Pareidolia is the tendency to see specific, meaningful images in random or ambiguous patterns.
I like to pick out order from chaos. And I like to go a-wandering, and find random things of meaning.
Uncontrollable media like water are good for me because the randomness breaks my perfectionism. They force me to cede some control and to find a rapport with accidental occurrences and effects. They make me listen and look. Rather than obsessively planning every detail of an artwork – and I can get real obsessive – by following the movements of fluid media, I feel like I am receiving art brought to me by the universe.
It seems the universe brings me a lot of landscapes. I guess I have nature on the brain.
Here are four new abstract landscapes in watercolor, all 9 x 5.75 inches. In all of them, I randomly messed about with paint, water, brushes and tools, and then considered the results from various angles to find the views that emerged in the drying. Two of them work so well in different orientations that, rather than pick one, I signed them on all the sides I liked.
Maybe a seascape – waves on a beach? I enjoy the play of color and the storminess of it.
Definitely a seascape. Is there a figure, perhaps walking along a sandbar at low tide?
Two for one. In one orientation, it’s rolling hills, with perhaps a pond, and distant buildings. In another orientation, it’s a forest.
Abstract Landscape 4a, b, c, d. Four! Count ‘em – four coherent images on one piece of paper. I see a sort of darkening, perhaps twilight, marshy view, then a forest, then heavy rain over what might be a farmhouse, and finally another forest view.
Drop a comment and let me know where these images take you. And how do you feel when something random – a cloud, a pattern of light through curtains, whatever it may be – suddenly connects with you and tells a story?
Please click on the shiny new Writing & Books tab.
At long last, the Letters half of the classic Arts & Letters combo has arrived. Wait until you see – omg, I’m so happy about it.
Writing & Books is the index page to my written works. You can read the stuff, comment on the stuff, follow the stuff. Eventually, you will be able to order print editions via that page. At some point, I will likely add artist books and zines as well. Basically, anything bookish goes under Writing & Books.
So what is it, exactly, that I do write?
Well, similar to my visual arts, I like to switch and blend genres. You may choose among fantasies, mysteries, romances, or thrillers, but they are all linked by certain common themes. Just as nature, memory, and dreams run through all my artworks, so I think you’ll find most of my writing deals with emotions, relationships, and wild, sometimes dangerous landscapes, both external and internal.
Right now, you can dive into four of my 50-word micro-stories: “To the New World,” “The Runaways,” “A Lot of Frogs to Kiss,” and “Faith.”
Some of you may remember my 50-word story challenges, based on a surrealist word game, in which a complete story had to be told in precisely fifty words, no more, no less. I liked to raise the ante by randomly pre-selecting five of the words, which every participant had to use in their stories. It’s actually quite a lot of fun.
You can also read the very first poem I feel brave enough to show to anyone, “Night, April.”
Inspired by the American-style haiku of such intimidating giants as Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg, I decided to experiment with this form because why the hell not? To me, this is such a perfect and basic form of expression – to capture the essence of a moment, to make a picture in words of ephemeral experience – I really think everyone should try their hand at something haiku-esque, just to get the feel of it – the feel of one’s feelings. Go and take a look, and let me know what you think of my effort.
Finally, there’s the big project. Oh, boy, this is the one that’ll have you saying “Wow, Jen, you really went off the edge this time.”
Yeah, you’re damn right. I’m going straight off the edge – of the map – where there be dragons. A whole alchemy of them, in fact.
An Alchemy of Dragons
One peace-loving ranger with a past. One audacious bard with an agenda. And one deadly conspiracy – with dragons.
You’re not hallucinating. It is, indeed, a fantasy novel. What’s more, it’s a serialized web novel, which means it will be a hell of a lot longer than a haiku or some fifty words. It will be posted on this site by chapters, as they are written. It will probably be illustrated, too.
Now granted, fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but we don’t drink tea here at the Jen Fries Arts studio – we spill it. (Actually, we do drink tea, every day, but you get what I mean.)
Yes, An Alchemy of Dragons will feature both swords and sorcery. It will have creatures and fancy outfits and very high stakes, but this is not going to be that Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings type stuff.
This is a Jen Fries project.
So check out the stories and poetry, reacquaint yourselves with the artwork, and you’ll get a sense of what you’ll be in for. I think you might enjoy it, and I hope you’ll give it a try. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, if you haven’t already, to get email notifications when chapters are posted.
In other news, it’s spring time. And yes, a lot of shit is happening in the world, but the trees and bulbs are flowering and the birds are courting, and that’s what I’ve decided to focus on. Look for an upcoming blog post about spring time artwork, soon. Also please visit the Shop for seasonal works available now.
This one is about the gifts the universe sends us, the treasures we pass by on the road.
