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Monday, January 24, 2011

Interview #5--meet Laura Frankstone of Laurelines!

Laura Murphy Frankstone is one of the most inspiring artists I know...dedicated, adventurous, incredibly talented, intrepid, honest, loving and very human.  I've gotten to know her through her work, through her blog, Laurelines, and through our hundreds of emails through the ups and downs of life. 

I was fascinated by the goals she set herself with her sketching--you can see many of these on the blog. I'm delighted she agreed to be part of the book, and of this blog--and even more that we're friends.  One of the best things about doing these interviews--aside from getting to know these artists better!--is looking through their art and sharing it with you.  Gorgeous journal pages...

Soooo...meet my friend Laura Frankstone!  Here is her intro:

I've been pulled in two directions my whole life: images or words?  paint or write? I finished college with  a degree in English literature and a minor in art history, though I started in studio art and French literature! As a post-graduate student,  I took two terms at art college in Scotland and dozens of university studio art courses in the US. I've always managed,in my working life, to keep a connection to the visual arts, whether as art reporter and newspaper art critic, or while holding various arts administrator positions for state or municipal organizations.

Here, Laura explored various aspects of page design, art and text, and materials, including Daniel Smith's Lunar Blue.

Always, I painted and drew.

My deep passion for drawing began when I was 3 or 4 years old. I'd drawn my 7 year old brother, complete with polka dots for freckles and big semi-circles for ears--- and I thought it looked just like him! I was absolutely beside myself with joy! My sustained sketching ( as opposed to drawing)  life began with my first travel journal in the early 1990s.  Since then I've filled many sketchbooks, many in the nature of problem-solving or brainstorming about my art, many related to travel, others to my family life in Chapel Hill.  My sketchbooks are heavily weighted toward imagery, with text serving mostly as captions and mostly in my travel journals.

From a recent trip to Norway, combining art, color, and notes...

 Lately, though, thanks to this book and to your wonderful work as a model, I've been really combining writing with imagery---but the imagery is more free-associative than illustrative of the text. I LOVE this method---it suits me to a T!


And, on to our interview:

Q. Do you consider what you do a journal or a sketchbook? 

A. I‘ve decided that I make either pretty taciturn journals or occasionally pretty wordy sketchbooks! I have a very strong verbal side to my personality and when I write, I tend to write at length. I have been a journal writer since I was a young girl, especially in times of stress and dislocation. Since I started keeping regular sketchbooks a few years ago, I stopped doing intensive journal writing. There simply isn’t enough time to do both at the level I like to work on. I find , though, that the writing I do for my blog Laurelines fulfills a journal function and allows the writer side of me to come forward. My travel sketchbooks fall more within the illustrated journal category.

Q. Do your sketches inform and inspire finished works?

A. Sometimes, but not often. I sketch and paint for different reasons.  My paintings, when I can find the time and inner resources to do them, come from a deeper emotional and intellectual part of my psyche.

Q. Why do you do it?

A. I love the way sketching puts you vividly in the moment, in the place, in the world. There’s a connection between my heart, eyes, hand, brain, and what (and often whom)  I’m drawing that is profound and precious to me.

Here's a photo of our intrepid Arctic sketcher on the Norway trip!
Flowers from a trip to Turkey a friend arranged...couldn't be more removed from the chill of Norway!

Q. How do you feel about sharing your work, in your blog or elsewhere?  I know we’ve talked about it becoming almost an obligation—any ideas on how to avoid that trap?

A. I can be a bit diffident about sharing my work, so my blog has been a good thing.  My paintings are shown in a local really good gallery. I’m a real perfectionist, so I won’t show unless I feel my work is the best I can do at the time. And once that criterion is met, I’m glad for the work to be seen.

Maintaining my blog can feel burdensome at times.  This is my sixth* year of blogging, so it’s no surprise that I have periods of fatigue and frustration.

When I’m in one of my burnt-out phases, I blog very lightly for a while and that usually takes care of the problem. In the beginning of blogging, people tended to post daily or, at least, felt they SHOULD. Now, many bloggers, myself included, post weekly and that is more reasonable and doable.  Not only is it hard to post daily, it’s impossible to keep up with your favorite blogs on a daily basis!

One of Laura's early sketches of her lovely daughter Kate...
Q. Thoughts on the benefits?

