Category Archives: A pastel a day

daily paintings time lapse

Latest daily paintings

Making an effort to do more daily paintings. Here are a few of the latest time lapses.

Those Clouds Look Interesting, soft pastel on sanded paper, 12×12″.

This one is inspired by a drive back from the Ludington State Park where we’d dropped off our camper for some friends of ours to use. I said something like, “Those clouds look interesting,” and Steve promptly pulled over so I could get some pictures. Next day I pulled them up on my computer and made a painting.

Old Bent Gate study, soft pastel on sanded paper, 5×7″.

I based this on a scene right outside my door, practically. Along the ditch that forms a boundary on our property is one of those metal gates that don’t really block anything. It’s a little bent and sort of just hangs there, unconnected to anything. I noticed how the sun was lighting up the bracken behind it, and the dark trees just behind the bracken. Honestly, the golden morning light fascinates me. Anyway, I took a picture of this scene to paint later. I’m glad I did, because yesterday when I walked past it again with the dogs, all the color had vanished, leaving drab browns in its place. Lesson to me: if something makes you look twice, take the picture! It’ll never be like that again.

Between the Dunes study, soft pastel on sanded paper, 5×7″.

One of the last times Steve and I went to the beach for a swim this year, I took pictures of the space between the dunes. This painting is all about the low hills just behind the beach and then the higher, older dunes beyond that. I love the grass, the way the wind blows it every which way, the colors of it in the lates sun. I could paint this every day I feel and never get tired of it, never run out of things to say.

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Marie Marfia, Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16x20"

Painting to remember

I’ve been painting to remember lately. It’s partly because of the pandemic. I’m realizing that I need to pay more attention to the people that I care about and to make it a priority to spend time with them. Before Covid, there was all the time in the world. Now, not so much maybe. Another reason is painting the stories I want to keep helps solidify them in my brain for later. I’m aware of memory slippage happening as I get older. Details fade and sometimes whole stories. I wonder, was I really there when that happened? Why don’t I remember it if I was? 

My father’s side of the family suffered from dementia at the ends of their lives, all except Frank, who was killed during WWII, Marianne, who committed suicide, and Ben, who died of a coronary. Six siblings out of nine. So odds are that I and some of my siblings will go the same way. It’s like a cloud that hovers over you, not quite solid but never quite going away, either. Every failure to come up with a name or word that I know that I know prompts the inevitable moment of panic and a rush of internal questioning. Is this the beginning of my decline? Am I going to go down the same path as my dad? Is there anything I can do to stop this?

I spend a lot of time researching how to make my brain do its job for as long as it can. I solve a crossword puzzle and a sudoku puzzle every day, read a lot, and push myself to learn new things. Mostly I try to remain hopeful.

So I’ve started painting memories of days spent with my family. One, it gives me an excuse to paint people, which I like, and two, it helps cement memories of a particular occasion in my head.

First I look at my photos and decide on a story to tell. Then I try to distill my feelings about the story into a painting. Here are three from my last trip to see my sister and her extended family out in New York state. 

Mary Feeding the Chickens

Marie Marfia, Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16x20"
Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16×20″

This one is of my sister Mary and her original flock of chickens, now a few years old. She’s got a colander on her hip with red grapes in it. We had decided earlier that grapes, and specifically red grapes, weren’t very good. They tasted too sweet and not enough like the grapes we remembered as children. So these grapes became chicken treats.

Mary, me, my daughter Alice and her wife Sandra, and their daughter Maeve, had walked down the hill to feed grapes to the chickens. Since they were being cautious around all the new people, Mary leaned over the fence, hand full of grapes, to coax them closer. In my painting I removed the fence and the extra figures behind Mary. But I kept the house up on the hill and our trailer parked next to it. Also there’s the hint of the barn behind the trees on the left, which I may remove. I haven’t quite decided, yet. Mary’s jeans have grass stains on the knees because you spend an awful lot of time on your knees when you are working an organic farm. The weeds don’t pull themselves, you know.

Come out, chickens!

Marie Marfia, Come out, chickens, soft pastel on toned sanded paper, 9x12".
Come out, chickens! soft pastel on toned sanded paper, 9×12″. Sold.

