Author Archives: ehwfram

About ehwfram

I am an artist living in Vermont, inspired by the day-to-day details of life.

Shibori x3

Working in tandem with my 3 jalapeño sketches last week, I stitched my way through the waiting period between watercolor washes.

stitched-resist

Stitched-resist

When I was a college student, I spent a Winter Term in Seattle working with and learning from watercolorist Karen Guzak. At that time her studio was in her home and she counseled the value of such an arrangement in allowing one to multi-task — a term I’m not sure we were using yet in the late 70’s. At 20, I couldn’t relate to being able to throw in a load of laundry while a different kind of wash dried, but her words stayed with me and have served me well. Always having a home studio is what has allowed me to work continuously around the privilege of being home with two kids.

shibori 2

Stitching drawn up and dyed

Just as I mentioned last week, there is much to be learned through repetition and variation, and that fact is perhaps most salient when pieces are made in close succession.

shibori 3

I usually set up at least 3 different colors of dye to use at once. These pieces gently progressed through variations of those colors so that they are each in the same family while remaining different. Thread choice will eventually highlight those distinctions.

On a Different Note________________________________________________________________________________________

What I’m reading now: A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline — “a fictional memoir of the woman in the famed Wyeth painting Christina’s World” – Erik Larson.
So far, so good – there is much that resonates considering its Maine setting.

3 Jalapeños

I’ve been seeking a change from the black and white of ink drawings — perhaps inspired by all the late season color in the garden? …but also knowing I’ve let watercolor sketching slide for a while. I have mountains to scale in learning about color and before I will feel comfortable; to say it’s humbling is an understatement.  Yet the pure beauty of transparent color is irresistible and, for the moment anyway, I’m enjoying having such a steep challenge to sink my teeth into.

Jalapeños1

3 Jalapeños, 1     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

What I think I appreciate most is the aspect of walking the very thin line between an illusion of control and recognition that, especially at this early point, results are more reliant upon serendipity than skill. Right now I would say I’m at 25% control, 75% serendipity – and that may be overly generous. But I trust with time and practice I can begin to see the numbers move in the opposite direction.

Jalapeños 2

3 Jalapeños, 2     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Charles Reid continues to be my go-to guide. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my mother-in-law for introducing me to his work years ago.
What living artist has taught you the most?

Jalapeños, 3

3 Jalapeños, 3     © 2017 Elizabeth Fram

These 3 sketches were from yesterday. I learn a lot through repetition and variation. And it’s interesting to see how my feelings about each has changed with a bit of distance and a good night’s sleep. Converting to black and white in Photoshop is also a good learning tool.

While the washes were drying I did the Shibori stitching for 3 small new pieces. Stay tuned for the dyeing results next week.

Marking the Change

As we move into September the days are becoming noticeably shorter and our evening temps here in Vermont have already dipped into the 40’s, making for great sleeping weather.

Olive Oil

Olive Oil     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I know that many bemoan the last days of August, perhaps more so than the end of any other season, but I am happy for the change. I find comfort, not just in the reminder of natural rhythms and cycles beyond my control, but also in welcoming the chance to get back to activities I enjoy without the guilt of feeling I ought to be outside taking advantage of summer’s fleeting sun and warmth.

Garden

It’s time to bring in the harvest in earnest and to start putting some of the bounty up for winter enjoyment. It’s been a great year in my garden for garlic, blueberries, carrots, beans, herbs, and greens. My tomatoes, on the other hand, are slow to ripen and have had a relatively weak showing — a result, I’m sure, of all the rain and relatively cool days we’ve had on our hill this year. I’ve come to accept the fluctuation between what does well from one year to the next, and look to that variation as an opportunity to explore new recipes and to evade any sense of being caught in a rut.

