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Current Projects on My Desk; Autumn Beauty in My Garden

Work continues on selected projects, including some treats for Halloween, as well as coordinating the illustrated essay on magic, using a writing tool I’ll talk about more in a future post.

But the grand theme of the start of autumn has been the garden. Ten-foot sunflowers (brown Autumn Beauty and light yellow-dark brown Lemon Queen), pink cosmos, and 60’s-mod zinnias are off the hook, and the bees and butterflies are feasting to their hearts’ content. I’ve been basking in the glory of these final days of growing and getting ready to dive into the darkness of winter.

current projects 9.30.19
sunflowers sept. 19
monarch on zinnia sept. 19
bee on cosmos sept. 19

Sketchbook Visit: They Say Practice Makes Perfect

Working on the words aspects of a couple of projects, which is not very visual as processes go, so I thought this week I’d share a glimpse into my sketchbook.

I’m training myself to do more drawing. My poor book – I made it at New Year’s, for encouragement, using a variation on the Japanese tetsuyoso binding – and now it’s being filled with mad randomness. I think I have too much on my mind.

Come Sail Away…

I must admit to a failure of time management when, surfacing happy from deep immersion in work, I find the entire summer has slipped by without a word from me to the wider world. Oops. Let’s say I’ve been on a summer artist’s retreat. Yeah, that works.

So, I’m back from my summer artist’s retreat, during which quite a lot of things have happened, haven’t they? (Looks at wider world; considers returning to the retreat.) Anyway…

Highlights:

I built a boat. And a cloth doll. My first of each. This was a commission for toys illustrating a children’s story. I blew my labor budget experimenting with materials and techniques, but it was worth it. The client is happy, and it spawned a gaggle of project bunnies along the way.

I enrolled in a dollhouse workshop taught by Laetitia Miéral, a paper artist in France. Her work is beautiful, and she’s an excellent teacher. You must check her out at Merveilles en Papier. I heartily recommend her workshops for both beginners and more advanced artists. She offers both big and small projects, great techniques, and is outstanding at getting her students (or at least me) past perfectionism and commitment phobias.

Appropriately, I worked on dollhouses, too. I either solved a problem with the novel or created a new one – not sure yet. I wrote an essay on magic and reality – release date TBD. I hand-bound sketchbooks and journals, observed wildlife, gardened like a maniac, and did a lot of thinking.

And suddenly, it’s September. Break’s over.


Mystic Birds, a New Exhibition, Green Life

Work abounds, and thus I’m late again. This past week, I launched at last a project in planning all last year. Mystic Birds 1, 2, and 3 celebrate some of my favorite waterbirds – Herring Gulls, Common Terns, Canada Geese, and Mallard Ducks – against the backdrop of the Mystic River estuary and Boston’s Tobin Bridge. I used some of my own photos of the birds and bridge, taken over the last year at the Schrafft’s Center in Charlestown. You can go there any time and see these scenes just as I did.

If you happen to be in Somerville this spring, you can also see these collages at the Brickbottom Gallery, in the Brickbottom Artists Association annual Spring show “Green,” running April 18 – May 18. You can come and meet me at the reception, April 29, 5 – 7 pm, and be sure to visit all the artists during Somerville Open Studios, May 4 – 5. Details at the BAA’s website.

These Mystic Birds are the first of a series of works exploring the life of the Mystic River watershed from Boston Harbor up to the Mystic Lakes. Once one of the most polluted water systems in the US, the Mystic is now one of the most improved, getting stronger every year, but still threatened by development, industry, and climate change. Learn more about it from the Mystic River Watershed Association. It is wonderful to spend time by the river, see the wildlife carrying on their business, and realize that the human world and natural world are not at all separate, but one and the same. Our own neighborhoods are environments worth saving, something I remember as I write this and listen to sparrows outside my window and a woodpecker working on a tree somewhere nearby. I hope with my new Mystic River Project to raise awareness of the vibrant nature around us all the time, and to encourage people to live in nature wherever they are, even in the middle of big cities.

So this year look for more of my love letters to this urban river. Also more walks around the rest of my city, commissioned toys and objects, artist books and self-publishing, and blog posts about greening up my studio and art practice. Spring is the time for cleaning up and getting started.

I hope to see you at the Brickbottom “Green” reception!

Spring is here!

green monoprint border 3.18.19

Spring starts this Wednesday, March 20! The trees are budding. The first green shoots are showing through winter’s litter. The birds and animals are setting up house. The sun is higher and warmer, and everything seems full of energy and movement.

I celebrated by making my annual mistake of cleaning my rooms. I learned that I don’t need any more clothes or hair ties, my cats don’t need any more toys, and the only things that are ever truly lost are the ones that are a big pain to replace. I didn’t even do the Kondo method, and I’m overwhelmed – but motivated afresh.

Experiments with monoprint continue, and I’ve started a small set of collages on paper using natural botanical bits. This first one is a tribute to the season and our city rabbits down by the Mystic estuary. It belongs to my ongoing series about walks around town.

JFries Charlestown Spring in progress 3.15.19
JFries Charlestown Spring in progress 3.15.19

Books and Blue Blots

JFries Birches detail 2.26.19

I have been crazy busy these past two weeks with the dollhouse project, writing, and getting the studio sorted – and a new undertaking. I am developing a future bookbinding workshop for sometime next year, though it’s only in the planning stages now. 

I have always loved books both for the amazing worlds they contain and for themselves, as delightful, satisfying objects. Of course, I had to learn to make them as well as read them. I’ve taught bookbinding in years past, and as books become an even greater part of my work, I’ve got the itch again to help other people discover the joys of sewing paper.

