty that I have not yet been able to incorporate into my actual life.

This brings me back to the word cocoon, which I interpret as self-reflection.

In nature, the cocoon is a natural phase in a butterfly’s existence. It is her metamorphosis from lowly ground crawler to soaring creature of the air. After her cocoon phase, a butterfly comes fully into the expression of her Self. It is much the same with humans. Philosophers, spiritual teachers and shamans speak at length of this Transformational stage on the Journey of Life. It is an absolutely essential stage, in the larger (Soul) scheme of things, although not usually as visible as the butterfly’s cocoon. And it is not always comfortable. Perhaps it is not comfortable for the caterpillar either? This stage of ‘going inward’ can be prompted by illness, loss or failure, aging, physical limitation… or simply by the mysterious inner directives (and compulsions) of one’s personal path.

It is this last catalyst–the inner directive–that I am most interested in. Although the mechanism for change remains an ultimate Mystery, the source of that process can be touched through the simple act of incorporating stillness into daily life. Quietly enjoying Nature and the practice of meditation are two such means. These non-doings access an energy which is constantly available… inside. It is the place where I return to no-thing and have the opportunity to remake myself more closely in the image of my True Self. It is a priceless opportunity… and all too easy to forget.

“Looking Inward” (watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, pencil)

The theme of “Transformation” can also be seen in the work of sculptor, Ernest CaballeroMost notably: Seed, The Awakening, In Stillness, and Chrysalis.

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is ahead.

In my world, ahead is another word for the future. No… not the Back to the Future kind, but the kind that exists inside my very own head. Admittedly, it’s a place I spend a lot of time in… Trying to simultaneously exist in this studio moment and the future, I observe myself wondering… “Will the painting I’m making work out? Will anyone love it? Will I alienate everyone, and be pronounced a hack? Should I get a regular job and end the misery? What’s for dinner… ?”

Of course, any bystander could tell me that this train of thought(s) is all a huge drain on my batteries, and especially on my creative batteries. But it seems to be a mental loop that runs pretty much on automatic. Most embarrassing to admit. I have gotten to the point where I can frequently ignore those monkey-mind voices and work anyway, but the fact that they are still there in the background is not something that I am proud of. I wish they would go away and leave me in peace… I take only a small bit of comfort in knowing that this mental state is largely ‘par’ for the human condition.

Conventional wisdom says that Time is linear—comprised of Past, Present and Future. But many spiritual teachers and mystics state that there is only NOW. In the past or in the future, everything was, or will still be, NOW. Yes, it’s a lot to wrap a little lump of cerebral cortex around…

Unfortunately, my mind is not usually content to hang out solely in the this NOW… everywhere else but here always looks so much more inviting, less problematic… and probably was, or will be, so much better than it is now. The contemporary spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, has written and taught extensively about this dilemma. Although he is not speaking specifically to the artist crowd, he is very clear that the full experience of being alive, not to mention any guidance that may be available, can only be experienced in this NOW. (I know from personal experience that this available guidance can even include practical information like what color to paint next, or even what to draw in the first place…)

I’m still trudging away on this journey back to the NOW… I’ll meet you there?

“Bird Thoughts (watercolor, pen and ink, colored pencil)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is detective.

The English homeopath, Dr. James Compton Burnett (born?-1900) relied upon imagination as the intuitive source of his healing ability. At the time of his death, he had one of the most extensive and successful practices in Victorian London. Burnett’s close friend, Dr. John Henry Clarke (Constitutional Diseases) refered to this facility, and quoted Barnett:

“I don’t look where you look; I let my imaginations play about the case.”

Burnett’s imaginative ability gave him the therapeutic insight that others lacked. This bit of healing history is gratefully borrowed from Mathew Wood’s Seven Herbs: Plants as Teachers, where he writes that “Imagination is the vehicle through which the natural world communicates to us.”

It is, of course, through this same imagination that an artist accesses her own imagery, tapping into a deeper realm for the perfect solution to a creative problem. (Carl Jung grandly referred to this realm as the Unconscious, an aspect of the Mystery.)

Art-making (like healing) is a form of detective work… A patient gathering of clues, possibilities, and observations, a fair amount of leg-work, a gentle simmering and contemplating, an openness to outcome and… voila! a new image is born. (Often preceded by more than a bit of blood, sweat and tears… plenty of which are found in the detective work in those English mystery serials I have come to love…)

“Healing the Hydra (watercolor, gouache)

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The blue jays returned yesterday.

For the fourth year in a row, the bird pair has graced our porch with their family presence, choosing to once again refurbish the nest atop Ernest’s driftwood sculpture. Surreptitiously, we peek through the window to watch them gather weeds, fluff up their nest, lay eggs and take long turns incubating them. Finally, we hear peeping and scrambling, but it will be days before the babies are big enough to poke their bald little heads high.

