Dog Days of Summer

I find Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast to be something of a mixed bag, but Episode #204 – “Who Gets To Decide Whether You Are A Legitimate Artist?” took my breath away.

Quinn1

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I think we can all agree that rejection, criticism, and even intentional disregard come with the territory of what we do, but it doesn’t seem to stop us, does it?

Quinn 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Whether you are at the height of your success or have never shared your work beyond your own eyes or ears, if you are someone who is called to make art of whatever discipline, take some time to listen to this episode.

Quinn 4

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

It will only underline that you are on the right path.

On a Different Note___________________________________________________________________________________________

Did you see Colossal this week?
As the saying goes, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. So it is with Laurel Roth Hope’s wonderful work that offers a touch of humor and beauty while “exploring environmental harm, extinction, and consumerism”. Check out her Biodiversity Reclamation Suits for Urban Pigeons and Peacocks on her website – beautifully constructed and so smart.

Pyrotechnic Analogies

With all the rain we’ve had this summer, my garden is especially lush.
And while, as I’ve written before, I love the quiet and visual restraint of a winter landscape, these months of vibrant color definitely serve to recharge my batteries to carry me through the more subdued seasons ahead. In February I’ll look back at pictures taken around my yard from June through October and they’ll seem almost impossibly luxuriant.

If given a choice, I am overwhelmingly partial to purple, particularly the shade that hovers over the line between blue and violet. I have a delphinium, planted several years ago, that fully came into its own this summer. I can’t get enough of the depth and layers of color within its blooms, even as it slowly fades. It is placed so that I can see it up close just as easily from inside the house as when outside. I’ve been watching it attentively and think its dramatic change from sprigs of branched buds to full-on sprays of exuberant blossoms has been equivalent to a fireworks display in slow motion.

Embroidery part one

© 2017 Elizabeth Fram, Dye and stitching on raw silk

I suspect being steeped in this beautiful blue had a subconscious influence on choice of dye color in my current textile piece. But also, the section I’ve been working on/stitching this week certainly seems to echo this idea of slow motion reward: a measured start building into a crescendo of stitched pattern.

Embroidery part 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram, Dye and stitching on raw silk

Hopefully I can carry the spirit of that idea forward with the next steps I have planned.

Speaking of fireworks, I’ve had them on my mind since finishing The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale. It’s a fictional tale of 18th century London that is most interesting for its view into the workshop of a fireworks maker, paired with the harsh realities of the daily workings of life in that time and place. It’s the author’s debut and a quick, entertaining read if you’re looking to add one last title to your summer reading list.

And finally, I love the wisdom of this poster by Libby VanderPloeg. It appeared this week on Sara Barnes’ illustration blog, Brown Paper Bag. It should be my daily mantra. What are you working to get good at?

VanderPloeg poster

Libby VanderPloeg

Swept Away

Process is everything.

Every now and then I read or hear something surrounding the creation of a work of art that is beyond inspiring. Subject matter or medium is immaterial; there is just an undeniable and infectious pull in the raw and magnetic enthusiasm laid out in the story of how a work came to be.

At the risk of seeming overly dramatic, I dare you to listen to this just-shy-of-12-minutes interview between Terry Gross of Fresh Air and Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors, without getting swept away by Manzarek’s passionate description of the collaborative development and arrangement of The Doors’ iconic song “Light My Fire“. You’ll never hear it again in the same way.

Here’s a teaser: John Coltrane, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the rhythms of Latin music were integrally involved. Wow! There’s nothing else to be said but enjoy!

First Dye

For the new piece begun this week, I thought it might be interesting to first under-dye the silk before beginning the mokume process

 

Second Dye

Next the threads were drawn up and deeper colors were added as usual.

 

Stitches Removed

The results after removing the threads. We’ll see how things work once the stitching begins.

Metaphorically Speaking

Last week a friend and I were talking about how making art is much like chess — a series of moves and counter moves in tandem.

