There was limited time to write this week, but I was still able squeeze in a daily sketch…and a quick haiku in honor of the ritual.

When was the last time
You really looked at a spoon?
A pen lifts the veil.


Wednesday     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8 x 5.5 inches, Pen and Ink

Measure and Stir

Measure and Stir ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8.5 x 11 inches, Pen and ink

2 Bowls, 3 Spoons

2 Bowls, 3 Spoons     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 12 x 9 inches, Pen and Ink

Bonne Maman

Bonne Maman       ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8 x 5 Inches, Pen and Ink

Center Stage

Center Stage     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 5 x 8 Inches, Graphite and Watercolor

Don’t Forget to Check Your Rearview

Well here we are again, sandwiched between the holidays with December promising to be just as hectic as usual, but definitely in a good way. My plan for the next three weeks, in addition to trying to wrap up unfinished work, is to set aside a serious chunk of time, albeit in small segments, to map out my studio goals for 2018 and to reassess the ups and downs of 2017.

AQS Article

One of my goals for 2017 was to reach a wider audience through further publication. While the avenues that I actively approached didn’t pan out, this particular opportunity tapped me on the shoulder unexpectedly. It goes to show you never know.  You can read the full feature on my website.

In past years there has been no lack of objectives to reach for, but I know my efforts will be so much more efficient moving forward if I thoughtfully map out a plan now rather than, as has been my habit, hurriedly cobbling together a fuzzy outline of goals during the first week of January.

Every six weeks or so I meet up with three other artists for an informal discussion group. Our topics vary widely but usually hinge on an issue that is relative to all, yet which one of us is grappling with specifically. Because of the variety of experience we each bring to the table, the resulting conversation satisfyingly tends to be wider-reaching than might be expected and is fruitful for each of us in separate ways.

AQS Cover

For those of you who may be interested in seeing more, Art Quilting Studio is a semi-annual compendium of visual inspiration. It can be purchased on newsstands, via their website, or even from Amazon.

Appropriately enough, our most recent conversation surrounded productivity in terms of goals and scheduling — on both a micro and a macro level. One aspect that was interesting to discover, although the way we do it differs by individual, is each of us has a system in place for tracking accomplishments throughout the year.

It is so easy to become swept up in the next big project once the previous venture is finished. Unless one makes an effort to record it, that victory can get lost in the shuffle. And celebrating our wins is important fuel for propelling us forward, don’t you think?

AQS Detail

Quiet Moment, detail, magazine image      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Art Biz Coach Alyson Stanfield is a huge advocate of setting aside time to close-out each year by reviewing the ups and downs of the previous twelve months. Doing so makes the road ahead both clearer and more directed. Her blog post from the end of 2016 is a great place to start; she poses some of the hard questions we should all be asking ourselves each December in order to make the most of the following  January and beyond.

Now is the time to revisit and acknowledge all you’ve accomplished this past year and to decide how you will mark your achievements in 2018.
…And don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for your hard work!

Follow Up__________________________________________________________________________________________________

After last week’s discussion I cleaned my drawing/fountain pens following these easy instructions. I hadn’t noticed any problems before doing this, but I can tell now that it was a worthwhile tune-up.

Black Beauty

Happy Thanksgiving!   Here we are again in the midst of another holiday season…
To put a new spin on the black in Black Friday (and maybe to give you an idea of something to add to your holiday wishlist), I’m saluting one of my trustiest art supplies.

Platinum Carbon Ink

Blacker than black, lightfast, and quick-drying, Platinum Carbon ink has become indispensable to my daily drawing ritual. I have a converter in my Lamy Safari fountain pen which allows me to refill the pen directly from the bottle, a cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to cartridges. Reviews mention that because this ink is pigment based it contains fine particles of carbon, meaning you should clean your pens frequently.


Dishes     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8.5 x 11 in., pen and ink

Hmmm… I haven’t done that. Maybe I’ve escaped any issues because I use my pen pretty much daily, but it would probably be smart for me to follow through on that chore before refilling the next time.


Curled     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8.5 x 11 in., pen and ink

There is a lot to be said for the beauty and deceptive simplicity of a black line. It has the power to sensitively convey weight, value, texture, and gesture while supplying a lifetime of lessons for those willing to delve into its nuances. For a jump-start, explore this link to 10 pen and ink drawing techniques and tips. Also, Alphonso Dunn’s book Pen & Ink Drawing is a terrific beginner’s resource.

Paper Bag

Paper Bag      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, 8.5 x 11 in., pen and ink

As time has passed I’m seeing how much what I’ve learned through my drawings has influenced and benefitted my textile work. Exploring the relationship between marks made with ink and those created via stitches is the fertile ground where discoveries take place.

