Category Archives: Skelly dancer

Closing in on done

The Skelly Dance, WIP

The Skelly Dance, WIP

Do you ever get to a point in a project when you just want to be finished? That’s where I am right now. But I know it’s not finished yet. So I’m going to set it aside for a while and figure out what’s bothering me about it and really be done when I say I’m done. I’m close, but there are still lots of parts of this that I’m not happy about. If I didn’t think I could fix them, I’d quit right now. But I can do this.

So you’ll be seeing this one again, but it might take a little while. Some things come clear after you let go of them for a bit. This feels like that sort of project.

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The Skelly Dance, work in progress

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The Skelly Dance, work in progress

The Dance by Henri Matisse

The Dance by Henri Matisse

I have begun another in the Old (Dead) Masters series. This is based on Henri Matisse’s The Dance, which is another classic work that I love.

I think what I like best about this painting is the dancing, of course. I also love how their arms make a heart shape. I love the colors, red against cool blue and green. I love that they’re naked. It’s interesting that once I make them into skeletons, there won’t be any way to tell what sex they are.

I did another version of this back when I was in college, but this is the first time I’m tackling it with skeletons. It’s also the largest pastel I’ve ever done. Matisse’s work was around a hundred inches tall by a hundred fifty inches wide. Mine will be 20 x 30″, only a fifth of the size of his. I think about how much canvas he covered and it makes me want to paint really big, too. I swear, before the end of the year, I will find a way to make something enormous-sized. I want to use my whole body to draw.

I’m going for the same primitive feel for my skellies as Matisse used in his painting, so trying to limit the detail. It’s a lot of fun, as usual. Can skeletons ever not be fun?

Here’s some progress shots. More to come, so stay tuned!

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Decisions, decisions!

Aren't these pretty?

Here are my 5×7″ prints, double-matted to fit perfectly into 8×10″ frames. Sweet!

I’ve got twelve different double matted prints all wrapped up and ready to go for October’s show at The Red Sable. These will be for sale, $12 each or 3 for $30.

Now I’m on to note cards. I figured to put 2 each of 2 different designs into each package and charge $8 or 3 packages/$20. The question is, which ones should I combine with which?

Here are the choices:

Should I put two dancers together? The mermaid and the lighthouse? Pull my finger and the couple in the Ghost Trolley? Which ones would you like to see paired together? Or should I just make all four cards in the package the same? Let me know in the comments!


Shall We Dance?

pastel painting of a skeleton couple dancing on the beach

Shall We Dance? 24×18″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia, $645.

I admit it, I’m a sucker for romance. Old movies, fairy tales, dancing with your baby after dark. I love all of that. How about you? Do you like to watch the same old happy endings over and over again?

I think that’s why I love doing these skeletons. They aren’t embarrassed to get caught gazing into each other’s eye sockets. They just do as they please, and if that’s a beach bop on the shore in front of everybody, so be it.

When I thought of the name for this piece, I immediately began hearing “Shall We Dance?” that song in “The King and I,” an old musical with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. I used to watch that movie every chance I got when I was young, and then later with my daughter. I loved how they kept dancing faster and faster until Miss Anna was quite out of breath and the King of Siam had a particular look in his eye, maybe thinking, “Hmm, there’s more to this dancing stuff than I thought.” It sure seems to get the everyone breathing hard, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s not an issue when you’re a skeleton. You could dance all night and never get tired.

If you’d like to purchase “Shall We Dance,” it’s available for $645. Contact me via email and I’ll get right back to you with purchasing and shipping info.

New to pastels? Read about their care and feeding here.

pastel painting of a skeleton couple dancing on the beach, detail.

Shall We Dance? detail, 24×18″ pastel on Canson mi teintes paper by Marie Marfia.



Where did skellies come from?

pastel painting of a belly dancer on paper

Julianne, Belly Dancer Series. Sold.

Skellies started out as a variation on 100 Belly Dancers, which was the first pastel series I ever did. A couple years ago, I’d gotten through about half of my goal to draw a hundred pictures of a local belly dancing troupe, and I was feeling the need to do something different. You know how it is when you’re in the middle of something and all you can see is the other half of the mountain left to climb? I needed a break.

I thought about painting a belly dancer in the style of a famous artist, but which one? Then a friend suggested Salvador Dali and right away my brain began running with it. I decided if I were Mr. Dali, I would paint a skeleton, rather than a fleshy figure, and it seemed only natural to put her on the beach. I ended up doing around ten “Skelly Dancers,” (that’s a play on “belly dancers,” get it?) and then, refreshed, I finished my original series.

