watercolor of a big dune with pine trees along the crest

Tree Line and Dune, 4×6″ watercolor postcard by Marie Marfia. $60. 

In the mornings, I take the broom and dustpan and I sweep the kitchen floor. Then I lay out my yoga mat and select the Yoga Studio app on my iPad. I turn the volume down to about 4 so that it doesn’t wake Steve sleeping in the bedroom. For the next half hour I concentrate on my body and my breathing and try not to think about anything else. Of course my brain is always churning but after three years I feel like I’m making progress.

When I go to the studio, I have other rituals. To prep for a pastel painting, first I see what’s available in my pile of mat board odds and ends. Then I think about what size I want and trim the mat board to fit. I attach it to a foam core board with artist tape and put it on the easel. Next I get out my clear gesso and a large brush and slather it on. I like to play with the brush strokes, depending on my mood. Most times they’re organic and curvy, sometimes they’re straight and uniform. While the mat board dries I print out a reference photo and make a notan or two, then a color study on a small piece of paper. By then my mat board is dry and ready to be painted and I’m eager to begin.

If I’m doing a watercolor postcard, the ritual is much quicker. First I pick a reference photo from the gallery on my phone, load my travel brush with water, open my mini-watercolor paint set, line up a piece of paper and begin!

I find that rituals are important because they put my mind in the right place. They help me get ready for the day, for my work, for creating. If I don’t do my rituals I feel lost, adrift and rudderless. Rituals point me in the direction that I want to go.

This spring I’ve started a new ritual, walking around in the woods near where we live. We put the dogs in the truck, pack the long leashes, a few treats, water, the plat book and maps, and then we drive around the Manistee National Forest. We might be looking for camping spots or maybe places where we might find mushrooms. We find a place to park and let the dogs out and then we wander. Sometimes we walk along the Pere Marquette River, sometimes we discover a little lake or pond and find traces of beaver or muskrat. Sometimes we just walk along the sandy roads, following the dogs following their noses.

The forest changes every day. The light is different, with the leaves and ferns reflecting the sun or the clouds, depending. I need to be out under the trees, tramping across the leaf litter, feeling the sun or the wind on my face. It recharges me spiritually and emotionally and it inspires my paintings. It’s being out in the woods, smelling flowers and dirt, hearing the wind in the leaves, seeing the creatures that are out there, feeling the texture of bark and grasses, that really helps me understand what I’m painting. I can’t get that experience by just driving by or watching it on television or seeing a picture of it on someone’s Facebook feed.

It’s really wonderful to be back in Michigan after so many years away. When we left I had been walking in the forest every day but I wasn’t yet a pastel artist. Now that we’re back here again I’m taking up my old ritual of being in the forest and combining it with my new ritual of daily painting. I am looking forward to what’s going to happen with this new combination. I expect it’s going to be awesome.



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