For artist Frannie Wise, “Nature with all of its characters and colours are my biggest inspiration”
The Edinburgh-based illustrator and ceramicist takes us on a journey: from her pastel, pastoral pieces to her more sinister, folklore-infused work.
- Olivia Hingley
- 9 December 2021
If you gave Frannie Wise a blank piece of paper she says it would probably end up “covered in trees.” Being “fascinated by the way light comes through leaves” and even inducing a “winter-long headache” trying to figure out how to “paint snow and barren trees,” you could say Frannie is pretty obsessed. With dappled morning light and skies washed with pink and blue hues, Frannie’s illustrations are a calming, visual treat. Yet, more lies beneath her leaves and branches. With giant worms, mischievous goblins and proud peacocks, Frannie injects folklore into her pieces, giving them a playful unpredictability.
Born in Devon, Frannie moved with her family to “the beautiful and highly underrated Northumbrian countryside” when she was just a baby. Having always been surrounded by trees and hills and historical landmarks, the UK’s pastoral landscapes have become a central influence to her work. Upon moving to Edinburgh for university, which is “built on seven hills (like a cold version of Rome),” Frannie was pleased to find that “you’re never too far from a beautiful view.” The luscious green paths of Cumbria, the treetops of one of Edinburgh’s many green spaces and the tall, and the rolling farmland of Northumbria all feature in Frannie’s distinctive paintings.
First becoming interested in illustration through her love of reading, Frannie picked up books as a child and perused them “mainly for [their] pictures.” Figures such as The Hungry Caterpillar illustrator Eric Carle, she, therefore, cites as some of her earliest influences. Frannie’s love of children’s storybooks is also closely aligned with her interest in folktales and classical mythology: “people have been portraying stories and histories pictorially long before we could write, so I’m fascinated by the universality of image.” And certainly, Frannie’s character-based works are a carnival of absurdity that say so much with seemingly so little. In one piece, a giant worm wreaks havoc on a village with surprised-looking bulls watching on in horror and in another, two goblins hungrily spy on an unsuspecting, lounging figure.
Characters also feature prominently on Frannie’s ceramic designs. A recent endeavour – Frannie attests to seeking new skills as a means of keeping “motivated” – she only began working with ceramics over lockdown: “I was bored so ordered a bag of clay and that was that.” For us, this comes as a great surprise. With how unique and well crafted Frannie’s pieces are, you would be forgiven for thinking she was an old hand. Finding the end result “so tactile and personal due to the length of time it takes,” Frannie tells us that “an unbroken set still feels like a little victory each time.” The pieces exude personality; with wobbly rims and uneven mug handles, the ceramics’ imperfections are what makes them so endearing.
Frannie’s work isn’t only a way of expressing herself creatively but also an important means for her to navigate her personal experiences. When discussing how her pieces can often rapidly jump from playful to sinister she explains it as “due in part to living with mental illness – some days are good and some days are bad and some days are a mixture of both.”
Frannie’s interaction with food and ceramics is also a response to her experience with an eating disorder: “in the midst of my eating disorder, I couldn't see a way out – it spanned years and cost me not only my health but my entire personality.” Now being “a long way from perfect, but a longer way from rock bottom,” Frannie wants to use her work to help others who may be going through a similar experience. In July 2020, Frannie illustrated a tabletop scene – with delicious looking bread, soup and pasta – in response to the government’s decision to include calories on restaurant menus. “I’m no medical expert or dietician so the only way I felt I could reach out was through my art.” And certainly, Frannie’s pictures and words pack a powerful punch: “Everybody has to eat to survive – along with art, it’s a universal language, so the combination of the two feels personal and relatable. In this current climate, celebrating the simple joy of eating can be a radical act. So fill your plate.”
Frannie Wise: Folktale Collection (Copyright © Frannie Wise, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.