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!

Free Tutorial: Quick Altered Greeting Card Notebooks

A Gift From Me to You

It’s been a season of ups and downs, hasn’t it? These past few weeks have been all business-business-work-work-work, with little time for art, and not much for enjoying the holidays, either. But art and holidays are here nonetheless, and by hook or by crook, I’m going to wrest some festivity out of December. 

So, for all you wonderful folks who follow this site (thank you so much!) and for all harried, distracted, stressed-out folks in need of a last-minute gift, I offer an easy, free tutorial for making notebooks from altered greeting cards. A little gift from me to express a lot of appreciation for you.

First some work-work news:

  • I have posted a new Privacy Policy for Jen Fries Arts. The link is in the footer of each page and under the Home tab. Please take a moment to read it.
  • I have added the leaf specimens and the autumn zines to the Artworks gallery under Cities, Botanicals, and Zines and Art Books.
  • I am working on more leaf specimens as we glide into winter proper, so look for those before the new year.

And now, the tutorial.

Altered Greeting Card Notebooks

Do you like greeting cards but wish they were more useful? Do you have treasured cards from friends and family and want to do more than keep them in a box somewhere? Let’s remake them into notebooks!

This project uses sharp tools and is best for teens and adults. Kids may participate with adult supervision.


You will need:

  • Greeting cards, old or new
  • Paper – writing or printer paper is best
  • Ephemera, stickers, scrap paper, paint, stamps, ink, etc. (optional)
  • String or embroidery cotton
  • Tapestry or embroidery needle – blunt point and big eye
  • Scissors
  • Book awl or other fine pokey tool
  • Ruler
  • Bone folder (optional)
  • Pencil and eraser
  • Paper clips
  • Cutting blade or paper cutter
  • Cutting mat or other surface safe for cutting and poking
  • Paper glue
  • Wax paper

Step 1: Design

A) Take a look at your cards. These will be the covers of your notebooks. 

How big are they? If they have a printed message, do you want to keep it? Do you want to change the image, color, or feel of the cards? Do you want to do anything to the back of the cards?

For this project, we’ll keep things simple and just add some color and pockets to the insides of the cards.

B) Experiment to see how many pages your cards can hold and still close comfortably. For this project we will use 5 folded sheets per card.

TIP: The number of pages will depend on how you plan to use your altered card notebook. Five sheets is comfortable for writing and drawing. If you plan to paste in family pictures or memorabilia, those will add thickness, so use fewer sheets.


Add little pockets and tuck spots.

Step 2: Embellish your cover

A) Apply your background paper or color. For this project, we are using acrylic paint. If you want to keep the printed message, cover it with a piece of paper to protect it. Lightly sponge or splatter the paint over the inside of the card. Work fast with small amounts of color. Keep your sponge or brush as dry as you can and still get color onto the card. Keep going until you like how it looks. Allow to dry. 

B) Cut paper for the inside pockets and fit them in where you want them to be. Glue in place. Do the same with any other ephemera you wish.

Sponged acrylic paint. Use a light hand with paint and glue.

TIP: Use as little glue and paint as possible to avoid warping the card. They tend to be very warpy. If using paint or ink, it’s better to do several light, dry layers than one heavy, wet one.

C) Lay a sheet of wax paper inside the card, and let it dry closed under weight, such as under a few books. This should not take long. Prep your pages while you wait.


Use care with cutting tools.

Step 3: Cut and fold your pages

A) Measure your card from the top edge to the bottom edge. That is the height of your pages.

B) Measure your card from the center fold to the outer edge of the face of the card. That will be the width of your pages.

C) Mark the height and width measurements in pencil on one sheet of paper. Stack five sheets, and trim them all together with your blade or paper cutter. Erase any remaining pencil marks

TIP: Greeting cards are often folded a little off center, so no matter how you measure your pages, it won’t be perfect. For now, measure just the front face of your card. Then double that measurement to get the full width of your page sheets. This will make sure the pages match the part that people will look at the most.

Folded sheets nested together.

D) Fold each sheet of paper in half, using the bone folder to sharpen the creases if you like. Then nest the folded sheets together. This is your signature of pages. Snug the signature into the card and see if you want to trim the edges any more. Be careful – the more paper you try to cut through at once, the more likely you’ll get a mis-cut.



Step 4: Sewing your notebook

A) Nest the signature into the card as snugly as possible. Use clips to hold the pages and card together, if needed.

Clips hold the pages and cover together while sewing.

B) With your awl or pokey tool, punch three holes into the center fold line, making sure to go through all the layers. Place the holes at the center and a comfortable distance in from the top and bottom edges. You can measure, but it’s okay to eyeball it. Wiggle the awl in the holes to make sure they are all well open for ease of sewing.

It’s easier to pierce from the inside of the book than the outside.

TIP: Don’t flatten the notebook completely to make the sewing holes. Holding it slightly closed so you are piercing into the fold makes it easier to keep the holes right on the spine.

C) Cut about an arm’s length of string or thread to give you enough to work with. Thread your needle.

D) Sew the book as follows:

1) From the outside of the book, go in the center hole. Leave a good tail hanging.


2) From the inside of the book, go out one of the edge holes.


3) From the outside of the book, go in the other edge hole.


4) From the inside of the book, go out the center hole. 


Looking at the outside of the book, you should have a long line of thread along the spine and two tails hanging loose from the center. Make sure the line of thread runs between the two tails.

5) Tie the tails in a knot or bow over the line of thread to anchor everything in place. Pull snugly but not too hard, or you might tear the paper. Trim the thread ends to desired length.

And you are done!

These little altered card notebooks make a wonderful gift for Christmas or any holiday or occasion. Make a little brag book for the grandparents, or a guide to dorm life for a new college student. Going on vacation? Make a travel journal with a card featuring your destination to collect special ephemera on your trip. Or take that special card you received from someone close and make it a journal of what they mean to you.

If you make some of these notebooks, I’d love to hear about it and see some pictures.

Happy Holidays!

Happy Thanksgiving: Autumn Book and Pumpkin Pie

Well, the holiday season is officially upon us, and in the midst of life’s battles, I have to admit I have a lot to be thankful for. We have our health at my house (knock wood). I enjoy my work, my town, my friends. There are birds outside my window and cats sleeping on my bed. What more can anyone want?

Later, I’ll rant about all the things that are off the rails, going wrong, just plain nuts, and utterly intolerable, but that’s not what this weekend is for. Today, it’s about feasting and merriment, football, parades, and King Kong. You know, the traditions.

I finished rebuilding my blue sketchbook into an autumn book for sketching, journaling, and collecting field specimens, all the leaves, twigs, feathers, etc., I tend to pick up. I was inspired by the “junk journal” phenomenon, which is a great way to find beauty and function out of detritus. Even these gussied-up pocket inserts are part of my sketchbook practice, as I used them to work out experiments in paper building and collaging with natural botanicals. The binding is my favorite tetsuyoso style. Superficially, it resembles Coptic stitch, but this is in fact a very old binding from Japan. It lacks the external knots of Coptic, maintains neater tension with less fuss, and is flexible and resilient. Traditionally, the covers would be pasted on, but I adapted the Coptic method of sewing the covers on for a totally adhesive-free binding.

It might seem a little odd to make such a fancy thing just to sketch and brainstorm in, but kind of the point of being an artist is to get our thoughts outside of our heads, to make everything be an expression of how we see the world, to unify the inside and outside realities. So I think the book where I work out the kinks in my creativity should be a product of my creativity. This is what I came up with.


And I made the pie this year. It came out fancy, too. 😉

JFries pumpkin pie 2019


Happy holiday, all. Enjoy. Relax.
Express yourself.

New Year, New Look, New Work – Happy!

white pine 12.2018
White Pine, 2018. I’m taking a lot more photos these days.

Happy New Year!

Welcome to the new and improved, shiny and fresh Jen Fries Arts website for 2019. Naturally, it’s still in progress, with more to come throughout January. But it is open for reading, viewing, and commenting as of this first day of the new year.

What has changed?

Pages: You’ll notice some of my pages are gone. This is only temporary as content is being updated with better images and new projects. Look for more pages coming soon as well, including online projects.

Navigating: All of the information about me is now found under the Home tab in the site menu, including About, Contact, and the Dedication to my late founding partner, Gomez Addams. There’s also a spiffy new FAQ page, since so much of what I do makes hardly any sense. Feel free to send me questions. If they are asked frequently enough, they’ll get added to the page.

Site Title: “Instant Elixir Cures All” is only temporarily out of sight. It is evolving into the name/title/imprimatur of a new venture. Follow and/or visit often to keep up to date.

Update Schedule: I’m shooting for an update every ten days or so this year. I know I don’t have an excellent record that way, but the times they are a-changing and so, hopefully, will my habits. It’s the new year, people – resolutions and all that.

Exciting Plans: I am fairly champing at the bit for the work on my calendar this year, including:

Writing: I will integrate my writing with my artwork in this site. Look for books, challenges, and prompts, as well as illustrated projects.

That Dollhouse I Was Building All Last Year: Is finally becoming something. I’m so up about this one. Wait till you see what I’m doing. Look for progress reports as we go.

Learning and Sharing: I was stretching my wings a bit in 2018, and I’m eager to share in 2019 what I’ve been learning about printmaking, wildlife spotting, and home-made art supplies.

And so much more…

Please enjoy the new site. As I say, it’s under construction, so if you find any errors, broken links, etc., please let me know. One thing I know isn’t working at the moment is the email account, but please use the Blog comments to chat, correct, or critique, until that gets fixed.

Thanks, everyone. I wish you all the best. Let’s have fun this year. I think we deserve it.

And here’s a hello from my two studio Assistants:

Studio Assistant Leah
Senior Assistant Leah. She looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth,
but we know better.
Studio Assistant Scipio
Junior Assistant Scipio. Chair of the Staff Morale Committee.

Experiments and holiday cheer – Stars and Mushrooms galore

Hi, all. I hope all my friends and readers enjoyed the holiday. We were cozy and small at home, and I had great fun making the decorations for our little live tree this year.

The paper stars were made using a delightful little origami model. Click this link for a tutorial from Jo Nakashima on Youtube. I dusted them with a hint of metallic gold acrylic paint – which doesn’t show in the photos but gives the stars a bright glow in the light, in person . I then strung them on simple red cord to make a garland. They are so much fun to make, I will definitely see what more I can do with them.

The paper mushrooms, though, are my success story for the season. I managed to make papier mache with thin, translucent layers of crumpled tissue paper. In the past, I’ve gotten good results with other types of paper, but this month, nothing wanted to work but the plain white tissue paper. It gave the best shapes, but of course was way to flimsy. So I spent a total of about three days lightly and carefully brushing the shaped mushrooms with a very dilute paste of water, PVA glue and wheat flour to stiffen them without tearing or dissolving the tissue. I then painted them, mixing the paint with more of the paste for added stiffness. I am very pleased with the results.

The bases are a last-minute improvisation. The mushrooms themselves were made without bases, but I wanted them standing. Can you guess what I have holding them up?

The display in front of our kitchen window brings a hint of a winter forest into our home. Soon, the decorations will be put away, the cats will get their toy squirrel back, and our little dwarf Alberta Spruce will go back outdoors in the cold where it likes to be. And then a new year will begin, with a new look for this site, new projects from my studio, and lots of plans.

I wish you and yours great happiness and growth in 2019!

Paper Decorations, Website Changes, and Feeling Eager for a New Year

I am spending this week making holiday decorations. There will be more paper bows like the first ones I made last year, plus paper mushrooms to make a “forest floor” around our tree and paper stars to twinkle above it and amongst its boughs. I’m having lots of fun playing with paper forms and surface treatments.

Also this week, I am working behind the scenes on an overhaul of this website. The new look will be brighter and livelier, with better organization. It will go well with some big projects coming up in 2019, including new books, dollhouses, toys, more of my Cities series of collages, and lots of art and writing experiments.

It’s been a crazy and distracted year, but I feel excited about the holidays and the new year. I’m ready to buckle down and get to work.

By the way, the new background image for winter is my own photo of white pines in Charlestown, at the Lower Mystic estuary.

mushrooms in progress
Paper mushrooms in progress on my work table

First art of 2018, journal and mushrooms

I heard somewhere once, many years ago, that at a certain latitude, if the sky is clear and you look due north at an unobstructed horizon, at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s night, you will see Sirius, Orion’s dog, at its apogee, with winter’s Orion setting to the west of it, and his mortal enemy, spring’s Scorpio rising to the east of it, and the two constellations will be equidistant above the Earth. So the story of Orion the Hunter, lover of Artemis, killed by the poisoned sting of Hera’s scorpion, marks the passage of winter and the new year.

I don’t know if this is true, but I think it should be, and already, the sun is setting a little later, haven’t you noticed?

This little journal collage is my first artwork of 2018. I’m calling it The Future of Orion, inspired by this video from the European Space Agency: Youtube Link.

The little snippet of text is my New Year’s dinner fortune cookie message. “Your fate is in no one else but you, in no hands but yours.”

Plus, I made some little crumpled-paper mushrooms – my first attempts – out of napkins. Super ephemeral, but I rather like them. I’ll play with these a bit more.

Happy New Year!