Scissors 1

©2017 Elizabeth Fram     Beginning with an outline is pretty straightforward. The first major decision was to choose a variegated thread. The gentle change of color/value gives an initial suggestion of moving back and forth in space, in a way that solid-colored thread wouldn’t allow.

You may enter the process with an overall idea of the direction you’d like a piece to take and how you expect it to eventually end up but, unlike a recipe, the steps can’t be completely mapped out in advance or followed blindly.

Scissors 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram    Stitched highlights and dark areas play together with the variation in value of the dye colors. It’s important to keep in mind how the two can work together rather than against each other. For instance, on the left handle, the dark inside area plays against the lighter area of dye just above it, while similarly the highlight of white in the corner of that same handle contrasts with the darker zone of dye above it.

Therefore it’s necessary to be open to surprises with flexibility, which is one of the key aspects of making that I’ve come to love most. Also, it’s the act of move, response, move, response, that lays open a sense of a living process as opposed to a mechanical progression.

Scissors 4

©2017 Elizabeth Fram    The shadow underneath really brings out the scissors’ definition, but also underscores the need to further define certain edges on the underside of the blades and in specific areas under the handles where the lightness of the variegated thread hindered the sharpness of the image.

There are plenty of challenges with each step, but the enjoyment of solving these inevitable hurdles becomes a strong allure within the process, seducing me back to begin the exchange again with every new work.

Scissors 5

©2017 Elizabeth Fram     The happy accident of the dye is that the darker areas on the upper edges enhance any suggestion that the scissors are underneath the shibori. However, I found when I stood back that the scissors seemed to be levitating above the surface they are sitting on. I changed the less dense areas of shadow  by resewing them in a deeper red, more in line with the nearby dye color. Interestingly, that seemed to bring the scissors back down onto their surface.

The satisfying sense of interaction that comes with facing unexpected results have proven to make for richer resolutions.

Scissors 6

Cut-Off (detail)   ©2017 Elizabeth Fram     Tiny tweaks at the end can make a huge difference. Adding a thin line of lighter value stitching on the top of the left handle, pulls it away from the background, lending a sense of substance.

Once corralled, I think it’s that intriguing dance between the known and the unknown that generates the nut of the satisfaction that comes with making art.

Scissors 7

Cut-Off   ©2017 Elizabeth Fram    This piece will be framed so that the outer edges of dye are cropped. But I wanted to show here the way it flows beyond the mokume-shibori.

Kéké Cribbs blog post Why We Need Art, for Tansey Contemporary gallery in Sante Fe,  is a great reminder of our shared humanity and the part that art plays, not only in shaping our culture, but in preserving it — in part by helping to get it back on track when in danger of running off the rails.

Peonies Unparalleled

When I was in my 20’s, I had the extreme good fortune of being invited by a distant relative to accompany her on a trip to the Far East. It was the mid-80’s and China had barely opened their doors to the West. Inspired by Chinese art history classes in college, I had developed a fascination with Chinese culture. And having the opportunity to fully immerse myself in that environment before westernization took hold, (as much as any American was allowed to immerse themselves at that time), was an incredible opportunity.

Peony

Paeonia “Coral Charm” – from my garden

Images of Beijing and Shanghai today portray metropolises of high-rises and neon hardly different from any of the world’s other great cities, but when I visited, China was truly a different world, caught in a different time. Most buildings then were no taller than 3-4 stories and the streets swarmed with bicycles rather than cars. There was a sense of space and intimacy despite the burgeoning population, qualities that the encroachment of concrete and highways tend to nullify. Everywhere you looked there was something beautiful to see, and it was not unusual to come across a sight (such as fishermen casting their nets) that was exactly as illustrated in a centuries-old painting. The importance and attention attached to aesthetic details enhanced even the most banal of structures, leaving a lasting impression. Flora and fauna were liberally depicted and our guides made a point of sharing their symbolism.

 

Chinese Peony Painting

 

I didn’t have much expendable income, so was careful in keeping my eyes open for something I could bring home to mark the experience. By far my favorite and most significant souvenir is a lovely painting of a peony and butterfly that has hung prominently in every home I’ve lived in since. The peony is the national flower of China, and in full bloom it symbolizes peace, making for a worthy remembrance.

