The Art of Words

A new section is added to the website!

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.

Jen Fries Art Store Now Open at Artrepreneur

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 jen@jenfriesarts.com.

Currently in the Shop

Click the Shop tab for prices, shipping, and details for these works.

On Terrible Times

Bees and sunflowers, an allegory for these days. (Taken in my garden last year.)

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.

-Jen

PS: Sketches, new works and projects, and studio news will begin flowing shortly, in a series of posts. Watch this space.

Gray Light and Working Cozy

JFries snow branches border

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.

JFries branches 2.2021
Inspired by the dogwood outside my window

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.


January/February Photo Journal

JFries snow dogwood 2.2021
The dogwood
JFries worktable 2.2021
Getting ready, this time to make the new sketchbook
sm JFries SA Scipio 2.2021
Staff meeting with Studio Assistant Scipio
JFries doves in snow 2.2021
Meeting members of the wildlife division for lunch
JFries snow street 2.2021
The view from the studio for the past several weeks

It’s been a minute and a year

JFries doves border 1.28.21

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.

Also, covid-19.

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

JFries december merganser 1.28.21
JFries mourning dove 1.28.21
JFries moth 2 1.28.21
JFries moth 1 1.28.21
JFries moths in progress 1.28.21
JFries sketch #1 1.28.21
JFries January 2021 Ice Moon 1.28.21

In Memoriam: Leah the Bedea, Our Princess, forever loved.

JFries Leah 4.11.19

Books, Bees, & Sunflowers

This month, I finally finished one of my projects, the re-binding of my Pictorial Key to the Tarot. You saw it in progress in my last posting. Below are some photos of the finished book.

The new cover uses the boards of the original cover wrapped in a one-of-a-kind decorative paste paper I made recently. I salvaged the torn, beat-up, original spine label, fading it a bit more with a lick of paint. The lines of fine black ribbon on either side of the spine are the exposed stitching attaching the cover to the book. I went with my preferred adhesive-free, sewn binding. The inside covers, front and back, have double pockets for notes, and I included five permanent ribbon bookmarks. As you can see, the book lies open very easily. Closed, it looks quite fetching on my bookshelf as well.

What else is going on? Flowers! Bees! The garden is a satisfying riot of gorgeousness and buzzing. We’ve suffered through some heavy heat and rain, but all is well on the flora and fauna front.

I learned today that the sunflower is associated with the women’s suffrage movement. It was used on a button of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for their 1867 Kansas campaign, and was Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s pen-name in the women’s newspaper, The Lily. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association) As 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the vote in the US, I’m feeling a little extra pride in my lovely, tall, nodding, giant flowers.

Also, exciting announcement, a shop-like arrangement is in the works. Watch this space for updates on when works will become available to buy. I’m a little terrified by the prospect, but it’s really happening. The paperwork is mostly in hand.

And if you haven’t yet subscribed to my monthly newsletter, do give it a try. It offers exclusive glimpses into my art practice and study, as well as things to do outside the studio. You can sign up here and receive three printable bookmarks as my thank-you gift.


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, re-bound


In the Garden

Coming up for air

Surprisingly busy this summer, despite the distancing and closing. I hope you have been having a good summer, too, and enjoying the weather or at least beating the heat.

To catch you up:

Estuary Moon is viewable at the Brickbottom Gallery online, along with works by many other wonderful artists. You can find that exhibition here, through August 15.

I’ve been experimenting with new-to-me techniques, resulting in a new collection of small monochrome landscapes, acrylic on paper. You can find those under Artworks, here.

I’ve also been rebinding an old book from my library – a 1970’s hard cover edition of Arthur E. Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, a gift from my friends back in high school. It’s a low-budget, no-frills book, but it has sentimental value, so when the binding finally started to give up the ghost, I decided to rehabilitate it with my favorite non-adhesive book style, the Japanese tetsuyoso binding. It’s quite the job, as the 40-year-old glue did not want to come off, despite dropping pages. I had to do more cutting and reconstructing than I’d hoped, and I added some muslin to reinforce the spine, but it’s going well. The refurbished cover, dressed in one of my paste papers, is drying under weight as I write this.