The moon was particularly beautiful over Somerville last night, when the storm clouds parted. It was bright enough to light my room, overcoming the street lamps. The wet air smelled of spring.
By the way, we call April’s moon the Pink Moon, not because it looks pink, but because it’s the month for pinks, the flower, to bloom. Indeed, my city is filling up with flowers now.
I repurposed one of my blue landscapes for this collage. Sometimes an image has more to say, and I will often revisit older pieces that seem like they want to go in a different direction. In fact, I won’t let go of a piece until I’m sure it is what it wants to be.
The big news this March is that I have launched a new online shop for my artworks. You can visit the Jen Fries Store at Artrepreneur by clicking the Shop menu tab, above. (Right-click to open the shop in a new tab or window, if you prefer.)
Artrepreneur is a multi-service platform for visual artists, and so far I am very pleased with them. I think you will be, too.
I try to keep third-party services to a minimum. I don’t like interposing other people between me and you. I like to deal direct. I had planned to set up my website for e-commerce so anyone who would like to own some of my work can just, you know, go ahead and buy it off me, direct.
But I have learned that there are a lot of schnickety little tech details to setting up one’s own online e-commerce site, and I suck at them. Mmm, boy, do I ever suck at that stuff. I learned this the hard way. Ugh, ye gods.
So, to quote my favorite author, Lawrence Sterne, “I did at last what I should have done at first.”
Namely, I found a third-party platform to provide the service I need at this point in my career. Yay, Artrepreneur!
Artrepreneur’s main selling point to me is that it is designed specifically for visual artists, by visual artists. The people who run this platform know how the arts business works, and also how it doesn’t work. What it is, and what it isn’t. They have put together a raft of systems and services that make a lot of sense to me, and have so far been easier for me to deal with than just about any other marketplace or business platform.
I no longer have to try to shoehorn myself as an artist into a site that’s really designed for different kinds of work and business. And I no longer have to try to force myself to learn a skill set that’s way far outside my comfort zone at a time when I need to put much more energy into the creative side of my career.
Also, as of this writing, Artrepreneur charges no transaction fees or commissions, unlike almost every other arts platform and marketplace out there. Artrepreneur is a subscription service. I pay them an annual membership fee, for which I get the services I need, and that’s it. They have no other involvement in any transaction between you and me. Simple.
So please, visit the Shop. Take a look at the first set of works I have ready for immediate sale. And let me know what you think of the set-up via a comment or email.
And of course, if you prefer to deal really directly, or would like to buy a work you see on this site which isn’t listed for sale yet, or if you have any other questions, please always feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Currently in the Shop
Click the Shop tab for prices, shipping, and details for these works.
I struggled to write this post – any post, really – for a long while.
I have things to say, news to tell, but how can I write about my career and work and personal life in the horrible and tragic context of the world right now? It seems so discordant and even inappropriate to talk about myself. I guess I’m not alone in this feeling.
But I think maybe I’m wrong about it – not wrong in my emotions, but maybe wrong in my thinking. I don’t know, but freezing in place is not an option, regardless of anything else. I must work, I must speak, so here I am.
Because I’m an artist. A creative. If I’m not speaking and showing, then what am I doing? Why am I here? These times when things are so bad, when our hearts are being crushed every fifteen minutes by the news of war (and before now, by pandemic, and before that by racist brutality, and before that by environmental disaster, etc., etc.), this is when people in my line of work have to step up. Whether we provoke or comfort, give clarity or reassurance, this is what our profession is for, ultimately.
So I hope, in the coming days, you will find something in what I offer this year – relevance, escape, inspiration, whatever. I hope it will help – me as well as you.
Finally, since I do express my opinions on this site, I will state for my own public record my personal support for the nation and people of Ukraine and my absolute condemnation of Putin, his indefensible war of choice, and his crimes against humanity. I also express my anger and disgust at the general tolerance for fascism and aggression in many countries, including my own, which I believe helped to encourage that murderous bastard to do this insane thing.
My feelings on this are strong, and honestly, together with other strong feelings I have, I’m reaching the limit of my willingness to soften my manners for the sake of politeness. No, really, I have actually been doing that up to now. Things can and probably will get even pointier and slappier here at the studio, so I hope you’re okay with that, because I’m kind of thinking I’ve been wrong in my approach, like so many of us in so many ways. And I’m kind of done with that.
Anyway, the experts all say the public want to get to know the artist. So, okie-dokie then. Blame the experts.
PS: Sketches, new works and projects, and studio news will begin flowing shortly, in a series of posts. Watch this space.
I can hardly believe it has been about three months since my last update, but as most of you know, I tend to fall off the planet fairly regularly. I don’t apologize for it. When I have crap to work through that’s irrelevant to anyone else, I just do it without showing it to anyone. But finally, I do have news to share.
