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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pastel painting of a red headed man and two ginger spotted chihuahuas

Three Gingers

 

pastel painting of a red headed man and two ginger spotted chihuahuas

Three Gingers, 6×9″ pastel on board, $110.

I saw this young man with his two sweet dogs walking out in front of my shop and asked him if I could have a picture. He said they were two rescues. Cute pups. One of them needs a hernia operation and he was visiting the pawn shop nearby, presumably to come up with the money for her? I couldn’t resist their faces and they seem so calm and happy with him. I called it Three Gingers because the little dogs each have ginger colored patches that matched their master’s hair.

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Rainbows

You might not know this about me, but I’m a rainbow mom. You know, someone whose kids have alphabet soup letters attached to them, specifically LGBTQ?

It’s partly why I made these wings on the front of my gallery. I mean, I started them with the idea that I was going to participate in a fundraiser/publicity event. The local hospital started an endowment to help local cancer patients. To help raise awareness, Ludington decided to go for a Guiness World Record for the most sand angels. A lot of businesses made angel wings for people (or their pets) to pose in front of and to encourage people to donate to the fund. That’s what I was doing, too, when I created these wings.

I put them on my picture window in front of the gallery with the intent of filling them in with blue and aqua and green, like a macaw’s wings. But when I got to the coloring stage, I reached for the little bottle of red instead, and before I knew it I had made rainbow wings.

I have rainbow-ized before. Our first house in Ludington had wrought iron pillars on the front porch and one day I decided to paint them in rainbow colors. At that time I was already a rainbow mom, but I didn’t know it yet. When eventually my daughter told me she liked girls, I hoped like hell it was a phase she was going through. I remember that I advised her to wait and see if things changed. I really wanted it to be something temporary, because I didn’t know what I was going to do if it wasn’t.

I not only wasn’t ready to accept her as gay, I didn’t know how to.

Growing up, I experienced only negative attitudes about homosexuality. A couple of my older brothers used to brag about “beating up queers” in Saugatuck and my parents didn’t censure them for it. I had a vague idea that this was not right, but I never did anything about it. It didn’t touch me, personally. I’m sure there were gay kids around me in high school, but I didn’t know anyone who was gay because I never asked. I pushed it off to one side and tried not to think about it.

So I had no training on how to be a parent to gay kids. What was I supposed to do? When my children came out to me, my first thought was, “What will my family think?” Because that really worried me. I was afraid my family would disapprove and that they would blame me for the way my kids turned out.

Fortunately, I married a man whose family had always been accepting of LGBTQ people. Steve was so matter of fact about it all, that it helped me be that way, too. And I did a lot of reading. I talked to people. I wrote about it.

Bottom line is, I love my kids, all of them, no matter their gender or sexuality. They’re my kids. They’re the people I’m the most passionate about, the ones I’d defend with my life. I want them to be happy, more than I want my parents’ or siblings’ approvals.

I’m still figuring it out, of course. And these wings are part of my process. They’re for all the rainbow children and rainbow parents here in Ludington and everywhere else, too. Of course, the wings are part of the fundraiser, but mostly they’re for my tribe, my rainbow people. Fly, you guys! And be free!

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pastel painting of a dog running along a path in the woods

I’m Gonna Run to You

Here’s my daughter Alice and her wife Sandra’s dog, Panda. He’s running through the woods at a park where they like to take him for walks. He’s such a good boy. They have been training him to do “nose” work. That’s where you teach your dog to find things based on the smell. Alice says it’s a lot of fun and it completely wears him out to go to the classes. This is a good thing because Panda is a very energetic doggy. Whenever I visit them Panda knows that he’s going to be asked to run through all the tricks he knows and then there’ll be treats!

pastel painting of a dog running along a path in the woods

I’m Gonna Run to You, 6×9″ pastel on board, $110.

If you’d like a portrait of your or someone else’s best friend, please check out my commissions page for more information. Pet portraits make great gifts!

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pastel painting of a german shepherd puppy

Did You Just Call Me a Good Boy?

I thought so.

So, I’m toying with the idea of a doggy a day painting for the rest of the summer. I have roughly three months to get better at pet portraits and it’s certainly not hard to find subjects! I have a bunch of good boys and girls walking by my store every day with their owners. I’ll just start asking them if I can take their picture.

Here’s my start.

pastel painting of a german shepherd puppy

Did You Just Call Me a Good Boy? 8×10″ pastel on gator board with clear gesso, double matted, no frame. $145.

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Pastel painting of a tree with pink blooms

Pinked

Pastel painting of a tree with pink blooms

Pinked, 5×7″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. $90.

I was driving into town to work today and was gobsmacked by the flowers on all the trees. You know those pink ones with the really giant blooms on them? I love those things. If I had one in my yard I think I’d just stare at it all day so long as the flowers lasted. I took a lot of reference photos just in case the wind blew all the blooms away and then I did this little painting when I got in my studio. It’s fluttery and windswept and pink, just like those trees.

 

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pastel painting of a man on a log in the forest

Sitting on a Log

pastel painting of a man on a log in the forest

Sitting on a Log, 5×7″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. $90.

This little painting is about sitting on top of a log in the middle of the Manistee National Forest. Steve and I had gone walking around a potential camping spot near the Pere Marquette River and started wandering along a deer path. Deer seem to pick out the prettiest places to walk along. Anyway, we came across this huge tree across the path and naturally, Steve wanted to climb aboard and pose for a picture. I love living around here.

This is one of my daily paintings. If you would like to purchase it, please email me.

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pastel painting of a small lake

Untitled Lake

pastel painting of a small lake

Untitled Lake, 5×7″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. $90.

This is a painting from a little lake that Steve and I circumnavigated on Saturday. It was one of the many bright spots in a four hour span spent wandering around the Manistee National Forest, not looking for mushrooms.

As much as I am grateful for more people wandering around out in the woods, sometimes I just want to be out there alone, you know? Saturday we decided not to join the throngs of morel mushroom seekers and just go someplace quiet. This little lake, or pond, really, fit the bill nicely. We brought out the binoculars and watched some turtles sunning themselves on a little hummock out in the middle of the water. The sky was deep blue and reflecting off the surface of the lake. We listened to the birds. Then we walked all the way around it, finding a hollow beech tree off the path with a mound of pretty fresh porcupine poop all on one side. The dogs were very interested.

If you would like to purchase this painting, please email me.

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