Category Archives: portraits

pastel portrait of a laughing woman

Time lapse portrait of a friend

pastel portrait of a laughing woman

Laughing Lizzie, 9×6″ pastel on paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

Session 1

This is my friend, Liz. She sent me three pictures of herself to work with. I liked the one of her laughing the best. I still have to finish this one, so check back for the final version. This is a 9×6″ pastel on moonstone color Canson mi-teintes paper.

Session 2

Session 3

Here’s my reference.




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!

Joe and Anna, 11×14″ pastel on sanded paper. WIP.
pastel painting of a young woman

No. 86, Arielle

This woman. She is full of ideas, and mischief, which is kind of the same thing. I wanted to paint her in the style of an artist I only just found out about this morning, Richard Suckling. His plein aire landscapes are full of big marks and squiggly lines and I want my art to be like that, so today I did a more gestural drawing to start with and then I made sure I stopped before I’d completely covered it up. I like the lines! I think they give my work a more dynamic feel. And Arielle is the perfect subject for this, because she’s all about movement. She wants to do things, to change things, to make things better. She’s a mover and a shaker and this is what I see reflected in this portrait. Aahh! Love it.

Ariel, No. 23, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia

You may remember Arielle as this skull painting (No. 23 in this series), as well. She’s awesome on the inside, too.

pastel painting of a young woman

Arielle, No. 86, 100 Portratis in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

pastel painting of a dachshund puppy dog

No. 84, Kippy

I made a few new furry friends over the weekend when Steve and I went to visit his mom. She lives in an assisted living facility in Flint, Michigan. As soon as we arrived we hustled her down to the lobby because there were puppies!

Well, they’re probably grown dogs, but they’re miniature dachshunds so they look tiny and are so much fun to pet and hold! Miss Diana likes to pet them a little but she’s mostly there to spend time with Johanna, her friend. Johanna loves the dogs and she makes a point of coming to see them whenever they visit. She has a particular favorite, Shelby, who sits on her lap like a little queen and allows herself to be petted by no one but Johanna for the entire hour. It’s cute and sweet and makes Johanna so happy.

Kippy, the puppy I painted today, was off being held by someone else. I snuck in a picture of him to paint later and here it is.

pastel painting of a dachshund puppy dog

Kippy, No. 84, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia. Available here.

pastel painting of a couple

No. 80-81, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, Mary and Jonathan

You know why I like this picture? Because my sister is in it and she’s got a little bit of white fuzz on her head. This means she’s still alive, the cancer didn’t kill her and her hair is coming back. Also, I love that her partner Jonathan is right there with her, that they’re leaning into each other, supporting each other.

It was fun to paint, too, at first. And then it sucked. And then it was fun again towards the end. And then it went wrong and I decided to quit before it all blew up.

I never know what I’m going to get when I start one of these. And when the subject is important to me, it makes it tougher. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that nothing is precious, that a painting is just a painting, that if I drew it once I can draw it again. It still feels as if each one is the only one I’m ever going to do. I still find myself angry and frustrated when it’s not going well.

When that happens, I go for a walk, or I read something inspiring, or I write and try to figure out why I’m so upset. You’d think it would be obvious. I mean, I’m me, who better to know what’s bugging me, right? But sometimes I’m the last to know.

pastel painting of a couple

No. 80-81, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, Mary and Jonathan, 8×10″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia

Pastel portrait of Steve with a beard.

Happy New Year!

Okay, I’m a little late, but it’s okay. I’m the only one here and I’m not going to tell.

Along that line, I have a confession to make. I left my dogs home again.

Is it wrong? It’s so cold here at the Maker’s Market anyway. I know they’re fine at home with Steve. I just feel guilty leaving them behind every morning when I take off for the studio. But I’m also interested in how my brain works without being interrupted by the needs of my pets all day.

Back when my kids were small I used to take one weekend off a year to go camp with my girlfriends. I would have a wonderful time just being me for three or four days. No one called me Mom, or asked me to do anything for them, or needed to be nursed or changed or rocked. It was bliss.

Then, when I arrived back home, I noticed that my kids were smaller than I remembered.

I think that all the worrying and caregiving that I do and did made my charges grow to enormous sizes in my head. All it took to shrink them back to normal was some time away from them.

It’s the same with world problems and pet problems and any kind of problems. The more I worry and fret, the bigger they get. But all I have to do is turn off the radio, or get some distance away from them, even if it’s just for a few hours, and poof! they are reduced to manageable sizes again. It’s magical.

Here’s today’s portrait, No. 79, Steve with a Beard. Still slogging toward the finish of 100 Portraits in 100 Days.

I like this portrait because it was quick, about 20 minutes, and the strokes are expressive and loose. I got a likeness without belaboring the point. That’s all I really wanted.

Pastel portrait of Steve with a beard.

Steve with a Beard, No. 79, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia.

pastel portrait of my husband


pastel portrait of my husband

No. 76, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on mat board with pumice ground by Marie Marfia

There are days when I just don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to paint, I don’t want to do yoga, I don’t want to do my job.

