Category Archives: painting a day

plein air pastel set up

You never know what kind of fauna you’ll meet in the woods

I promised myself to do more plein air painting this summer and so last weekend I brought along my backpack full of pastels when I went walking in the woods with my dogs.

I really like going out into the Manistee National Forest. You can see deer and chipmunks, porcupines and ‘possums. There are tons of birds calling. Sometimes I whistle back to try to lure them in closer so I can identify them. I take pictures of everything that catches my eye. Bees buzzing on the roadside flowers, the way the sky angles down to crack open the tree line, a 2-track wiggling around a corner. It’s peaceful, relaxing, meditative. The perfect start to a weekend.

I drove to a nearby intersection in the woods just off south Walhalla Road, spritzed myself and the dogs liberally with bug spray (it’s never not deerfly season), and traipsed down the path. All too soon I heard the telltale whine of a small engine and quickly led the dogs to one side. We watched as a dirt bike zipped past us. “Haha, that was close,” I thought.

A bit later, I heard the sound of a dirt bike again. We stepped off the two-track but this time there were two bikes instead of one. I couldn’t tell whether or not either was the same person as before but I decided that probably the first one had met up with the second one and they were out exploring the woods together. Kind of sweet, really. One of them even waved at us.

Within ten minutes they were back, going the other way, only now there were three of them! Hmm. It was getting kind of busy out in the woods. I considered going back the car and calling off my plein air practice day. Were dirt bike riders more aggressive in groups?

I kept on, though, determined to get a painting day in. A couple more times I thought there were bikers coming but it turned out to be just the echoes of their engines as they criss-crossed the trails all around us. We waited in the tall grass, listening to what sounded like a veritable hornets’ nest fading away in the distance.

Eventually, I found a spot to set up. It was beautiful, the morning sun dappling the ground, kissing the ferns and foliage all around. A perfect place to paint.

I tied up the dogs far enough off the path to keep them out of harm’s way and unpacked my kit. Where to start? I picked a scene with sun coming through the trees and lighting up the forest floor and began to do a black and white thumbnail sketch. Then I taped a piece of paper to my foam board and began blocking in my painting.

Roger and Daisy, my faithful plein air painting companions.

Within ten minutes I heard the now all too familiar buzz of approaching bike engines. Skipping to one side, I counted riders as they zoomed past. One, three, seven, eight! Where were they all coming from? Was there a spawning ground around here?

Increasingly nervous, I quickly finished my first study, stopping and listening every few minutes, in case I needed to move off the path again. For the next study, I lost my meditative groove completely, went right past the preliminaries, and dove straight into the painting. Another group of riders whipped by, leaving clouds of dust and two-stroke exhaust in their wake.

I decided to pack up and get out during a lull. Should I try to make it to a main road and walk back to my car from there? Except it would add another mile or two to my hike and all I really wanted to do now was go home where it was quiet and have a cup of coffee. I shortened the leashes and we quick-marched back the way we’d come.

I saw three more sets of bikes before I got to the car, one with a go Pro camera on his/her helmet. I wonder if I’ll make the final cut?

In hindsight, I should have been painting dirt bikes all along, of course, since that’s what was the most plentiful thing out there, but it was my first time. I was nervous about drawing their attention, so to speak.

At least I managed to get a picture. Here’s Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus out in the wilds of Fountain, Michigan. Ride on, you magnificent brute, ride on.

dirt bike in the woods

Dirtus Bikus Plein Airus Interruptus

Oh, and here are the two studies I managed during my Saturday morning paint out. The art life is full of adventure, isn’t it? Who knew?

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 1

Manistee National Forest 080418 No. 2


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Curious Cow

acrylic painting of a cow face

Sunny Cow, No. 5, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

Curious Cow

No. 5 is a quickie because I have to go down to Grand Rapids to meet up with my brother and his wife. We’re going to plant flowers in the family cemetery plots today. It’s always a great time to catch up. Joe says he wants to stop at a flea market that’s on the way, not to buy anything, but just to look at stuff and think about them. I can get behind that!

