Archive for February, 2011

c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is swarm.

It was the summer of my twenty-eighth year, and the first time that I had ever seen a bee swarm. It hung like a slowly spinning galaxy in the apple orchard beyond our cabin, and stopped my breathing with its surreal beauty. With calmly donned, netted hat and long gloves atop shorts, tan legs and biblical sandals, my then-boyfriend deftly dropped the humming mass into a new hive box. He was fearless. From a safer distance, I watched the bees settle gracefully into their new home.

Like those bees, I am well-practiced in the art of changing residence. Thirteen address changes before my fifteenth year, and twice as many since then, have made me an expert in the art of moving. I have an unreasonable passion for boxes, and am overcome with nostalgic longing whenever an Allied Van or U-Haul truck passes me on the freeway. Adept at making any house a home, I know how to organize, pack, orchestrate, load, unpack, and redecorate with the best of them. Perhaps it is attributable to a female nesting gene, but I have always been confidant that I could make the best out of any inside environment, regardless of location. Moving is in my blood.

But now I have lived in this same less-than-ideal house for more than eleven years. By circumstance and maybe by Soul’s design, I have been unable to indulge my life-long, moving tendencies in search of the new-improved lease on life. It has been frustrating, and, as they say with tongue in cheek, Character Building. A psychologist might wisely say that this stuck-ness has forced me to change in other, unseen ways, and she would be right. Being unable to move body and furniture, I have been forced to move mind and soul…and like a bird with clipped wings, my heart has been forced to make peace with the Now. I can’t say that I am as accomplished at the staying as I am at the moving, but I am working on it. Maybe I’ll even do it gracefully someday…

(detail) “Bee, in three versions” (watercolor, pencil, pen & ink)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is layer.

In a dog-eat-dog world, survival is a strong motivator and hiding is a most useful skill. One could even make the argument that hiding is natural because the animal kingdom demonstrates such a plethora and variety of adaptive physiologies and behaviors. Environment-appropriate colors, shapes, spots or stripes are everywhere, and hunting, foraging and mating behaviors are perfectly synchronized to particular surroundings and particular species. An animal surely knows (if it can know such a thing) who it is, where it fits and how to survive in its world.

But is hiding natural for humans? Without significant survival instincts and when faced with what seems to be a hostile universe, humans frequently resort to hiding strategies (more kindly referred to as ‘coping behaviors’) that take the form of postures, poses, masks and personas. Many of us resort to a different layer of personality for every area of our life. To our boss or clients we are one person, to our parents we are another, to our kids or friends we are yet another, and to the opposite sex, yet one more still. Could this be natural for anything that is not a chameleon?

Humans are born fur-less and defenseless, and maybe that is a cue to the path we are meant to travel on our journey through life. Some might argue that ‘superior mental faculties’ (should one interpret this as ‘the ability to manipulate’..?) are meant to replace the ‘less evolved’ survival tactics of tooth, claw and stripe…but have those same faculties brought the human race any percentage of the apparent tranquility that most animals seem to enjoy? A wikipedia essay on the Theory of Camouflage (both animal and human) notes that, “the methods by which concealment or obscurity are attained share a common set of strategies intended to deceive the observer.” Natural or not (and successful or not), for humans this hiding business is exhausting and alienating. It leads to stress and strain, illness, paranoia and lack of connection. It destroys the opportunity for true communion and creative evolution. Seems a high price to pay for propagation of the species and the safety of one’s soft underbelly…

For those of you who are wearied by the rat race and the dog-eat-dog version of reality, I send a wee bit of comfort with the poetic lyrics of Leonard Cohen (from the soundtrack of McCabe & Mrs. Miller).

Sisters of Mercy

Oh the sisters of mercy, they are not departed or gone.
They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.
And they brought me their comfort and later they brought me their song.
Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.

Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control.
It begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul.
Well I’ve been where you’re hanging, I think I can see how you’re pinned:
When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned.

Well they lay down beside me, I made my confession to them.
They touched both my eyes and I touched the dew on their hem.
If your life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn
they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem.

When I left they were sleeping, I hope you run into them soon.
Don’t turn on the lights, you can read their address by the moon.
And you won’t make me jealous if I hear that they sweetened your night:
We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right,
We weren’t lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.

“Parlor Persona” (oil on paper)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

Today I am sending out a Valentine’s Day hug in the form of a painting…

Thank you so much to all of my blog visitors, and especially to those who have left appreciative comments. Your interest in my artwork and words has been deeply appreciated.

Next month will mark the one-year anniversary of this blog, so please check back for my anniversary giveaway contest!

“Dream” (watercolor, pen & ink)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is sweater.

My mother was the crafty one in the family. Given a bit of spare change, she’d be off to the five-and-dime to buy bags full of brightly colored acrylic yarns and yet one more crochet needle. Her creations covered every sitting and reclining surface in our house, as well as all of the extra toilet paper rolls in the bathroom. (Don’t ask.) Yarn ornaments hung from the Christmas tree, and no person was deemed unsuitable for the gift of at least one large, crocheted afghan.

In the category of crafts (as indeed most other categories) I found myself the proverbial black sheep. Crochet held no allure…but I took to knitting like a duck to water. By the time a seventh-grade home economics teacher assigned long, knitted wool scarves as the next skill that every woman should possess, I had already cabled, pearled, and ribbed my way through numerous sweaters, vests, mittens, and booties. I was obsessed with knitting, and all of my babysitting money went to feed the habit. Ignoring the bright colors of the cheaper, easier-care acrylic yarns, I fell in love with the deep, rich and subtle shades of wool. Knitting a sweater felt like sculpting in color, and I spent all of my spare time with needles and yarn. Watching television while knitting became easy.

Over the years, my devotion to boyfriends was expressed in wool, and though I suspect those gifts were received with as much enthusiasm as I had felt receiving those earlier, motherly afghans…surely I was the Nature Goddess incarnate, spreading tangible, wooly love. Silly me. (Later, I made the same mistake with cooking.)

These were wool sweaters, mind you, and so their care-and-feeding was a little trickier. More than once, a sweater came out of the wash sink much matted or misshapen. The time I inadvertently machine-washed my husband’s very fancy, cabled irish sweater and his gold watch springs to mind. Both, of course, were ruined. My knitting enthusiasm slowed down after that, and instead of months to finish a sweater, several years might go by.

I haven’t knitted anything in years, nor sewn either, though I was devoted to both for a long, long time. I suppose I could consider that sad, but upon reflection, I see that those passions have evolved into the making of paintings and drawings. The years spent studying patterns and exquisite couture details, noticing the way a sweater or skirt draped, luxuriating in colors, textures and form, have all translated fluidly into paint, pencil and paper.

And the working process is still the same: one stitch at a time until I am done. No hurrying possible. Sounds like Life, doesn’t it?

“Cold Fish” (watercolor, pen & ink, gouache)

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c. Susan Sorrell Hill

The Illustration Friday word of the week is reverse.

Ever feel that your life (waistline, hairline, bank account, career, whatever) is actually moving in reverse… one step forward, two steps back?

Yah, me too.

Repeat after me: “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.” (Cowboy Wisdom)

Ok. Take a deep breath. Now… let’s get back to that drawing board.



“Betwixt & Between” (oil on canvas, 44×40″)  See a larger image here.

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