It wouldn’t be right to let you go without thanking you for continuing to check in with me here week after week, and for letting me know when a point of discussion strikes a chord with you in one way or another. Whether you weigh in publicly or privately, I am always grateful for your thoughts. The greatest reward of this blog has been knowing how much company I have on this journey.

Hard as it is to believe, this marks my 155th uninterrupted week of posts. If you have found Eye of the Needle helpful, please share it!   As a special thank you, enjoy this free download of important resources that have been the most fruitful in guiding me in my practice. 


Drawing Connections

I know it’s a crazy time of year to suggest it, but if there’s any way you can get to the MFA in Boston before December 10th, do it!


Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh, 1632, oil on panel              It’s hard to connect with many centuries-old portraits because they give such a stern and removed impression, making it hard to imagine the subject expressing any emotion beyond stiff disapproval. Yet Rembrandt’s painting of Aeltje Uylenburgh, despite its dark and limited palette, presents an image so approachable that one can feel the warmth of her humanity. I find the blush in her cheeks and the kindliness in her eyes quite endearing.

My main reason for visiting was that I was anxious to see the newly acquired collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings, a grouping that will serve to further distinguish this museum from other major art institutions in the country. Including an assortment of Golden Age still lifes, landscapes, marine paintings, portraits, genre scenes, historical and architectural paintings, the MFA is rightfully proud of this exceptional gift that offers something for virtually every taste.

Fashionable Firefly Hunting

Yokokawa Takejiro, Fashionable Firefly Hunting, 1860                             Kunisada and Kuniyoshi’s woodcuts are spectacular images of detail, pattern, and color. There is so much to be seen in each image that making my way through the 100 prints was almost overwhelming.   I am struck by a few basic similarities between this portrait (of a male actor in character for a female role), and Rembrandt’s portrait of Aeltje Uylenburgh above. Both images are relatively dark, yet despite their obvious differences, they share an accessibility that is expressed in both their faces and their clothes (the crisp white cap and collar, and the fur around the neck soften the austerity of Uylenburgh’s environment, while the patterns and colors of the kimono bring life to the stark and minimally defined face in the portrait of the actor Sawaura Tanosuke III).

It was just blind luck that there are several other equally exciting exhibitions simultaneously on view – among them a remarkable collection of one hundred Japanese woodblock prints by rival masters Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Kunisada, a series of Rothko paintings, a selection of Inuit art prints, and an eclectic pairing of contemporary painter Takashi Murakami’s bold, cartoon-like works alongside classics of Japanese mastery, handpicked by Murakami and Japanese art historian Professor Nobuo Tsuji from the museum’s permanent collection.


Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Stoneware Jug, Wine Glass, Herring, and Bread, 1642, Oil on panel                                                                                                                                                     Pieter Claesz was celebrated for his “breakfast pieces” that present the viewer with an almost literal taste of foods, both local and exotic, during the 17th century. His artfully arranged still lifes have surfaces and textures so articulately described that one can almost smell the display and feel the smooth, cool surface of the glass. Whenever we’re on the road, the one time I can usually count on squeezing in a quick sketch is during breakfast. While the only safe comparison I can make between my sketches and Claesz’ masterpieces is our shared penchant for making images of the first meal of the day, seeing his paintings gives me an enjoyable sense of camaraderie.

As diverse as these exhibitions are, connections between them can’t seem to help but bubble to the surface in hindsight as I’ve let the experience simmer this past week. Perhaps it’s just human nature to try to make sense of what we see by attempting to braid together assorted impressions into a whole, but the sub-conscious must definitely play its own part as well.


Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Shimosuwa: Yaegaki-hime, No. 30 from the series Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road, 1852                               Images of animals are very hard for me to resist. These sacred foxes act as protectors for this mythic princess, running ahead of her over the ice to show where she can safely walk.


Kuniyoshi, Hayakawa Ayunosuke from the series Eight Hundred Heroes of the Japanese Shuihuzhuan, about 1830                             Although the subject of this piece is the legendary warrior Hayakawa Ayunosuke, it’s the tiger that caught my eye.

Proud Hunter

Pudlo Pudlat, Proud Hunter, 1987, Stonecut                                                                                             I am always fascinated by pattern. The graphic quality of the marks in this piece create a sense of pattern that is just as striking as the intricate depictions of printed cloth within the Japanese prints.

For years, when traveling I used to try to go to locally owned fabric shops to refresh my “palette”. It became amusingly uncanny that, more often than not, despite choosing fabrics at random with only an eye to diversifying my stash as much as possible, once I had a chance to go over my spoils later, the fabrics seemed to work together in perhaps a deeper and more meaningful way than if I had purposely intended it.