 

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acrylic painting of a pit bull dog face in purple

004 Purple Dog

acrylic painting of a pit bull dog face in purple

Purple Dog, no. 4, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

Purple Dog

I remembered this morning that I had the Anderson Creek Kennels facebook page to use for inspiration and sure enough, there was a sweet pit in today’s pictures. I’ll probably do a bunch of doggy portraits. They’re really perfect for this size.

Calling it finished

Also figured out what to do with the background on this portrait of my brother Joe and his wife Anna. Two of my favorite people in the world. This was a pleasure to complete.

pastel portrait of a couple smiling

Joe and Anna, 11×14″ pastel on sanded paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

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Yellow Face

acrylic painting of a woman's face

Yellow Face, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

Yellow Face

This is number 3. Kind of a lot different from yesterday’s attempt. As is my m.o., I thought to myself, why stress about this? Just have fun. Do a doodle and see what happens. And about five hundred iterations later, this is what I have. So I quit for today. Maybe tomorrow will feel more like playing and less like torture. I’ll keep my fingers crossed and paintbrushes at the ready.

Progress is still being made

I am also working on finishing this portrait of my brother Joe and his wife Anna. I’ve been mostly staring at it for about a week now. I think I want to do something different with the background, but not sure what. Ima do some research and play with the picture in photoshop. Stay tuned!

pastel portrait of smiling couple

Joe and Anna, 11×14″ pastel on sanded paper. WIP.

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landscape painting with mustard field under a gray sky

That’s the Mustard

landscape painting with mustard field under a gray sky

That’s the Mustard, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

That’s the Mustard

Clearly I need more practice at this! I watched a video about blending, which I didn’t really need to do any for this painting of a field of mustard that’s on my way to work (or home, depending). I was drawn to paint the field because it glows yellow green right now and I wanted to capture that. I don’t think I did, really, so I tried it a couple of times with pastels and still not really there for me. Oh well. I’ll keep plugging away at it. Maybe when I look at it again tomorrow it will seem better than it does today. This happens to me a lot.

In other news

Hey, at least I’ve licked my picture hanging system problem! Actually, Steve was once again a really big help. He wields all the tools with consummate skill, I must say.

We spent part of the weekend and yesterday putting up electrical conduit. I’m going to suspend the art in the James Street Gallery from it using picture hanging wire, braces and STAS picture hooks. Sweet!

A big thank you to my friend Liz for giving me the idea to do it this way. It’s saving me a ton of money and it’s going to look pretty cool.


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red wing blackbird silhouette painting

So it begins!

New project!

This summer I’ve decided I want to learn to paint with acrylics. So, as I’ve done before here and here, I’m committing to painting a small acrylic painting every day for the next 100 days. At the end of that time I hope to be more comfortable painting in acrylic and to have a bunch of work to show for my efforts.

Unlike my previous projects, I don’t entirely know what I’ll be concentrating on as far as subject matter goes. Right now I figure I’ll paint whatever subject appeals to me in the moment, concentrating on technique and composition rather than say, landscapes or portraits.

Today’s painting is based on a video tutorial that I watched this morning. The tutorial was about making a dark to light background and featured a bird and some branches in silhouette. It used just two colors—black and white—to make it easier for a novice (that would be me!) to get the hang of blending and simple enough that I would have a nice painting at the end.

I was inspired by the idea of a bird and also the graduated background. But of course I had to mix it up a little bit. Two colors? Nah. How about four?

See, I love to get up before the sun and watch it coloring the sky orange and gold and shining through the trees, so I decided to make my background reflect the color of the sky from this morning. So I needed red and yellow for that. For the bird I picked a red winged blackbird because they have so much personality and they’re everywhere around here. Plus, they have lovely red and yellow epaulettes on their shoulders, so I thought that would be perfect with my peachy background.

Here’s today’s effort:

red wing blackbird silhouette painting

001 Red Winged Blackbird, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

Fear not, I am not giving up on pastels! I will continue to work with them because I love doing it. But it’s always good to shake things up if you possibly can, try something new. Keeps me thinking creatively, and who doesn’t need more of that?

