Hammer & Tongs: New Paintings, New Words, and a Secret Project

Busy, busy, busy in the studio.

June is one of those times, isn’t it? It’s a quarter month, when the year takes another turn. The summer solstice is – checks calendar – Tuesday. Already! Omg. Things are happening. The garden is blooming, bees all over the place, beans shooting up. The baby birds are flying. I can’t help but keep moving, too.

Three new small paintings are in the Shop now. Two abstract landscapes and one representative image of the moon over my street at 2:00 in the morning. I’ve been working late a lot. See below, and Shop here.

My second ever poem to be released in public is up. Titled “Spilled Ink,” it tells the story of the painting of Abstract Landscape 6, and I think something more as well. Read it here.

An Alchemy of Dragons continues in progress. The beginning is the most daunting part of an adventure, don’t you think? It’s the first and potentially most fatal test of one’s competence. I have to start a key set of wheels turning in these first chapters, and I admit, it’s taking longer to get it right than I’d hoped. But I think it will be worth it. Aiming for July on that one. Be sure to sign up for the Newsletter for alerts when chapters are posted.

Finally, I’ve taken on a new project, a commission, which will stay a secret for now. It’s pretty big. I have no idea how long it will take to finish. I will post hints and progress reports as I go.

It’s actually a bit intimidating when I list it all out like this. It’s all been happening in just the past few weeks. Sometimes, I don’t even feel the pace of work, like the dizzying speed of the Earth’s rotation, and I have no idea where I am in my To-Do list, just as I have no innate sense of where I am on the planet. I’m just here, now, doing whatever I’m doing – painting, drawing, writing, business, gardening, house stuff, people stuff, world stuff, giving a freaking interview for crying out loud, making good on commitments, oy-geez.

Maybe I just need to put my nose back down on its comfy grindstone and avoid that big-picture perspective thing for a while.

Three new small works:

Traveling inside my head: Abstract Landscapes

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?

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