Dog at Rest

Gerrit Dou, Dog at Rest, 1650, Oil on panel                                                                                            I love this little painting for obvious reasons. But I was also struck by the differing means of convincingly portraying fur in this piece, as well as on Kuniyoshi’s tiger and in the sealskin coat and wild prey in Pudlat’s print, both above.

Much of the fun of experiencing something new is the fact that it is just that: a novel occurrence. But the unexpected connections that arise later enrich and personalize the experience, making it all the more enjoyable while lending an undeniable staying power to any lasting impressions. I don’t doubt that you can think of examples when this has been true for you as well.

Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.       ~ Charles Eames

Sustaining Creativity

One aspect of art that feels like an ‘ace up the sleeve’ is the fact that it is truly a lifetime activity.

Clogs 1

Clogs,1     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, Pen & ink

While many pursuits are curtailed with the vagaries of age, the desire and ability to bring ideas into physical form can remain undaunted despite advancing years (e.g. Louise Bourgeois, Mary Delany, David Hockney, Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe) and even disability (Chuck Close, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse).

For inspiration on the subject, check out Paul Stankard’s op/ed “Artistic Risk and the Ticking Clock” from the latest issue of American Craft, in which he discusses the scary prospect of leaving his successful comfort zone for new horizons in his work. It is a wonderful testament to the longevity of artistic growth and the strength of the creative flame.

Clogs 2

Clogs 2,      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, Pen & ink

Last February I recommended Stankard’s book Studio Craft as Career: A Guide to Achieving Excellence in Art Making. As in that book, this latest essay maintains the same unflinching acceptance of reality while accentuating Stankard’s propensity for mentorship as he reaches to pull others up alongside himself, encouraging an unflagging drive for achievement via the pushing of boundaries.

A quick search on the subject of the resilience of creativity into elder years unearthed this NPR interview with Nicholas Delbanco discussing his book Lastingness: The Creative Art of Growing Old which “examines artists who either maintained or advanced their work past the age of 70”. Despite the somewhat mixed reviews, I’m looking forward to borrowing a copy from my library.


Oboz,      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram, Pen & ink

I have encountered numerous individuals whose creativity bolstered them in their later years, and I bet you have as well. It makes the future look bright, don’t you think?

On a Different Note______________________________________________________________________________

For a special treat, add the Shelburne Museum’s current exhibit Sweet Tooth: The Art of Dessert to your list of shows to see this winter. Clever and enticing, it’s a calorie-free confection that will leave you smiling. It remains on view through February 18, 2018.

Sugaring 1

Miniature Sugaring Scene, Artist and Origin Unknown                          This carved wooden sugaring scene is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Sugaring 2

Miniature Sugaring Scene,                                                                                                                     I found its enchanting details irresistible. Note the dog’s posture, the sugar on snow to the right, and the squirrel climbing up the corner of the sugarhouse.

A Confection

A Confection  ©2014  Dirk Staschke,  Ceramic                                                  “Tightly stacked like stones in a wall, the cakes and other baked goods featured in A Confection become metaphors for consumer excess”

Lemon Meringue Wedges

Lemon Meringue Wedges, ©2017 Chris Campbell, Shoe Bakery, mixed media             Shoe Bakery’s ready-to-wear lines of footwear are whimsical dessert-themed shoes described as “sweet treats for your feet”.

Too Far or Not Far Enough?

This week has brought with it an unusually large number of deadlines — 4 to be exact. So I have been scrambling to get everything done, and as a result this post gets a bit of short shrift in terms of content and execution. It’s a bonus that I can kill two birds with one stone by writing about one of the other projects I’ve been racing to finish.


Green Man,     12x12in., ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

The latest prompt for our Journal Project group is “Picasso”. Without all the Instagram tributes last week that marked the 136th anniversary of his birth (October 25th), I wouldn’t have realized how appropriate  the timing was.

Last year I read Life with Picasso by Françoise Gilot, and while it was an interesting read in terms of learning more about how Picasso approached his work, it really soured me on the man himself. He may have been a creative genius, but reading Gilot’s recounting of their life together completely affected my thoughts about him as a person. However, personal failings aside, Maria Popova’s excellent Brain Pickings article “Picasso on Intuition, How Creativity Works, and Where Ideas Come From” steers attention back to the profound gifts he shared in terms of his work and his artistic wisdom.


