pastel of a skeleton carferry captain

Old Carferry Captains Never Die…

Yesterday an older gentleman stopped by while I was out in front of my studio, writing at my little café table. He’d been walking around town all morning and needed to rest for a bit before returning home. He asked if he could sit down. “Sure,” I said.

We got to talking and he told me he’d worked on the carferries for 30 years in the engine room. “20 days on and 8 days off,” he said. “But sometimes the boat would get stuck in the ice and you couldn’t start your time off until they got to the dock. That was hard.”

I liked listening to him and imagining what Ludington looked like when there were seven carferries sailing to three different ports on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan–Milwaukee, Manitowoc and Kewaunee. He listed all the boats on his fingers, “The Pere Marquette 21, the Pere Marquette 22, the Spartan, the Badger, the City of Flint, the City of Saginaw and the City of Midland.”

I thought about how the town harbor must’ve bustled with people and trains and boats. It’s still a little bustly with the Badger running half the year here.

The man that sat down to talk didn’t ask about my skeleton art but I got to thinking about it and I wonder if he’d have liked the commission that I painted early this spring, about a skeleton carferry captain racing back to port. The owner of a local restaurant wanted me to paint a skeleton picture that had Ludington, the carferry and House of Flavors Restaurant in it. Oh, and could I do it in ten days because the giftee was leaving town?

I’m a glutton for punishment so of course I said yes. As it turned out I also had to get the piece printed as a canvas wrap in time for the going away party, but once the original was done that part was easy peasy. I love it when a plan comes together! Bonus, it was a really fun piece to do.

Do you suppose the old guy I was talking to yesterday would appreciate a card with that piece on it? If I see him again I’ll be sure to find out!


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Haters gonna hate, lovers gonna love

“Ugh.”

“That’s horrible.”

“What a mockery!”

It’s hard not to take it personally when I hear comments like these floating through the door at my studio. Maybe putting The Very Last Supper front and center in my shop window has something to do with it?

I could place a more traditional piece there, like a landscape or a still life or a portrait, and people would walk by and never say a word. But poke fun at a religious icon and suddenly everyone loses their minds.

detail of Jesus in The Very Last supper

The Very Last Supper, detail, by Marie Marfia

I could try to soft-pedal the subject matter by combining genres. For instance, skeletons with vases of flowers or skeletons in the landscape would be more palatable maybe. But I’ve found that skeletons are pretty polarizing as a general rule. People either really, really like them or they really, really don’t.

My mom was one of the latter group. Whenever I told her I’d sold another piece of skeleton art I’d have to preface the news with an apology. “Hi Mom, I’m sorry but I sold a skeleton painting today.” She’d always wrinkle her nose at the news, as though I’d just farted in front of her. “Oh, Marie,” she’d say, and sigh. She’s gone now, but I can still hear her sighing like a mournful ghost.

Certainly the skeletons don’t mind whether or not people like them. They’re glandless creatures and so they don’t have feelings that can be hurt.

The question is, can I live with some people not liking what I do?

The urge to please everyone all the time is a real issue for me. I come from a large family and I spent a good portion of my life trying to make people like me in order to get attention, which I craved. It was only when I hit menopause that I stopped caring quite so much. Once my body realized I was done reproducing, my brain took over and said “I’m in charge now,” and that was that. (See? Biology is another thing skeletons don’t have to worry about. More reason to love them!)

The bottom line is, I’m trying to learn how to paint. Studying the classics is a really good way to do this and adding skeletons makes it more fun.

But some people are not amused by skeletons, and they’re especially not amused by biblical scenes with undead people in the starring roles.

(I confess, I deliberately put that print in the window hoping to persuade a couple of political organizations, which shall remain nameless, to set up their tents elsewhere instead of directly in front of my studio during Friday Night Live events. And it worked, sort of. At least, the next weekend, they’d moved across the street. With them a littler farther away I figured I had a better chance of attracting my target demographic—people with a sense of humor who aren’t afraid of death.)

So to answer the question about what I can live with, while it bugs me when people openly sneer at my work, I absolutely adore the people who love it. They say things like, “These are so cool!” “That’s hilarious!” and my personal favorite, “I’ve gotta buy this.” So I’m going to focus my attention on them and everyone else, including my dead mother, will just have to deal.

Thank you to everyone out there who keeps laughing along with me. You know who you are. As long as I know you’re out there, giggling, I can handle a hater or two.


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plein air pastel set up

You never know what kind of fauna you’ll meet in the woods

I promised myself to do more plein air painting this summer and so last weekend I brought along my backpack full of pastels when I went walking in the woods with my dogs.