My bookbinding tastes are pretty utilitarian. I don’t like elaborate stitch-work, exotic materials, or bulky inclusions. I do like books that work like books, feel like books in the hand, open flat, are resilient, and, preferably, use recycled/repurposed materials. I don’t like glue in books, I do like exposed spines. My favorite style is the ancient Japanese tetsuyoso multi-section binding. It is easy to sew and gives a clean, streamlined structure to the finished book. I’ve developed a hybrid stitch for attaching covers that allows for some decoration. I’m nerdishly pleased with it.

After a week of practicing with needle, thread and papers, looking up lesson plans, etc., I needed a brain reset, so I spent all of today having a fit of surrealist decalcomania, aka inkblot printing. Whee, monotypes! For a good dose of unstructured mark-making, I broke out a tube of ultramarine acrylic paint, modified it with water and wheat flour, and went to town with Rorschach-style blots and dendritic prints, so called for the branching patterns created by squeezing color between two plates, which are then pulled apart.

Behold the results of my labors.

Books

Monotypes

Organizing the studio; books and birds

Hi, all. I’m a bit late with this post, sorry. I spent the past two weeks reorganizing my studio – not quite done yet, but much better than it had been. Finally able to get back onto my work tables, I have jumpstarted the dollhouse and begun work on a future workshop on non-adhesive bookbinding. I’m also running behind on my 50/Week story challenge, but I did write a nifty little period piece about a mad monk. I need to do two more before Saturday to be back on my weekly schedule for that.

It hasn’t been all dust and heavy lifting, though. I spent several days photo-hunting loons and other birds on the Mystic estuary and watching wildlife from my kitchen window.

JFries - My writing desk, 2.13.19
JFries – My writing desk, 2.13.19
JFries - Book models in progress, 2.13.19
JFries – Book models in progress, 2.13.19
JFries - The dry media table, with distraction, 2.13.19
JFries – The dry media table, with distraction, 2.13.19
JFries - dollhouse gables, 2.13.19
JFries – dollhouse gables, 2.13.19
JFries - Loon, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries – Loon, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries - Canada goose, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries – Canada goose, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries, Rock, Charlestown, 2.11.19
JFries, Rock, Charlestown, 2.11.19

On the Writerly Side

I’ve posted a lot about my artwork, but not much about my writing. It’s time I addressed that – not least because I have no visual art ready to photograph this week.

So, let me tell you all about my books.

50 Words:

I’ve mentioned this year-long challenge in other posts. I’m writing one fifty-word story each week over 2019. They have to be fully realized narratives told in exactly fifty words, no more, no less. Inspired by a game played by the first-generation surrealists, these micro-stories are kind of like prose haiku. You have to learn the arts of implication and editing. You have to milk every nuance of meaning out of every word, even the articles. So far in January, I have written a version of Rapunzel as star-crossed romance, a heist thriller, a high fantasy with a dragon, and a family drama. It’s fun! You should try it. I’ll explain my method below, and you can try your hand at writing your own.

The goal is to print the stories in the form of book-cards, which you’ll have to imagine for now as I haven’t finished designing them.

My method for churning out fifty whole words may seem complicated, but it suits my brain. I’m too commitment-phobic to pick a track to follow, so I let the universe pick one for me by randomized draws.

First, I pull five random words, all of which must be used in the text. Next, I pick from a selection of story prompts spat out by a random generator. My favorite generator site is Seventh Sanctum. The prompts give me up to three story elements, of which I must use at least one. Finally, I break out the Tarot deck and pull three cards, the meanings of which must inform the story.

Thus, for the story I wrote today, I worked with the following:

  • The words were “body,” “here,” “know,” “factories,” and “sister.
  • The story elements were “a pharmacist is involved” and “a character becomes pregnant.”
  • The Tarot cards were the Nine of Cups (reversed), the Queen of Pentacles (reversed), and the Queen of Cups, suggesting imperfect joy and a contrast between a terrible woman and a good woman.

From these building blocks, I wrote a story about a young woman, poor, hardworking, rejected by her mother but loved by her new husband, who has learned that she is to become a mother herself.

I drafted the story on unlined paper with a dip pen and brown ink. It’s a beautiful, slow, calming way to write, making pages that are dreamy to look at, even with my horrible handwriting. The ritual of it is almost like a tea ceremony – the preparation of the ink and nib, blotters and water ready to hand, the smooth flow of color and the scratch of the nib across the paper, the regular pauses every so many words to dip and reload the pen in the inkwell. It keeps one focused. Rather zen, you know.

Eventually, the story is formed enough to type it into the computer and edit it down to the final word count. Tomorrow, I’ll reread, edit further, and come up with a title.


The Other Project, Noir on Many Levels:

Another work in progress is a novel, of course. It’s an adult dark fantasy, a supernatural detective story with witches and dead people and crimes across centuries.

The process is pretty much the same but with more moving parts – character profiles, research, settings, plot maps and diagrams, chapter outlines. I’m woefully but not irretrievably behind schedule on it. I hope to have sample chapters available in the not too distant future.


Strangely for a narrative artist, I had no pictures to illustrate my writing process. The sidebar images are scans of this post’s original manuscript, handwritten with the dip pen, just like I said. And here is the beginning of today’s fifty-word story.

If you try using my formula to write your own fifty-word story, I’d love to hear about it and even read whatever you end up with in the comments.

Correction: Golden Eyes

I received a lovely birdwatching kit for Christmas from my sainted mother this year – an Audubon field guide and a pair of binoculars. Today, the weather and light were finally good enough for me to get a proper look through my new binoculars at the little black and white ducks hanging out in the center of the Mystic Estuary. I was able to confirm the exact placement and shape of the white spots on their heads and the pattern of black and white on their bodies. The birds in my photos identified as Buffleheads are, I believe, actually Common Goldeneyes. FYI.

The links connect to All About Birds, a website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.