Category Archives: figures

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, 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.

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Walking the Perimeter, 8x10 pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia. $800.

Walking the Perimeter

Painting my favorite models walking around the back of our property with me and the dogs. Me and the dogs not included here. Yesterday was my birthday! I had lots of good wishes heaped on my head and two of my kids, Nick and Sam, stopped by to help me celebrate. This is the two of them plus Steve walking past a patch of long golden grasses with the sun getting low in the sky behind them. It was also Steve’s and my anniversary, so extra reason to have cake and ice cream, which we did and that’s partly why we were out walking. We had to walk off the sugar buzz!

Walking the Perimeter, 8×10″ pastel on sanded paper, $800.
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man sitting in a chair figure study 20 minutes charcoal on newsprint

Drawings from a model

Hurray! Weekly model drawing has started at the Ludington Area Cultural Arts center. I am so happy! I love drawing people! Now I get to do it every week!

Here are my drawings from today’s session. These are charcoal on newsprint. If you’re interested in any of them, send me an email. 

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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 study of a man and his mother

Giving comfort

pastel study of a man and his mother

Steve and Diana, 5×7″ pastel study by Marie Marfia

This study is done from a photo that I took last Christmas of Steve and his mom, Diana, on the couch at my daughter’s place. She was just resting on his chest while watching some movie on TV. I wonder if she was pretending he was someone else.

Diana has dementia. She’s living in an assisted living facility. She has her own apartment, a two bedroom with a kitchenette, although she doesn’t cook anymore. She walks down to the dining room for her meals. When she’s walking back to her apartment she always says she lives in outer Mongolia because it’s such a long way away.

Diana doesn’t always remember who we are when we come to visit, so we always tell her as we’re coming through her door. “I’m your favorite daughter-in-law, Marie.” “I’m your oldest son, Steve.” That way, she doesn’t have to scramble to come up with names right off the bat. She’s pretty good at covering up her memory lapses right now, but that skill is slipping away, too, like everything else.

This is a hard thing to watch. She’s always prided herself on her intelligence. She got all As in school growing up and got a Masters of Library Science. She still speaks French sometimes and likes to play Duolingo on my iPad.

The place where she lives just called this week to tell Steve that she needs more care now, help with dressing herself, taking showers, doing laundry. It’s fine. Steve’s Dad made good investments and saved all his life before he died. She’s got plenty to cover the extra costs. It’s just that it’s another step down the road that you hate to have to take. We all gotta die. I get that. I wish it didn’t have to be like this, that’s all.

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Stealth sketching

I decided to try to get some sketching in while I was waiting for my number to be called at the Tax Collector’s Office today.

It felt kind of funny to be one of the only people out of about fifty-some that wasn’t on a cellphone. It was just me, a couple of elderly ladies, and a toddler or two. The toddlers looked like they would have liked to play on a phone. The one that was directly in front of me settled for poking at the walker belonging to the old lady next to me.

I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to ask someone to let me take a picture of them to use to draw with. My friend Cynthia does this all the time. I swear I’ll do it. One of these days.

This was fun, though. The first one is of a young woman who was intent on her smartphone. She had lightning fast texting skills. The other was of a woman leaning on the counter to my left. I liked the way her shirt draped in folds across her back.  These are the first of more sketches to come, I hope. I want to do more of it, whenever I can, instead of automatically going for a distraction, like sudoku puzzles or imgur.

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Yellow Bikini

I painted this last week, while I was working my shift at The Attic. I liked the contrast between the woman’s dark skin and the bright bikini and really, really liked both against the cool blues of the water. She was so relaxed, sitting in the surf and letting the waves wash over her. I think I was wearing shorts or jeans or something and I remember feeling a little jealous. Why wasn’t I sitting in the water like her?

woman sitting on the beach in a yellow bikini

Yellow Bikini, 6×9″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia

pastel painting of a woman on the beach

Yellow Bikini, matted and framed, $269.

Yellow Bikini, 6×9″ pastel on paper, matted and framed, $269.

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