Category Archives: inspiration

Maeve Painting, soft pastel on textured gator board by Marie Marfia, 10 in x 10 in.

Getting schooled

Maeve Painting, soft pastel on textured gator board by Marie Marfia, 10 in x 10 in.
Maeve Painting, soft pastel on textured gator board by Marie Marfia, 10 in x 10 in.

As I walked into the art center one morning to teach a kids’ pastel class, I was thinking about what I needed to do first. Should I lay newspapers on the tables or look for the boxes of pastels that I was pretty sure were hiding in the cupboards somewhere? No worries, because the class started at 10, and it was just a little after nine a.m. now. I had plenty of time to do both.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” said Katie, the program coordinator, as I waltzed through the door with a large bin of supplies. “Can I help you carry anything?” 

“Oh, you don’t have to. There’s just my roller bag in the car. I’ll get it,” I said, heading for the stairs. “Are there some kids up there already?”

“Yes, they’re all here.” 

Cue sinking feeling. “What time was class supposed to start?” 

“Nine.” 

“Crap!”

Hurrying now, Katie close behind, telling me it was all right, they’d been given paper and colored pencils to draw with, but it was definitely not all right and now I was thinking, “How could this happen? Why did I think class started at ten? Why did I agree to do this?”

I’m not a real teacher. I mean, I teach, but only because someone expresses an interest in learning how to work with soft pastels and I’m happy to show them what I know. Also, the few times I’ve taught a class, it’s been for adult students and the class size is limited to eight. Sometimes they bring wine.

So teaching a two-hour pastel class for around twenty 6-11 year-olds? Needless to say, the atmosphere was a bit different than what I’m used to.

To be honest, I only agreed to this because I was asked. It’s a failing of mine. Someone says, can you do this (insert something I’ve never done before here) and I say, “Sure!” mostly because I want people to like me and saying yes to whatever impossible thing they’re asking is easier than saying, “No,” and risking them not liking me anymore. Before you point out that I have a choice about this stuff, let me just say I’ve been doing it all my life and I’m too old to stop now. Besides, I thought, how hard could it be?

Maybe I was motivated by my own experience as a child going to art class. I remember walking into the shady back yard of Ms. Taylor’s house on a Saturday morning and standing in front of a big easel that held a piece of newsprint taped to a board and jars of different colored paints in the well underneath. There was a stick of charcoal and a paintbrush and a subject to paint–an owl, a tree, a house. Everyone painted the same thing in the same way–charcoal drawing first, outline with black paint, fill in with colored paint, outline with black again. Then we signed our work and Ms. Taylor fed us marshmallows and Kool-aid before Mom picked us up. It was grand.

What was happening here was considerably less than grand. 

I raced around the room, handing out paper, calling out apologies for my lateness over the hubbub of children’s voices. I gave a small stack of dixie cups to Katie and asked her to pass them out. “Who can guess what’s going in the cups?” I yelled, hoping to distract the kids with a guessing game.

“Water!” “Glue!” “Soap!” 

It was going to be liquid starch, which I knew no one would guess, but it kept their minds occupied while I frantically put all the pastels I’d brought with me onto paper plates for everyone to share at each table. Maybe I’d be able to find more in the cupboards later. For now, I needed to get this class started.

I did a quick demo, drawing a picture with the pastels and then dipping my fingers in the starch and smearing it over the drawings, liquifying the chalk and turning it into paint. My plan was to put the wet pictures in another room and they could take their pieces home with them the next class day. Then, once this project was done, the second project would be using Elmer’s glue to outline a picture on black paper, which would hopefully dry by the next class day and then the kids would paint between the glue lines. 

I started to relax a little. This was fine, I thought. Me being late was just a little hiccup. Everyone was busy drawing now. It was all going to be okay.

Predictably some kids finished their paintings faster than others. I invited them to do more paintings and then realized that I might run out of the special paper I’d brought because there were just 50 sheets in the box and I had 18 students in the class. As a result, the more enthusiastic students were limited to three pictures each, and the slower, more methodical ones only got to do one or two.

It also soon became obvious that the two projects I’d planned weren’t going to be nearly enough to get us through a two-hour class. They blew through them in an hour and a half including the fifteen minute break for apple sauce. At the 45 minute mark, one little boy, who I was reliably informed later had started the day with three jelly donuts for breakfast, slithered off his chair and began crawling around under the table. Another started making a glued together Eiffel tower with the Q-tips I’d passed around in case some kids didn’t want to use their fingers with the liquid starch. I noticed one girl emptying her glue bottle on both hands and then spending about ten minutes peeling it off with a curiously blissful expression on her face. I wished I had thought of it myself. It would have used up some more time and I’d have had something to keep the wiggliest kids busy. 

The last twenty minutes of class I resorted to having them fold paper airplanes because it was the first thing that popped into my head. Then once they had the planes folded everyone wanted to try them out. The last thing I remember was yelling, “No flying airplanes in the building!” before they all left with their parents. 

Afterwards I stood ankle deep in paper airplanes and soft pastel sticks, and thought, “It could’ve been worse. Nobody got hurt. At least not by me, which is the important thing, liability-wise. And now I have a whole 46 hours to come up with four more projects to do. How hard could it be?”


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Mary, looking at the plein air show in Three Rivers, Michigan

Outing to Carnegie Center for the Arts

I took an opportunity while staying at my daughter’s house to go see “Painting Common Ground,” the plein air landscapes of Erwin Wolff and Richard Jordan, at the Carnegie Center for the Arts in Three Rivers, Michigan.

When you are creating every day it’s good to regularly refill your well of inspiration well. This outing seemed just the ticket, after a few weeks of intense baby care, what with feedings and burpings and changings. It was nice to get out of the house for a few hours.

Richard Jordan is the founder of the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan, a group that I recently joined, so I was curious about what I would see at the show. I’ve only met the Richard and Erwin once or twice and I didn’t have any ideas about what their respective styles might be, except for what I’d glimpsed on their easels in passing.

Once we found the art center my sister and I wandered the halls and floors of the two buildings, one previously used as a library and the other a former bank building. There was a high school/community college show upstairs that we liked very much and also a glassworks show on the main floor. When we asked the director where the plein air show was, she told us Richard and Erwin’s paintings were in the “room with the pianos” on the main level next door.

Mary looking at the plein air show
Mary, looking at the Painting Common Ground show, at the Carnegie Center for the Arts in Three Rivers, Michigan.

It was pretty impressive to see so many wonderful plein air paintings in one place! Richard and Erwin have been painting outdoors for many years and it’s reflected in the confidence of their strokes and the compositional clarity of their pieces.

Each artist contributed 25 smaller paintings plus one larger painting to the show, and the works feature natural settings around Michigan, from way up in the UP all the way to the southwest corner of the state. I enjoyed it very much. When I got back to my daughter’s place I also watched a video explaining their individual approaches to their work.

It’s always inspiring to me to see other artists’ works and opens my mind to new ways of seeing the world. I’m very glad I went.

The show continues through April 7, 2022.


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You can buy my art imprinted on all kinds of cool stuff in my Fine Art America Shop. You can purchase downloads in my Etsy shop or cards imprinted with a personal message and mailed for you in my Signed Cards store. Buy greeting cards, prints and stickers in my Square shop. You can purchase my original art on Daily Paint Works.

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final stickers for my rebus letter to my granddaughter

Making a little something

My granddaughter Maeve is a source of joy in my life. I love making things for and with her. I decided recently that I wanted to be her penpal but wondered how I could do it. She’s just three years old, after all. I didn’t want to overwhelm her with a lot of words.

After thinking about it for a bit I made a rebus letter to send to her. A rebus is a mixture of letters and pictures that contain a message. Remember the old Concentration game show? That’s what I had in mind. Here’s how I did it:

Step 1, pencil a letter on a piece of paper, using as many pictures for words as you can. You can see I changed my find a few times about how and where to use pictures for words. No worries! It’s only pencil, at this point.
Step 2, ink pen over the pencil, then stick onto a window. The window is a light box! Now I can put sticker paper over it and trace my drawings so that Maeve will have stickers to put on my letter. It makes it interactive and a fun game for her.
I trace the pictures from the rebus letter onto a sheet of sticker paper (large shipping label paper) with a pencil.
Here are all the pictures from my rebus letter to Maeve, in pencil on sticker paper.
I trace the pencil drawings in ink using water proof ink pen.
Then I used my watercolors to add some color to my pictures.
Here are the final colored stickers.
I cut out the stickers and put them along with the rebus letter into an envelope and mail to my granddaughter.

This is a fun way to stay in touch with my granddaughter between visits. My daughter sent me a video of Maeve putting the stickers over the pictures in the letter and she looked like she enjoyed the process very much. Me, too!


Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!

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You can buy my art imprinted on all kinds of cool stuff in my Fine Art America Shop. You can purchase downloads in my Etsy shop or cards imprinted with a personal message and mailed for you in my Signed Cards store. Buy greeting cards, prints and stickers in my Square shop. You can purchase my original art on Daily Paint Works.

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Me and Steve at Lakenenland Sculpture park in the UP of Michigan.

Taking a breather

Steve and I took a trip to the UP at the beginning of September, just for a couple of days. We wanted to get away because it’s been a busy summer and sometimes you need to take a step back and breathe for a minute. He has a friend from back in his high school days who owns a little place with her husband called the Handshake Motel. She also makes quilts, among lots of other things. She’s a creative soul up there in the wilderness and a font of local knowledge.

We visited some tourist-y places like Lakenenland and Oswald’s Bear Ranch and we spent an afternoon collecting rocks at the Vermilion Point Nature Preserve on the Lake Superior shoreline, plus a couple of hours on the Tyoga Trail, collecting mushrooms and learning about lumberjacks.

We ate pasties from Miners Pasty Kitchen, because it’s required by law when you go to the UP. Also, they’re delicious. And we got some very tasty fried whitefish from Brown Fisheries in Paradise.

I took a lot of pictures and did some watercolor sketches and there are some pastels in the works, of course. I’ll post those as and when I finish them. But for now, here are some of the photos from the trip. I try not to question why I want a particular picture. Sometimes I’m not completely sure. I just take the shot and trust I’ll figure it out later.

My favorite night was spent sitting around a neighbor’s fire pit, watching flying squirrels. I didn’t get a picture, but I can still see them in my head, gliding from perch to perch, like tiny sheets, lit by porch light and snapping in the wind.


Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!

You can buy my art imprinted on all kinds of cool stuff in my Fine Art America Shop. You can purchase downloads in my Etsy shop or cards imprinted with a personal message and mailed for you in my Signed Cards store. Buy greeting cards, prints and stickers in my Square shop. You can purchase my original art on Daily Paint Works.

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pastel painting of a tree in winter

Leaning In, pastel painting of a tree in the winter forest

pastel painting of a tree leaning over a trail in the forest during winter time
Leaning In, soft pastel on paper, 6×8″.

Walking in the woods with the doggies and came across this big boy leaning over the road like he’s a boss or something. I take my life lessons where I can find them.

This painting was for sale on ebay. When you bid on this painting you’re helping me contribute to AFFEW, a local environmental organization. Thanks for your support!


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My art is on Ebay!

Road Curves Left, 5x7" pastel on paper inspired by the Manistee National Forest. ©Marie Marfia.
Road Curves Left, 5×7″ pastel on paper, available in my Ebay store starting 1/14/19 at 9pm.

I have been selling my original art on Ebay for about five years. I don’t do it all the time, but once or twice a year I get the urge to start posting paintings. Why do I do this? A few reasons…

It reinforces my daily painting habit. I am under a compulsion to paint every day so that by the time I’m 80 I’ll be freaking awesome at it. Since I’m splitting Ebay sales with a worthy cause (see next paragraph), boom! there’s built-in accountability to keep me on the straight and narrow.

It helps others. This year 10% of my landscape sales go to AFFEW, which is a local environmental group. I spend a lot of time wandering around Mason County, gobsmacked by the scenery, and I want to make sure those beautiful views are around for future generations. Happily, AFFEW does too, so they’re an organization I am happy to support.

I. Need. More. Space. I realize pastel paintings are flat, but when you’re painting every day, they pile up. I have boxes of paintings stacked in the corners of my studio as well as my storage space. So selling daily paintings on Ebay keeps the stacks to a minimum.

It’ll make me famous! Not really, but I enjoy the idea of my art being dispersed to all four corners of the planet. I’ve sold pieces to people living in just about every state in the union plus a few overseas. Frankly, my art is more well-traveled than I am, which I find both sad and hilarious.

It fits my impulse-driven lifestyle. With Ebay a painting sells or it doesn’t within 7 days. If it doesn’t sell I throw it in a re-work pile. Then sometime during the next six months I pitch the re-work pile, usually because I’m trying to make room for a pile of new stuff. Problem solved!

It’s my drug of choice. I get the same dopamine rush when someone bids on one of my Ebay paintings as I do when eating an entire bag of Lays potato chips, but this is better because not only does it mean another painting is leaving my studio, it’s also not making me fat(ter)! Since my goals this year include reducing my weight and my inventory, Ebay is a win-win.

So there you have it, some of my reasons for using Ebay as an art sales outlet. Here’s the link to my Ebay store. Thanks for looking and happy bidding!

Long Shadows, 9x6" pastel on paper, inspired by the Manistee National Forest. ©Marie Marfia.
Long Shadows, 9×6″ pastel on paper, available in my Ebay store starting 1/16/19 at 9pm.
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I’m reading about corpses, coffins and crypts

Corpses, Coffins & Crypts–A History of Burial by Penny Colman

corpses coffins crypts book

Love the pictures and the author’s conversational style. I found it at my local library. Libraries are so cool. Usually I let Steve pick out books for me but every once in a while I make time to visit the library and I’m always amazed by what I find there. Additional craziness about a dutch embalmer, child skeletons and the tsar of Russia here!

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