Category Archives: Wave Portrait Series

Old dog, new trick

Skype Light, Wave Portrait No. 154, 5×7″ pastel on gessoed mat board, by Marie Marfia.

My fingertip taps the bright blue icon and I hear the familiar “zoooop” sound as Skype starts up. There are ten contacts but my eyes zero in on two, Sam and Nick, and I see the lights next to their names are bright green, which means they’re online. Chances are good they are playing a game together, Dungeons and Dragons probably. My finger hovers over Nick’s picture but then I change my mind and close the app. I don’t have anything to tell either of my kids, really, except I love and miss them, which they know already.

I sit, iPad on my lap, and rapidly exhaust all the internet urls in my favorites list. I scan the headlines on an endless array of amusing, educational, snarky articles, watch adorable pet videos, work sudoku puzzles and the Sunday crossword. Don’t I have anything else to do? Some larger purpose besides being a source of visits, views and clicks on other peoples’ websites?

My purposes have all flown the coop. I am not needed hourly, monthly or even yearly, if you go by one particular child’s  communication habits. I have nobody’s socks to pick up, no one’s meals to prepare, no one’s life to organize, except this one right here in front of me. All my brain, no longer portioned out evenly between three children, is now able to focus on just one life, my own, and it is apparently not that interesting.

The Skype light is a secret beacon, a dot of comfort. See? Both green lights are shining together, so I should be happy. They used to fight constantly at home, sending the dog running for cover. Once, they were looking particularly glum after coming home from the paper route they shared. They told me someone had pulled over on the street and stopped them from fighting. “You’re brothers,” the lady had scolded. “You ought to take care of each other.”

I sat them down and pointed out that they were more alike in their opinions than not. “You two agree with each other. You just come at it from different directions,” I said. “One of you is emotional, the other is logical.”

I see their bright green lights here on my iPad, in the evenings sometimes and most weekends. Now and then, it will just be one green light, and that’s my cue to send a quick message, “How’re you doing?” just to see if anyone needs anything. Old habits, old purposes are hard to change.

Here’s a time-lapse of this painting’s progression.



Party Time – Wave Portrait No. 146

Party Time, Wave Portrait No. 146, 5×7″ pastel painting on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and go somewhere, anywhere. I tried on fourteen different outfits. I fiddled with my hair. I put on make up. I thought about who I might talk to, what I would say, hoped there’d be dancing. I wanted to hang out with my friends, to meet someone new, to flirt.

When did pre-party anticipation turn into pre-party dread?

Now, it’s a struggle to leave the comfortable confines of my cave. Getting dressed up seems like so much work. Should I drink? Not drink? What shall I bring? Snacks? Dessert? Unthinkable to show up empty-handed! What if nobody eats it? Do I dare dance without my husband? Is that allowed?

What ever happened to just showing up and expecting to have fun? I swear, I am going to dedicate the rest of my life to remembering how that works. There’s too much seriousness in this world. It’s time to par-tay!

Here is the progression of this painting:


Sargrasso Sea, Wave Portrait No. 145

Sargrasso Sea, Wave Portrait No. 145, 5×7″ pastel painting on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

The first two houses Steve and I ever owned both had postage stamp-sized yards. That was fine with me because of the two us, I had the lower GLT (grass length tolerance) level and neither of them took more than a half hour to mow.

The lawn we have now could comfortably hold six or eight of our old lawns. Steve wanted a big ol’ yard when we moved here and, while I agreed that it’d be nice to have room for the kids to play, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to responsible for mowing it. So Steve bought a riding lawn mower, because, hey, that’s what you do when you have a big yard. Our son Nick liked mowing with the rider. I still remember seeing him racing around the yard in third gear, his hair streaming out behind him and a big grin on his face. He looked like a crazy person out there.