I really like going out into the Manistee National Forest. You can see deer and chipmunks, porcupines and ‘possums. There are tons of birds calling. Sometimes I whistle back to try to lure them in closer so I can identify them. I take pictures of everything that catches my eye. Bees buzzing on the roadside flowers, the way the sky angles down to crack open the tree line, a 2-track wiggling around a corner. It’s peaceful, relaxing, meditative. The perfect start to a weekend.

I drove to a nearby intersection in the woods just off south Walhalla Road, spritzed myself and the dogs liberally with bug spray (it’s never not deerfly season), and traipsed down the path. All too soon I heard the telltale whine of a small engine and quickly led the dogs to one side. We watched as a dirt bike zipped past us. “Haha, that was close,” I thought.

A bit later, I heard the sound of a dirt bike again. We stepped off the two-track but this time there were two bikes instead of one. I couldn’t tell whether or not either was the same person as before but I decided that probably the first one had met up with the second one and they were out exploring the woods together. Kind of sweet, really. One of them even waved at us.

Within ten minutes they were back, going the other way, only now there were three of them! Hmm. It was getting kind of busy out in the woods. I considered going back the car and calling off my plein air practice day. Were dirt bike riders more aggressive in groups?

I kept on, though, determined to get a painting day in. A couple more times I thought there were bikers coming but it turned out to be just the echoes of their engines as they criss-crossed the trails all around us. We waited in the tall grass, listening to what sounded like a veritable hornets’ nest fading away in the distance.

Eventually, I found a spot to set up. It was beautiful, the morning sun dappling the ground, kissing the ferns and foliage all around. A perfect place to paint.

I tied up the dogs far enough off the path to keep them out of harm’s way and unpacked my kit. Where to start? I picked a scene with sun coming through the trees and lighting up the forest floor and began to do a black and white thumbnail sketch. Then I taped a piece of paper to my foam board and began blocking in my painting.

Roger and Daisy, my faithful plein air painting companions.

Within ten minutes I heard the now all too familiar buzz of approaching bike engines. Skipping to one side, I counted riders as they zoomed past. One, three, seven, eight! Where were they all coming from? Was there a spawning ground around here?

Increasingly nervous, I quickly finished my first study, stopping and listening every few minutes, in case I needed to move off the path again. For the next study, I lost my meditative groove completely, went right past the preliminaries, and dove straight into the painting. Another group of riders whipped by, leaving clouds of dust and two-stroke exhaust in their wake.

I decided to pack up and get out during a lull. Should I try to make it to a main road and walk back to my car from there? Except it would add another mile or two to my hike and all I really wanted to do now was go home where it was quiet and have a cup of coffee. I shortened the leashes and we quick-marched back the way we’d come.

I saw three more sets of bikes before I got to the car, one with a go Pro camera on his/her helmet. I wonder if I’ll make the final cut?

In hindsight, I should have been painting dirt bikes all along, of course, since that’s what was the most plentiful thing out there, but it was my first time. I was nervous about drawing their attention, so to speak.

At least I managed to get a picture. Here’s Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus out in the wilds of Fountain, Michigan. Ride on, you magnificent brute, ride on.

dirt bike in the woods

Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus

Oh, and here are the two studies I managed during my Saturday morning paint out. The art life is full of adventure, isn’t it? Who knew?

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 1

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 2


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Loon's Moon Studio

Thank you to everyone who came out to Art Ramble!

Art Ramble in the Woods was last week, and truthfully, I wasn’t expecting a lot of traffic. Loon’s Moon Studio, where Deb Albrecht and I were set up, is pretty far out in the pickers. It’s off Stohlberg Road, which is so small that you can’t even call it tertiary, much less secondary, and then 32nd Street is a quarter mile long dirt driveway that goes all the way down to Tallman Lake. It’s absolutely lovely once you get there, and Joan’s gourd art is sublime, of course, but there’s tall grass, a downed tree and mobile home trailers mixed in with the cottages and cabins, so a pretty unusual spot to have an art show.

Deb Albrecht's work

Deb Albrecht’s awesome stuff.

Laurie and Craig’s place, The Art Full Codgers Gallery, is a bit easier to find and Lonni Pratt’s The Art Shack is right around the corner from them. Of course, without Laurie’s terrific signage, we’d all probably still be out there, twiddling our thumbs and wondering where everyone was!

It sure was heartwarming to see how many people came out for the event. They drove in steadily in ones and twos all weekend. I’d ask them, “How did you hear about us?” and they’d say, “Well, we were curious about all those green signs in the neighborhood,” or “We saw the story in the paper,” or “It was all over Facebook,” which was really great to hear, because everyone worked their butts off to advertise this show.

tie dyed shirts

Steve’s tie dyed shirts

Art shows are up against some tough competition any time of the year, but especially in the summer. People are busy. There are reunions, weddings, vacation plans and just a lot of regular ol’ stuff, you know? So it was sweet to see people come out to say hello and even buy some art.