Pictorial Key to the Tarot in progress


More reconstructed botanicals are coming up. White pine and goldenrod are in progress.

JFries new botanicals 8.2020

And I did a bit of housekeeping on the website – cleaned up the images, consolidated the books under one heading. The Artworks pages look cleaner and prettier now.

Outside the studio, it’s been pretty much gardening and birding round the clock. Well…I’m not going to any shopping malls, that’s for sure. The community garden is at war with our local city rabbits, but while others engage in brute force with brooms and hoses, I have entered into a psychological battle with one particular adorable fluff-nugget who has a fondness for bean tendrils. Yeah, okay, Peter Cottontail, but I notice he doesn’t touch the aromatic herbs, tomatoes, or turnip greens, so guess what this garden will look like next year? Buckle-up, Buttercup. It is brought.

We’ve also had a fun summer visitor to the mulberry tree outside our kitchen window. Camera-shy little thing – this is the best shot I’ve gotten of him – but from the color, the wing markings, and a brief glimpse of his beak shape, I believe this is a Baltimore oriole. The first I’ve seen in scenic Somerville. Judge for yourself, comparing my blurry photo to the entry in AllAboutBirds.org.

JFries oriole 8.2020
Sneaky glimpse through the bushes. It’s totally an oriole.

It’s not easy to write upbeat blog posts these days, what with all that’s going on. I’m not even going to say “in the world.” Let’s just call it – things are not swell in the USA, and yes, there are people to blame for that. I spend about as much time as most people worrying and growling over it. There is a lot of uncooperative BS being bandied about that I am completely over and done with, together with the people spouting it, and the horses they rode in on. Done. I’m just done. It makes staying home easier, at any rate.

But after all, my sainted mother and I and our immediate neighbors are all healthy, and there’s a Baltimore oriole outside my kitchen window. What have I got to complain about? (Okay, plenty, but you know what I mean.)

So take care. Be well. Wear your masks. And look out your windows. There’s probably something pretty and amazing out there that will lift you up and keep you going.


A walk in my garden

Artist Statement: Black Lives Matter

A few weeks ago, the world changed as the pandemic forced us all out of our normal contexts and made everyone paranoid about being in their own homes. Now the world is changing again in a far more fundamental way, a far more uncomfortable way, a far more hopeful and frightening way as the whole construct of systemic racism is being confronted all at once. No one I know has ever seen anything like what’s happening now in the US as well as around the world.

Could this be it? Could we finally be able to end a society structured around racial inequality? All I know is a lot of people are putting their lives on the line for this since the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, and the reaction against those protesting brutality and violence has been brutal and violent.

The very least I can do as a creative is shine what small light I can on it. So this is my statement:

As an artist, writer, and human being, I am anti-racist, anti-fascist, pro-equality, pro-democracy, pro-environmental justice. I am not neutral, and I am tired of being surrounded by oppression and corruption, of being bribed with societal privilege I never asked for and do not want by people who want me to remain complacent and compliant with the status quo. This privilege – white privilege – is a gift made from hate, and it’s poison.

People of color do not need me, a middle-aged white lady, to speak for them. But too many of my fellow white folks do need to hear some speaking, and they need to be spoken to. So I commit to do some of that talking. I commit to use my words and my work to speak truth wherever I see it, however I see it, in public and in my personal life, and to point towards better ways to be. I hope I will be just one of many, many more. I hope you will join with me.

Please visit Black Lives Matter at https://blacklivesmatter.com/ to learn more. Please donate to your local bail fund, which you can find at https://bailfunds.github.io/. Please visit the ACLU at https://www.aclu.org/ for ways to support the legal fight and to get educated about your rights to protest. Please check in with Indivisible at https://indivisible.org/ to join or create a group to organize pressure on your elected officials to bring about real reform.

If you’re not in a position to donate money, then speak. Use your voice. Challenge what must be challenged. Call out what must be called out. If you see something, say something, just like we’re always told to do. Please reach out to your neighbors, friends, family. Join forces where you can. Have painful discussions where you must. The time for politeness is over. Now is the time for honesty.

