Tag Archives: Marc Taro Holmes

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.


There’s a lot to be said for keeping up the sketching habit while traveling. I love that drawing gives me an immediate sense of grounding in unfamiliar surroundings while allowing for more fully absorbing a new environment. Stopping to sketch is a wonderful opportunity to squeeze in a breather during a busy day of sight-seeing, and to pay closer attention to the common bits that define a particular locale. At the end of a full day of exploration, my husband and I have become very fond of finding a cafe or bar where we can sit with a drink and watch the world pass by while recapping our experiences. Pulling out my sketchbook has become a comfortable part of that favorite routine.

Waiting to Board

Waiting to Board, BTV     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

That said, this past week in Seattle there were eleven of us, so my best chance to draw was in the morning while everyone was relaxing over coffee as we pulled together our itinerary for the day ahead. Therefore, my drawings are mostly rooms around the house we rented and various breakfast-related still-life set ups. Even so, there is enjoyment in going through each drawing after getting home because, even if the subject itself isn’t that exciting, I am brought back to that moment so precisely: the conversation, the surrounding atmosphere, the overarching feeling of that point in time. It’s a wonderfully direct way to re-experience the moment; there is much to be said for the power of drawings in recording an event.

Cafe Flora

Cafe Flora     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

On the flight home I read this article by Lauren Tamaki who had been tasked by the NYTimes to sketch the Bill Cosby trial since photographs weren’t permitted. Her drawings and accompanying text bring a level of humanness to the proceedings, a quality that could potentially become lost in photographs. My point is not to discount the poignancy and recording power to be found in excellent photography, but rather to draw attention to the benefits contained in a drawing made with time and consideration and which, via the individuality of the artist’s marks and gestures, expresses an immediacy and presence in that particular moment. Details Tamaki captured by hand, such as the ornately carved courtroom door, the assistant district attorney’s hand gestures, or the body language of others in the courtroom, convey an emotional connection with the circumstances that might otherwise be overlooked.

Counter Shapes

Counter Shapes, Breakfast     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Since becoming acquainted with Urban Sketchers, I am much more aware of reportage artists and the importance of their work. Using their skills to tell some of the harder stories that surround us, via means that are arguably more intimate than those of a movie camera or still photography, they have an opportunity to fully immerse us in that particular time and place.

Iris Chair

Iris Chair     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

I encourage you to explore a few such artist’s work:

Veronica Lawlor drew on the streets of Manhattan as 9/11 unfolded and in the weeks following. She compiled her sketches in the book September 11, 2001, Words and Pictures. This blog post from The Global Art Junkie drills home the power and authenticity of Lawlor’s drawings in marking that day.

I first learned of Richard Johnson’s work on Instagram. Citizen Sketcher Marc Taro Holmes interviewed Johnson about sketching the homeless in Washington, D.C., resulting in a very interesting discussion about the ethical responsibilities of such work.

Molly Crabapple is an award-winning artist who reports on injustice and rebellion around the world. Her work is spellbinding.

And let’s not forget Winslow Homer who was a reportage artist during the Civil War.

In circling back to the more mundane matter of keeping an account of traveling for pleasure, I know that bringing home spectacular images of newly discovered territory is commonplace when everyone has a smart phone capable of taking wonderful pictures. My husband’s photos are terrific and and I am so grateful for the fleeting moments he is able to catch in a heartbeat.

Knife & Spoon

Knife & Spoon     ©2017 Elizabeth Fram

Yet there is also a lot to be said for the depth of memories that are rooted in the slower process of drawing. For me, they have unmatchable value as souvenirs.


Education in Motion

If I had to list the most endearing aspect of my treadmill, it’s that it eliminates any guilt surrounding watching art videos first thing on a weekday morning. I’ve seen enlightening and inspiring documentaries and learned from numerous skilled teachers while jogging away — definitely the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. A few of my favorites are listed below.


©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                   Even though this pen has a “fine” nib, it is much thicker than I prefer. I struggle with its boldness, missing the nuance of a finer line while trying to keep each shape from appearing too “cartoon-y”

It’s interesting that I seem to have a hard time maintaining attention with prolonged video instruction if I’m just sitting, but if I’m moving I’m totally captivated. (There has to be some sort of scientific study on that subject). Anyway, even better, anything art-related tends to take the pain and boredom out of my running-to-nowhere workout, making it unexpectedly anticipation-worthy .

One of my holiday requests this year was Charles Reid’s English Watercolour Sketchbook DVD (thank you Stu!). If you’re not familiar with Reid, check him out. His work is loose, yet masterful; I am in awe of both his drawing skills and his use of color. I’ve learned a lot from his books, but nothing quite compares to watching over someone’s shoulder as they work. He articulates what he’s doing, as he’s doing it, with just enough repetition that core ideas sink in and stay.

Peanut Butter & Apple

©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                                             However, the beauty of the heavier line is it opens a door to thinking more carefully about pattern.

Reid repeatedly drills home the idea of creating lost and found edges within a work, stressing the importance of continually moving back and forth between the subject and the background in order to find and make connections and escape routes throughout the piece as you progress. It has been one of the most valuable tips ever, and one that I try to keep in the back of my mind at all times.