New work on exhibit this summer
“Sometimes the neighbors are up all night,” collage and acrylic on paper.
This new work is inspired by our local wild birds, whose songs frequently echo through the streets at night, when all else is relatively quiet. I find the birds’ nightlife deeply reassuring. Even in something as small as a bird singing in the dark, we are reminded that we share a living and lively world. The collage is 7 x 10 inches, and made with copies of vintage images, bars of music randomly sliced from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird Suite,” my own blue landscape in acrylic paste, and a line from Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.”
It’s part of the summer show at the Brickbottom Gallery, “The Great Outdoors,” running July 15 – August 14, 2021. Visit the Brickbottom website at This Link for details.
Allow me to introduce Luna Lynx, Lady Silvertip, our new cat and studio assistant.
She has been with us about a month and is still in studio orientation, but has taken the job of House Cat well in hand. According to the good folks at Animal Rescue League of Boston, although very young herself, she had just weaned off a litter of kittens before coming to us. I believe she has transferred her maternal instincts to her two new humans. Luna Lynx is extremely attentive, playful and nurturing. She scolds us if we wander off, makes sure we eat on time and get our exercise, and checks on us in our beds at night.
I’m grateful because we have needed someone to take care of us these past few sad months. With her to get us up and running, I feel like we can finally start to move again and that the winter – and all of last year, really – is over at last.
Finally, watch this space for upcoming projects and a new online shop system, coming soon.
Hello, my friends. In my March 12th post, I told you that we have been dealing with unhappy things and that I would update you when I could.
I must report that our beloved cat, Scipio, has died due to an unexpected illness.
You may recall that our other cat, Leah, passed away in January at age 17, of cancer. Her passing was expected.
Scipio, however, was only 6 years old, in the prime of his life. In early March, he suddenly became very sick, and was diagnosed with Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). He passed away this past Monday.
I have kept cats all my life but had never heard of this disease, FIP. Most cat keepers that I know have also not heard of it unless they too lost a cat to it. That’s why I’m telling you about it today. If you keep cats, please, make sure you are educated about FIP, and please share this information with anyone you know who keeps cats.
FIP is caused by – supreme irony – a feline coronavirus. This cat-specific virus is no threat to humans, but it is common among cats, especially in crowded multi-cat environments. For the huge majority of cats, it will cause no more than the occasional cold or digestive upsets, but in a small number of cats, it can mutate into a variant that can trigger FIP, which is always fatal. This is what happened to our Scipio.
Veterinary medicine is working on FIP and feline coronavirus. There is a promising experimental therapeutic drug for FIP, but it is not available yet in the US. Hopefully it will be soon. Likewise, work is being done to develop screening and a reliable vaccine for the feline coronavirus. In the meantime, prevention and good health are the only protections against this disease.
For your reference, here are the best of the articles I read for information about FIP. Also speak with your veterinarian about it.
So we have lost both our darlings since January. We are utterly heartbroken and exhausted. I had promised you new work and art for sale, and I do have a selection of things in celebration of spring, but I have been preoccupied up to now.
Thank you for being patient and understanding.
Scipio Africanus Cutieus Patootieus Maximus was charming, funny, affectionate, and caring. He was the terror of all mice, but had only love for the rest of the world. He came to us at another time of mourning in our family, and healed our hearts with his gentle good humor and extreme cuteness. During his friend Leah’s illness, he stayed by her side, comforting her day and night. He is survived by his humans – me and my mom. He left us too soon, and we hope he has been reunited with Leah on the other side.
This has been a difficult winter for us at the apartment attached to the studio. I’ll tell you about it at some future date. For now, suffice to say, we are dealing with unhappy things, and the least of my troubles is that my nearly decade-old Mac computer finally broke down. I write this on a loaner PC (thanks, Mom), and due to various techly things I’m not coping with right now, I can’t upload any of my new photos to prove that I’ve actually been doing stuff. So… whatever. On the scale of things, the computer is annoying because it doesn’t matter, but it does interrupt.
I’ve been working on paper sculptures of eggs and rabbits, naturally, because yay-spring. Also working on my occult detective novel – again. And that one ambitious project. They’re all coming along rather nicely. I wish I could show them to you.
Instead, I’m adding some spring-ly works to the Shop, beginning with four small landscape paintings, the Blue Lakes. They are kind of misty and moody, and they speak both to my state of mind and the time of year. I used paste-paint on paper and improvised with folds, blots, pulls, and mark-making. In some you can spot finger impressions, creases, and other flaws helping to build the image of a watery landscape.
The Blue Lakes Series
Every so often this March, look for more paintings and collages to the Shop, in celebration of the season.