A. There are so many! First is the very thing that sometimes chafes: the pressure to produce. Practice makes perfect, as we know, and producing art to share with others publicly can accelerate that process.  Looking back at my earliest posted work, it’s clear that my drawing technique has improved a lot over the past five years, as I’ve drawn on an almost daily basis and blogged the results.

Also, for me, writing is a major way of finding out what I’m thinking and feeling, so the writing part of blogging is surprisingly self-illuminating.

A hugely important benefit of blogging is the way it connects you to a whole world of other artists, interesting and accomplished people in many fields, supportive readers, and events in the art world that you would otherwise know nothing of.

Q. A few years back you set yourself a monthly theme…tell me what you gained from that.

A. I wanted to gain fluency in drawing, primarily as preparation for spending a month drawing in Paris---a long-held dream that came true in October 2006. I wanted to hone my eye and hand in drawing all sorts of things, every day of each month----animals, trees, gardens, people, architecture, **color? and so on. I wanted to be ready to hit the ground running ---and drawing---the minute I got there, not wasting a minute of that precious month. And it worked! By the end of that year, 352 posts later, I was so glad to have DONE it, but, whew,  I knew I would not need to repeat the feat.

Laura's animal sketches from one of her goal series are like an education in themselves!

Q. Your drawings of your mom were wonderful, and I loved the story about how pleased she was, and how the sketching and talking were important to both of you.  Do you feel up to writing about that?

There have been two occasions in the past couple of years when drawing became a true lifeline to me in situations of great personal stress. One was during the protracted, frightening labor and delivery of my daughter’s first child and the other was during the last months of my mother's life.

I walked into my mother’s room at her nursing home after the two -and -a -half -hour trip from my home town and found that tiny, frail woman burrowed deeply, deeply under her bedcovers, for all the world as if she were trying to burrow herself right out of this life.

I burst into tears. I tried to talk with her, but she was not interested in talking. After a while she turned over and lay on her back, slightly inclined in the hospital bed. I took out my sketchbook and my pens and pencils and just started drawing as we began to make halting conversation.

As I drew, our conversation grew more comfortable and I began to ask her questions about her childhood. Though I had heard the stories many times before, there was added poignancy and meaning in her recounting them now, on the very verge of her death.  She enlarged on events I was familiar with and I asked questions I hadn’t thought to ask before.

As we talked, I kept drawing. I’d asked her if she minded if I did and she said she did not. At the end of the day, I almost didn’t show her what I’d done. Her vision is very limited at the best of times. I didn’t think she could SEE the drawings and I wasn’t sure she’d approve of the way I’d rendered her. But I asked if she wanted to see them. She did.

She looked and looked, asked for me to turn on all the lights in the room, asked for her strong reading glasses, looked and looked some more.

Finally, she said she LOVED the drawings. I think she had come to think of herself, after her many hospitalizations and then her placement in a nursing home, as invisible, powerless, and lost. Unwittingly, I had given her back her self.

Q. When you travel, do you choose a destination because you want to sketch there?

A. Sometimes I choose a destination solely because I want to sketch there, sometimes I choose a destination because I know I will love it---and the sketches will follow. My stay in Brittany during the fall of 2009 was an instance of the former. My recent trips to Iceland and coastal Norway are cases of the latter. Since I love to travel to places that appeal to me visually and emotionally, it’s a safe bet to say that I’m also going to love sketching them.

A kiosk in Paris

Q. How do you prepare?

A. I often adjust my traveling palette according to what I think will be the light and colors of the place I’m going to. I research the culture and topography and natural world of the region I’ll be spending time in, but I don’t look much at the work of contemporary artists of that region or country---I want my reaction to a place to be as purely mine as it can be.

Q. You’ve taken several classes (or tried to, what with your mom’s illness!)—why?  Do you enjoy the in-person interaction?

A. I’ve taken a couple of workshops. I’m not a frequent workshop attendee, but there have been a couple of cases when I’ve wanted to learn specific techniques or a new medium. I thought it would be more efficient to go and look and listen and learn up close,  than to try to figure things out on my own.

I like meeting other people, of course, but I generally don’t like working in a group setting, so these types of experiences are of limited value to me, as it turns out.

 Q. Anything you’d like to add about keeping a journal as an artist?

Sketching in a museum

A. I have, on and off, kept a kind of notebook in my studio that is full of thumbnail sketches, color experiments, and personal narrative, too. This is is a great way to wrestle with technical and other problems, cheer yourself on, document your process.  Recently, I have incorporated these inner discussions into a large journal that relates not just to art, but to my whole life. It's been revelatory. This puts my art as the central focus of my life, which is my current, pressing goal.