Peony 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Peonies are such glorious flowers and hold a special significance for me, a factor which I’m sure influenced my choice of Chinese souvenir. My mother had a peony bush with pale pink blooms that were lightly streaked with deeper pink stripes. It was one of the showiest and most exotic flowers in her Maine garden and we eagerly anticipated its annual display. Like a sacred object, she would bring a single blossom inside each year to grace the dinner table, floating it in a square silver dish that I don’t remember being used for any other purpose. I have an ancient childhood memory of sticking my nose into one of the flowers, deeply breathing in its scent with the naive expectation of being rewarded with the cool aroma of peppermint, as its coloring suggested.

Peony 3

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

In my current garden I have three varieties of peonies that bloom in succession and all strike me as just as extravagant and rewarding as my mother’s. It’s as much a treat today as I remember it was then to bring in one special bloom to set on the dinner table to treasure in its fleeting glory.

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet another reward of keeping a sketchbook…the opportunity to tap into the richness of memories while standing firmly in the beauty of the present.

Have I recommended this before?
The Flower Recipe Book by Althea Harampolis and Jill Rizzo is an extraordinarily beautiful book – one that will sweep away anyone with the slightest interest in the forms and colors of flowers. I would even go so far as to recommend the digital version as  the backlighting of an iPad or similar device somehow adds to the impact of the gorgeous images.

See more inspiring and lush floral imagery on Instagram: @pottersarms and @tulipinadesign

Pike Place Peonies

Hard to resist these buckets of peonies at Pike Place Market in Seattle last month

 

Selvedge

I am just back from a fun weekend in Portland, Maine — the main objective being to visit “Selvedge”, the group show I am part of at Able Baker Contemporary. Kudos to curator Tessa Greene O’Brien who has compiled a thought-provoking mix of work that is challenging, eclectic, and highly conceptual.

Gallery view

“Selvedge” at Able Baker Contemporary

Despite the artists’ varying approaches and objectives, the work maintains a comfortable sense of integration and, as the week has worn on, the strength of “Selvedge” has become more and more evident as I can’t stop thinking about it. I regret that I wasn’t able to attend the opening so I could talk with some of the other artists about their ideas.

Salon Wall

Salon Wall : “Shift” ©2011 Elizabeth Fram, Wrapped-resist, Discharge and Stitching on Silk and Cotton, 10 x 9.5 inches (green lower half with horizontal stripes in upper right corner), just above the dark piece in the lower left corner of this image.

Tessa’s enlightening essay, which I encourage you to read in its brief entirety, clarifies her curatorial intent:

Each artist has developed a distinct visual language using textile techniques to resolve the two-dimensional concerns of color, space, form, and light. The artists’ use of non-traditional materials does not represent a rejection of painting’s history; instead, these painters embrace the medium with lively curiosity and sincerity.

It is an honor to be included and to see my work hanging in this beautiful gallery in the city next door to where I grew up. “Selvedge” runs through August 5.

Floe (left) and Crystallized (right) © 2015 Elizabeth Fram, Paint, Dye and Embroidery on Silk,  12 x 12 inches

Parterre (left) and Parterre 2 (right) ©2015 Elizabeth Fram, Paint and Embroidery on layered Silk, 12 x 12 inches

“Selvedge” participating artists: Cassie Jones, Elizabeth Kleene, Erica Licea-Kane, Susan Metrician, Maria Molteni, Tessa Greene O’Brien, Isabelle O’Donnell, Martha Tuttle, and Elizabeth Fram

Able Baker Contemporary

 

Escaping the News

I need a break from current events…how about you? This week I’m sharing three artistic escape valves that caught my eye. Each offers a healthy measure of food for thought and moral fortification for moving forward since putting our heads in the sand isn’t an option. Hopefully one or two of them will interest you as well.

Townley Untitled 1979

Untitled 1979, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany and maple relief, 26 x 15 inches

If you’re in Vermont between now and September 10, please consider a trip to Rochester to see the Hugh Townley exhibit at BigTown Gallery. It is a lovely collection of Townley’s sculptures, reliefs and prints, highlighting his strong sense of design with a healthy dose of play. You couldn’t ask for a better example of the power of art to lift one’s spirits in pure joy; it’s just the ticket for getting your head in a better place.

Dark Night 1992

Dark Night Tuba City 1992, ©Hugh Townley, Obeche relief, 26 x 16.5 inches

Townley’s painted works are bright and amusing, and his prints are strikingly engaging. Yet I was drawn to and favored the oiled wooden wall relief pieces. His manipulation of light, shadow and shape draws one into each imagined space, accentuating the natural grain of the wood while emphasizing each piece’s rhythmic layers of depth. The work is vaguely reminiscent of Louise Nevelson yet never loses its infectious sense of playfulness. I found myself smiling as I made my way through the gallery, and realized later that, in addition to being a bright spot on a dark and rainy afternoon, my visit was also a very welcome respite from the anxiety that has been hovering over my shoulder with each new revelation from Washington.

Townley Lost in Space

Lost in Space 1996, Hugh Townley, High-gloss painted wood color relief, 35 x 19 inches

To maintain the good mood, cap off your visit with a slice of homemade maple cream pie from the Rochester Cafe a couple of doors down from the gallery. There is much to be said for the art of a good baker!

Townley Untitled 1998

Untitled 1998, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany relief, 23 x 18.5 inches

Fortuitously, the next day Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings article “Wallace Stevens on Reality, Creativity, and our Greatest Self-Protection from the Pressure of the News” showed up in my inbox. It is a lengthly, but oh-so-worthwhile read if, like me, you are feeling a bit overpowered by the unrelenting media onslaught. As the world continues to spin, I think many of us are wondering how our work can fit in and remain relevant; whether it can possibly stay abreast at a time when it seems an artistic perspective is more important than ever.  Which leads to the question: what exactly is an artist’s responsibility in such times?

Townley Fight Night

Fight Night 1996, ©Hugh Townley, High-gloss painted wood color relief, 31 x 24.75 inches

Popova’s article includes the following quote from Stevens which addresses that specific question:

Certainly it is not to lead people out of the confusion in which they find themselves. Nor is it, I think, to comfort them while they follow their readers to and fro. I think that [the artist’s] function is to make his imagination theirs and that he fulfills himself only as he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of others. His role, in short, is to help people to live their lives.

For further reading on the subject, check out the links in my post from last January: Art as a Responsibility; Art as Superpower .

Townley Soaring

Soaring (Ups and Downs) 1992, ©Hugh Townley, Mahogany relief, 22 x 11.25 inches

And finally, consider giving a listen to Joseph Todorovitch’s interview on the Savvy Painter podcast to see how the act of buckling down and doing your work can be a remedy in itself. I found much to connect with in what Todorovitch says, but what struck me most was his articulation of an overarching truth I am coming to understand through stitching and drawing — the value of slowing down and being present. Ironically and counterintuitively, it is perhaps the best escape of all.

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                                  

I crossed another big project off my list this week. I invite you to take a swing through my newly updated website — it’s reorganized and simplified with new work added.

                                                                                                                                    

Sketch to Stitch

I am not absolutely sure this piece is finished, but I’m very close. I’m going to sit with it for a while to see if any changes reveal themselves…a phenomenon I’ve learned is not all that uncommon. There’s often a bit of a dance between pulling out the necessary information without overstating it — and I’m trying to decide whether or not I’ve met or overshot that mark.

Meanwhile, these photos will give you a window into the process as it unfolds. I think it’s worth noting how helpful photos like these can be in moving a piece forward. Sometimes information stands out in a photograph that is harder to detect in the flesh.