The kids are all gone now, so it’s just me and Steve and we still have this huge yard. Usually, Steve is pretty good about keeping it trimmed, but he’s gone until next week and it was starting to look pretty shaggy out there. I decided I’d mow it myself because 1. I am still plagued by a low GLT level, and 2. how hard could it be? I’d start early in the day before it got hot, and have it licked by 10am.

I used the push mower to do all the perimeter work and around all the trees and shrubs. That took about 45 minutes. I had already sweat through my clothes, but I drank a glass of ice water and went to get the riding mower fired up. Unfortunately, it had a flat tire and when I went to inflate it, the valve was buried under the rim somewhere. No problem, I thought. I’ll keep using the push mower. It won’t take that much longer to do. I walk every day. I’ve got this.

An hour later, with the ambient temperature at 90, I was having serious doubts about my ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other, much less push a mower at the same time. My legs felt like 40 lb. bags of cement. My hands were bruised from gripping the mower handle. I thought, I’ll stop when I finish this half of the yard. Three circuits later and I thought, I’ll stop when I run out of gas. Another circuit and I thought, I’m going to die if I don’t stop now. There’s a nice unmowed patch in the middle of the south side of the yard now. I’m thinking about calling it a wildflower garden and just letting it grow.

Here’s a progression of today’s painting:

I started with a gessoed piece of mat board, then blocked in with “dirt” colors, and rubbed the pastel in with pipe insulation. Then I came over the top with greens and blues, using direction strokes to mimic the way the grass grows in my huge lawn. I put a signature on before I was quite done with it, noticing as I took pictures what needed tweaking. Cameras are useful for this. I also included a picture of the pastel colors I used.


Stretched Thin – Wave Portrait No. 144

Stretched Thin-Wave Portrait No. 144, 5×7″ pastel painting of a wave in purple, gray and blue by Marie Marfia.

This is how I feel when I am in the middle of a project, in this case, re-doing my website, and I’m not familiar with the software, and there are too many choices, and the directions I’m following are three years old, so nothing matches, and I decide, screw it, I’m just going to do what I want, and all the while in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I just want the work to  already be done. I hate learning new things. Just leave me alone in my corner, sitting in a puddle of ignorance. I’m tired of all if it!”

This painting occurred to me while I was doing yoga of all things. I thought it was about feeling transparent, but it turned out to be about feeling inadequate to the task at hand.

Here are the progress pictures. I included a picture of the pastels I used for this painting.


Volcanic Activity, Wave Portrait No. 143

I snarled all the way home this morning, after dropping Steve off at the airport. I hate driving.

It’s too boring to list all the ways that my fellow drivers irritate the crap out of me, so I’m not going to. I just wish I was calmer about it, that’s all.

I go from zero to sixty in a heartbeat. One second I’m enjoying some story on the radio and the next I’m furiously flipping off the three cars that just passed me in the exit lane.

I don’t want to have my day spoiled by things I can’t control. There’s probably some kind of therapy for it, but so far I haven’t found anything that sticks. I am pinning my hopes on the future when, after we move away from this big city with its miles of roads and its oblivious drivers, I’ll remember how to be cool, calm and collected behind the wheel.

It’s been so long, though. Was I ever like that?

Volcanic Activity, Wave portrait No. 143, 5×7′ pastel painting on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia

Today’s painting was done on mat board that I painted with clear gesso. This gives me a tooth for my pastels, which you can see in the progression slide show. I blocked in color, then rubbed it all in with some pieces of swim noodle (another use for those!) and then came back in over the top with more colors. The sky is pink and blue because it’s where I want my brain to be. The red hot color under the dark wave shape is where I’m afraid my brain is at.

Here’s the progression of today’s painting:


Wave Portrait No. 142 – Coffee Time

My favorite time of day is coffee time at my brother’s house. Well before dawn I make my way to the kitchen, choose a mug, fill it with coffee, milk and sugar, and whisper, “Anyone need a warm up?”

