At every show, Betsy Frymire sketches the stories as they are being told. Every drawing is an incredible visual interpretation of the performer’s work. And believe it or not- each drawing is completed in the length of the performance – just ten minutes! We sat down with her for an interview to find out what’s behind the magic of her work.
SS: What first drew you to be a visual artist?
BF: Artistic tendencies run in my family. My maternal grandfather was an artist (he worked in pastels and oils), my mom and aunt are both creative and artistic. My dad dabbled in photography, and there was a lot of art in our home when I grew up. I guess I always knew I had the potential to be creative, but it took me a long time before I believed I could make a career of it. I went to Columbia College in Chicago to be an illustrator, then switched to advertising because I like conceptual design thinking and I wanted to work in lots of different media.
SS: What’s your artistic background? Influences? Favorite medium?
BF: I absolutely love book illustration – some of my favorite artists were/are illustrators, and I’m sure it’s how I first fell in love with art in general. Chris Van Allsberg, Howard Pyle, the Wyeth family and Greg Mort are some of my all-time favorite 2D artists. I have a bit of a fascination with interaction and impermanence of art, and I love the work of Andy Goldsworthy (and outdoor sculptor using elements of the environment only) and Felix Gonzales-Torres, both of whom I think explore this idea well. Felix G-T has that wonderful installation in the Art Institute that’s just a pile of candy under a spotlight. Patrons are encouraged to take a piece with them, and I think it’s a beautiful work- it’s always stayed with me. My favorite media are watercolors and pen and ink. I’ve tried so many things, but I keep coming back to these.
SS: How did you become the artist-in-residence at Story Sessions?
BF: Well, it’s a funny story! My then-boyfriend (now husband) was telling a story at one of the first Story Sessions ever. I knew we were going to chat about it afterwards, but I have a horrible memory for audio. I have to listen to things more than once just to get the gist! To help myself remember more details, I sketched out little images that stood out to me as I listened. At the end of the night, Jill and Rachael saw my drawings, liked them and the rest is history! I’ve been sketching along with stories at almost every Story Session since.
SS: What jumps out at you in a story?
BF: Visual cues and metaphors; people usually use these to describe the most important parts of their story. I’m not sure why, but it’s almost always the case! If a storyteller mentions their life being like a road in a forest at the start of their story, I know that’s an image that’s going to be revisited throughout the rest, or at least that it’s important. It’s good storytelling and it makes for good illustration too.
SS: Is it challenging to draw the stories in real time at the show?
BF: Always! Sometimes there are visual cues that I haven’t drawn much from memory (I had to quick search what an iguana looked like once), and sometimes there just aren’t a lot of cues. Stories that are more about emotion or abstract concepts are the most challenging, but can also be the most satisfying.
SS: What do you do when you’re not at Story Sessions?
BF: When I’m not at Story Sessions, I enjoy working as a graphic designer at a promotional products manufacturer (Toddy Gear) based in the West Loop. I do freelance design as well, and it’s always exciting seeing my designs find happy homes. I enjoy yoga, reading, watching way too much Netflix, and drawing just for fun. I love to spend time with my wonderful husband, Dennis, which usually means seeing lots of great theater shows, watching too much Netflix and planning our next big adventure.
We also asked Betsy what her personal favorite show drawings have been. Here are her top six: