Tag Archives: Brain Pickings

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!

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.


Needlework: ‘Redemptive and Rebellious’

It’s been snowing off and on much of the week which has been great for productivity. Does anyone else notice that no other light quite compares to that which fills a space when it’s snowing outside? Colors appear crisp and true, reading more clearly than usual.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                             Follow along with me as this piece progresses

As you can see, this week I’ve been concentrating on marks and the visual texture of stitches to pull out the form of a cup and saucer from the open section of last week’s dyed piece. I am still working to find a way to marry my daily drawings with my textile work without compromising either. It’s been a bit of a balancing act to keep the image recognizable while simultaneously leaning toward an abstraction of the forms’ shapes and cast shadows. By sticking with one color of thread, I’m relying on the direction of the stitches, their weight, and the patterns they create to define both the space and the image. I quite like the way they work in tandem with the dyed ‘mokume’ pattern. Before I began, I wasn’t sure how successful a partnership it would be, but I am encouraged by the way things are developing.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

I found two thought-provoking articles from Brain Pickings this week that I’d like to share. They seem particularly appropriate since I’ve been totally consumed with needlework. The first, Stitching the Stars, centers on the nineteenth century astronomer Maria Mitchell’s theory of the needle as an instrument of the mind and why she felt it gave women an advantage in the field of astronomy. In turn, Brain Pickings’ creator Maria Popova posits that the mental space afforded via the slow nature of needlework has been a cornerstone in the “long history of thinking-by-hand in the intellectual life of women”. Bravo! Stitching is an art that is typically sidelined as ‘women’s busy work’; how absolutely satisfying and encouraging it is to see an acknowledgement in print of one of the most cogent hidden strengths that many of us who are actively engaged with needle and thread know to be true.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

The second article, which segues easily from the first, The Dinner Party: Artist Judy Chicago’s Iconic Symbolic Celebration of Women’s Heritage in Creative Culture, is so very pertinent considering the political climate we are facing. It is an all-important reminder that the message of Chicago’s unparalleled project is just as crucial today as it was in 1979.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

Finally, I am quite honored to have been invited last month to join TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art list. As “a business community of entrepreneurs rooted in textile and fiber art products and traditions”, it supports artists, retail and wholesale e-commerce, cooperatives, galleries, organizations, writers, publishers, and collectors. The TAFA icon in the upper right of this blog’s sidebar is a link to my profile page. But more importantly, explore all of TAFA’s website to learn more about it as an organization and to see work from its over 500 members representing 44 countries. I have no doubt you’ll find something remarkable.

In process     ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

And please stay tuned. I’ve got my fingers crossed that this piece will be finished next week.

In process      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram

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.