And then this happened: Saturday afternoon we were standing around, talking with some folks who’d come all the way out from Baldwin, when we heard noises coming from the lake. There were loons calling and when they started getting louder and more frantic-sounding, we quickly walked over to the water’s edge to see what all the fuss was about. High over the lake was a bald eagle, which was pretty cool all by itself, but it turned out he was interested in some loon chicks that were out swimming with their parents.

We watched, spellbound, as over and over again, the eagle dove down towards them. One adult loon stayed with the young ones, and whenever the eagle got too close all the chicks would dive under the water.

The other adult loon positioned itself about twenty feet in front of the family, between them and the oncoming eagle. At the last moment he would rise up out of the water, trying to knock the eagle down or off course. (We learned later that if the eagle got his wings in the water, he’d be at the mercy of the loons, because he wouldn’t be able to easily take off again.)

It was pretty intense to watch, and, unlike a television show, we didn’t know how long the loons would be able to fend off the enemy. He was so huge compared to the tiny loons. Eventually though, the eagle called it quits and flew off over the trees. Whew! The loons were safe, but the drama lasted for several minutes and it was truly one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget it.

I guess you just never know how things will turn out. But if you try really hard and work your butt off, sometimes fantastic things happen. I’ll never forget all the love we got last weekend and the drama on Tallman Lake was the perfect capper to a wonderful weekend. Thanks again, from the bottom of my out-in-the-pickers heart.

original pastel art work

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Back to start

two people with stars

015, The Stars Align, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

My son Nick and my husband Steve are on their way back from Florida.

I’ve been cleaning the camper, where Nick’s going to stay, at least for now. Steve flew into Orlando last week Sunday, but what with one thing and another, they’re only just coming home today, eight days later. It’s been an adventure, I gather.

I’m really looking forward to having Nick home again. I know I’m supposed to be all bummed about having a boomerang child living with us, but I’m not. It’s going to be a bit more crowded for sure, but I am not worried about that. I have always enjoyed Nick’s take on life, even when things aren’t going his way. He works really hard to stay upbeat. And he’s quirky and smart and fun to be around.

Bonus, built-in dog sitter! Although I haven’t actually asked him if he would do that. But it’d be sweet if he could.

I’ve been scanning the paper, looking for places where he could work while he’s here. His sister Alice has offered him a place to stay in the fall, if he wants to move down to Kalamazoo. He’d not only get the benefit of living with or near a sibling, but his cousin lives there, too, plus an uncle and aunt. So much family.

Sometimes you just need to be around people who know you inside and out. It’s easier to talk about things. Maybe it’ll be just what he needs to get back on his feet again.

I hope so.

I remember Nick’s sixth grade teacher telling me that someday someone was going to really connect with Nick and he was going rocket to the moon, he was just so smart and so talented. I beamed. Then with her next breath she said, “But it isn’t going to be me, because I’ve got 150 other kids to deal with every day.” And she walked out of the room.

I’ve been wanting to punch her ever since.

Not that it was her fault. I get that you’ve only got so much energy and that you’re spread pretty thin and this one kid is just not a priority. He’s not acting out, throwing things, threatening anyone. He’s keeping his head down, going along to get along, telling you what you want to hear. “Yes, I’ll take care of that. No problem. It’s fine.”

He tells you what you want to hear and then you leave him alone because you want to believe that he’s on track now, that he’s going to do all the things he needs to do, that he’s sincere about making changes. And by the time you figure out that he’s really in trouble, it’s just gotten so much worse than it was before.

This has always been Nick’s way. To divert attention from himself and his problems. To tell you what you want to hear. To say, “I’m okay. Yes, I’ve got plenty of food. There’s a job interview tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”

Steve went to get him and bring him home. Partly because I’m still working and he’s the retired one, so he’s got more time to spend on this. Partly because he and Nick have always been two peas in a pod. I knew they’d both enjoy spending time together. Nick gets his love of guns and fireworks from Steve. Also his bent for being logical and rational in his arguments. It used to routinely drive his older sibling Sam nuts. Which I’m pretty sure was the whole point.

So, I’m not really sure how this is all going to work out. If it’s a good decision to bring him home or a bad decision. No idea. Could go either way. But you know what? I’m still glad he’s going to be here, with us. We can do better. Nick can do better. Sometimes you just need a little help.

The part where he doesn’t ask for it? He gets that from me.

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Yellow bird, egyptian eyed dog, pink flower

acrylic painting of a yellow bird on canvas

Yellow Bird, No. 9, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

acrylic painting of a dog with dark eyes and muzzle

Egyptian-eyed Dog, No. 10, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

acrylic painting of a pink daisy

Pink Flower, No. 11, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

Humming right along. I don’t always like what I’m ending up with but it’s okay because I’m learning! I’m excited to try again every day. Onward and upward. That’s the ticket.

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