 

Plate and Spoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plate 12

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

“Palaces of Self-Discovery”
I hope you will be able to carve out time this summer to spend with some really good books. With that thought in mind, take a swing through Thibaud Poirier’s striking images of public libraries around the world…true cathedrals for bibliophiles.

Reportage

There’s a lot to be said for keeping up the sketching habit while traveling. I love that drawing gives me an immediate sense of grounding in unfamiliar surroundings while allowing for more fully absorbing a new environment. Stopping to sketch is a wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a breather during a busy day of sight-seeing, and to pay closer attention to the common bits that define a particular locale. At the end of a full day of exploration, my husband and I have become very fond of finding a cafe or bar where we can sit with a drink and watch the world pass by while recapping our experiences. Pulling out my sketchbook has become a comfortable part of that favorite routine.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board, BTV     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

That said, this past week in Seattle there were eleven of us, so my best chance to draw was in the morning while everyone was relaxing over coffee as we pulled together our itinerary for the day ahead. Therefore, my drawings are mostly rooms around the house we rented and various breakfast-related still-life set ups. Even so, there is enjoyment in going through each drawing after getting home because, even if the subject itself isn’t that exciting, I am brought back to that moment so precisely: the conversation, the surrounding atmosphere, the overarching feeling of that point in time. It’s a wonderfully direct way to re-experience the moment; there is much to be said for the power of drawings in recording an event.

Cafe Flora

Cafe Flora     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On the flight home I read this article by Lauren Tamaki who had been tasked by the NYTimes to sketch the Bill Cosby trial since photographs weren’t permitted. Her drawings and accompanying text bring a level of humanness to the proceedings, a quality that could potentially become lost in photographs. My point is not to discount the poignancy and recording power to be found in excellent photography, but rather to draw attention to the benefits contained in a drawing made with time and consideration and which, via the individuality of the artist’s marks and gestures, expresses an immediacy and presence in that particular moment. Details Tamaki captured by hand, such as the ornately carved courtroom door, the assistant district attorney’s hand gestures, or the body language of others in the courtroom, convey an emotional connection with the circumstances that might otherwise be overlooked.

Counter Shapes

Counter Shapes, Breakfast     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Since becoming acquainted with Urban Sketchers, I am much more aware of reportage artists and the importance of their work. Using their skills to tell some of the harder stories that surround us, via means that are arguably more intimate than those of a movie camera or still photography, they have an opportunity to fully immerse us in that particular time and place.

Iris Chair

Iris Chair     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I encourage you to explore a few such artist’s work:

Veronica Lawlor drew on the streets of Manhattan as 9/11 unfolded and in the weeks following. She compiled her sketches in the book September 11, 2001, Words and Pictures. This blog post from The Global Art Junkie drills home the power and authenticity of Lawlor’s drawings in marking that day.

I first learned of Richard Johnson’s work on Instagram. Citizen Sketcher Marc Taro Holmes interviewed Johnson about sketching the homeless in Washington, D.C., resulting in a very interesting discussion about the ethical responsibilities of such work.

Molly Crabapple is an award-winning artist who reports on injustice and rebellion around the world. Her work is spellbinding.

And let’s not forget Winslow Homer who was a reportage artist during the Civil War.

In circling back to the more mundane matter of keeping an account of traveling for pleasure, I know that bringing home spectacular images of newly discovered territory is commonplace when everyone has a smart phone capable of taking wonderful pictures. My husband’s photos are terrific and and I am so grateful for the fleeting moments he is able to catch in a heartbeat.

Knife & Spoon

Knife & Spoon     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet there is also a lot to be said for the depth of memories that are rooted in the slower process of drawing. For me, they have unmatchable value as souvenirs.

 

Puppy Love

How great it is

Quinn 1

Quinn 1     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

to have a model

Quinn 2

Quinn 2     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

who is available 24/7.

Quinn 3

Quinn 3     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

One who only asks for walks,

Quinn 4

Quinn 4     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

and dinner,

Quinn 5

Quinn 5      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

and love.

Quinn 6

Quinn 6     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

 How great it is.

 

Quinn 7

Quinn 7     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram