More and more I am seeing how often fear motivates our actions.Fear of change, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of strangers, fear of success, fear of not fitting in, fear of finding out who we really are.
Fear can stop us in our tracks and lead us to inertia. It can also cause us to make all kinds of excuses as well as making certain decisions based around those fears.
This election brought about a whole new range of fears for me.
I began writing this post about letting go of fear weeks before the events of November 8th with the original thought of confronting my fear of getting back into illustration as a career. That particular fear seems somewhat insignificant now and yet there have been many calls for artists to lift their pencils and brushes and writers and poets to lift their pens and musicians to lift their voices and instruments in response to the fear this election has caused.
My artwork has never been political or particularly angry or dark but these feel like angry and dark times and I do feel afraid. It’s a global fear. Fear for and of my fellow humans, fear for the earth we live on, fear of things we might lose, fear for those who are so vulnerable.
I haven’t yet found the visual language to express those fears so at the moment I am still unable to respond creatively.
This image was done for one of the card decks that I illustrated for Hay House Publishers some time ago called “Wisdom for Healing”. The title of this image is “Let Go of Fear”.
One of the local galleries where I occasionally show my work is called Nails in the Wall. It is in a lovely church and the themes for the shows are spiritually focused. The current show that I’m in is called “Saints Among Us.” For this show I was asked to speak about my piece and so I thought I’d reprint some of my talk here:
I was intrigued by the idea of visually representing “Saints Among Us” so I googled the phrase to see what came up. I discovered the term “Tzadik Nistar” which was a concept in Judaism, which I wasn’t familiar with.
The Hebrew word, Tzadik/tzadekket means a righteous person (For a male it is a tzadik for a female, tzadekket.) Nistar means “hidden”. It is also where the word “Tzedakah” comes from. “Tzedakah” means charity.
According to what I’ve read the concept of “Tzadik Nistar” began with the Babylonian Talmud (Jewish law), which says that there are no less than 36 people who walk among us anonymously at any given time on earth helping to keep the world safe from destruction by their good deeds. Although these are humble people who are not aware of their special status, one of these 36 is thought to be “The Messiah”.
There are many interpretations as to why the number 36 is significant. Some think there is an astrological basis for 36 but Jewish mysticism or Kabbalah gives significance to letters by assigning them a number. The number 36 is twice 18 and 18 is the number that represents the letter “chai”. The word “Chai” translates to “life” but there are many other interpretations as to where the number 36 came from regarding these hidden saints.
I chose to do my image in a somewhat different style for this show. It is done primarily in graphite, which I rubbed into the paper. I then pulled out highlights using an eraser, which I thought gave an feeling of other unknown saints hidden among us. I added small collage elements and limited the color to touches of yellow and blue.
To be a children’s book illustrator was my original dream. It was the Crayola® of the profession as far as I was concerned.
When it came time for me to gather up my portfolio after art school and begin the journey on my yellow brick road to children’s book stardom, I came up against the comment that my work was “ too sophisticated for children’s books”. This comment occurred more than once and I was always somewhat baffled by it. Especially because everyone else who looked at my work said, “You’d be great for children’s books!”.
As my career progressed I did eventually get some work in the children’s book market but usually in the form of textbooks or music books for kids. Not until many years later was I able to break into the hallowed world of picture books.
I’ve tried over the years to figure out what is was about my style that held publishers back from taking more of a chance on me; did my work look too old fashioned? Did I not show that I could be consistent with a character? I know my work isn’t graphic or quirky. It doesn’t have a childlike simplicity or cinematic realism. It doesn’t have that special something that wins artists Caldecott awards or entrance into the Society of Illustrators Children’s Shows.
Maybe I’ll have to pull out my Purple Crayon and start dreaming again… that is if the Wild Things don’t get me first.
©Janice Fried 2012
I don’t do a lot of landscapes but once in awhile cool greens and blue skies without a person in sight feel very appealing. I am currently in a local show of artwork inspired by nature called “Outside In.”
I had some older pieces that I could have submitted for this show but I wanted to do something new.
So here is “Bluebird” along with a few other nature inspired images.
“Bluebird” ©Janice Fried 2016
“The Spirit in Everything” ©Janice Fried 2003
“Waves” ©Janice Fried 2003
This has been the strangest winter I can ever remember. The cherry blossoms were blooming in December and in January we had 30” of snow. The natural world seemed turned upside down so I drew this image I call Thallo in Winter.
Thallo is the Greek goddess of Spring who should be arriving officially on March 2oth carrying buds and blossoms.
©Janice Fried 2016
Tomorrow another illustration hero of mine will turn 95 or maybe 94, his daughter, my friend Kim told me they aren’t exactly sure of his birth year but it doesn’t really matter.
His name is Leonard Kessler and in my pantheon of children’s book illustrators he is there among the best. He has illustrated hundreds of children’s books with his lovely, warm style. One of his best known being “Mr.Pine’s Purple House” published in 1965. Once in a while, he would insert names of friends or family members into his illustrations like he did with me in his book, “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!” I was a “great sprinter”.
©Leonard Kessler 1972
I met him when I was about 14 and when he found out I loved to draw and hoped to be an illustrator he gave me my very first rapidograph pen.
Sometimes when I’d come to visit Kim, he’d leave us pads of paper and colored pens as little gifts.
He was then and still is a joyful person who continues to create and bring smiles at 94 or 95.
Leonard and I shared the love of children’s book illustration but we also shared late October birthdays. Ours were only a couple of days apart. “You and me and Picasso” he used to remind me.
Leonard was a classmate of Andy Warhol’s at Carnegie Mellon University and I often wondered what kind of conversations they must have had back in college.
Here’s to you, Leonard the K…Happy 94th or 95th birthday!
@Janice Fried 1989
“Joy of Children’s Music” Music Sales Corp.
Every year around Thanksgiving, I start giving thought to what to do for a holiday card. It’s become a tradition that I’m told people look forward to receiving but over the years it seems that I send out fewer and fewer cards. I used to always send a card to current or prospective clients along with the ones to friends and family but with the slow demise of my illustration business that tradition has faded. The style of card reflected whatever style I was working in at the time. For the last fourteen years, my son has been my muse for these cards but now that he’s a teenager, images of him sweetly frolicking in the snow no longer seem appropriate. Before my son, it was images of my husband and I or more fanciful images usually done in black and white. Here is a little gallery of images of Holiday Cards past.
©Janice Fried 1985
©Janice Fried 1993
©Janice Fried 1994
©Janice Fried 1998
©Janice Fried 2006
©Janice Fried 2009
©Janice Fried 2010
For the last few years, I’ve threatened not to do one but I always end up doing something despite my threats…so check your mailbox, there may just be some “Joy in the New Year” waiting for you there.
I just learned of the passing of another one of my illustration heroes.
Jim Spanfeller was a large, gentle man with white hair, dark eyebrows and long graceful fingers who created very magical artwork. He used a technique called stippling which is created by making millions of tiny dots in pen and ink to create tones of gray . His pieces were incredibly detailed and intricate.
He taught at Parsons School of Design and he was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to school there. At the time, his class was only offered at night so as a daytime student I had to get special permission to attend. In my three years at Parsons his class was the one that made it all worthwhile.
We stayed in touch for a number of years after Parsons. He helped me create my first illustration promotion piece. His influence was clear.
©Janice Fried 1979
Eventually our communication faded. I tried to reconnect with him over the past several years to tell him how important he had been to me but I had lost his address and couldn’t find any recent references to him until a fellow artist and Parson alumni posted the sad news today.
He was master of the dot and line. A master in black and white…A master of pen and ink. I was lucky to have been one of his students.
I don’t think we’ll see anything like him again.
Generally, summer is not my most productive time.
I have lots of ideas and projects but once that beautiful weather takes hold, I seem to lose interest in anything that keeps me indoors.
But, this past spring, I took part in an local event called “Sheep on Show”. Artists and townsfolk were invited to paint a plywood cutout of sheep that would be placed around town.
No one knew exactly what to make of this at first but once the sheep started popping up on people’s lawns the interest grew.
My sheep was titled: Sheep Apnea
I was also part of a group of artists who painted a life sized fiberglass Ox for the town of Hopewell, NJ. Included in the group were my mother and my niece. Each artist did an interpretation of the ox through history. After my Asian themed painted violin, I choose to do an Asian Ox. It was challenging to figure out how to create and apply the artwork to the large ox. Some of the artists chose to paint directly onto it but I chose to create mine on handmade paper and then print it out on fabric. The fabric would be able to mold easier to the body of the ox. It worked although the colors weren’t quite as bright once transferred to fabric.
So far there haven’t been any more barnyard projects but I have always liked chickens…
All images ©Janice Fried