Category Archives: Connection

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.

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.


The Wider World

I’ve been using Instagram for about four months now and I guess the self-imposed trial period is over. The results? …I’m glad I took the plunge. It’s become a quick daily dose of fresh images from artists all over the world that not only emphasizes the immensity of creativity out there, but also the tenacity and commitment that people devote to their individual practices. From that perspective alone, it’s very inspirational.

Inma Serrano Trumpeta 2

Inma Serrano     Trumpeta 2

Community, even a virtual one, is key when one spends large chunks of each day working in solitude, relying mostly on a pooch, books on tape, podcasts, and NPR for company. No question, Instagram is not a substitute for my in-person critique group and my art friends who live both near and far; it doesn’t come close to the reciprocity those personal relationships afford. But I am learning to appreciate it as a passport to the global creative community, a platform that demands very little while offering a lot if it is approached mindfully.

Lisa Smirnova Joseph Brodsky

Lisa Smirnova           Joseph Brodsky/Embroidery

On the whole, I have been fearful of social media because of the perceived time drain (I sit pretty firmly in Cal Newport’s camp). And while I’m sure you could spend hours on Instagram if you wanted, my concern that it would become an overwhelming time commitment hasn’t materialized. Instead, it’s a very compact opportunity to find a sense of connection by seeing what’s going on in all sorts of studios and galleries, while offering a taste of process, materials and inspiration.

Veronica Cay Out on a Limb

Veronica Cay      Out on a Limb

And, as I become more familiar with the work of the people I follow, it’s been fun to watch as individual works progress toward completion, to vicariously celebrate openings of people I will likely never meet, and to be able to appreciate the beauty in our world as others see it.  It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to tap into the wide world of folks out there who also find meaning and fulfillment in getting into their studio each day, trying again and again, because it’s just what we do.

Tangled Bank 2.10, 2017 Miguel Rodriguez

Miguel Rodriguez      “Big Shield” / Tangled Bank 2.10, 2017 Acrylic, collage on paper, 22×35 in

The above images are a tiny handful of my favorite artists to follow. Explore their work further on Instagram and on their websites.
Inma Serrano of Spain: Instagram,  Website
Lisa Smirnova of Russia: Instagram, Website
Veronica Cay of Australia: Instagram, Website
Miguel Rodriguez of Washington, DC: Instagram, Website

Occupational Hazard

While catching up on my blog feed this week I ran into two moderate length videos on the Sketchbook Skool blog:  Part 1: The Creative Block and Part 2: Turning Problems into Solutions. Filed under “Art Therapy Thursdays”, they feature illustrator Koosje Koene, drawing teacher and co-founder of the Sketchbook Skool, laying bare the struggle of her current creative dry spell. My first reaction was empathy for how deeply this is affecting her (who among us hasn’t been in her shoes at one time or another?), and then I couldn’t help but think how brave she is to share her struggle so publicly. That in itself may be part of the answer.


Scissors © Elizabeth Fram

Acknowledging the problem is one thing, but how do you find your way out of it? Both her musician husband Pascal Oetiker and, in the second video, Danny Gregory offer concrete suggestions of what has helped them in the past: a) return to basics, b) give yourself a problem to solve, and c) get out of your regular routine by exposing yourself to new stimuli. But it seems the core of what she is experiencing is the lack of joy in working, which makes it all the more scary.

I was reminded of a story I heard a couple of years ago on NPR about Sting as he was emerging from a decade-long creative drought. His TED talk about his experience drills home the fact that it’s a phenomenon to which everyone is susceptible. That fact doesn’t make the issue any less painful, but it’s helpful to hear how others have coped. Brain Pickings, one of the best resources for exploring just about any idea in depth, quotes Chuck Close, Isabelle Allende, and Tschaikovsky on the subject as a preface to referencing two books that tap the knowledge and recommendations of 90 and 50 artists, respectively:

What works for me is to first be forgiving of myself, take a break, and then just start something, anything. The physical, repetitive movement of working — whether via the rhythmic action of the needle going down and coming up while stitching, or mindfully following the contour of whatever happens to be in front of me with pen on paper — seems to be a tonic in itself. Work begets work, letting the ideas begin to flow, however slowly.


