Alumni Q&A: Painting Tribute
Dec. 2, 2020
SHSU Media Contact: Hannah Haney
Sam Houston State University alumna Victoria (Toria) Hill believes in the healing power of art. For this reason, she is using her talents as a painter to commemorate COVID-19 first responders in order to remind others of their sacrifices and strength during this difficult time in history.
Hometown: Houston is where I was born, but I am a long-time resident of Willis, Texas. I believe I lived in Esther Hall when I was on campus. Some of my fondest memories are there. We all used to gather in the TV room (yes, that is how old I am) and watch General Hospital together. One year when it snowed, we all took our mattresses outside and slid down the hill on them. We got in so much trouble for that, but I think of it every time it snows.
Current City of Residence: Willis, Texas
SHSU Major/Minor: My major was in Psychology and my minor was in Criminal Justice, but I was also interested in Child Development and almost chose that as my minor.
Graduation Year: I graduated in 1989
T@S: Why did you choose to attend SHSU?
VH: I loved the small town feel and the excellence in academics. I also loved that the professors knew my name. I attended another university for a semester (chasing a boy) and at the end of the semester I went up to the professor to ask a question and he had to ask me who I was. I ran back to SHSU as fast as I could. The professors at Sam Houston took the time to know our names and talked to us outside of class too.
T@S: How has SHSU aided in your goals?
VH: I would say that everything I have accomplished in life has to do with my time at SHSU. That is where I grew up. That was the first time I realized what it meant to be an adult and to be completely in charge of my own future. The professors there treated me like an adult from day one and I feel like they taught me how to think and reason, not just memorize facts. I remember being so afraid to take a speech class because I would have to present speeches in front of everyone. I told the professor I was scared, and she told me to think of how I was feeling as feeling excited – not scared. That really helped me and is something I have expressed to my own children. That class turned out to be invaluable because I learned how to present myself – something that came in handy during my 20+ years as a public speaker and trainer for my own company – Tick Tock Training.
T@S: Advice to other Bearkats for pursuing their dreams?
VH: If I could go back and talk to my 20-year-old self, I would say-
- Do not wait till the last minute to get it done. I used to put things off thinking I had plenty of time – in life you never have plenty of time. Start projects right away- that way, when problems come up- and they always do, you have plenty of time to fix them.
- Do not be afraid of your own opinion, -but be open to the opinions of others too. It is called a ‘discussion’ for a reason and understanding that the world does not see things the same as you will help you in the future.
- Have fun, be a joiner. Go to the games, join the groups, and take classes you are interested in – not just the classes you are told to take. From this moment on this is about you- what you want, what makes you happy. This is not just about how you will make a living, but how you will make your mark on the world. Make sure it is something that excites you. Make sure it something you want to get out of bed and do every day. The two major things I have done with my life are two things I am excited about and I feel like they both mattered.
T@S: Are you a full-time artist?
VH: It is a weird mix. I started my own company – Tick Tock Training way back in 1999. I set out to change the way children were treated in childcare. I decided the best way to do this was by training the staff and as I set out to do that, my business was born. My company provides childcare training nationwide. We certify people to own their own childcare centers, become childcare center Directors and we teach the Child Development Associates Course online and in person. Painting was always just a hobby as I built this company, however, as our certification courses moved online and the company grew, I found myself having more and more time to concentrate on painting. So now, I still own Tick Tock Training - but I consider myself a full-time artist because I can do it full time.
T@S: When did you first begin painting?
VH: I began painting in 2006 when both of my parents died within a month of each other. Being the only child, I was left to sort through their things and as I was doing this, I found a box of my brother’s old art supplies. He had died in 1990 and was the artist of the family. As I played with the supplies, I felt closer to him and I kind of lost myself to it. I tell people that I lost myself in that depression, but when I found myself again – I was an artist. They say that art heals, and I honestly believe it does.
T@S: Do you pursue any specific themes in your art?
VH: At first no. I was just painting to paint. A person, a dog, a pretty scene, but soon I found myself extremely interested in trying to convey what lies beneath that prettiness. People are messy (the psychology coming into play). Several of my pieces before COVID-19 were about the duality of the human being. How we can be seen as one thing, but our thoughts, fears, secret desires and underlying motives can be completely contrary. I had just really started to explore this when COVID-19 hit.
T@S: What inspired you to start the “Hero Series?”
VH: My daughter in law is a nurse and she loves her job but when COVID-19 hit she started expressing to me the battle that was going on in her mind and the minds of her co-workers. How do we treat this patient and still protect not just ourselves, but our families? The push and pull between doing what she loved and wanted to do but knowing that it could potentially kill her or infect her family - it was a battle I wanted the world to see. In the beginning, they did not even know how to fight it. Add to that not having the protective gear they needed or the staff to handle the extremely sick patients – she was exhausted. So, I asked her to send me an image of her after a day at work and painted my first painting of her.
T@S: What do you hope people feel when they view your work?
VH: I hope they feel how heavy the decision to keep helping was for our first responders this year. What would have happened to us all if they had all just said no?! What I want people to understand is that these people (nurses, doctors, paramedics, police officers, firefighters, and all first responders) were already heroes. They all chose careers that set out to help people facing their worst, but 2020 challenged them to their core.
T@S: How many pieces have you done in the series and plan to do?
VH: At first my series was going to be about nurses, but as I thought about the heroes that have emerged, I expanded the list to include many others. I have completed five paintings so far and plan on a minimum of 20 for the show in 2021 to be held at the Sawyer Yards Art Campus in Houston, Texas.
I am currently looking for someone that is participating in the vaccine trials to add to my hero series. I would like to find a COVID-19 patient that donated plasma, among others.
T@S: Can you describe some of the pieces?
VH: My works are really big. 50x50, 36x36 and they are very vibrant. I wanted them to catch your eye from across the room.
I ask that the person send me a selfie at the end of their shift. I say, “Don’t fix your hair or make-up. Show me what real looks like.” Then, I interview them and while they are talking, an image will form in my mind, and by the time I am done with the interview I know what they need to say. At that point, I have them send me words that they think describes what they are going through, and I also choose words to fit what I have heard them say. I decided to use cut-outs from magazines and newspapers because I want the world 100 years from now to have the whole picture. I also feel like this makes it a historical piece.
After I place the newspaper articles and words on the canvas, I draw the image of the subject onto the canvas and fill it with acrylic ink in several layers. I spend a lot of time watching ink dry because the first layer has to be completely dry before I add the next layer, or the words won't show through. I want the words to show through the image because the two together are what makes it compelling. I place what I feel are the most important words in the forehead. One of my paintings says “fear”, another says, “stay calm” and another says, “and so it begins.”
All my subjects have blue eyes, because for me blue is the color of rescue. Doctors and nurses have always worn blue and growing up police officers and their cars in my town were blue too. Not to mention that my daddy’s eyes were blue, and he was always the person I ran to for comfort and saving.
T@S: SHSU’s motto is “The measure of a life is its Service.” What does service mean to you?
VH: People think that you have to go out of your way or travel to far lands to be of service, but I learned early on that you can be of service by simply taking care of the people around you and saying ‘yes’ when you are asked. Put money in the bucket, pick up extra food at the grocery store for an elderly neighbor, donate if asked, if you see someone suffering and you can help, do. Don’t expect the world to be the answer - if the answer could be you.
This is exactly why I am so honored to paint these heroes. They answer that call of service every day and never asked to be celebrated, but this is exactly why we should do it.
T@S: If interested, how can people request a commissioned piece? Where can they view your work?
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