Green Man, detail     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I’ve had fun working on this piece, exploring and pushing the limits of color by playing back and forth between the dye and the thread. The biggest challenge has been to convey a complete image while seeing how much I could leave out — a task I might not have undertaken if time weren’t so short with so much already on my plate. I need to let it be for a bit to decide whether I’ve gone far enough or too far — and also to think about how I might explore this approach in future work. The experience brings to mind and illustrates one of Picasso’s many quotes:

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

For a bit of trivia to round out what you may already know about the master, enjoy this list.


On a Different Note________________________________________________________________________________________

I owe a huge thank you to the Essex Art League for inviting me to speak at their monthly meeting this week. They are a wonderfully warm and engaging group of artists who made it a true pleasure to get out of the studio on a rainy day in order to share a taste of the many layers of process my work has progressed through since I first started working with textiles some 25 years (+/-) ago!

Repetitio mater studiorum est

“Repetition is the mother of all learning”

Waterglass 1

©2017 Elizabeth Fram    Watercolor and graphite

The past couple of weeks I’ve been painting glasses of water.

Waterglass 2

©2017 Elizabeth Fram     Watercolor and graphite

I’m interested in the distortion of the cloth’s pattern seen through the water, and the challenge of capturing the effect of light on both the glass and the liquid.

Waterglass 3

©2017 Elizabeth Fram    Watercolor and graphite

Having a repetitive subject like this to sink my teeth into is probably one of the best ways for me to learn and to grow (think scales on the piano). But in order to maintain interest it’s just as important that there is sufficient variety and an adequately steep challenge.

Waterglass 4

©2017 Elizabeth Fram    Watercolor and graphite

I’m finding enough similarity between subjects that I am starting to sense a recurring order and structure with each new sketch, while the variables of pattern and color between them (as well as the desire for improvement) is the substance that is keeping me thoroughly engaged.

Waterglass 5

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I searched a few of my heroes to see what they did with the subject

Adams Black Water Jar

Mark Adams, Black Water Jar, 1982.     Aquatint, 16.25 x 16.75, Teaberry Press, Edition of 30

Hockney Postcard of Richard Wagner

David Hockney, Postcard of Richard Wagner with Glass of Water, 1973.     Etching, 8.5 x 6.1, Edition of 100

Thiebaud Drink

Wayne Thiebaud, Drink, 1999-2002.     Oil on panel, 26.6 x 29.8cm

Check out Marc Taro Holmes answer to the question: “When practicing drawing, do you recommended drawing the same thing till it becomes perfect or drawing different things every day?” 

Also – if you are relatively local, I just noticed that Marc will be giving the workshop “Still Life in Watercolor”  on December 2nd at the Helen Day Art Center in Stowe.

Try, Try Again

For the past month I’ve been working on the three small pieces I dyed in September.


Sidekick     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

It was relatively smooth-going on the first two, but the third has proven to be a real challenge. I mistakenly thought that working smaller would be quicker and easier (the image area of each is around 3.5″ x 4″). Yet it didn’t exactly work out that way. This has been one of those instances when I have been grateful for the ease with which stitches can be undone.


Yin Yang     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Of the dozen pieces in this on-going series, this latest one has definitely been the trickiest, with many false starts. The saucer was killing me until I finally decided to just dive in and keep stitching to see what would happen.

Stage 1

In Process     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Although there are technical elements of the earlier iterations that I like a lot and will likely pursue in the future, that darn spoon needed to be grounded.

Stage 2

In Process     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

The experience is best equated to matching up the threads of a screw-on lid — while sometimes the top seems to be closed, you know it’s not quite right.

Saucer & Spoon

Prone to Wait     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

There’s nothing to be done but undo and retry, sometimes several times. Keeping in mind Adrianna Huffington’s quote: “Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success”, it’s a sweet feeling once everything is settled properly into the grooves at last.

Saucer & Spoon Detial

Prone to Wait, detail     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On a Different Note________________________________________________________________________________________

Decoding the Creative Genius of Leonardo da Vinci: This week Tom Ashbrook of NPR’s On Point interviewed  biographer Walter Isaacson about his latest book ‘Leonardo Da VInci’. Fascinating! I’m adding it to my “to-be-read” list.

The Universal Language

“There are two kinds of borders: borders in the minds and physical borders. And often it is art and artists who cross these borders and exchange, way more easily than most.”                                                                                                                                                              Kiff Slemmens

Have you watched Borders and Neighbors, the two latest episodes of Craft in America? If not, you have a treat in store for you. Highlighting the ongoing cultural exchange between the US and Mexico, both episodes feature master artists whose work addresses contemporary issues while continuing to honor and embed layers of tradition within their processes.


Quinn     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                            My daughter recently gave me a set of .003 (.15mm) Micron pens. I love the quality of the extra, extra fine lines they make, especially when drawing my snoozing pal!

It cannot be coincidence that these shows have surfaced this fall.
And while I can’t say for sure they were created in response to the divisive rhetoric that has become so prevalent in our country, their message offers hope that the arts are, and will remain, a universally inspirational and reassuring means toward building and maintaining connections between people and nations.


Snooze     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I hope you find the programs to be as rich as I did, and if you are lucky enough to be in Los Angeles between November 16, 2017 and February 25, 2018, there will be an accompanying exhibit, Borders and Neighbors: Craft Connectivity Between the U.S. and Mexico, that “honor(s) the spirit of creativity that transcends physical and cultural barriers and that unifies our cultures”.

I wish it weren’t so far away; I’d love to go.

“Art is the most profound human expression. Art creates bonds even if we don’t speak the same language. We communicate through art and have a universal language.”                                                                                                                                 Carlomagno Pedro Martinez

Along the same line of thinking…

Catalogue Cover

Last week I received an envelope from the State Department that contained three copies of the beautiful catalogue they produced illustrating the Art in Embassies exhibition I am participating in at the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia. The following is a quote from the introduction:

…the U.S. Department of State’s office of Art in Embassies (AIE) plays a vital role in our nation’s public diplomacy…selecting and commissioning contemporary art from the U.S. and the host countries. These exhibitions provide international audiences with a sense of the quality, scope, and diversity of both countries’ art and culture. …AIE exhibitions allow foreign citizens, many of whom might never travel to the United States, to personally experience the depth and breadth of our artistic heritage…

Catalogue Page

It is so important to acknowledge and honor art as a powerful voice, speaking a universal tongue that underlines our human similarities more than our differences, especially at this point in history when nationalism seems to be rearing its ugly head.  You can read more about Art in Embassies in this post.

Need a Nudge?

October = Inktober…the perfect time for anyone to dive in and follow through on a goal to draw more regularly.

Table Scape

Table-scape     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                 The path of least resistance is my saving grace. I often finish breakfast and then draw whatever’s in front of me on the dining room table. It’s proven to be a wonderful no-brainer for getting a daily drawing under my belt before the rest of the day begins. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) this surface is rarely entirely clear of stuff… so source material is plentiful. And with a few adjustments, there is a never-exhausted supply of still lifes at the ready.

Created in 2009 by illustrator Jake Parker as a way to jump-start his own drawing habit, Inktober is a challenge to artists everywhere to pull out their pens and commit to making a drawing every day this month. It’s also a powerful nudge for getting a drawing habit underway.


Orchid     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                   We are lucky in VT that our public TV often has shows highlighting Vermont artists. This wonderful quote is from a recent program featuring Peter Huntoon. ” A quick snapshot gives you nothing but facts, but sketching gives you an experience that doesn’t go away; it’s a memory that’s imprinted. It’s the difference between a glance and a warm embrace.”

This short YouTube video gives the skinny on how to get started. And if you fear you’ll struggle with what to draw each day for 31 days in a row, Parker has provided a list of 31 prompts. For those who don’t like the list this year, previous years’ lists with additional ideas are a short Google search away.

3 Houses

3 Houses     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                   I am a sucker for little houses. Last spring I took advantage of a sale at a local gardening center to buy these three ceramic houses that can also serve as votives. They have become regulars in my daily sketches.

The public-minded can upload their drawings to Instagram with the hashtags #inktober and #inktober2017. Prefer not to work on such a public scale? It’s just as easy to follow those hashtags to lurk in private for inspiration. Regardless, there is still a lot to be gained by taking the challenge independently, or even better, with a couple of close artist buddies.

Silver Pitcher

Silver Pitcher     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                           A treasured hand-me-down offers great shapes and reflections, off-set by the stripes of placemats and the slats in the chair behind it.

I see that JetPens has a special offer through October 15th in honor of Inktober. Their site is a lot of fun to visit for the sheer volume of all-things-pen-and-ink they offer — even if you decide not to take them up on their Inktober special.


Hydrangea     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                     I have a lot yet to learn in portraying this lovely mass of blooms from a friend’s garden. I’m grateful they are such long-lasting flowers so I have time to keep trying before they fade.

And for further support, check out my post “Seasonal Change as Incentive” from last May, which discusses in detail Charles Duhigg’s wonderful book The Power of Habit and an enlightening video by Ingrid Sundberg that provides a step-by-step outline of how to begin a creative habit.

Good luck!


Flowers     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                   Let’s end this on a colorful note…