Archive for November, 2010

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is savour.

It felt like a scene from Margot Zemach’s classic retelling of a Yiddish folktale, It Could Always Be Worsethat one where the rabbi says to the crazed man, “Ok, now take the chickens, goat, dog, cat, cow and geese out of your house.” Suddenly the man’s tiny home is blissfully spacious and peaceful, even still living with his mother-in-law, wife and multiple children.

Here, Thanksgiving morning was grim.  The sun was finally shining in a cobalt blue blue sky, but it was the fifth day without power after winter’s gift of heavy snow, record low temperatures and power outages for 7,000 homes. But mid-morning brought a beautiful sight: blue PG&E trucks loaded with crews, rolling up the icy road like calvary come with colors flying. Within an hour they had removed fallen trees, downed wires and restored power.

I don’t think I have ever been so happy to clean toilets (previously flushed with melted snow), vacuum rugs and wash floors (covered with firewood debris), empty the refrigerator (rotten food, puddles of water, bowls of snow), do laundry (don’t ask) and take long, hot showers (for bodies that were beginning to have a distinct savour.) I was dancing around singing the words of Fred Astaire’s tune, Cheek to Cheek“Heaven, I’m in heaven…and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”

While the power was out, I had to continually remind myself that my home was warm and dry with plenty of firewood, candles, groceries and a wood stove to heat water (bottled) on, and that I had a vehicle (and a husband ok with winter driving) and reasonably clear roads (after the second day) to get us to the library (for internet service) and the market. The long, cloudy days without the ability to be in our studios (no heat or lights), no evening movies to look forward to, no running water and the need to not move too far from the only room with heat, grated on our already-frazzled nerves. Yet I–even in the midst of that–had so much more than many folks, and, as the much-used adage goes, “I had my health.” I told my churlish self to be quiet.

Now that I am calmer, can get back into my studio, read emails at home, and watch an evening movie, I recognize (Thank you for the reminder, Mr. Weather.) that my life was always rich. And that weather is just, well, weather. (And another lesson in surrender.)

“No Recipe, II” (watercolor, pen & ink, colored pencil)   “A bit of mouse might be nice…”

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is sneaky.

Friendship is such a sneaky thing. One minute you are minding your own business…and the next moment you find yourself borrowing sugar or lending ladders, babysitting each other’s kids, and sharing joys and griefs with someone who was a complete stranger only a year ago. But now they are part of your life’s underpinnings…part of the sweetness of life.

Friendships can be seeded by any circumstance: sharing the same grouchy clerk in the market line, the same flood or hurricane experience, the same job, class, world view or ex-boyfriend. Friendships are not predictable or made-on-demand. And like their more intense cousin, Love, they are subject to the laws of ebb and flow. They are subject to change, and therefore call up the highest, most demanding lesson on life’s journey: surrender.

Like all other Surrender lessons, friendships (and love) challenge us to welcome the new when it arrives, stay open for the duration, and gracefully release the old when its time has come. Sometimes the letting go must happen almost immediately, sometimes it will be required only after a lifetime of connection. The time frame and circumstances will vary, but Change will always find us.

Hopefully, it will find us non-resistant.

Isn’t it interesting how The Mystery has built this great need for love and friendship into our very hearts…which, in turn, requires the stretching of those same tender parts?

Two of my favorite quotes about friendship and relationship…

“Shouldn’t relationships come with an expiration date…so that we know when they’re going to go bad?” (Unknown)

“Where do they go, the friends who sail into our lives like green leaves…and disappear like snow?” (Rod McKuen, American singer-songwriter and poet)

“Encounter” (watercolor, gouache, pencil, colored pencil)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is burning.

Last week, after finishing and submitting the book dummy for “The Emperor’s Pear Tree”, I took a much-needed rest. Now I’m looking for new inspiration among the folktales and fairytales at the astonishing public domain source, Project Gutenberg. The Wizard of Oz caught my eye…can it really have been published so long ago?

