Category Archives: My life

Queen of All I Survey

Marie Marfia, Queen of All I Survey, 6x9in., soft pastel on textured gator board.
Click here to bid • 6x9in. • pastel • starts at $100

Our wonderful dog, Daisy, who passed away recently. She was awesome and we’re very glad to have had her for fifteen years.

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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.

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?” 



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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Bird watching

Yesterday I was lying in a puddle on the back deck, hoping to get a clear picture of a bird nesting in a yard ornament that we’d bought at the art fair a couple years ago.

We’ve had birds try to nest in this thing before, but they usually decide there’s too much foot traffic or possibly the space gets too hot in the middle of the summer and it’s abandoned before a family is produced.

Honey, I’m home!

This year Steve and I know there are baby birds in it because the parents have been back and forth to the entrance of the thing with bugs and caterpillars. It’s fascinating. I never thought I would be a bird watcher in the last third of my life but now I find that I enjoy observing them when they show up at the feeders or whistling back to them when I’m out walking the dogs.

With the birds in the ornament, the main question has been, what species of bird are these?

“Is it a sparrow maybe?”

“Nah, it doesn’t have any of the markings for a sparrow.”

“Maybe a wren?”

“But it doesn’t hold its tail like a wren.”

Neither of us has the sharpest eyesight anymore, so we’ve been taking pictures of the birds with our phones, but the results have not been great and we couldn’t find any matching blurs in the bird books on our shelves. I thought maybe my old Nikon Coolpix L810 might get a good enough picture that we’d be able to ID the birds at last.

First I set up on the rail of the deck just outside the back door. But the bird on foraging duty proved a bit camera shy with me standing there and I decided I’d have better luck if I moved the camera to the floor of the deck and hunkered down behind it. Maybe the railing would hide me enough that my quarry would lose his inhibitions and resume making trips to the fish ornament. I propped the camera up with some sticks so that it was pointing right at the front of it. All I’d have to do is tap the shutter button to get a shot.

Eventually, the bird returned to the nest and I got some pictures of it, but I was still hoping for a side profile to complete the series and decided to hang out a bit longer even though it wasn’t exactly comfortable on the deck. I’d managed to lay down in a small puddle and mosquitos were whining in my ears. I thought about how wildlife researchers sat outside in all kinds of weather, fending off bugs and snakes and other horrible things, waiting for their subjects to make an appearance. At least it wasn’t raining. The air was warm and pleasant. I turned my head and watched fluffy clouds passing by overhead. I could do this. I just needed to be patient.

Bugs! It’s what’s for dinner!

I thought about the bird going back and forth endlessly. It couldn’t be an easy task, hunting bugs and worms for a hungry family. Did a bird ever think to itself, “This is taking so long! How come I’m always the one to make dinner! And the kids will probably hate it!”?

Anyway, on one of its return trips the bird spotted me behind the rail and started to chitter at me, first from the safety of a pine bough over the deck and then from the glider, which was between me and the fish ornament. “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch,” he called, over and over, which I interpreted as, “I see you hiding there, you big human! Bugger off!”

I lay there, trying not to make eye contact, exuding calm and non-predatory thoughts. “I’m harmless, harmless, harmless. Look, I’m not even moving. It’s fine. Nothing to worry about. I’m a rock. Or a plant. Or some other inanimate, perfectly ordinary thing.”

He just kept yelling at me, and now I could smell dinner, a chicken and wild mushroom and green bean curry that Steve was making. What if he came to the door to tell me it was ready and scared the bird off before I could get my shot? Then I’d have to start all over again. It sure sounded like this bird wasn’t going to go back to his nest until I left.

Unfortunately, my camera was focused on the lawn ornament, not the glider. I didn’t know if I could move it and not startle him into leaving, but I decided I had to try. I had the camera set to “Pet Portrait” and I hoped if I pressed the shutter button it would automatically focus on my target.

Definitely a wren.

It took a few tries but it worked! I got up off the deck and brought the camera in to show Steve.

“What do you think?”

“That’s a wren.”

I was so pleased. We looked at the picture on the back of my camera all during dinner, which was delicious, by the way. No bugs or caterpillars at all.

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!

Sign up for my Bone Appetit newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio and 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.

Marie Marfia My Hat soft pastel on sanded paper 10x10

Happy New Year!

Well, we made it to another year. Go us!

I have some art resolutions for 2022 and I’ve been taking stock of what I accomplished in 2021. First things first, though. A huge thank you to you for keeping company with me on my art journey. I appreciate all the attagirls you send my way and I plan to keep making stuff and sharing it with you. We make a good team, I think.

Art Resolutions for 2022

More plein air outings! I’ve joined the Plein Air Artists of West Michigan group, which meets twice a month all year except December. I’m looking forward to painting with them this year. Check them out here.

More live events! I’ve had the most success with my art when I’m out in the public eye, meeting people and talking with them in person. So I’ve got my eye on a few more shows this year than last. I’ll keep you posted about which ones I’ll be participating in as and when they happen, so stay tuned.

More collaborations! I want to make more of a spectacle of myself this year (if that’s even possible). If you or someone you know is looking for entertainment for their fundraising event, please pass my name along. I would love to set up and do a live painting demo for someone’s organization. It could be a portrait, a landscape, or a scene from the event itself. Then the resulting artwork could be auctioned or raffled off to raise money for a worthy cause. Could be fun!

More creating, every day! I want to really concentrate on painting every day. It’s about following my passion, yes, but it’s also about taking care of my mental health. Focusing on creating something is a way to block out the negative noisiness of the world around me. When I’m painting I’m not thinking about anything else and I need that creative time-out every day. It’s important and I want to make it a priority this year. I hope you join me!

Highlights from 2021

New studio space

Making tile patterns

Monsters Under My Bed series

Painting with my friends

Visiting my sister

Gold Coast Art Festival

LACA fundraiser

LVAC Trunk Show

Holiday Open House

Toy Box Show

Spending time with my granddaughter

That’s it! I hope you enjoyed reliving some of my best memories from last year with me. And I hope you’ll be around while I make new stuff this year! Thanks for hanging out with me. I couldn’t do this without you. (Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun!)


Scratch Cook

The day I gave up cooking stands out in my memory because it started out as a day full of the best intentions. I was going to follow a recipe. I was going to be patient and let the flavors meld properly. I was definitely not going to cook the way I normally do, which is to google the list of food items that I happened to have in the cupboard at 5:30 pm and see if there was anything at all that could be made from them in a half hour or less.

My husband Steve is the real cook in our family. Let me just say that cook is a misnomer for what he actually does, which is craft gourmet-quality meals, using skills honed over a lifetime of working as a chemist. My only beef with Steve is that these exquisite repasts usually take hours to prepare and since he is chronologically challenged, often results in dinner being served anywhere from 7 pm to o-bed-thirty, by which time we are all starving and he could set a heaping bowl of gruel in front of us at that point and we’d gratefully eat it all up and ask for more.

Up to that day, I had always considered myself an okay cook in that I could take five or six ingredients and combine them to make a meal that would be, if not excellent, at least filling, and would probably not kill you. Almost as importantly, it’d be ready by 6. But lately, my offerings felt like they were lacking a certain something. Like taste, texture, toothsomeness. Steve was just so good and I’ve always been super competitive. Blame it on growing up as one of eleven children. I can’t even take a yoga class without hurting myself trying to prove I can bend over backwards a scootch more than that other grandma doing stretches next to me. 

I just wanted to make something without tuna in it for once and that everyone would sigh over and be grateful to eat, oh, and serve it at dinner time, which is when I’m hungry, versus 9 pm, which is when I’m slavering for any remotely food-like substance.

That day I carefully got out the crockpot, paged through the cookbook and selected a recipe. I figured a crockpot recipe was the perfect choice because it satisfied my need to produce something really tasty with only a half hour’s worth of effort. I could slap it together and forget about it until later. Piece of cake. This would also have the added advantage of preventing my usual end of day meltdown which was me realizing I needed to come up with something for dinner and no idea what it was going to be. 

Being the work-at-home parent back when the kids were small and Steve was working out of state, it fell to me to make dinner most of the time. I enlisted their help to make the decision as to what dinner was going to be. By the end of the day I just couldn’t muster up the energy to think of what to feed everyone. This resulted in a lot of “backwards dinners” where I’d serve ice cream or pass out the little yogurts. The kids didn’t complain but I felt a lot of guilt over this. I was the parent, dammit. I was supposed to make them eat vegetables at dinner time. There’s rules and things.

And the kids helped, each taking a couple days a week to choose what was going to be on the menu. We ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches (Sam), hamburgers (Nick), and pizza (Alice) back then. It all worked out.

Now, however, I felt like I was competing with Steve to make something more than just edible, hence the stab at crockpot cooking. I remember dutifully reading the ingredients list and layering meat, vegetables and broth into the pot, putting the lid on it and then waiting for the magic to happen.

All day I resisted the urge to peek under the lid to see how it was coming along. I mean, why worry? I was using a recipe! It couldn’t fail. People didn’t just put random instructions in cookbooks without checking to see if they worked first. There were test kitchens. I had heard of them. Probably this recipe had been tweaked at least fifty times before being added to the final edition of this cookbook.

At the crack of 6pm I opened the lid of the crockpot and gazed inside, anticipating juicy pork steaks in tomato sauce, artfully dotted with capers (I was pretty proud of the capers, thinking they lent a certain sophistication to the mix, without actually knowing what, in fact, they were). Instead I saw a crock pot full of dried out slabs of gristle in no sauce whatsoever, just red and green bits stuck to the sides of the pot. It was a disaster.

When Steve came home, I apologetically informed him that dinner was a failure and we would be ordering pizza. He lifted the lid, sniffed the contents, and said, “The capers were because…”, letting the sentence dangle. “They were called for in the recipe,” I said, not at all defensively. Then he tasted it and announced that if I had done three things, which he proceeded to describe in great detail and which I have since completely blocked from my memory, it would have been fine. Edible, in fact.

And that was the moment when I hung up my apron for good. In a hundred million years, I would never have been able to not only diagnose what was wrong with that glop in the crockpot, but to know what it would take to make it delicious. 

I was reminded of a time when I called in a repairman to fix the dryer. I’d already tried to repair it myself and managed to lose a screwdriver down the lint trap in the process. The repairman came over that same day. As I let him in and showed him the partly disassembled appliance skulking in the basement, one kid on my hip and the other toddling along behind, he told me something I’d forgotten until now. He said, “It’s okay that you don’t know how to do everything. You don’t have to be an expert at this. It’s okay for someone else to earn a living, too.”


Cookie making time

Recently, Steve and I were making gingerbread cookies for Ludington’s Downtown Cookie Walk and I could only find one cookie sheet. Everyone knows you need two cookie sheets in order to make cookies in the most efficient way possible. While one sheet is in the oven, you can load up the second sheet so it’s ready to go in soon as the first one is done.

I knew we had a second cookie sheet somewhere and could picture it in my head. I dimly recalled making something with it (apple slices? nachos?) between the time we’d moved into this house and now. That ruled out the storage unit but left open the possibility it was lurking somewhere in the house or the garage. 

Steve and I were methodical in our search for it. We took turns getting down on our hands and knees to look in the very backs of all the bottom cupboards (nope), and then we tried the tops of all the shelves (nada), the gaps between all the appliances (zilch), and then the cupboard over the fridge, which necessitated first clearing off all the stuff on top of it in order to get the doors open (which also explains why the cupboard turned out to be completely empty—why bother to put anything in there when it’s easier to pile it in front?—whereupon I immediately nominated that space for storing liquor, which still needs to find a designated forever home after the move, but Steve said it’d be a pain in the patootie for any future drunks looking for a quick shot, so it’s still empty, in case you were wondering.)

This is a problem with moving into a new house. The place where you first put things usually ends up being the place where you always put things, no matter how inconvenient it may turn out to be later. Like cookie sheets, for instance.

This morning I found it behind the fridge, and I know it was me who put it there, because I remember thinking it was a good idea at the time. It’s a narrow, vertical space, and cookie sheets definitely fit there, but it’s also much, much closer to dog fur, of which we have a plethora, and which now covered it, front and back.

What was I thinking?

The answer is that I wasn’t thinking at all, or I wasn’t thinking very hard, or possibly I was distracted by the next thing on my list, which in no way involved making a once and for all decision about where it would be best to store flat items that only get used once a month, if ever.

The upshot is that it took longer than it should have to bake a hundred cookies, not least because we spent some of that time in a fruitless search for a cookie sheet.

But we had fun looking, which is the most important thing. And it made a memory, which would never have happened if the cookie sheets had both been in the same place at the same time. Have you ever noticed that it’s the things you’re not expecting that last the longest time in your head? 

As for the cookies, we iced them to look like reindeer skeletons with red noses and then called them “Rudolphs, Deconstructed” for the Cookie Walk. They were both creepy and delicious. A nice balance, I think.

skeleton reindeer gingerbread cookies
Rudolphs, Deconstructed.

pastel painting of a wave crashing

Bring on the floaties!

I’ve stopped giving the sky the stink eye, finally convinced that no more of that evil white stuff is about to come out of it.

And in true hamster-in-a-wheel fashion, I’ve leapfrogged over spring entirely and sat down and made a list of what I hope to accomplish this summer.

Number 1, swim more. Last year I meant to, but actually only made it to the lake once. I remember the day very well. I was in a panic because the summer had come and gone and I hadn’t yet gotten wet anywhere besides my shower.

“Let’s go swimming,” I told my beloved one gloriously warm day in early September and he said, “Sure!” because that’s what he always does. Steve’s my personal enabler and that’s why I love him so much.

So we put on our bathing suits and headed out the door. We planned to stop at the Walhalla Walmart (Dollar General) and pick up whatever they had left by way of floatation devices. Steve came out with a couple of air mattresses and with that we were well on our way to blissing out on the water somewhere.

Unfortunately, Steve had in mind that this would be Walen Lake, which is out in the middle of nowhere in the Manistee National Forest. I imagined a shoreline crowded with cattails, alive with bloodsuckers, all under a cloud of mosquitos. “Seriously?” “Yeah, let’s just go check it out real quick.” “Fine.”

Fortunately for me, when we got there it was cheek to jowl with trailers, tents and people with dogs. “Nope.” Back we raced to Round Lake and pulled up at the township park by the crack of 4 o’clock. All the running around had given me ample time to finish blowing up the inflatables so we were set.

We hurried down to the water and then walked about a mile out into the lake whereupon we flopped onto our air mattresses and didn’t move again for a straight hour and a half, unless it was to paddle farther out, away from the splishers and splashers closer in to the water’s edge. To be honest, I didn’t even do that much. I just grabbed Steve’s feet and let him tow me.

We dodged the odd pontoon boat and a flotilla of loons, speculated about whether or not the big painted turtle bobbing in the distance was hungry enough to go after our piggy wiggies, and baked in the afternoon sun. It was heaven.

And this year I mean to repeat myself at least twice a week from June through August. I mean it. I’ve already decided to wear a bathing suit to the studio every day just so I’ll be ready to hit the beach at the drop of hat.

I mean, what’s the point of living where all the lakes are if you never swim in them?

So that’s my list for the summer. Do you suppose I’ve forgotten anything?

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Dark Over Light

Dark Over Light, 6×9″ pastel on sanded paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia

On Saturdays I visit my mother-in-law. We moved her to Ludington not very long ago to have her closer to us. It used to be a 3 hour drive to go see her and now it’s a half hour or less. She’s only been in the memory care unit for a few weeks and she’s still trying to adjust.

Sometimes she’s feeling pretty good about things. But a lot of times she’s depressed. She knows her memory is failing and she doesn’t know anyone in the new place. It’s hard on her. Steve and I come see her 3-4 times a week.

Last Saturday I took her for a drive. We went to the beach and then to the boat landing by the river. Then we went back to the memory care place and worked on a jigsaw puzzle for a while. She got sleepy and decided to take a nap.

I sat on the floor in her room, waiting for her to nod off. She said, “You’ll be gone when I wake up.” I explained that I would be back again soon, that her son would be coming to visit in two days.

“You guys sure take good care of me,” she said.

“That’s because we love you,” I said.

“I love you, too.” she said.

“I know.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because you tell me all the time.”

“How do you know I’m telling the truth?”

“You have an honest face.”

That seemed to satisfy her. She leaned back and closed her eyes. I waited until I knew she was asleep and then left.

This painting is on ebay as of 9pm tonight. Bidding starts at 99¢.