In this painting, I wanted to capture Mary’s step-granddaughter, Alice, trying to convince a flock of young chickens to come out from under their coop. Alice is fairy-like in her demeanor. She has long blonde hair falling over her shoulders and a joyful look in her eye. She refers to people as “humans,” and she is perfectly happy playing with whoever is available, including two-year-old Maeve. I wanted to remember her optimism concerning timid pullets and whether or not they could be tempted out of hiding by a handful of dirt, a stick or one of their own feathers. She tried all of those things without success and never noticed the one watching her from the other side of the coop.

Time lapse for Come Out, Chickens!

Walking to the Barn

Marie Marfia, Walking to the Barn, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10x8"
Walking to the Barn study, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10×8″.

In this final painting, I took a photo of Mary as she was on her way back to the barn. I liked her upright form against the barn and the sunlit green grass. It’s a reminder to me of how her days begin. Up before the sun, out to feed the chickens, providing sustenance, and warm regards (“Good morning, sunshine!”). When I miss her most, I imagine myself walking in the dewy grass with her, and I feel better.

So much of how I remember is visual as well as emotional. Photos can be painful to look at sometimes, because so many feelings well up from them. I often put pictures away and close photo apps because it seems as though I might never stop crying once I start. I’m not sure why I want to cry but I’ll continue to explore it. I think it makes for better paintings. And paintings may soon be the only way I can share what I am feeling if or when the day comes that I no longer have the words.

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Marie Marfia, Shaded Mary, soft pastel on sanded paper, 11x14"

Stuff happens

It was a beautiful day to paint outdoors, warm and sunny with a bit of a breeze. I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan with my friends, Deb, Mary and Sue. They’d registered to paint in the Festival of the Arts Plein Air event from 10am-1pm and I’d driven an hour and a half from Ludington to join them. I wanted to enjoy the company of friends whom I hadn’t seen in far too long and also get a little painting in.

We’d been assigned to paint in the middle of downtown at Studio Park, a patch of astroturf surrounded by trees in concrete boxes, with a giant movie screen attached to one of the three buildings on the perimeter.

Our adventure started out pretty well. Sue was working on a careful preliminary sketch, Mary and Deb were painting in watercolor, and I had my soft pastels out. I decided to focus on Mary who was seated in the shade on the astroturf. I liked the stark shadows on the building behind her and her red hair against the bright green grass. By 11:20 I had put away the first piece to finish later and started on a portrait of Deb working under one of the trees lining the plaza. Just then a woman with a pony tail and yoga pants walked up and told us we had to move. She’d apparently reserved the space from 11:30am-1:00pm for her yoga class. Whoops.

Marie Marfia, Shaded Mary, soft pastel on sanded paper, 11x14".
Shaded Mary, soft pastel on sanded paper, 11×14″.

Mary asked politely if the woman needed all the space for her class and she said she absolutely did, whereupon she proceeded to cover the entire park with florescent orange cones, indicating where all the students were meant to spread their mats.

The Summer 2021 issue of Pastel Journal coincidentally features a ton of stories about the joys and trials of plein air painting. Tales of artists who get chased off their spots by alligators (Florida), sheep (Maine), bugs (everywhere) are par for the course. But this was the first time I’d heard of a paint out session disrupted by mat-toting people in leotards.

At least Mary and I were the only ones who had to move. We’d had the bad luck to set up on the astroturf in the first place. The others were fine where they were, Sue on the perimeter sidewalk painting café tables in the alley, and Deb sitting on a bench off the grass.

My plein air set up that day was pretty basic. I had a small pastel box that opened flat and attached to a tripod using a camera mount. The easel with pastel paper mounted on top of that and then I hooked my backpack under the tripod for ballast. To move, I just grabbed the tripod with one hand and my backpack with the other and carefully walked up the steps surrounding the grass. I wanted to be closer to Deb, since she was the subject of my second painting. But before I could set everything down again, a gust of wind flipped both easel and pastel box off the tripod and onto the cement.

Yoga happening in front of me. My rescued pastels in the box next to me.

I remember thinking, “Wow, that was quick.”