I get the call

skeleton belly dancer on the beach

Skelly Dancer No. 1, 20×16″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia

Fast forward about six months when I received a call from Joyce Hayes of the Starving Artist Gallery, in St. Augustine, Florida, where I was currently showing my skellies. She asked if I’d be interested in having a show at the local Limelight Theater in St. Augustine for the duration of The Addams Family Musical. I couldn’t say yes fast enough! There was just one problem. I had sold most of the original Skelly Dancers already and only had a few left. Joyce said there was room at the Limelight Gallery for 20 paintings if I wanted the space. This left me only two months to come up with another 15 finished paintings before the show opening.

At first, I thought about not doing skeleton paintings for the show. Why not do Addams Family portraits instead? But I discarded this idea pretty quickly. I wasn’t that interested in recreating someone else’s work for this, my first almost solo art show. Eventually, I decided to do skeletons, but rather than just dancing, I wanted them to be actively hanging out in St. Augustine, being tourists. I decided to call the show, Greetings from St. Augustine.

If you’ve ever been to St. Augustine, Florida, you know that it’s a great tourist destination. There are beaches, historical landmarks, eateries, trolley tours, horse-drawn carriages, the works! Plus it’s often billed as the Oldest City in America. I thought about how many ghosts must be haunting the area and what their after lives must be like. Ghosts probably had a lot of free time. What would they do with it all? Added to that, ghost tours are a huge draw in St. Augustine and they offer them all year long. I’ve been on a few myself and they’re creepily fun. So this would be perfect! I had my focus.

Right away I began doing the math to see how many paintings per week it’d take to fill the Limelight, subtracting the time I’d need to frame everything. I’d need to do three paintings a week, minimum, to have enough to fill the gallery. Not impossible, but pretty intense. But happily, I work well under deadlines. It’s the nearly 30 years of graphic design in me that relishes a challenge, I think. I took a deep breath and got to work.

I went a little nuts

pastel painting of a skeleton at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida

I Think It’s Working, skeleton at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida. Click to see larger image.

The next two months were crazy. One painting idea led naturally to another. I especially loved coming up with the titles. They became more and more fun to do as I went along. I made numerous trips to St. Augustine from my home in Jacksonville, to take reference photos for more paintings, using my husband Steve as my model, and just soaking up the touristy ambience.

On the night of the Addams Family Musical’s first performance, I and my husband both attended and enjoyed a great show with wonderful and talented performers. It almost didn’t matter. I was much more interested in seeing people’s reactions to my skeleton art. Some people chuckled at the art and the titles, and others physically hid their faces from the frames, unable to look at them. This kind of freaked me out. At least, people weren’t indifferent, I told myself.

I needn’t have worried. By the end of the show’s run, I’d not only sold original work, but also lots of prints and cards. The box office said they’d never had that kind of response to artwork in the gallery before, so they were thrilled and I was quite pleased. I again put the skeletons away, thinking that it had been fun and now it was over and time to move on.

They just wouldn’t stay dead

But even now, a year later, they haven’t been exactly resting in peace. The prints and cards keep selling. Skelly fans keep sending me ideas for more paintings. I keep doodling skeletons on my sketch pads. Recently, I had card collectors tell me they like to use the cards in collages. This makes me very happy! I love that people want to use my art to make more art! Recently I submitted them to a licensing agency and they were accepted for representation (Art Licensing International, Inc.)! Woohoo! So, for the next couple of years, at least, I’ll be revisiting these capering bags of bones on a regular basis.

And I’m glad

Why is this? It’s definitely not because they’re easy to draw. I mean, all those little bones! Fingers and toes are just killer on these things. Lately, I’ve toyed with the idea of putting shoes and gloves on them, just to cut down on the labor, but that would be cheating, of course.

One thing I don’t have to worry about is catching a likeness. I mean, a skeleton could be anyone, or any sex, or any skin color. You can’t tell because it’s just bones.
Maybe that’s part of why I like them so much. They’re every body, one size fits all, one size is all.

And I think, too, about how everyone’s got skeletons in the closet, even me. But painting them is a way for me to let them out to play, to dance to the music, to crack jokes, to behave in outrageous ways, to be themselves, without giving too much away, without getting depressed, without fear of the consequences.

