This is part of a series of northforker magazine looks into the workspaces that help shape some of the artistic work being done here. The series was written and photographed for our ‘Creativity Issue,’ now on newsstands.
Kelly Franké’s highly technical drawings are a mix of landscapes, harbors, bridges and houses — many clients are homeowners as well as a realtor who gives house drawings as closing gifts. But it’s the wood “canvas” that makes them truly one of a kind.
“The patterns in the wood grain can be open to interpretation, but sometimes I build the drawing around it,” she said. One drawing of Greenport’s Mitchell Park has wood grain positioned so precisely it almost looks penciled in to represent Shelter Island, the horizon line, waves and clouds.
While Franké mainly works indoors, it was an outdoor experience that put her on this path. “When I would draw outside en plein air, I would clip or tape my paper down to a wooden drawing board,” she said. “One day the paper kept rippling up in the wind, and I got so frustrated I just crumpled it up and drew right on the wood.”
A signature technique was born, and she’s been frequenting local lumberyards ever since, always eyeing the grain first to inform future works. She loves birch for its smoothness, but has also played in more exotic woods, like French walnut or wood veneer from a factory in the Berkshires.
A Long Island girl, from Babylon, Franké grew up in an artistic household; her dad was an illustrator for Lucasfilm/”Star Wars” and still does commercial projects. She earned an BFA from Alfred University, added an MFA from Indiana University and could fool anyone into believing she majored in architecture instead of drawing and printmaking. These days she’s represented by the William Riis Gallery in Jamesport and finds inspiration (and buyers) on both the North and South forks.
About a year ago, Franké and her fiancé purchased a 1900s home in Center Moriches, not far from ocean inlets, with a large backyard and spacious studio. Whitewashed with lofty ceilings, the quiet, airy space lets Franké, and her work, breathe in a way she couldn’t in her former studios in downtown Greenport and Astoria, Queens. “It’s truly a luxury,” she said.
It also helps get the drawings just right. “When I’m initially ‘mapping’ out a drawing, there’s a lot of measuring since I’m striving to attain perfect perspective and proportions,” said Franké. “My fiancé Mike built me a fully adjustable, wall-mounted easel just for this purpose, and having an open space lets me step back and examine a work in progress, then react and make decisions. By drawing up against the wall, with no lean, it eliminates any chance of skewing my perspective.”
Once the work is sketched out, Franké moves to her desk to start rendering with different types of charcoal, sometimes turning the piece upside down for a new perspective.
“When you break it all down,” she said, “it’s just line and shapes.”