Coffee © Elizabeth Fram

I have no doubt that Koosje Koene will see her way out of this current slump and will re-find her creative mojo. And while the very thought of it is scary for any of us, it’s comforting to know we aren’t alone and there are resources to help stave off any future dry spells.

Final Note: In compiling this post and adding the links, I see that Koosje has added another video to the series, The Creative Block – Art Therapist #3, a discussion with writer Suzan Colón. I realize it’s a big ask for you to watch all three of these videos, but consider filing the links for the next time you may find yourself in your own creative rut.

It’s That Time of Year

‘Back to school’ is in the air. Happily, if you’ve got a bit of an itch to acquire new skills – or just fine-tune the ones you already have, online options for continuing education are affordable and convenient, making it easier than ever to be part of a learning community.


Desk Clutter     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                             For the most part clutter makes me crazy, yet have to admit that the usual state of my desk is more disaster zone than zen garden. But, if I take the time to pay attention, there are some interesting compositions lurking in the mess.

I first learned about Craftsy from a couple of my favorite sketch bloggers who were branching out to offer classes via that platform. Over the past couple of years I’ve signed up for several courses and have been extremely happy — I’ve learned a lot and felt they were an excellent value. Consisting of a series of videos, you can progress at your own speed, have lifetime access to the class, and even interact with the teacher. Unlike many other courses, sign-up is on-going so it’s possible to begin any time you like, and lessons are downloadable for off-line access. I love having the ability to start my art day early by watching a lesson or two while working out on the treadmill or stationery bike. Reasonably priced (most classes are under $40), they also have significant sales from time to time.

I have friends who have mentioned various online classes that they’ve taken and enjoyed, so it’s definitely a growing trend that accommodates our busy lives with no limitations on location.


Seltzer     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                          Sometimes I can make sense out of the jumble of stuff that keeps getting pushed aside on my desk. It’s an opportunity to both feed my affinity for organizing a subject toward the outer edges of the frame (as written about in this post), and for thinking about rhythms of space and value.

Here is a short list of teachers I am aware of (some on Craftsy, some not) that, while I don’t have personal experience with all of them, I wouldn’t hesitate to pursue any of their classes if it addressed my needs. Links can be found on their sites.

If you have an online instructor or course to recommend, please share with all of us in the comments.

Share the Wealth

I have found that most artists are very generous with their knowledge. They are happily willing to share hard-won lessons from their studios, easing the road for others who are interested enough to ask. And with the internet making it possible to be more closely connected to an ever-wider creative circle, the task of addressing our own artistic challenges is eased through exposure to how others face theirs.


In Process, approx. 30″ x 24″  ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                     Work in an ongoing state of flux

I have been working on this piece intermittently since February. The process seems to just drag on and on. I have definitely been in this spot before, so I know that patience and persistence are key. In the meantime, I’ve been grateful for other textile work and my drawing practice, which have provided a welcome reprieve. But that doesn’t solve the fact that I still have to finish this particular challenge.


Detail ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                   This and the following detail images illustrate my use of stitch as a bridge between pattern and color

Happily, two things this past week have contributed to getting me back on track. First and foremost, a lengthly and honest critique with a friend/artist whose ideas and feedback never fail me. I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t stress enough how important it is for all of us to have a solid bond with another artist, allowing for a frank back-and-forth about work in progress. The distance of an unbiased eye is invaluable. Hopefully you have that kind of artistic partnership as well.


Detail ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Secondly, I fortuitously happened across this short, 2 minute video, recently uploaded to his blog by painter Nicholas Wilton. His suggestion to “listen to your work” speaks directly to the challenge I’m wrestling with at the moment. I was introduced to Wilton’s paintings, writing, and video clips last month by another artist friend and couldn’t be more grateful! His point of being fully “in” a work and truly listening to what it has to say hits the proverbial nail on the head. The more I read back through his archives, the more impressed I am with his ideas and generosity. Among other things, it is so important to know that certain issues are universal, no matter what level of achievement one attains.


Detail ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

So, I’m back at it — not thrilled yet, but finding a rhythm. We’ll see; this may be one that ends up, at best, as a good learning experience. But regardless, I am grateful for the unselfishness of others and the safety net to be found in a sense of shared camaraderie.


