Tag Archives: Savvy Painter

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 Reward of Getting it Wrong

Every now and then I think we could all use the boost of being reminded that the issues which dog us individually, challenge all artists – regardless of experience or acclaim.


Sweet Spot      ©2016 Elizabeth Fram                                                                               My response to the prompt “balance”  for the 2016 Journal Project. 100% successful? No. But plenty of fruitful ground covered to draw on in the future.

Listening to Antrese Wood’s podcast interview with the painter Kathleen Speranza this past week drilled that point home. There was so much that Speranza had to say, on many subjects, that was directly relatable and refreshingly honest. I felt an instant sense of camaraderie. A warning though: at more than 1-1/2 hours, the interview is longer than most. But if you can work or drive while listening, I think you’ll find it’s worth your time.

One of Speranza’s most resonate points is that you have to make a lot of art in order to glean a handful of pieces that could be considered truly successful. She assumes about a 50% success rate for herself. I love that she debunks the often mistaken impression that pretty much everything an accomplished artist creates turns out perfectly. It’s our flops that move us all forward.

In trying to steer clear of the cliché that “it’s the journey, not the destination” that is most rewarding, I still have to acknowledge that much of my emotional connection with my pieces disappears once they’re complete. I’m not exactly sure why that is other than perhaps it’s my in-process engagement that serves as the fuel to push me forward. And that, in turn, leads me to wonder, where would I be without those unexpected mid-stream “accidents” or missteps that require a response, often missing the mark or, less frequently, pushing the whole piece above and beyond to an unplanned new level of discovery. In other words, without the challenge and the risk, what is the point? If every piece turned out exactly the way we wished, wouldn’t we soon become bored?

This line of thinking allows me to fully appreciate the fact that even with devoted practice one can’t hope to get it right every time. Rather, the true gift is gaining and developing enough facility within one’s medium that it becomes the hook that lures one to keep trying.

Merry Christmas

Wishing You a Lovely Holiday Filled with Warmth and Color


Poinsettia     ©2015 Elizabeth Fram

Rather than write a full post during this busy week, I am going to “regift” one of the most useful and informative 35 minutes of my year. In this episode of The Savvy Painter podcast, Antrese Wood shares her thoughts about what she learned during her 6-week master class at JSS at Civita in Italy last summer. The nut of her discussion outlines her discoveries on how to get the most out of a workshop, critique, or any learning opportunity — and boy, there is gold in what she has to say! Wood’s manner is engaging, and the personal lessons she willingly shares are a gift. Her insight and honest assessment about her experience can be directly applied — to your practice (and mine). It is a brilliant example of information-sharing at its highest.

When the holiday dust settles and you get back to thinking about your work, I highly recommend that you invest 35 minutes to check it out. I have no doubt you’ll be glad you did.



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.

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©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”.

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©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.

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©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.

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©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.