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

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.

Monoprint, Micro-fiction, and the Mystic life

JFries Bufflehead ducks, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Bufflehead ducks, lower Mystic, 1/2019

2019 promises a lot of challenges, and I feel pretty good about that. This month’s Full Super Wolf Blood Moon, with total eclipse, falls on my birthday, which also happens to fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year. It’s hard not to feel a certain emotional boost.

So I am embracing the theme with a series of art, writing, and lifestyle challenges. 

First comes “50/Week,” in which I must produce one 50-word story each week. In this update of a micro-fiction game from a previous blog, I’m upping the ante by making an illustration for each story. These past two weeks, I have written a version of Rapunzel, focusing on star-crossed lovers, and a suspenseful heist thriller. Watch for these to become available soon.

I’ve also decided to learn a new skill – monoprint. My first attempts are oil pastel transfers – a fun and satisfying creative exercise.

Finally, I’ve started a new year of wildlife spotting on the Mystic River estuary. Last year, I fell in love with the birds, fish and other creatures of the Mystic and began primitive efforts to record their comings and goings. This year, I am laying the groundwork for an ambitious online project. Keep track here.

JFries monoprints 2 & 3, 1/2019
JFries monoprints 2 & 3, 1/2019
JFries monoprint 1, 1/2019
JFries monoprint 1, 1/2019
JFries Mallards, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Mallards, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Red-Breasted Merganser male, zoom, lower Mystic, 1/2019
JFries Red-Breasted Merganser male, zoom, lower Mystic, 1/2019