Necessity has provided me with a fertile learning ground to practice and find fresh solutions to this principle. I have a new sketchbook with paper that, while smooth to the touch, has a tooth that wreaks havoc on the tips of the .01 Micron pens that have been my go-to tool for several years. To get around the problem, I’m using my Lamy Safari fountain pen which isn’t bothered by the rough surface. However, it makes a much wider line that, while great for playing with marks and pattern, has put me back to square-one in figuring out how I can manipulate it to achieve values and find ways to create the breaks and overlaps that Reid advocates, while simultaneously maintaining a sense of form.

Mug & Glass

©2017 Elizabeth Fram                                                                                                                            A wider line also makes it easier to achieve truly rich darks, although creating a diverse value range is a lot harder.

For now, it’s a bit of a steep learning curve. I know I need to keep at it in order to make progress, when it would be so much easier to revert to my comfortable old pens on familiar paper. But, just like the darned treadmill, if I commit to it and find a way to keep it interesting, I know the rewards will be worth it in the end.

*A few suggestions:

Outside the Studio

My friend Quinn was spayed this week. She’s bouncing back quickly, so the real challenge will be to make sure she avoids any other type of bouncing while she heals over the next two weeks. A rather tough ask for an energy-packed dog who loves to spring through our woods on patrol twice a day.


Snooze Study     © Elizabeth Fram

I’m trying to keep her from climbing the stairs to the studio during these first post-surgery days, so thank goodness for the portability of drawing materials and a laptop, both of which allow me to be productive despite being displaced.


© Elizabeth Fram     Drawn with Noodler’s Ink in Tiananmen & Tom Norton’s Walnut Drawing Ink

While we’re on the subject of portability… I love reading other artists’ supply lists and suggestions, especially their travel solutions for paring materials down as much as possible while on-the-go. Sketchers tend to haul their gear everywhere, meaning they usually want to get by with as little and as lightly as possible. I’ve picked up some great tips that are both inexpensive and incredibly space efficient from the following:


And a couple of my own:


Of course one could get by with just a pencil and a small sketchbook, but where is the fun in that?

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.

Travel Sketchbooks

It’s raining as I write this and looks pretty dreary outside. Mud season has arrived. But March is passing quickly and it’s time to start thinking about upcoming vacations. Anticipating a trip is half the fun, and planning which art supplies to bring is way more interesting than deciding what clothes to pack!


Paris ©2012 Elizabeth Fram

As I wrote about in this post, my tendency is to overpack, but finding the right mix is a challenge I enjoy. Of all the various travel sketchbooks I’ve tried, I finally found one that I really liked: a 6″ x 4.25″ version made by Winsor & Newton. It has a faux leather cover that has taken a beating with no sign of wear. Its white paper has enough heft to take a light wash and it’s the perfect size and weight to fit in my bag. I’ve taken it to Paris, Switzerland and Vancouver, BC, but sadly, haven’t been able to find another one to replace it; they don’t seem to be available anymore.


Winsor & Newton 6″ x 4.25″, left                                  Hand Book Artist Journal 5.5″ x 5.5″, right

As an alternative, I tried a 5.5″ square Hand Book Artist Journal a couple of years ago. I really liked it, so much so that I made the larger 8.25″ x 5.5″ version my go-to, everyday sketchbook as well. The paper has minimal tooth and is heavy enough to stand up to dense pen work and light watercolor washes. There is less of a “jump” in the binding between pages, so drawing across a double page spread is easier. The only minor complaint I had at the beginning was that the paper is a buff color rather than bright white, but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s not as dingy as the scan below would have you believe.


Granville Island, Vancouver © 2015 Elizabeth Fram

This week, in his blog Citizen Sketcher, Marc Taro Holmes offered another really interesting idea that you might want to consider: an accordion-style sketchbook you can make yourself in about 5-10 minutes out of a single sheet of watercolor paper.


It seems like a great option on a number of different levels:

  • You can choose whatever paper you like.
  • You can devote one sheet to a particular series, categorizing and separating sketches from one outing/session, rather than having them bundled in the middle of a sketchbook filled with a variety of other work.
  • It’s lighter and easier to tuck into a travel bag or pocket than a full sketchbook.
  • With experimentation, you can vary the dimensions of your finished pages – and potentially change the number of pages.
  • If you tend to be forgetful, it eliminates the fear of misplacing your regular sketchbook & risking the loss of a full vacation’s collection of drawings. Carry only one day’s worth at a time, leaving work from previous days in your hotel room.
  • If you don’t mind cutting it up, individual rectangles can be separated to use as postcards or, as Marc points out in his post, you also have the option of painting panoramas which can be trimmed from the whole sheet later.

Here is a link to a pdf of the above pattern that Marc Taro Holmes generously uploaded and encouraged his readers to use and share.

Please take the time to fully check out his blog/website; there is a ton of useful information to be found there including other free downloads. He is based in Montreal and is a correspondent and board member of Urban Sketchers. I highly recommend his book The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location.


RER from Versailles to Paris ©2012 Elizabeth Fram

And, since it’s always helpful to hear personal feedback on materials, it would be great if you would weigh in with your preferred travel sketchbook.