Someone I admire recently observed that creative work is therapeutic. It takes one out of oneself. It’s true. These past few weeks, the meditative ASMR of my pen on the paper, and the brush applying layers of paste and paper, and birds jumping around in the tree by my window has been my refuge. Engaging all my senses in my materials – the textures, sounds, smells, colors – making adjustments as I go along, not overthinking things but just floating in the process – it’s pretty much the only thing that lets me forget my cares for a while, lets me feel just free and existing.
It doesn’t last, but the work is always there, waiting, anytime I need a break. There’s a life-lesson there, after this traumatic year. If you have something that gets your mind off yourself, that feeds your senses, and leaves you with something positive at the end of the day or hour, indulge in it. It’s medicine, and we all need it, as surely as we need a vaccine.
It’s been all snow, ice, mellow jazz in the background, warm soft clothes with big fluffy scarves, bird watching, art puttering, and spiced chai with cream since last I posted. In keeping with February in Massachusetts, my view has been largely inward – spring cleaning the junk inside my head as well as in my rooms, and avoiding the freezing damp. I hope you are all keeping well and warm, despite storms and craziness.
I’ve been working on a new-to-me water-media technique, using soft pastels like watercolor. I started doing this on small sketches sometime last year, and it was kind of a breakthrough for me. The graininess of pastel pigments gives the paintings a subtle, impressionistic texture compared to watercolor. There’s a dreamy effect that I’m falling in love with. Plus wet pastel adheres to the paper well, as long as you don’t lay it on too thick or in too many layers. No dust floating off.
For tiny drawings in my sketchbook, I just lift color off the stick with a wet brush, treating the sticks like pan watercolors. However, the pastels won’t flow as freely across a surface, so for larger paintings and washes I need to experiment a bit.
Some artists grind pastels to powder and mix them with additives and binders to make them into proper paints. I’m way too lazy for that. But then I thought a stick of color is rather like a stick of ink, isn’t it, so I turned to Chinese and Japanese brush painting, for which solid ink is ground with water on a stone to make liquid ink of the desired consistency. This monochrome study of branches was done by grinding a pastel stick in that manner.
I am quite pleased with this method so far. It suits me. The grinding provides a meditative moment to get into the head space. I need to work on the mis-en-place arrangement of tools, play with colors, put together an equipment kit, and so forth. I’ll keep you posted on progress. Meanwhile, this small painting will be available in the shop shortly, along with other works that put me in mind of the season.
That’s all for now. Remember your masks and all that, and take care of yourselves.
Hello, all. I’m back after one of my long, unannounced absences, and I’m afraid I return with sad news.
Our beloved cat, Leah, has died after more than a year battling cancer. The disease turned aggressive in late November, and she passed in early January, at home with us by her side. She was 17 years old. She’d had a rough as a captured feral cat in shelters before coming to our home some 13 years ago, but despite her post-traumatic phobias and neuroses, she was the sweetest, most caring and quietly affectionate creature you could imagine. Beautiful, small, delicate, she was our fairy princess, and few things could make us happier than to see her content and purring. We all miss her so much.
Immediately after our personal loss, of course, That Insurrection Thing happened. As you know, we are a rather political gang in the apartment attached to the studio, so it was a bit all-consuming to watch, in a state of grief, as a bunch of racists and fascists tried to overthrow the US government live on tv, and all the ripples that spread from that.
Altogether, not a good time, and I hope you will understand that I haven’t done, said, or thought a single thing worth telling you about in over two months.
But tonight is the first full moon of 2021, and I am officially restarting the year as of now.
Am I all healed up and ready to rock? Nope. I am tired, and foggy, and sad, my plans are a jumbled mess, and my calendar is mostly blank. But the fascists failed, and the days are getting longer, and I do feel just a little more … possible than I did just two weeks ago. It’s a flimsy straw, but I’m grasping it. In the past two days, I’ve started a new sketchbook for the year. I’m planning my garden. I’m gradually, baby-step KonMari-ing this whole place (ye gods, I’ve got a lot of stuff), and sorting it all out is giving me a ton of new ideas. Somehow, I feel vaguely like I can start moving again.
Where does this thin trickle of unexpected energy come from? Maybe the moon. January’s Ice Moon is ushering in a wave of snow storms and a deep freeze here in scenic Somerville, and I do feel as if those gusts of wind are blowing away the last, clinging dregs of 2020. You know, psychologically.
So, belatedly, happy New Year. I hope you are all warm and keeping well and looking forward to better days. I make no warranties or representations for what 2021 will bring from my studio, or when, or how. I offer no schedules or projects on deck. No promises = no apologies, that’s my motto for the moment.
So let’s just go forth, as it were, and see what emerges, shall we?
Winter 2020/2021 Photo Journal
In Memoriam: Leah the Bedea, Our Princess, forever loved.