Detail ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

And speaking of camaraderie, I can’t resist sharing this uplifting clip of the “Graffiti Grandma”, Luísa Cortesão in Lisbon, Portugal, who found joy in making street art by tagging walls with her buddies. Another reminder of the importance of community and to not take our work – or ourselves – too seriously.

Creative Yoga

In January I was invited to participate in a group art project online. There are 14 of us (a few I know, most I don’t), living in five states across the country and Saskatchewan, Canada. The directive is fairly lenient: we have a one-word prompt and 60 days to create a 12″ x 12″ interpretation/exploration of that word. Other than that very general guideline, the sky’s the limit. There will be 6 prompts in 2016, the first one was “water”.


Surface     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                          I got my wheels rolling by using stitched resist to sketch on fabric with dye.

There is to be no sharing of ideas or work with the other participants until the specified reveal date two months after the start. At that time finished images are uploaded to a closed blog, allowing the participants to see all 14 pieces. Each artist may choose how much or little to share about her process, opening the door to feedback and dialogue. The overall idea is to foster creativity while developing relationships with other artists.


Spoon in Water     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                        I was also exploring aspects of the prompt in my daily sketches. This example studies the apparent shift in an object that is sitting in water when you look at it through glass, seeing where it breaks the surface.

While I have more than enough to keep me busy in the studio at the moment, I jumped at the chance to be a part of this project for a couple of reasons:

  • I’ve learned that shaking up my process and working within limitations can create the most fertile ground for growth
  • I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to discuss art with a variety of folks I don’t know (yet). I want to be exposed to new viewpoints and a wider range of ideas to consider and learn from.

Tidal Seep     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                 Abstraction invariably wins out; this is my finished piece.  With a subject as open-ended as “water”, it seemed as though any specific image I could think of limited the scope of what I wanted to express. I didn’t want to be confined to a single, visual “snapshot”, rather I wanted to rely more on water’s essence: movement, color, texture, temperature, etc. As this piece evolved, it began to suggest the way that, as the tide moves in, water flows between rocks to create tidepools. I took that idea and ran with it.

This is another great example of how the internet works to break down the walls of isolation for artists, providing a different form of collaboration that is bound to be interesting.

And there’s no denying that a healthy stretch is good for all of us.


Water Bottle     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Further reading: It’s wise to embark on any endeavor with your eyes wide open. This article by Brian Sherwin outlines some of the pros and cons of online art groups.

Honoring a Kinship

Do you have a creative connection within your family? I have been lucky on so many levels in my choice of spouse, but one key branch of that good fortune is the fact that my mother-in-law is also an artist. Simply put: as a fellow traveler on an artistic path, she “gets it”.


Mao is Pau     © 2014-15 Sandy Fram

For over 30 years now, Sandy has watched my artistic evolution and shared her own. Together we have enjoyed the benefit of bouncing theories and impressions back and forth in discussions about our work and our experiences. Exposure to her vision, and the artists and writing that have been important to her, has introduced me to numerous ideas and art forms while simultaneously underlining the importance of having the conviction to follow one’s own path.


©2014-15 Sandy Fram

My library has been enriched with beautiful books that she has passed on; they have influenced my perspective and my work. And it was a gift subscription from Sandy that pointed me toward the path of discovering textiles as a means of artistic expression. Always sharing her keen eye and adventurous spirit generously, it has been a joy to trade ideas and maintain an on-going discussion about the art world.


©2014-15 Sandy Fram

In honor of her birthday this past week, I’d like to share some of my mother-in-law’s work with you. In these pieces you will see her love of bold color, her passion for Eastern philosophy, and her respect for ethnic diversity.


The Blessing     ©2014-15 Sandy Fram

May her work add a burst of cheer and inspiration to the beginning of 2016 for you.


©2014-15 Sandy Fram

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Contemporary Salon

Last weekend I attended what seemed to me to be a re-creation of the salons of a century ago — a gathering of writers and visual artists, drawn together to enjoy an evening exchanging ideas. It was a houseful of “movers and shakers” from across the state and, as a model for connection between peers, an inspiration.


