Edward and Jodell Abrams

A Remarkable Pair of Artists in San Diego

And a few of Ed’s award-winning paintings and Jodell’s wonderful illustrations

What do The Atlantic Monthly, Hallmark Cards, Capital Records, the 1992 Olympics, and Westways, Highlights, and Time Magazines have in common? Or try this: what function can a 46-foot classic racing yacht, a renovated farmhouse in Julian, and a former dentist’s office in San Diego conceivably share?

The answer is that in the first case they are all clients of, and in the second, the locations of studios, of Edward and Jodell Abrams! This remarkable couple currently lives in San Diego, and their work is frequently seen at the San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS) monthly member shows. As a pair, their work is beautiful, often classic, and frequently unpredictable and whimsical. They work exclusively in water media these days, and credit the SDWS with nudging them in this direction.

Ed and Jodell met when Jodell was reimagining her career after deciding that it was time to retire from being a professional dancer. She enrolled in the Art Center, at that time located in Los Angeles, and impressed her instructors enough to have been introduced to Ed, who was working there and had been asked to show her the ropes. “I am still his apprentice!” she laughs, although her work has matured to have its own vision, energy and spirit.

I visited Ed and Jodell at their snug home south of Banker’s Hill, in a set of rooms that had formerly been a dentist’s office. I had expected to spend perhaps an hour with them, but after over 90 minutes it was hard to tear myself away. Their home is a pair of studios, a gallery, a storage space, and a treasure trove of art. What is not on the walls is kept with an apparent lack of filing order in folders, portfolios, attaché cases, and wide shelves, often carefully tucked into plastic sleeves or kept as clippings from the various publications where it had been featured. I was introduced to Ed’s multiple original portraits of Gustave Mahler, who kept company with original paintings of Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff as part of Ed’s Capital Records composer series. Jodell’s portraits are more of fantasy figures featured in two richly illustrated books of enchantment, published as detailed line drawings in coloring books. (These volumes in pristine condition now fetch upwards of $250 – I checked!). Ed’s more intimate portraits include family members, neighbors, street people seen in the neighborhood, and a splendid assortment of classic cars and motorcycles, along with farm vehicles put out to pasture. And then the buildings! I saw country churches, iconic constructions from Balboa Park, richly detailed facades of other structures that had in common only the intricate nature of their ornamentation, the splendid light in which they had been captured, and the flawlessness of the design sensibility with which they had been rendered on the paper.

1946 Indian Chief
National Watercolor Society 2022 International Open Exhibition

Many of these works would be instantly recognized by those of us who faithfully attend SDWS shows, as both Jodell’s and Ed’s work are featured frequently there. Since Ed joined the SDWS in December 2019, he has been the recipient of 28 awards from our Society: 5 First Place, 2 Second Place, 2 Best of Theme, 8 Juror Commendations, 9 Honorable Mentions, and 2 People’s Choice awards. He was also accepted into the 2020 SDWS 40th International Exhibit, where he won 2 cash awards. In January 2021, Ed became a member of the National Watercolor Society (NWS) and was accepted into the 2021 and 2022 NWS Members exhibitions. In 2022, he also had work juried into the 102nd International Open Exhibition of the NWS and was awarded the esteemed Signature Status in that Society. Continuing with recognition of his watercolors, Ed was accepted into the American Watercolor Society’s International Exhibitions in both 2021 and 2022. The honor of being elected as a “non-resident artist” to the prestigious Salmagundi Art Club in New York came in 2022, and Ed’s work has been exhibited there in 2 exhibitions so far this year, with 2 paintings garnering cash awards.

Fish Tacos
Honorable Mention, SDWS 2020 International Show
Winner of Atman Cash Award, February 2020 at SDWS
Accepted to American Watercolor Society International Exhibition 2021

It will come as no surprise to learn that Ed has an abundance of professional experience, dating back to 1959 when he began as an illustrator for the American Greeting Card Company. His formal training, however, was limited to a mere 2 years at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1958-1960. His skill in illustration brings a remarkable sense of design and composition to his fine art pieces, which he began producing in earnest in 1985 when he moved to San Diego County. The work in illustration, however, included portraits of influential and interesting people rendered in scrupulous detail, with elements of landscapes, cityscapes, and marine scenes included in various ways. It would not be possible here to enumerate, much less describe, the broad range of subject matter that has been captured by Ed’s brushes, colored pencils, and pens. Suffice it to say that everything is worth a second and third look.

Bradbury Building
2021 National Watercolor Society Members Exhibition
International Harvester
Past Presidents Cash Award in 2022 National Watercolor Society Members Exhibition

Ed and Jodell have lived a life as adventurous as their art is meticulous. They lived for years on the classic 46-foot racing yacht “Belle of the West” when they purchased it away from the Dupont’s and brought it back to the west coast. Many of Ed’s best and most widely viewed art works were completed on board, sometimes under sail between Long Beach and Catalina Island. When they decided to live ashore, they located themselves in Julian in San Diego County, taking possession of a series of historical buildings that they renovated and completed with their own unique sense of design and attention to detail. When the commute back and forth from the mountains became too onerous, they decided to occupy a space that had formerly been a dentist’s office, repurposing all the little rooms to separate studios for each of them, a sitting room, a kitchen, and presumably sleeping quarters. A gallery in a separate suite at the back of the building revealed a stash of finished work that was jaw-dropping in its quantity and its dizzying variety. A series of miniature etchings elicited smiles and full-on belly laughs, in reaction to the droll characters and creatures, with titles as amusing as the subjects. There too are works that most of Ed’s fans would not recognize as his: large splashy abstracts, and smaller works in acrylic, duct tape, and gel pen on wood that are detailed, fanciful, and brilliant. I could have brought many of them home with me in a heartbeat.

Old Time Religion
Margery Sorka Memorial Cash Award at 2022 Salmagundi Rockwell Gallery
Organ Rehearsal
Featured painting, and Frank Ballard Williams Patron Member cash award for Fall 2022 Fall Auction at Salmagundi Club

We talked very little about actual artistic process, but that may have to wait for another visit. Ed works strictly in water media. He is fairly agnostic about materials, working with a variety of brands of paints and brushes, and making use of splendid hand produced Twinrocker watercolor paper (“It was GIVEN to me, can you imagine!”) as well as more mundane paper surfaces, prepared panels and cradled wood. Both his and Jodell’s studios are compact and efficient, bespeaking painting styles that stress design and detail over sprawling size.

From The Enchanted Forest
by Jodell Abrams
from The Enchanted Kingdom by Jodell Abrams
hand-colored by the artist

The work of both these fine artists is affectionately conceived, meticulously executed, and abundantly shared with this visitor. The rest of you can only hope for an updated webpage, and soon, so that these works by these two exceptionally talented artists produced over so many decades might be visible to all.

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