Construction, Deconstruction… Reconstruction

JFries spring colors 2 3.14.2020
…any minor world that breaks apart, falls together again… — Steely Dan, Any Major Dude

Staying at home, maintaining physical distance, and working on a new piece for spring.

This is for the “Construction/Deconstruction” group show at the Brickbottom Gallery, scheduled for April 16 – May 16. Details may change due to coronavirus, so watch this site for updates.

My experiment: “Painting” dried flowers with thin skins of dyed tissue paper. The flowers were collected last fall, after they had gone to seed and dried naturally on the plants. I am trying to restore their summer colors. I like the effect – it kind of looks like paintings rendered in 3D. This work-table still life shows pink yarrow and hydrangea in progress. Far in the background, blurry behind my coffee cup are more yarrow, seaside goldenrod, and white pine, waiting their turn. The yarrow are from my own garden. The rest were collected from roadsides, and the hydrangea I actually found in a parking lot where it had been dropped by the wind. I’m not sure what I’ll do with the broken china and egg shell yet.

JFries work table 3.28.2020

I’d been tinkering with this technique for a while, but the disruption we’re all going through with the coronavirus pandemic has inspired me. “Construction” and “deconstruction” are classic Art Words, more or less abstract concepts we creatives often dance around with. But as things kind of come off the rails around us, it occurred to me that “reconstruction” is what art really does. Artists see things, and take them apart, and then we put them back together, a little altered, interpreted, understood in some way, and made part of the human conversation. Our work isn’t done until we’ve got it all together again somehow.

Right now, a lot of us feel like we’re watching things fall apart, but we’ll get through these times. Nothing will be the same, but we can rely on the continuity of construction, deconstruction, reconstruction. The artists, writers, poets, musicians, etc., will tell the stories of how it all went down, and each of us will add our memories to it. We’ll reconstruct our world, with a little more weight of experience and a little more light of understanding. 

This process is slow and delicate, perfect for being under a stay-at-home order. And sometime after I’m done building my memories of last year’s flowers, this year’s flowers will be blooming everywhere.

Be well, friends.

Happy New Year – It’s the Roaring Twenties!

JFries leaves banner 12.31.19

Tomorrow dawns the 2020s, and I realized that exactly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment became part of the US Constitution, and American women got the vote.

The parallels between then and now are uncanny. We were talking it over at dinner this evening. In addition to giving women the vote, the 1920s saw the rise of extreme political and religious beliefs, overweening morality laws and backlashes against them, social and political grassroots organization, massive advances in science and technology with accompanying benefits and abuses, domestic and international terrorism, a great flowering of arts and intellectualism, and fundamental, permanent changes in the ways people lived day to day. In the wake of WW1, it was a decade of no going back to the old conformist pantomimes of class and propriety of the 1890s and 1910s. We can debate whether it was good or bad, but it was truly a revolutionary decade.

I’m pretty sure our 20s will be revolutionary too, with climate change crashing into us, the return of extreme ideologies, science racing forward, and all of us facing the challenges of a shifting world. One way or another, I think we are all going to change our lives forever. I think there will be a lot of ideas to express. Who knows, but we might even finally settle some of the fights we started way back then.

It’s scary but also exciting. Maybe I’m just itching to mix it up with the world. Maybe I’m tired of the same old same-old. I can’t help it – I’m an Aquarius. We like new things. We live for tomorrow.

But tonight, I say farewell to the 2010s. Here is the last of my final project of the decade, the East Somerville Trees collages – preserved memories of autumn under our urban canopy, part of the Botanicals and Cities series. It’s about the things that really matter in the midst of all the changes.

These are destined for a book, so be on the lookout for updates on that.

Happy New Year!

Nature in the City: Leaf Specimens, Geese, Ducks, Sunset

JFries Tobin and boat banner 12.19

Hello, all! This week’s – (checks calendar) – er, I mean this fortnight’s artwork comes from my walks under the urban canopy of Somerville, Massachusetts. I made these specimen collages from just a few of the many tree leaves that have found their way amongst the pages of my books. I have a deep fondness for leaves as objects – their colors, textures, intricate inner structures, varied shapes. So I present them just as they are in a vaguely scientific context, for contemplation and exploration.

I am also working on 2020 updates for the website, and wouldn’t you know it, this month, every government in the world decides to announce new laws affecting online content to be implemented as of next month. So now I get to learn more things. Life is chaos. I believe some physicists say that, don’t they? If not, they should because it is. In any event, be on the lookout for a working contact function (finally!), new pages and reorganized categories, and yes, it’s really happening, a way to buy stuff. I know, right? Miraculous.

Bird-Nerd Update: A recent walk along the Mystic estuary was highlighted by some rather nice afternoon lighting and bird sightings. Between bad weather and ill health, I’ve fallen behind on my birding, but last week, I got buzzed by a small flock of Canada geese as they swooped in to graze the ball field – always a little thrill – and I observed some Bufflehead ducks bobbing and diving in the river, one male and two females. Unfortunately, the light by then was fading, and Buffleheads are quite small. This blurry shot of one of the females is the best I could do, but she can be known by the distinctive white strip on her cheek, and the white spot on her wing. The male, by comparison, is a striking black and white with iridescence on his head, but he was too far from the dock for me to get a good shot of him as the sun set. Buffleheads winter in Massachusetts. I hope these stick around so I can get better pics and add them to the Estuary Birds series.

Leaf Specimens



Female Bufflehead in shadow

JFries female bufflehead 12.19


Canada geese grazing

JFries canada geese 12.19


Tobin bridge, tug boat, and the Pier 4 barge

JFries Tobin and boat 12.19


An ironic view of the Everett side in really gorgeous light

JFries powerplant and casino 12.19

Bats! The Die Fledermaus Opera Crown is complete

JFries Die Fledermaus 11.2019 banner

It’s done!

I’m sorry for having dropped off the planet for a while there, but the Die Fledermaus Crown ended up consuming me entirely as it finally took shape. Pop-up technical issues had to be solved. Last-minute design edits happened. Inevitabilities had to be accepted and let go.

And so I present the first studio photos of the Fantasy Opera Crown of Die Fledermaus (music by Johann Strauss, bats by me). BEHOLD!

This might be the single craziest object I have ever made, and I am rather pleased with it, if I do say so myself. I plan more polished photos, maybe a few cards and posters, a video showing off its details such as the gold and silver origami moths and stars. You can wear this on your head – have I mentioned that? I wonder who among my friends I can con into modeling it for me…

While completing the crown, I also finished my autumn-themed sketchbook/journal and began a series of autumn leaf specimen collages for the Botanicals series. I’ll post about those soon.

It’s good to be back. Now to clear the decks for the next projects.

JFries futility of human endeavor 11.23.19

Anyway… See you all soon.

JFries Die Fledermaus 11.2019 banner2

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.


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

Roofing and the joy of faux finishes

Hello, all. It’s been a while. Things have been kind of crazy, y’know, the way they get. Anyway, I have been extremely busy with work and planning and organizing and birding and politics and preparing for gardening, and through it all, I have been shingling the dollhouse roof.

I’m going for the look of slate, and I hope you’ll think I got close. It’s been some fun on the Google, first looking up what slate generally looks like, then how to fake it with paint, then what slate roofs in particular look like, then how to build a slate roof, and from there deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of roofing, skylights and all that sort of jazz.

The following images show some of what I came up with. I painted more manila folders with a small-scale slate effect and others with a copper effect, because slate or other stone tile roofs will often have metal flashing and gutters at their seams, and those will sometimes be made of copper, according to my admittedly superficial research. I went more for look than structural accuracy. In my defense, my neighbor, who is a roofer, says this is pretty much correct. I find it relaxing and fun to cover sheets of paper with faux paint effects. I’m not sure what that says about me as a person, but it would suck if I didn’t enjoy it, as I need to do a lot of it.

These photos are couple of weeks old, and more progress has been made since they were taken. The work is going quickly at this point, which makes it hard to take a break for blog updates. It is about time I began work on the characters who will play out their drama in this house, as well as the furnishings and props, too.

By the way, the blog’s new background photo is a shot I took of a tree on my street, against a wet, gray sky, the bare branches just getting knobby with their first buds. Springtime in New England!

Mystery House has a color at last

It’s yellow for Spring time!

These past weeks I’ve been working very hard on the dollhouse for my mystery graphic novel project. There were a couple of setbacks since January. I decided the acetate windows would not work for photography, so I had to cut them out and replace the mullion bars with toothpicks. Next, I realized the second floor is too dark to see into if the back roof/gable panel is in place, so I dithered for some time about how to fix that problem. But finally, all that was done, and today I put color on the exterior walls.

As you see, I went with a sunny yellow, which will be complemented by colors on the gingerbread ornaments still to come. Next, I will tile the roof, for which I painted card stock to look like slate. You can see a hint of that, dry-fitted with tape, in one of the photos.

As with most labor-intensive projects, it’s amazing how suddenly real progress can appear, and after months of slogging, the thing looks like it will soon be finished. It’s quite energizing.

Birds of Somerville and dollhouse progress

It’s been a crazy several weeks, with a strained knee, two bouts of the flu, a blizzard followed by record warmth in February, and a nor’easter to usher in March like a lion, so I haven’t had time to put together a blog post until now. But progress has been made, and a new hobby has emerged.

On the dollhouse, the clapboard siding is finished at last, and I am working now on replacing the acetate in the windows with small wood frames. I found it difficult to focus a camera through the acetate, and in any event, I just didn’t like it all that much.

And the new hobby – wildlife-spotting around scenic urban Somerville. My at-home feeders serve a resident flock of about 15 resident European house sparrows, two pairs of house finches, one lingering junco, a mated pair of northern cardinals, several mourning doves, two blue jays, and the ubiquitous feral pigeons and gray squirrels. Meanwhile, near where I work my day job, I’ve also noticed a welcome return of water fowl to the Mystic estuary, where year-round herring gulls and summer-resident Canada geese have been joined by a pair each of red-breasted mergansers and mallard ducks, and some red-throated loons appear from time to time. This past month, I decided to break out the camera.

The Dollhouse

The Birds on the Estuary

House of Mystery, playing with light

I continue to work on the dollhouse for my mystery project. Yesterday, I took a break to play with the light in my studio as it illuminated the rooms under construction.

I’m excited about this project and determined to finish this house over the next several weeks. I will also soon start work on the characters who will act out the drama to be set in the house.