Category Archives: Process

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.

Shibori x3

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



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.

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.

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.

Seasonal Change as Incentive

After weeks of chill and rain and oogling other folks’ pictures on Instagram of gardens and trees that have long since come to life, the leaves are finally filling in and spots of color are beginning to bloom on our hill. I think it’s safe to say that, almost five full months into 2017, spring has finally taken root in Vermont.

The external changes of the seasons also tend to have an impact on me internally, so seasonal change-over invariably becomes a time for re-evaluating and rebooting work patterns. While posing the question of whether there are ways to improve isn’t a guarantee of definitive answers, I still think it’s healthy, and invariably productive, to at least take stock of studio habits at several points during the year. Juggling various goals and aspirations is an ongoing process requiring a certain level of flexibility, so there is much to be said for working to build habits that can improve efficiency, leaving time for change.


Stacked     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                       Though not yet framed, this piece is complete.

If you haven’t already read Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Businessit’s worth picking up from your library. The case studies he covers, both corporate and individual, are fascinating in their own right, but of course the real value of the book is in understanding the possibilities for applying his findings to our own habits and the ways we might want to change or develop them. What I found most compelling is the importance of belief (that the habit can become fully established) and the necessity of community, even just one other person, in fostering both the essential element of belief and, ultimately, success.

When I decided to recommit myself to drawing at the beginning of 2015, the most helpful advice I received was to incorporate it into my routine as a habit, relying on a self-determined trigger to spur myself into action at a regular time every day. Starting slowly with very short sessions allowed for gradually expanding both the time and scope devoted to each sketch…to the point where now I miss drawing and even feel something of a sense of guilt on the days I can’t fit it in.

Stacked, detail

Stacked, detail      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                   If you compare this to the last shot from last week’s post, you’ll see the predicted changes I couldn’t resist.

If you are trying to make regular time for a new element in your creative practice, check out Ingrid Sundberg’s video, a step-by-step outline about building an early morning writing habit. While Sundberg’s recommendations are geared toward writing, her method is very similar to what was recommended to me for committing to daily drawing, and can easily be adjusted to fit whatever habit you may want to develop. Both approaches coincide with the core of what Charles Duhigg suggests in The Power of Habit.

Is there something that you’ve been wanting to build into a new habit? If so, take advantage of the change in season and give it a shot.

A Good Puzzle

Even though the individual works in this coffee cup series may at first glance seem repetitive, in actuality they are anything but. All have been challenging in their own way, offering plenty of hurdles to puzzle through. I like the word “puzzle” because it has positive connotations. Figuring out how to stitch each new image is a bit like picking up the latest mystery by a trusted author: the overall structure and style are comfortably familiar, yet the details and storyline are ripe for new discoveries. Nuances of light and form make each piece in this series unique from the others, every one a riddle unto itself, waiting to be solved.

Cup 1

©2017 Elizabeth Fram


©2017 Elizabeth Fram

This stack of two cups has been particularly sticky and so far I’ve probably spent just as much time backtracking and restitching as I did laying in the initial pass-through. Color is such a crucial consideration in trying to capture the definition and curve of the cups’ forms. Combinations of different threads and variation of stitches make the possibilities virtually limitless, which also opens the door to plenty of near misses. It’s often the case, as I wrote about in this post, that even the slightest change can make a huge difference. As you scroll through these process shots you can see the many, often subtle, changes I’ve made as I’ve reassessed and redone in an effort to get it right. And I can guarantee that what you see in the final shot here will be changed again before the piece is finished.

Cup 3

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Cup 4

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

The necessity of working with, rather than fighting against, the dyed ground is probably the greatest lesson this piece has held for me to this point. The area around the image is so very dark and deeply saturated that I’ve had to make adjustments, recalibrating from what was becoming comfortably predictable in the previous pieces, all of which have a background of a relatively mid-range value. But that’s not to downplay the enjoyment to be found in the challenge of discovering ways to mesh the variation of light and dark within the background, unplanned as those values were when dyed, such that they support and enhance the definition of the image that is stitched on top.

Cup 5

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Cup 6

©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yes, at times it’s frustrating, but for the most part this process of seeking a solution is tremendously gratifying, exactly like a good puzzle.

For those of you who share my weakness for books and puzzles, I know you’ll agree it’s fun when the two come together. I couldn’t resist buying Chasing Vermeer when it came out, ostensibly for our kids, but in all honesty, just as much for myself. And one of the more memorable elements of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See, was the hand made miniature city Marie-Laure’s father crafted for her to develop her sense of touch, each building a birthday puzzle with a gift to be discovered inside once the puzzle was solved. With that in mind, wouldn’t you love to get your hands on one of these amazing creations?!

Step by Step

This week, in lieu of all the usual writing, I am giving us both a break. Instead, I am posting photos of this latest piece as it has evolved. Your questions are welcome.


The first step is creating the Shibori pattern on raw silk. This particular pattern is called “Mokume”, which means wood grain. It is not an exact science – just rows and rows of closely spaced running stitches. Still, I’m sure you can appreciate the resemblance to its namesake. Look closely to see the dots of white along the right edges of the pattern. They mark the placement of the knots of the threads that were used to gather the fabric before it was dyed.