The third year (shown here), curiosity got the better of me, and I used a mirror to check how many bright blue eggs the nest held. Every year they’ve all hatched, and there is a non-stop relay between both parents who bring bugs and worms to gaping red mouths. A sudden abundance of tiny green worms nearby coincides perfectly with their needs…

Because this is the outside wall of my studio, I will hear their peeping and wiggling, and the rattle of the sculpture on its bracket when a parent lands. Usually there are five bird-lets, and although there is clearly an alpha-bird and a runt, they all manage to leave the nest within hours of each other. Watching the growing birds jockey for position, hopping from edge to edge and stretching their stubby wings, we take bets on when the ‘leap day’ will be. The nest becomes quite crowded, but comparing their small size to the dangers of the world, that day always seems to arrive too soon.

Like their noisy parents, we will once again worry about the young birds falling prematurely from the nest. Then we will worry about the neighbor’s dog, as the young birds make their gradual, hopping way to safety in the woods across the road. We will all heave a sigh of relief when it’s over.

But… having blue birds of happiness nest by our front door is definitely worth the anxiety!

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

This week’s Illustration Friday topic is linked.

I may well lose half of my reading audience after this, but today I want to talk about the dreaded G– word!

Quickly, so as not to lose all of those folks, I assure you that my point of view here–really, that’s all it is–is much, much broader than any particular religious stand… It’s more of a philosophical view, more of a perspective on the nature of ‘reality.’ Being neither physicist nor religious person, my view has formed from a lifetime of wide reading, an observation of nature, and much contemplation. It is most closely allied with eastern, ancient and native cultural thought.

In the arts world, the work of the Impressionist ‘pointillist’ painter, Georges Seurat (1859-1891) comes closest to depicting my feeling of God. In his paintings, there are no lines, no boundaries. Points of color comprise everything, overlapping but staying distinctly themselves too. His depicts a fluid, interconnected world.

Which brings me back to this week’s Illustration Friday topic linked. Simply stated, my feeling is that ‘God’ is everywhere, knows everything, sees everything, IS everything. In this world view, we and everything we can see, taste, and touch are the substance of this thing called God. This definition of God is indeed mind-numbing, unknowable, a profound Mystery… a subject worthy of a lifetime of contemplation. And the implications of such a belief are far-reaching… Isn’t that so much more Soul-satisfying than a belief in the white-bearded man on a cloud, keeping score? The story teller in me, and the Inner Child who still believes in magic, really likes to think so…

And so, I leave you with my painting “Everywhere” (watercolor, gouache). A God that (benevolently) sees all, knows all, is linked to all, IS all… and there,right in the middle of IT, is this thing called Little Me. I haven’t worked out the details on that last bit yet.

(I had a feeling that, eventually, “just making art” would lead to wild controversy…)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

I think of Easter as Bunny Day. And in honor of Bunny Day, my painting for this week’s Illustration Friday features a pair of those adorable, mysterious creatures. The word of the week is dip, and I have chosen to illustrate the dictionary’s slang definition: “A foolish or stupid person.”

Now, any of you who have been around bunnies (or rabbits, as they are more respectfully called) will know that they are neither foolish nor stupid, but they are often portrayed this way in stories, as a stand-in for our own human foibles. But make no mistake, in their own natural self, a bunny is an amazing creature. If you are in the bunny mood this weekend, I would like to suggest four of my favorite bunny stories from my own children’s book collection…

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. (The definitive rascally bunny character… now made famous once again by the movie Miss Potter, starring Renee Zellweger.)
  • Morris’s Disappearing Bag: A Christmas Story by Rosemary Wells. (Morris, the youngest bunny child, discovers that the last Christmas present under the tree is the enviable, best one.)
  • Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram .(A father and son rabbit try to outdo each other with declarations of their love.)
  • And my all-time favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, especially the version illustrated by David Jorgensen. (A stuffed rabbit discovers for himself that “When a child loves you for a long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”)

I will leave you with a story of my own about the mysterious power of bunnies…

I found Scrooby, the feline love of my life (nicknamed Sabu), in the woods when he was still quite young. Lost, upset and very loud, it became quickly apparent that he was handicapped in the motor skills department. Covering territory with a determined, drunken-sailor kind of gate, he fell so frequently that many of his teeth and whiskers were already broken. The abilities that one takes for granted in a cat—leaping, stretching, stalking, rubbing up against a leg, running fast—were all beyond his capabilities. For the five short years we shared, we both did our best to compensate for this: special doors, ramps and eating bowls on my part, and sweet and fierce determination to be a ‘normal’ cat on his part. I don’t think I had ever seen any being try to live so fully, despite limitations.

One of my fondest memories of Sabu occurred on the day that my neighbor’s pet rabbit escaped from his cage under my deck. Keeping tabs on my cat, I looked out across the grassy yard to see cat and rabbit hopping and leaping high, side-by-side like old friends. Something about that bunny had pulled a leaping joy out of Sabu, in spite of his handicaps, and I will be forever grateful to have witnessed that small miracle. The power of love and friendship… and bunnies… is astonishing!

“The Bunny Buddies” (watercolor, pen & ink)

Visit Susan’s website.

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