In the past, when my pastels have hit the dirt (cement, floor), I’ve cursed and thrown things, but that day I wasn’t even that upset. Maybe it was endorphins from having spent the last hour painting in the sunshine. Maybe I was on my best behavior because I was in front of my friends. Whatever the reason, I was more worried about getting everything cleaned up before someone plowed through it and got pastels all over their shoes than anything else.

The aftermath. Paint nothing but pictures, leave nothing but dust.
Marie Marfia, Deb Squints, soft pastel on sanded paper, 14x11"
Deb Squints, soft pastel on sanded paper, 14×11″.

Deb helped me pick up the pieces and someone else found a push broom to sweep up the dust. Then more friends dropped by to say hello, and I ended up spending the rest of the session catching up with them, getting lots of sympathy for the pastel disaster and trying to paint some more.

Stuff happens. Pastels break, rain turns your work to puddles, people say weird things when you’re out painting in public. None of it mattered. It was still a beautiful day. I got to hang out with people I love. I spent an hour or two making paintings. It was all good in my ‘hood.

Besides, it could have been a lot worse. There could have been alligators.

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Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"

Old Bones

Recently I spent a day visiting the family cemeteries with my brother and his wife. It’s traditional to plant fresh flowers, wipe off the headstones, pull weeds and just spruce the plots up a bit before Memorial Day. I used to go with my mother.

As well as driving around the places where I spent my childhood, I like spending time with Joe and Anna. We tell stories to each other about the people under the headstones. There’s a lot of laughter mixed with the yarns and there’s something therapeutic about digging in the dirt. Anna always says goodbye to everyone before we head for the next stop.

I try to imagine what it would be like to be buried in one or another of the cemeteries–Fennville, South Haven or Covert. I think I’d like Covert best. It has lots of old trees, and the road that passes by there is quieter than the others. Also, Mom’s family were not given to as much drama as Dad’s and I think it would be more peaceful to spend eternity among low key folk.

In honor of Memorial Day weekend I decided to paint a picture of my father in uniform and this was the one that I chose. On the back of the original polaroid it says “This family lives in Room # 204,” and then lists the names of the men he’s standing with: Edwin Manson, Dan Mannen, Roy Mann, with my dad on the far right. This was a picture he sent home to his parents and I imagine he was trying to inject a little humor into what was otherwise an anxious time. From the letter, he was in air force training school in Miami and so these must have been some of his classmates as well as the guys closest to him alphabetically. The year is 1943, so he would have been in his twenties.

Though the original was black and white, the photo is sepia-colored now, and my memories of my father are taking on those faded overtones, too. As with any portrait, I have to decide which shapes to define, where the highlights will go, and what will stay buried in shadow.

Marie Marfia, This Family WIP, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12".
This Family, WIP.
This Family, detail.
This Family, detail.
Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"
This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12×12″

I have always loved imagining my dad flying through the air, arms outstretched, chasing crows across the landscape. He died over twenty years ago, but I still think about him a lot. I wish that the end of his life had been easier. He had Alzheimer’s and the last seven years were spent in nursing homes. I remember laying my head on his knee once while visiting him and feeling his hand on my head, comforting me. He lost almost all of his memories but kept his ability to let me know that everything would be all right. I’m grateful for that.

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Marie Marfia, Work Crew, soft pastel on gessoed gatorboar, 8x12"

Work Crew

I got to spend a weekend at my daughter’s house recently. I was supposedly there to help build a deck in the back yard, but really, I just wanted to play with the baby.

My sister came all the way from New York state to help, as did two of my brothers, one of their wives, and also my nephew. Plus my daughter and her wife worked on it, too. Everyone was wielding power tools for almost the entire weekend. Except me! I got to babysit!

It was cool out and rained on Saturday until just about lunch time. Their neighbor brought over a tent so that at least a couple people could get out of the wet. But no one complained. It was just nice to hang out and talk like regular people for a change. We’ve all had our shots. It felt normal.

Marie Marfia, Work Crew, soft pastel on gessoed gatorboar, 8x12"
Work Crew, soft pastel study on gessoed gatorboard, 8×12″

I got a few pictures. This painting is about four people with cordless drills screwing down decking and one supervisor. As it should be.