The whole thing just feels overwhelming. So, since I usually can’t skip whatever it is because hey, I’m a grown up and grown ups just carry on, I try to break it down into small, bite-sized pieces.

Today, for instance, I decided not to think about how hard portraits can be, and how much time they take to do, and instead I concentrated on just getting a board ready to paint. Sometimes just doing the stuff that leads up to the painting can help me feel better.

So I found a piece of mat board and cut it to the right size and taped it to my easel. Then I mixed up some acrylic pumice ground with a little water and brushed it on the board. While I let it dry, I opened my photo reference in Photoshop and cropped it and then printed out three references, one black and white, one posterized and one regular.

I took the regular photo reference and made pencil lines on it using a ruler, marking the picture into quarters and then putting lines in for where the eyes were, where the chin and top of the head fell, the edges of the face. I drew plumb lines from the corners of the eyes and the mouth and the nostrils.

When I got that done I decided to go ahead and begin the preliminary sketch using a blue pastel pencil and measuring as I went along. Once that I was done I took a break.

I like to sit and think about the painting and what kind of underpainting I’m going to do, what colors are in the photo, what kind of day it was when I took the picture, what color the light is and what the colors of the shadows should be.

After a little while I get out my pastels and start blocking in the shadows and the lights using the black and white reference. I generally use four values for the underpainting. In this case, I used 4 warm blues for the face and some purples for the background. Then I rub in the color with foam pipe insulation.

After the block in I use the posterized reference to put in some colors over the underpainting, keeping mostly the same values.

Another break and then I taped up the regular photo and began to put color in, trying to marry the sections together and bring what was already there more in line with what I saw in the photo. This is the hardest part and where I’m most likely to have a melt down. The trick is to squint a lot and be patient. Sometimes the painting doesn’t want to cooperate, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own. Those are the best days.

Today was a very good day. I’m glad I painted today.


Pastel portrait of a young woman.


pastel portrait of a trans gender person

No. 75, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

I like this one because it’s on mat board with pumice ground applied with a brush and you can see the lines and whorls of the brush strokes behind the color. I like it because it’s Sam just on the cusp of deciding whether or not to be pissed off or scared.

Sam is my middle child.

Sam is a writer. She likes to make up fantasy and science fiction stories. She’s also a pretty good dungeon mistress, or so I’m told. I tried to play D & D with Sam once but I couldn’t get into it. Probably I’m just not a very good team player. The other reason has to do with me hating to fail at anything. It’s another sort of failing, which is hilarious on the one hand, and kinda sad on the other.

One of the things that happens when you create stuff is that you fail. A lot. But sometimes you end up with something quite wonderful. I think of it as a type of conditioning. You know how you teach lab rats to push a green button by giving them a treat every so often? I can’t remember what it’s called, but it’s what keeps me painting. I never know when I start what I’m going to end up with. I’m hoping for a treat, but lots of times it’s just not what I wanted.

I’ve read of methods where you visualize what you want before you start, but this isn’t how I work. I like to feel my way as I go. I have some methods that I use, sure, but I’m still learning this as I go, so they’re not foolproof. I can spend way too much time on a portrait and end up with nothing very good.

So today I’m pretty happy, because this happened. I’m glad I decided (again) to paint.





painting of skeleton couple

Nos. 16-17, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

Nos. 16-17, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

painting of skeleton couple
Nos. 16-17, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 8×10″ pastel on UArt 400 sanded paper, mounted on foam core, by Marie Marfia.

Here’s a cute couple. From the reflections in their sunglasses, I think they must’ve been at a park when they took their picture. Awesome! I’m a nature gal, myself. Although, I can get my fill in an hour or two. I love walking the trails, but I don’t want to be out there all day! I got stuff to do! Places to go! People to see! Know what I mean?

You’ll notice that on this portrait I opted to use a distorted grid. Couldn’t resist. It was such a twisted sort of skeleton portrait to do.

Here’s the progress pics:

Read more about my 100 Portraits in 100 Days project, and follow along on Facebook or Instagram or TwitterSign up for my newsletter and be the first to see my portraits as I finish them!

a pastel portrait of a woman and her grandson

Nos. 14-15, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

Nos. 14-15, 100 Portraits in 100 Days

Here we have my neighbor Judy and her grandson, Steve.

Judy is a marvel and a nice person. I’m glad I met her. She’s been keeping me up to date on all the happenings in my new neighborhood. Who’s moving in where, who’s up for the weekend, where to get the best deal on propane.

a pastel portrait of a woman and her grandson
Nos. 14-15, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 10×8″ pastel on UArt 400 sanded paper, mounted on foam core, by Marie Marfia. Sold.

For this painting I had to do a little adjusting in Photoshop, since Judy’s head was tilted and was too far away from Steve’s head. And then do some more adjusting on the painting itself because she was closer to the light source and her skin was pretty washed out. That’s the challenge of working with other people’s photos. You never know what you’re going to get.

Here are the progress photos:

Read more about my 100 Portraits in 100 Days project, and follow along on Facebook or Instagram or TwitterSign up for my newsletter and be the first to see my portraits as I finish them!