The room next to the kitchen has a large, stuffed ottoman, wicker chairs covered with afghans, and floor pillows snug against the walls. The cats loll on the little table next to the window, purring. Low voices murmuring, we talk about everything and anything, a susurrus of ideas, laughter, and impractical dreams shared while waiting for the sun to make a decision about whether it’s going to get up or not. I always want to be the first one out there in the morning. My brother and his wife make the best coffee.

Coffee Time, 5×7″ pastel painting on UArt 600 sanded paper by Marie Marfia.

This painting started with a warm red, orange, and yellow underpainting. Then I layered blues and pink for the morning sky and browns and rusts and pinks for morning coffee with a little dark green thrown in to get that dark, dark earthy color.

Here is the process for today’s painting:

Here is an excerpt from my painting journal:

“Coffee, early morning, talking in low voices, cats lounging on the table, darkness before dawn, bare feet resting on the ottoman, the popping noise signaling a fresh pot ready…”

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Wave Portrait No. 141 – Forgiveness

While painting this piece, I thought about forgiveness. I thought about how hard it is to forgive someone who has hurt me and how long I hold grudges. I thought about how it’s impossible to forgive someone else if I can’t forgive myself first.

Wave Portrait No. 141-Forgiveness, 5×7″ pastel on UArt 600 sanded paper by Marie Marfia

I used purple, blue and black in this piece to represent bruising and hurt and I used green and yellow to represent healing. The pink is pure Pepto-Bismol because it coats, soothes and protects.

Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote after I painted it:

“You are a bag of hopes, dreams, contradictions, disappointments, and unexpected graces. Like everyone. You’re allowed to have slack. You can try again. You are not kicked out of the human race for fucking up. On the contrary, it’s proof that you belong.”

Here’s a slide show of the painting’s progression:

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Wave Portrait No. 140 – Nursing Home Visit

These latest Wave Portrait paintings are becoming more about myself than they are about the ocean or Lake Michigan. This is fine with me. They’re therapeutic. It occurs to me that I could’ve picked anything to draw to represent memories. It might have been a leaf or a tree or a teapot. Anything would’ve worked. It’s not important what the image is of, it’s more about what it represents, if that makes sense. Bear with me, I’m figuring this out as I go here.

What I’ve been doing is getting into the studio right after my first cup of coffee and just following my hand’s lead. I put a line down, or maybe several, and then I pick out a color and start to work with it. While I’m painting, I keep track of what I’m thinking. It might be a dream I had the night before, or a childhood memory or, in this case, my visits to the different nursing homes where my dad spent his last days.

A pastel painting of a wave in the colors of a nursing home visit to my father. 5×7″ pastel on UArt 400 sanded paper with NuPastels.

After I am done painting, I sit down with another cup of coffee and write about it. Here’s an excerpt from today’s painting journal:

“This painting uses colors that I remember from the nursing home; the dark green of the tall pines that enclosed the property; the brown crap that had to be cleaned from my father’s butt; the pink of the walls; the bright yellow of old pee smell that permeated everything; the lilac beet stains that polka-dotted the floor in the dining room. My father didn’t like beets and would fling them everywhere, sling-shotting them one by one from his fork and laughing.”

Here’s the progression of today’s painting:

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Plaid’s not bad

I just remember it that way.

5×7″ pastel painting on UArt paper by Marie Marfia.

When I was a teenager I remember shopping for clothes in the small five and dime store in my tiny hometown. I was with my mother and in a bad mood. I think every fifteen year old girl who goes shopping with her mother is this way. Anyway, I was trying on a sweet blue and pink and green plaid seersucker top in the dressing room when the shrieking harpy who owned the place swooped in and yanked the curtains to one side, announcing to everyone in the store, “Oh, that looks darling on you!” My mother was amused. I was not. It’s not plaid’s fault that I bore it a grudge ever after. Mom bought the top and matching shorts, because darling is darling, after all, but I never wore them.

Here’s the progression of today’s piece.

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