I’ll be posting them here on my blog, so if you’d like to keep track of my progress, please bookmark this page and come back often. Or come and visit me in Ludington, Michigan. I have a new exhibit space next to the Bonafide Gallery called James St. Gallery and I’ll be hanging these paintings there all summer. Hope to see you soon!


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Sunset over Sumner Lake

pastel painting of a sunset over Sumner Lake in New Mexico

Sunset Over Sumner Lake, 6×9″ pastel on paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia

Sunset over Sumner Lake

So Steve and I had been kind of racing to get to this place. It was the only state park within striking distance of where we’d started earlier in the day. It had water, a real rarity in New Mexico, and when I’d called earlier to find about about availability the ranger on the phone told me there were a few full hookup sites still available.

Of course, by the time we rolled in, the full hookup sites were all gone, so we moseyed down to the boat launch on the lake to see if there was anything down there. Ended up talking to this grit who was there with his two grandsons. It turned out that all along the lake was open camping, meaning if you could fit your unit in there, you could camp there. We ended up on a little bluff over the water, not too far away from this guy, but far enough that if they wanted to get rowdy, we’d never hear it.

Then we went and sat on a big flat rock by the water with a couple of beers and watched the sun go down. We found that by holding our bottles just so into the wind they “sang” for us. We amused ourselves for quite a while this way, until my hat blew off my head and Steve had to go rescue it. Lovely.

This painting is available in my ebay store. Listings start at $4.99, go for 7 days and include free shipping.

If you like what you’re seeing and reading, sign up for my newsletter, Bone Appetit (on the right). You’ll get regular updates on what’s happening in my studio plus exclusive access to twice yearly sales on my originals, prints and cards.

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In the Valley

pastel painting of a road through a landscape, cottonwood trees, mountains

In the Valley, 6×9″ pastel on Canson mi-teintes paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia

In the Valley

We were driving through New Mexico and had just reached the foothills of some mountains and then we were in this valley. The trees had just started to bud out, there was grass coming up, the morning sun was throwing shadows across the road, and I thought, “This is so pretty.” I could almost imagine living here.

Traveling with a camper is different from traveling between motel rooms. For one, it’s a lot cheaper to bring your own bedroom/kitchen combo along with you. Steve and I were interested in “dispersed camping” which is camping in Bureau of Land Management land or in National Forests wherever you can find a level spot to park your camper, basically.

When you camp like this, your scenery is definitely upgraded. No parking lots, no expressways. You look out your camper door in the morning and you might see a jackrabbit, or some birds, or deer. You definitely won’t see housekeeping staff out there.

I could do it some more, except I’d really like to be able to park somewhere and just be for a few days. Since we were on our way to Steve’s brother’s place in Tucson, we had to pack up and go every day. It’d be nice to just hang out and explore for a while. Sigh. Next time.

This painting is available in my ebay store. Listings start at $4.99, go for 7 days and include free shipping.

If you like what you’re seeing and reading, sign up for my newsletter, Bone Appetit (on the right). You’ll get regular updates on what’s happening in my studio plus exclusive access to twice yearly sales on my originals, prints and cards.

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Turning Out Austin

pastel painting of a horse and handler in a corral Turning Out Austin

Turning Out Austin, 6×9″ pastel on Canson mi-teintes paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia

“Turning Out Austin” is a painting about my niece Nathalie’s horse, a rescued thoroughbred and a sweet looking boy. Nathalie’s friend Pam is currently taking good care of Austin. I spent the last week with Steve camped behind Pam’s house in Tucson, AZ. This painting is based on a photo I took of Pam and Austin one morning last week. He was hungry! Pam was turning him out into a bigger paddock to have his breakfast and he just couldn’t wait to start eating!

It was lovely to hang out with Pam and her horses. I’ll have to paint some more of them soon!

More trip paintings to come

I’ll be posting more daily paintings from my recent camping trip out west, so stay tuned!

This painting is available on ebay.

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