Monthly Archives: August 2017

How I lost five pounds in one week

Last week I took a road trip with my brother Joe to see our sister who lives near Utica, NY. Mary and her partner, Jonathan, run Down Dog Farm, an organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and we planned to visit and help on the farm for a few days.

There’s a whole patch of flowers on the farm. So pretty.

It was a spur of the moment trip and we only meant to be gone Monday through Thursday, but we decided to hang around a bit longer and help them put up their timber frame house. They’ve been living in a barn for the past few years, and while it’s cozy, nothing beats hot running water and the occasional soak in your own bathtub.

I love visiting my family. Last week’s favorite memories include rolling up to the barn at 7 am in Joe’s truck and then listening to him play Reveille on his harmonica. We’d climb the stairs to the loft and have coffee and a peach muffin with Mary and Jonathan before walking with them and their dogs, Maya and Teddy, around the perimeter of the farm.

Staking the tomatoes.

After breakfast, we’d weed the beds or stake tomatoes or harvest vegetables. In the afternoons we toured the Erie Canal, played miniature golf, and sampled beer at the Saranac brewery in Utica. Evenings we played cards or dominoes or Bananagrams.

Every night Joe and I would go back to the motel and sleep like the dead. We were tired but happy. There’s something wonderful about hanging around with your siblings. The chores don’t feel like chores, the outings are a chance to add to the family lore, and it’s relaxing and familiar and precious.

There was lots of work to be done before the actual raising of the timber frame. Mary and I pored over the plans, counting the braces and figuring out which piece was going where. Joe did a ton of routing on the timbers, standing ankle deep in sawdust. I buttered the tenons with beeswax so they’d fit together more easily. Jonathan called the timber frame company with questions about how it was all going to work and sent out an email inviting people to help.

Swinging a sledgehammer.

Sunday came and about 25 Down Dog Farm subscribers and family members showed up. Everyone pitched in to carry the heavy timbers and swing sledges and hammer in the pegs to hold the pieces together. The actual raising of the bents (cross beams with the posts attached) was an elegant bit of choreography, with Jonathan calling out the dance moves (“Lift with your legs! Curl! Stick people grab your sticks! Rope people, pull!”).

Helpers on the bent.

I mostly stayed out of the way, taking pictures and not wanting to be personally responsible for a bent taking a header off the edge of the deck. At the end, though, I wrapped my legs and arms around a corner post and helped to lift the final bent into position. My partner on the post told me, “You are mighty!” and I’ve been basking in the glow of that compliment ever since.

Me and Joe taking the long way home.

I came home with bruises on my thighs, a farmer’s tan and a song in my heart, specifically, “I Hate You All,” which I first heard in 2004 on a road trip with my kids and husband (my daughter Alice has the best play lists). Joe and I took the long way home so we could see Lake Erie, eating the rainbow chard pancakes that Jonathan made us, talking about our favorite parts of the week and missing Mary the whole way. Some trips you just never want to end.

 

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The studio lessons

Last June I moved into a new studio space at 307 S. James Street here in Ludington, Michigan. It’s awesome. There are a lot of new businesses around me so I’m in good company and it’s fun to watch people walk by my big picture window. But there are some things I’ve learned since going from a work-at-home artist to a work-in-the-public-eye artist.

Having lunch at my skellified table…

Are you going to eat that?

Lunches are a challenge. My space is pretty small. No room for a microwave and no windows for ventilation, so there is a whole list of things I can’t eat here, like any kind of hot food (I now eat soup for breakfast), legumes (I hadn’t realized beans would go through me quite that quickly), and anything odiferous like tuna or smoked fish. I use a freezer pack in my lunchbox and eat salads every day. I feel virtuous all the time now plus I’m more regular than I’ve been in years.

Look, rainbow shoes!

What are you wearing?

I have to wear nicer clothes than I did when I worked at home, or at least, matching ones. Also I can’t come to work in shirts with holes in them (mine get holes right where I press up against my work table, at my belt line. It looks I have moths living in my navel), or pajamas, or anything that I wouldn’t want to meet the mayor in (he hasn’t shown up yet, but it’s a small town. You never know). All the tie-dyed dresses my husband Steve made me so long ago are getting a real workout this summer. They’re bright and artsy and you can’t see where I’ve dribbled vinaigrette on them.

I no longer smell like vegetable soup

I can’t tell you how many showers I’ve taken since mid-June, but it’s probably at least four times as many as I did in the last twenty years. But is this is a good thing? I mean, Steve appreciates it, I’m sure, but I find myself wondering if this is how people start losing their hair. Is it possible to wash it too much? Also, if I’m too clean, how will he find me in the dark?

Blankety blank blank

Every once in a while my computer does something really stupid and I yell at it in a not very lady like way. And then I take a quick look around to see if anyone heard me. Recently, I got mad enough to kick a cabinet (that’s better than kicking the computer, right?) and thought I broke my toe. Fortunately, I just stood on the freezer pack from my lunch in my stocking feet for a while (hardly any swelling). I’m learning to curb my tongue better than I used to, but computers never fail to bring out the crazy in me.

Time to do something with this pile!

Have you seen my…?

I am a natural slob. Did I mention the space is small? This means that whenever I do anything at all, I have to finish it and then put away everything that I took out to do it with before moving on to the next thing. I’m not used to this, but it’s starting to grow on me. I used to have piles of projects in various states of doneness all around. Now I can’t let them become piles in the first place. It’s neater, if a little alien to my nature. The big advantage is that I know where everything is now because it’s always put away. The disadvantage is that I’m always putting things away. How did I live with myself before this?

I love my Pilot G-2 gel pens. I should buy stock.