Bookended tools

Bookended     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

When summer arrives, I’m ready for a break from the kitchen and try to avoid too much time cooking. But when we begin to see signs that the transition to fall is taking hold, it feels good to pull out my pots for “putting food by” and to get back in the swing of creating with food. It doesn’t hurt that there are endless opportunities for happenstance still-lives along the way, making sketching just another gratifying perk of the job.

Balanced

Balanced     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

These drawings mark the beans that were blanched, the batches of pesto mixed up, the turkey broth simmered & flavored with fresh herbs, carrots, and garlic…and of course the resulting piles of dishes, before and after washing.

Years ago my mother gave me a copy of the book Putting Food By. It’s a keeper; a trusty resource that never goes out of date. This link is to the most recent edition.

Also, for a bit of meaty reading, artist Anne Sherwood Pundyk recently contributed an essay entitled The Beholder’s Share to the online magazine artcritical. Pundyk discusses the neuroscience of abstraction and figuration, drawing on personal and professional experience in conjunction with consideration of two books on recent scientific findings: My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2006) and Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures by Eric R. Kandel (2016). Fascinating! …I found it particularly resonating bearing in mind my ongoing interest in straddling a line between the two (abstraction and figuration) through composition and values.

Finally, a bit of gratifying news and shameless self-promotion: my piece “It Isn’t That Simple” was picked-up and used by the Surface Design Association to illustrate their Friday Fibers Roundup blog last week.

Perennial Inspiration

I don’t remember exactly when it was I bought Sara Midda’s 1981 book In and Out of the Garden, but it must not have been too long after it came out. Years before I was able to have a garden of my own, that little book has graced my bookshelf in all our many homes, serving as an inspiration and a reminder of the universal beauty and solace to be found in the magic that results from adding seeds to soil.

Scissors Detail 1

Stitching in progress, detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                    The idea of including and concentrating on an area of tone-on-tone cropped up while working on the piece previous to this one.

The main draw for me is Midda’s tiny watercolor images, luminescent and charming. Paired with her hand-lettered text of quotes, historical facts, poetry, and recipes, I have always found a gentle delight in reading and rereading this book that underscores much of the way the world of horticulture captures the imaginations of those of us inclined to garden.

Scissors Detail 2

Detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                  The scissors remain more sketchily defined as a foil to the heavily stitched areas above and below them.

In 1990 she followed up with Sara Midda’s South of France – A Sketchbook, and in 2014 A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory was released. I was quick to buy copies of each as soon as I learned it was out, happy to become re-immersed in Midda’s eye for the details that honor the essence of the unsung elements that surround us, things we tend to take for granted but which give such a strong sense of place and moment. All three books are meditations of a sort, quiet picture books with “more”. To some degree I am sure appreciation for her observations have had some lasting sway on my own choice of subjects.

Scissors Detail 3

Detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                  In the end, I think it’s the “conversation” between the diversity of pattern, evident in both the stitching and the stitched-resist pattern, that pulls the piece together, making it whole.

Despite looking, I haven’t had much luck learning more about Sara Midda. There is relatively little information about her on the web other than a few promotional articles and blog posts marking the release of each book. Disappointingly, she doesn’t seem to have ever had a website. So I was thrilled to discover that Danny Gregory* conducted a 40 minute video interview with her on his Sketchbook Club blog last week. How lovely it is to hear her talk about her process and the history of these books. Outwardly quiet and gentle, just like her art, it was one of those rare occasions when all elements seemed to add up.

Scissors Unframed

Divide and Conquer, unframed     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                  Stitched-resist dye and embroidery on silk

Have you had a similar experience with a book that has had a lasting impact on you? Please fill us in…

*I credit Danny Gregory’s book Everyday Matters and his original blog of the same name as being the instigation behind spurring me to commit to drawing regularly. I have no doubt his welcoming and encouraging approach, pointing out the huge benefits to be gleaned from drawing, regardless of ability or experience, has been one of the main driving forces behind awakening or reinvigorating the desire to draw for thousands of people. If you aren’t familiar with him, check out his site.

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