Photocopy Map

I use photocopies of my original sketches as a map of sorts, to help me translate the image into stitch.

Stitch Variety

Using a variety of stitch patterns, weights, and colors gives a sense of form, and also adds an abstracted quality that I quite enjoy.

Gold Thread

Once I added the gold thread to that inside right section of the cup, it began to come alive. Sometimes a very small change can make a huge difference.

Keep Going

When I got to this point I began to see the minimal stitching on the saucer as an interesting composition in itself and I gave serious consideration as to whether I should just stop, leaving the saucer mostly blank. Of course I decided to keep going, but seeds have been planted to investigate this idea further in a future piece.


Not only have I made the choice to keep going by filling in the saucer, I’ve begun to work on the background as well.

Getting the saucer right

Getting the saucer right was a bit of a challenge. You don’t see it in these photos, but it took several tries to get each section so that it rang true. Such is the beauty of working with thread; it is so easily removed and restitched.


The background is now a major consideration – and I have removed most of the stitching to the right that had appeared before. Deepening and outlining the shadow below the cup strengthens its definition.

Background evolves

The background continues to evolve.  At this point I realized I needed to figure out how to tone down the lighter section to the left of the cup so that it didn’t stand out quite so starkly.

Quiet Moment     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                Finished! Now to decide on framing…

Quiet Moment, detail

Quiet Moment, detail     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Quick note: most of these photos were taken at the end of the day, in sketchy &/or artificial light, which explains the color differentials.

On a Different Note…                                                                                                                           

This week marks the opening of “Fiber Expressions, a group show of the Vermont members of the Surface Design Association.  I have 4 pieces exhibiting. I hope you can check it out if you’re in the area. Here’s the scoop:

Fiber Expressions
February 20 – March 31, 2017
Living/Learning Gallery, University of Vermont
633 Main St., Commons 205, Burlington, VT 05405
Exhibit Hours: Mon – Fri: 1:00-8:30pm    Sat: 12:30-4:30pm
Gallery Closed for Spring Recess March 11-19; Open by appointment only

Decisions, Decisions…

After posting the photos of the the first cup and saucer piece, one of you asked if I would talk more about the decisions I made when “framing” it with its Shibori border. What follows are some of the things I was thinking about — and continue to think about as I work on this series.

Two points to keep in mind: a) my goal is to find a way to bring my daily drawing practice and textile work together while celebrating and remaining true to the qualities of each, and b)I never know exactly what will happen until I dive in. Especially in the beginning stages everything is an experiment. I start with an idea, take a shot, see what happens, then go on from there with what I’ve learned.

It Isn’t That Simple      © 2016 Elizabeth Fram

Composition is my number one consideration, regardless of whether an artwork is abstract or representational. I have written before about my inclination to organize my drawings where the image hugs the perimeter of a piece and the subject often moves outside the field of vision. I am also partial to creating breathing room within the overall framework, enhancing a sense of balance and space. My preference is to walk a fine line between presenting a recognizable object while simultaneously pushing toward an abstracted view of shapes and values.

Key Lime Pie

Key Lime Pie      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I like to keep in mind that when the subject lies beyond the boundaries of an image, it leaves room for a viewer’s imagination to envision what happens in that unseen space, deepening the “story” by encouraging participation. As a counterbalance, negative space provides a visual rest, an area where subtle stitching can supply interest by dividing the space without overwhelming the image.

It Isn’t That Simple, detail      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Figuring out how to frame a composition is just as important as how to crop it. It has to enhance the image, furthering what it has to say without merely becoming an edging on all four sides. Surrounding a stitched image with pattern created via stitched-resist Shibori forges a harmonious blend where both elements work in tandem, rather than one overpowering the other.


Respite, in process      ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

For many years my pieces were made with irregular edges, a quality I still find intriguing yet which poses a dilemma when the work will be stretched and framed within a traditional floating frame. Because the Shibori pattern is created by stitching, I have flexibility to manipulate where the pattern will appear, the direction of its flow, where to squeeze in narrow gaps (essentially creating an area of escape from the small rectangular enclosure the cup and saucer fills) and where to open up wider expanses via a color field that pushes toward the outer edge, making a statement of its own.

Morning Musing

Morning Musing, in process     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Therefore, what may first appear as a “frame” is actually an essential element of the piece as a whole, serving to ground and engage the stitched image of the cup and saucer within a fully integrated exchange, rather than solely being a vehicle for separating and confining it. In fact, it’s important to remember that the Shibori patterning in these pieces was created first, making it a crucial consideration of the overall composition from the very beginning.

Many thanks to the reader who asked this question. Writing is a wonderful opportunity to give thought and substance to the ideas that float in the back of one’s mind, but which benefit immeasurably from being articulated. I encourage you to try it with your own work, and please, feel free to ask more questions any time.

For an intriguing take on presentation/framing, check out the work of Sondra Sherman, a jewelry maker who displays her pieces in the carved-out pages of the books that inspired their creation.