Trusting my little printer to valiantly copy all sixty-six pages of the text, my belief that there are writers…and then there are great writers…has been reaffirmed. Even after so much exposure, this brilliant tale still holds my interest and fires my artist’s imagination with imagery. The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, has continued to be an inspiration for screenwriters, playwrights, illustrators and toy makers since its first publication in 1900. (Those of you who read this blog regularly will have already guessed that my all-time favorite interpretation of this classic is by the award-winning Austrian illustrator, Lisbeth Zwerger. Her imaginative characters were not influenced by the popular American movie version, but are her own unique and satisfying interpretation of Baum’s original text.)

With the announcement of this week’s Illustration Friday word, burning, it is not surprising that my newest painting would be inspired by The Wizard of Oz.

I’ll tell you a secret,” [the Scarecrow] continued, as he walked along. “There is only one thing in the world I am afraid of.” “What is that?” asked Dorothy, “the Munchkin farmer who made you?” “No,” answered the Scarecrow, “it’s a lighted match.” The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum

The Scarecrow’s fear is almost comical in its simplification, isn’t it? But then, our deepest fears usually do boil down to something very basic, even if we are not made of straw. I had thought I would write more about Fear this week, but these quotes say it so much better than I could have…and more succinctly. (Many more quotes about fear can be found here.)

“We are largely the playthings of our fears. To one, fear of the dark; to another, of physical pain; to a third, of public ridicule; to a fourth, of poverty; to a fifth, of loneliness … for all of us, our particular creature waits in ambush.” Horace Walpole

“Fear is the fire that melts Icarian wings.” Florence Earle Coates

“Fear is the prison of the heart.” Anonymous  (This one reminds me of Roberto’s wonderful birdcage image, titled, “I Desire This for All” (DESEO ESTO PARA TODOS), in the right sidebar.)

Shall we give our fears a holiday?  ‘Tis the season…

“Burning” (watercolor, pen and ink, pencil, gouache)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is afterwards.

You may have noticed a definite metaphysical bent to my musings? Well, today I tackle the big question: what happens afterwards? You know…after the event that Robin Williams (as his character, Patch Adams, in the movie of the same name) refers to as,

“Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying: Slow down. To shuffle off this mortal coil. To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. To be the incredible decaying man. Kick the bucket. Take the cab.”

And his sidekick in the movie adds,

“To check out. To head for the happy hunting ground. To find oneself without breath. Worm buffet. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.”

What happens after all that?? Well, there are lots of theories: we go into the Light, we come back as ourselves again in another life, we come back as an animal, we go to another planet or dimension, we hang around to haunt houses and our relatives, we hang out in the big Limbo if we’ve been exceptionally naughty, we go to Heaven on good merit, we turn into angels, and the most imponderable: we stop existing. Most of us, if we are self-aware and honest enough to admit it, are at least a little nervous about what comes next after this life. We all have our favorite, comforting scenarios, but the truth is: nobody knows for sure. It’s a great Mystery.

Abraham Lincoln wrote, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” On a similar note, the  American poet, Theodore Roethke, wrote, “I learn by going where I have to go.” Both men may have been referring to other things, but if their philosophy is applied to this question of life and what comes afterwards, pretty much all we are left with in the face of our huge unknowing is… (you guessed it) the present moment, the Now. And the next now, and the next, until suddenly, the now we will find ourselves in is in the afterwards.

If they’ve got the Universal Mail System worked out by the time I get to the Afterwards, I’ll send you a postcard to let you know how it really is…(but don’t hold your breath!).

“Afterwards” (watercolor, pencil, gouache)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Today the book dummy and manuscript for my author-illustrator middle grade storybook, “The Emperor’s Pear Tree,” wings its way toward the first wonderful publisher on my inquiry list. Five original paintings from this book project have also been entered in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Illustrators Exhibition. (Jury results will be announced in January 2011). Told in the tradition of Eastern folktales and illustrated with luminous and detailed watercolors, “The Emperor’s Pear Tree” is the story of a young woman in search of a magic cure for her war-damaged husband.

Can you guess what the perfect fairy tale ending for both of these endeavors might be? I’m keeping my metaphorical fingers crossed…

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