The life of an artist is often misunderstood

Now and again I take some ribbing from the people passing by. My favorite is, “Have you finished my homework yet?” which happens when I’m sitting out front writing in my notebook. I think people don’t associate writing with art making but it’s a fact that you have to write about what you’re doing if you’re planning to share it or sell it. I like to sit at my skellified cafe table and put pen to paper. There’s usually a breeze, occasionally I have company to talk to, and it’s fun to watch all the people go by. Once someone called out that he wished he had my job because it looked so much easier than what he was doing and I nearly told him to go jump in the blankety blank lake, but I thought better of it. After all, he might have been the mayor.

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Walking my dogs makes me a better painter

At least it gets me off the couch in the mornings. Truthfully, if I had my way, I’d spend all day on the couch eating bonbons and flipping through Imgur on my iPad, but the dogs aren’t going to let themselves outside and since our yard isn’t fenced (yet!), I have to go with them.

This involves piling them into the back of my minivan and driving out to the woods. See, I’d walk them around the neighborhood but there are too many potential pitfalls involved with this, i.e. other loose dogs. So my preference is to drive about five miles south on Walhalla Road, turn off onto any one of half a dozen “seasonal roads” and tromp around the Manistee National Forest for an hour.

The dogs get to sniff and dig around, I don’t have to clean up after them (although I’ve unofficially adopted the first two miles of 6890 because, let’s face it, people are pigs), and we all get some fresh air and exercise.

Sometimes we see deer, sometimes a dead snake, and once Roger thought for sure a cat walked out of the ferns not six feet in front of him, but it was a skunk and he was not allowed to get any closer to it although he fussed a bit about my decision. I held firm, though. You should see the divots my feet left in the road even two weeks later. I held on for dear life, I’m telling you.

So how does this make me a better painter?

It provides subject matter, of course. I won’t tell you how many pictures of my dogs are on my Google drive right now, but it’s a lot. Like thousands. Sometimes I keep my finger on the camera button, snapping pic after pic of Roger digging in the dirt just to get that one glorious moment when he leaps back into the road to try to catch up to whatever he’s smelling off in the distance.

It lets me paint wonderful scenes of my dogs enjoying the great outdoors. I used to think I went out to the woods for me, but really, I go out there for them. They’re the ones that are having the great time.

I guess I’m jealous. Here I am, covered in Deet to keep off the bugs and checking for ticks and bears and swiping at deer flies and those two are just loping along with their tongues hanging out, having a grand old time. Every. Stinking. Morning.

I love it. I love them. I’m a lucky girl to have these lucky dogs.

©2017 Marie Marfia “Roger and Out” 6×9″ pastel on paper.

©2017 Marie Marfia “Daisy in the Dark,” 9×6″ pastel on paper.

You can find more of my daily paintings on ebay including the ones pictures here. They start at 99¢ and the auctions last for 7 days. Good luck and happy bidding!

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When disaster strikes…

The Skelly Dance at the framer’s. It got a little wet.

…it’s best to have an insurance policy already in place. Failing that, a positive attitude can take you a long way.

“Marie, I have some bad news.”

A couple weeks ago the framer called to tell me one of my paintings for Art Prize had been accidentally destroyed. A pipe had burst in the ceiling over his shop and mine plus eight other people’s projects had gotten drenched. Tim, the framer, was distraught. I was the last person he’d called that morning and he’d been sick three times already.

I went over to his store and looked at the piece, decided it wasn’t salvageable, took a picture for my records, and reassured him I wasn’t upset. Then I went back to my studio to think about what the next step would be.

Since this piece was slated for Art Prize, it would be one of three things:

  1. Alert the venue that The Skelly Dance had met with an unfortunate accident and ask whether or not I could substitute another piece in its place (fortunately, I’d just finished Bona Lisa the same week);
  2. Tell the venue that The Skelly Dance had met with an unfortunate accident and just go with six pieces for Art Prize;
  3. Re-do it, in which case I needed to order supplies.

You’ll notice that nowhere on this list is the step in which I panic. At the time I thought it was odd that I wasn’t more upset about the loss, but then I thought, “You’ve been through this before.”

Deja flooping vu

It’s true. Last year I lost four original skelly paintings and a slew of prints during the flooding in St. Augustine from Hurricane Matthew. That was pretty ouchy, but at the time, the gallery owner thought she might be able to arrange compensation through her insurance company.

As I should have guessed, flooding, which is what happened to my skellies down south, doesn’t count as compensatable damage. I think the hurricane actually has to leave a signed confession before an insurance company will agree that it will cover any losses due to one coming ashore for a visit.

Back to the drawing board, er, easel

After mulling it over, I went with steps 1 and 3. I alerted the venue and they agreed to take the Bona Lisa in lieu of The Skelly Dance, but then I decided to re-do The Skelly Dance anyway.

I’ve got time, after all. Art Prize isn’t until mid-September. Also, I’m a little leery about substituting art work without clearing it with Art Prize first. I’ve heard of people being disqualified from that show for small infractions. I could try to get a new piece juried in, but it’s way past the deadline now, so I will happily forgo opening up that can of worms altogether and count myself lucky this happened when it did.

Onward and upward

Besides, if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started making art every day, it’s if you did it once, you can do it again.

Nothing is so precious that it can’t be re-worked, or re-designed, or re-made from scratch. It was painting every day that taught me this lesson and I’m grateful for it. Because of this I can let something like the destruction of a piece roll over me like water off a duck’s back.

But I’ll tell you something—I went out and got an insurance policy for my art last week, because while a positive attitude can take you a long way, cash money makes for a smoother ride.

 

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