I had a lot of fun playing with my granddaughter, who is almost 2 1/2 years old now! (How does that happen?) And I loved seeing my family. Would highly recommend.

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My Hat, Squared WIP

My hat squared

I had to try this one again, but this time I decided to make it a square painting. I found a version of the photo reference where her hat was in the air instead of laying on the ground, which I like much better. This is still a work in progress, but I like the direction of it.

My Hat, Squared WIP
My Hat, Squared, 10×10″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. WIP

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My hat! pastel painting on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, $600.

My hat!

Spent a wonderful day at the beach in South Haven, Michigan, playing with my granddaughter, Maeve. I got a picture of her just as her sunhat blew off in the wind and had to paint the memory.

She spent about an hour playing with rocks and pouring out water onto the sand. Maeve is just over two years old and her boundless curiosity about the way the water disappears when you dump it onto sand was irresistible. All that squatting I did to bring her more water from the lake! My legs are pretty sore today!

There’s something really fun about painting a memento of a certain place and the company kept. Good times!

My hat! pastel painting on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, $600.
My hat! 6×9″ pastel painting on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, $600 framed.

sunlight trees forest field

Longing for Summer

I woke up this morning to a fresh coating of snow. Happy April Fool’s Day!

I found myself wishing for warmer days and so I searched my Google photos for a summertime reference to paint today and happily discovered one that made me feel better about all the white stuff on the lawn.

When I’m walking the dogs I frequently stop to take a picture of the sun lighting up the landscape behind the green trees. Something about all the beautiful warm light peeking out between the leaves makes me feel optimistic about the future. Call me crazy.

Longing for Summer, pastel painting of sunlight through the greenery by Marie Marfia. Available $600
Longing for Summer, pastel painting of sunlight through the greenery by Marie Marfia. Available $600
poplar aspen trees dunes lake

Poplars in the Park

You know how sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and you just can’t get back to sleep? And then you just don’t feel like yourself all the rest of the day?

Yeah, these things happen. Fortunately, there are naps. I love naps.

This is a painting that I did because I had an unfinished version of it from who knows how long ago. I spent a bit of time searching for the photo reference in Google photos, finally typed in birch in the search bar and bingo! there it was. Google photos doesn’t know from poplars.

I have to say, I wasn’t crazy about this when I left the studio to go have lunch, but by the time I got back it had grown on me. So I thought I’d share it quick before I changed my mind. I still want to fiddle with it a little bit more, but later, after I’ve had some more sleep.

Poplars in the Park, 12x9" pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. Available, $900.
Poplars in the Park, WIP, 12×9″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia.
Marie Marfia, Neverending Love Story, soft pastel, 12x16.375

Nicolette and Aucassin progress

Thought I’d share some progress on the the latest skeleton Old (Dead) Masters painting. It’s coming along. I’m doing some refining right now, and that’s going to take a bit. I like doing these because they’re like a real intense workshop on the style of the artist whose work I’m copying. That’s definitely the case with this one.

grid and sketch of Nicolette and Aucassin
Grid and sketch of Nicolette and Aucassin
initial block in
Initial block in
Easel shot
Easel shot
Work in progress…
As of April 3, 2021.
Here’s a video tour of where I’m at with this one. (Can you tell I’m listening to NPR?)

Here’s the final!

Marie Marfia, Aucassin and Nicolette, soft pastel on sanded paper, 12x16.375
Neverending Love Story (Aucassin and Nicolette parody), soft pastel on sanded paper, 12×16.375″.

Finally! These parodies always take forever to finish. I have so much respect for the original creators of the pieces I copy. And I learn a ton while I’m working.

So, no official title for this one yet. If you have a suggestion, please send it along. Of course, puns are given first priority and if I pick your title to use, I’ll happily send you a print as a thank you. Email me,, and tell me your idea!

As soon as I have a title for this one I’ll be adding it to my Etsy downloads and my Fine Art America shop, so I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE! I have decided on a title. It’s going to be Neverending Love Story. It’s because it’s all about the story that never ends. Also, this particular couple is based on a story–Nicolette and Aucassin–which is also referenced in one of my favorite series of books ever.

Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas for the title. They really helped me a lot to come up with something that I liked and seemed fitting. You’re the best fans ever!