That includes self-honesty. The rot of racism and bigotry corrupts every part of our society. We can’t root it out of our systems without also rooting it out of our own lives. It’s not that we are racists – no, far from it; most people are not racist, I really believe that – but we live saturated in racism. Everything around us generates it or is warped by it, especially in the US. It has to stop, and the stopping starts with us. That might be the scariest part of this whole thing, the societal equivalent of realizing we’ve become hoarders or addicts. They say the first step is admitting we have a problem.

What a month to launch a newsletter, eh? That’s still happening, scheduled for sometime next week. Gosh, I wonder what I’ll write about. I think I might be emotionally ready to get back to my dark and disturbing vibe, though, because, y’know, it’s what comes naturally. It feels more appropriate now.

Be strong. Be well. Be safe. Be brave. Embrace a better way. Wear your masks.

Out of the Studio – Mystic River Walk

JFries Mystic River border 1.11.2020

This week’s post takes us out of the studio for an impromptu hike along the Mystic River. It was 70 degrees F in Massachusetts yesterday – not entirely reassuring re climate change – and I took advantage of it to stroll the river walk from Assembly Row to the Blessing of the Bay Boathouse here in Somerville to refresh my lungs and my spirit and refill my creative reserves .

It was a red-letter day for water fowl. I saw hundreds of herring and black-backed gulls, at least 80 by my count mute swans, the same or more of Canada geese, and the flocks of bufflehead and mallard ducks, and red-breasted mergansers. The real stars of the day were the swans, who were everywhere one looked. These are the inspirations for my Mystic River Project, of which the Estuary Birds are part.

Please enjoy these shots from my 2.5-hour walk.

A Walk in the Woods

JFries forest border 1.5.2020

I thought I’d share a glimpse into my creative process today. 

I did some monotype practice, making black and white dendritic prints. Those are the ones where you squish paint or ink between two panes of glass or sheets of metal – two impermeable flat surfaces – then pry them apart, leaving a pattern of branching forms on each surface made by the physics of fluids. You then pick up the patterns on your paper, producing two mirrored images.

JFries bw monoprint 1.5.2020

There are a lot of tutorials on Youtube, so I’m not going to teach you how to do it. Just go squish some paint and see what you get.

No, I want to talk about the process of designing a collage. The thing with dendritic prints, similar to inkblots, is you will see in them whatever your mind creates. I typically see landscapes, so go psychoanalyze that. The point is images emerge, and the artist will build upon them.

JFries bw forest dark 1.5.2020

So I focused on this print and thought, “It’s a forest. A deep, dark forest. Who will I meet there? What action will I witness?”

Scenes began to coalesce in my imagination, and I hit my clippings files to find figures and objects to play the parts.

Unfortunately, all the images that would work are also black and white and tend to disappear on this background. Adding color masks didn’t work.

JFries collage composition 1.5.2020

I need an image in color or which can be colored. Something in the right mood. I have this one image from a Victorian Christmas decoration. It’s about two inches high, a little girl holding a miniature Christmas tree that would be perfect for what’s in my head.

This kid has been haunting my studio for nearly ten years. Clipped ages ago but never quite fitting into a scene, she’s constantly fluttering about, in the way, falling out of every stack of papers I pick up.

Wouldn’t you know, today I can’t find her.

JFries bw forest light detail1 1.5.2020

Obviously, I went first to where I thought I’d last seen her.

Then I checked a succession of places she could likely be.

Then I went back into the files on the off chance I had inadvertently put her away where she belongs.

JFries bw forest dark detail2 1.5.2020

By that point, I was pretty well cursing her, her damned tree, and the entire Victorian era straight to the Devil, and considering stopping everything to completely reorganize all my collage clippings. Maybe my whole studio into the bargain.

Then I got called for tea, and I realized it will soon be dinner time, and I have other things to do.

Still haven’t found the papery little pest. The cat better have eaten her, that’s all I can say.

This is the life of a creative. The prints came out well, though.

JFries bw forest light 1.5.2020