Sedeveria 2     ©2015 Elizabeth Fram

Parts of the evening extended far beyond my comfort zone. As a guest of one of the invitees, in a gathering of 50+ people I didn’t know, I found it awkward to insert myself into the tightly animated circles of folks who were busy reconnecting. I am much more at ease, as I think many are, when I have the advantage of knowing at least a small handful of people at a party.

But, and this is a huge but, it was worth the stretch. The evening began with three 20-minute presentations by Vermont artists whose names are each impressively adorned with an awe-inspiring set of credentials and honors. The first talk was by one of our hosts, Alisa Dworsky, an architect whose artistic practice also spans drawing, printmaking, sculpture and installation. Next was artist/designer/educator Matthew Monk, who spoke about his collages of found refuse, culled on daily walks. The third and final presenter, artist and writer Sayward Schoonmaker, works with language, expressing it in such a way that it crosses dimensions.


Sedeveria     ©2015 Elizabeth Fram

I had studied their websites and combed the internet to read what I could about their work beforehand, but even so, there is no substitution for being able to hear an individual describe in person the ideas and means behind their work. Inflection tells a story you cannot glean from print. Not only can one gain a greater understanding of what is being presented, but a vibrant discussion provides greater potential for drawing parallels between elements from their experience and your own, resulting in deeper understanding via that connection.

Despite being a bit of a fish out of water, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the occasion. Ultimately, I met and had brief discussions with several people I’m sure I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. Admittedly, I still have work to do on navigating the fine art of “cold call” social schmoozing, but that’s okay.


Bittersweet Vase     ©2015 Elizabeth Fram

In hindsight, when I was researching the evening’s presenters I should have thought to ferret out this article by Alyson Stanfield about mingling at art openings and parties. At least now I have the link for future reference…and you do too.

A Sense of Belonging

I’m always intrigued by the way artists navigate their world, and find reinforcement in the knowledge that even the most celebrated put one foot in front of the other, slogging away in the studio to define their path, just like the rest of us. Living in the digital age, we have a bevy of available resources that allow us to better understand how others approach their work, while simultaneously uncovering similarities between those practices and our own.

1 copy

©2015 Elizabeth Fram

This week I have been reading selected archives from the Penland Sketchbook (blog of the Penland School of Crafts), which led me to the websites of several young artists who have been part of the Penland Core Fellowship program. I was captivated by the work and thought process of Angela Eastman and recommend you treat yourself to some time at her website to see what she is making and to read her well-considered ideas. Bearing in mind the amount of time I devote to placing thousands of hand stitches, I was particularly taken with this quote: “In a society where so much focus is placed on personal gain, I find beauty in the collective efforts of individual marks, and inspiration in the lessons in humility that they teach”.

8 copy

©2015 Elizabeth Fram

I have also begun Richard Shiff’s book Ellsworth Kelly New York Drawings 1954-1962 and am fascinated by his discussion of Kelly’s “…use of drawing by chance…”  In the ensuing essay, Shiff quotes Kelly:  “I realized I didn’t want to compose pictures, I wanted to find them”.  What an engaging thought; it makes total sense to me. I am often struck by the unplanned compositions that appear as I randomly place my larger work within a smaller frame to stretch for stitching. Those unexpected configurations can be surprisingly successful and several times I have discarded more than 50% of a piece in favor of the more effective alternative.

3 copy

©2015 Elizabeth Fram

Finally, I have been binge-listening to Antrese Wood’s podcast Savvy Painter, recently  recommended by my friend and extraordinary painter/draughtsperson Csilla Sadlock, (if you follow only one link here today, make it Csilla’s). Each of Wood’s podcast episodes is filled with down-to-earth nuggets offered by the interviewed artist, who honestly spills the beans about both the high and low points of her/his practice, underlining that hard work and challenges are part of the deal for everyone.

5 copy

©2015 Elizabeth Fram

Not ready to show the full piece yet, the images today are detail shots of what I have been working on this week (basting stitches and all). I am finding that all the elements mentioned above (humility learned through a myriad of stitches, being open to chance, and finding solace in the fact that even the most successful artists toss a certain percentage of finished work) enhance my sense of connection and inspire me as I work, comfortable in the knowledge that I belong to a sort of tribe. I’ll bet you can relate.