Pastel painting of a skeleton couple dancing at an outdoor cafe.

Skelly Dance at Bougival, 24×12″ pastel on paper by Marie Marfia. Click to see larger image.

Whatever they are, they used to be alive at one time. They’ve passed on, but they’re not unhappy about it. They’re doing everything they’ve always wanted to do. Nobody can stop them. There’s no threat that will scare them, because, guess what? They’re already dead!

They’re just bags of bones dancing on a beach somewhere, uncaring about anything but the ghost of a tune playing in their heads. That’s freedom, right there. Long may they reign.


Skelly couple dancing on the beach, work in progress

That’s probably not the final name for this one, but it’s coming along and I thought I’d share the first few steps in this painting. A skeleton couple dancing together makes perfect sense to me. Double the pleasure, double the fun!


Wave Portrait No. 129

I just have to get back to daily small painting again. I miss it. Woman cannot live by skellies alone! So here’s a wave painting that I did this morning. I used a piece of UArt paper that had a failed painting on it, brushing some rubbing alcohol over it for an underpainting. Then I worked quickly, trying hard not to fiddle with it too much. It’s on my Etsy site for $70, includes shipping anywhere in the USA. Or if you’d rather have a print, it’s on my Fine Art America site, in a range of sizes.

pastel painting of an ocean wave

Wave Portrait No. 129, 5×7″ pastel on UArt paper by Marie Marfia. $70 in my Etsy shop, prints available at Fine Art America.

Blue Skelly Dancers final

I started a membership on Fine Art America, just so I could see what this finished piece looks like as a shower curtain. I think I must have one, but it might not be to everyone’s taste. If you’d rather have a print, click the link and order the size you like. They’ll even frame it for you or you can have it on canvas or as a throw pillow… whatever your heart desires! I’m also offering the original painting for $512 in my Etsy shop.

pastel painting of Degas' Blue Dancers as skeletons

Blue Skelly Dancers from the Old (Dead) Masters Series, 16×16″ pastel on Canson paper by Marie Marfia. $512 in my Etsy shop. Prints (and shower curtains) available at Fine Art America.

Other good news

Since signing a contract in June, I’ve received two deals through Art Licensing International, Inc. for which I am very grateful. One is a company called Leotie Fashion and Lifestyle in Germany, and the other is from


What’s in my head?

I’m not sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s trying to get out. Up next is my skelly version of a lovely Edward Degas Blue Dancers painting. Since I love them so much, it’s only proper that I flay them down to the bone for my own amusement. Wonder if there’s an easier way to draw a rib cage? Maybe model the thing as a solid form and then put in the negative space? These are kicking my behind for sure. Glad I got the deluxe skeleton model from American Science and Surplus, otherwise I’d be truly lost.

pastel painting homage to Degas blue dancers

Blue Skelly Dancers, WIP, 16×16″ pastel on Canson paper by Marie Marfia

Report on the Steampunk Art Show

Success! My friend’s crafty steampunk “Ladies ARTillery” display drew lots of people who took pictures and signed up for a  mailing list and bid on the silent auction item. This Airship Purse in particular got lots of oohs and aahs all night. Not surprising, really. She makes awesome stuff.

steam punk airship purse

Airship Handbag by Anney Day.

First Coast Pastel Society Member Show at the Jewish Community Alliance, September 4-30, 2015

I’m submitting two recent skelly paintings to this show, Skelly Dance at Bougival and Madame X-Ray. If you’ve never been to the JCA, it’s a beautiful facility on San Jose Boulevard, just north of Baymeadows. Here’s the address: 8505 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32217. There is no opening reception for this show, so check the hours, and then come when you like to enjoy wonderful pastel art by local artists.

Coming up

Here are some pics I took at the beach last night, while out enjoying the cool breezes with my beloved. I will get busy turning them into awesome pastel paintings, so stay tuned. And then after that, I have ideas for about a dozen more skelly paintings, and then there’s the show at the Red Sable in October, plus a half dozen other ideas stewing around in my brain pan. It’s good to be busy.

photo of surf at the beach

I took a couple of movies of the surf, so I could play back the sound of waves crashing later.

photo of couple with dog at the beach

Every time the woman would throw the dog’s toy, the man would have to race out into the surf also because he had hold of the leash.

photo of clouds backlit by the setting sun

I took dozens of photos of the clouds back lit by the sun on the way home. I need practice with the sky and this would be an awesome start to a series.