Q. How many do you have now?

A. I don't know numbers. I have dozens and dozens of journals and sketchhbooks, going back to my childhood, some of them. I do sometimes go back and reread them. It is so interesting to see what the leitmotifs of one's life are. Reading my old journals makes me see recurring patterns and overarching meaning in my life---and that is a great gift.


I hope you've enjoyed this interview, expanded and tweaked and illustrated with many more images since the book manuscript was finished.  And thank you, Laura!  Sharing your work and your insights with our readers was a treat!


  1. Awesome interview, Laura and Kate! It is so wonderful to "see" the connection of art to life and life through art. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Laura, are you from Scotland or just go to school there?

  2. Thanks, Laure! I am not from Scotland---I was living there at the time. My second term at art college was truncated by my giving birth to my firstborn child, Kate!

  3. Terrific interview! The part about Laura's mother touched my heart. . .again. I remember the blog posts of her decline and that final sketch vividly and how touched I was at the time.

  4. Fantastic interview! I'm still tearing up from the bit about Laura's mom. Thanks for letting us know you a bit better, Laura!

  5. Thank you very much, Brenda and Vicky! Vicky, I really enjoyed your interview, too. I agree that the range of people included in Kate's book makes for a very rich reading and viewing experience.
    And thank you, dear Kate, for featuring me. Though I've thanked you elsewhere, I thought I should do it here, too. Your questions were sensitive and intelligent... of course!

  6. Laura, what an exciting opportunity—to take classes in Scotland! It also speaks to your bravery.

    Now, another question—the chair you are using when you are sitting and sketching in the museum....is that your own? If so can you please share where you found such a wonderful device?!

    Thank you!

  7. You are MORE than welcome, Miss Laura. You and the other wonderful artists here are the inspiration and driving force of this blog.

    Laure, I want to know that too! I have a folding can stool, but it feels rather less secure than this looks. Doesn't work all that well for a cane, doesn't work all that well to sit on, either. *G*

  8. Wonderful! And what new insights. Of course the part about her mom, but also that last answer about reading the old journals. Very interesting. Thank you, ladies!

  9. Oh, this is a wonderful interview, Kate and Laura! It really captures both your friendship and passion for art. Well done!

  10. Wonderful interview and the drawings are so strong...so heartfelt...and beautifully done. I wish now I had thought to sketch my Dad on the day I was with him holding his hand and singing softly to him (songs he had sung to me when I was a small child), and then he died a hour after I left the nursing home. Thank you.

  11. Life! Laura, you capture it so well with your images and words. When I see your work I marvel at the way you make your lines and brush strokes. They touch me and I can only describe them as 'Sophisticated' - very complex and advanced in design.

    Great interview questions, Kate. Thank you, Laura, for sharing your heart.

    P.S. Yes to info about the stool! I like it's height and that it doesn't have 4 separate legs that can sink easily into soft earth!

  12. Well, thank you SO much, nice commenters! Karen, what a lovely and moving story showing how, when we are lucky, life can move full circle. I know you must have been of such great comfort to your father.
    As for the stool---it belonged to the museum, one of the art museum in Bruges, unfortunately. Don't you love it when museums think of their audiences this way?

  13. Laura and Kate, I thoroughly enjoyed this interview. Thanks for sharing with us.
    Laura, I admire your lovely sketches and your handwriting is beautiful too!

  14. A wonderful inspirational interview Kate and Laura.Thank you both.. Kate, I love this Blog...I pop in almost daily and learn so much!...The links are awesome and addicting!..Hannah

  15. Hannah, thank you. I'm delighted you're enjoying the blog! It's just going to get better and better!

  16. I really enjoyed reading this interview and I was especially touched by her description of her mother and the drawing she did. Wonderful drawing! What talent she has!

  17. Thank you so much, Hannah and Sandy. I am so glad the interview pleased you. Yes, Hannah, this is a wonderful resource Kate has created!

  18. What a wonderful interview! Enjoyed reading it and looking forward to the book!

  19. Laura, illuminating and rich, as always.

    Kate, thanks for putting this together...

  20. You're welcome! It's being a real challenge and a lot of fun...


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