Tag Archives: pastel painting

Marie Marfia, Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16x20"

Painting to remember

I’ve been painting to remember lately. It’s partly because of the pandemic. I’m realizing that I need to pay more attention to the people that I care about and to make it a priority to spend time with them. Before Covid, there was all the time in the world. Now, not so much maybe. Another reason is painting the stories I want to keep helps solidify them in my brain for later. I’m aware of memory slippage happening as I get older. Details fade and sometimes whole stories. I wonder, was I really there when that happened? Why don’t I remember it if I was? 

My father’s side of the family suffered from dementia at the ends of their lives, all except Frank, who was killed during WWII, Marianne, who committed suicide, and Ben, who died of a coronary. Six siblings out of nine. So odds are that I and some of my siblings will go the same way. It’s like a cloud that hovers over you, not quite solid but never quite going away, either. Every failure to come up with a name or word that I know that I know prompts the inevitable moment of panic and a rush of internal questioning. Is this the beginning of my decline? Am I going to go down the same path as my dad? Is there anything I can do to stop this?

I spend a lot of time researching how to make my brain do its job for as long as it can. I solve a crossword puzzle and a sudoku puzzle every day, read a lot, and push myself to learn new things. Mostly I try to remain hopeful.

So I’ve started painting memories of days spent with my family. One, it gives me an excuse to paint people, which I like, and two, it helps cement memories of a particular occasion in my head.

First I look at my photos and decide on a story to tell. Then I try to distill my feelings about the story into a painting. Here are three from my last trip to see my sister and her extended family out in New York state. 

Mary Feeding the Chickens

Marie Marfia, Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16x20"
Mary Feeding the Chickens, soft pastel on textured gator board, 16×20″

This one is of my sister Mary and her original flock of chickens, now a few years old. She’s got a colander on her hip with red grapes in it. We had decided earlier that grapes, and specifically red grapes, weren’t very good. They tasted too sweet and not enough like the grapes we remembered as children. So these grapes became chicken treats.

Mary, me, my daughter Alice and her wife Sandra, and their daughter Maeve, had walked down the hill to feed grapes to the chickens. Since they were being cautious around all the new people, Mary leaned over the fence, hand full of grapes, to coax them closer. In my painting I removed the fence and the extra figures behind Mary. But I kept the house up on the hill and our trailer parked next to it. Also there’s the hint of the barn behind the trees on the left, which I may remove. I haven’t quite decided, yet. Mary’s jeans have grass stains on the knees because you spend an awful lot of time on your knees when you are working an organic farm. The weeds don’t pull themselves, you know.

Come out, chickens!

Marie Marfia, Come out, chickens, soft pastel on toned sanded paper, 9x12".
Come out, chickens! soft pastel on toned sanded paper, 9×12″. Sold.

In this painting, I wanted to capture Mary’s step-granddaughter, Alice, trying to convince a flock of young chickens to come out from under their coop. Alice is fairy-like in her demeanor. She has long blonde hair falling over her shoulders and a joyful look in her eye. She refers to people as “humans,” and she is perfectly happy playing with whoever is available, including two-year-old Maeve. I wanted to remember her optimism concerning timid pullets and whether or not they could be tempted out of hiding by a handful of dirt, a stick or one of their own feathers. She tried all of those things without success and never noticed the one watching her from the other side of the coop.

Time lapse for Come Out, Chickens!

Walking to the Barn

Marie Marfia, Walking to the Barn, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10x8"
Walking to the Barn study, soft pastel on sanded paper, 10×8″.

In this final painting, I took a photo of Mary as she was on her way back to the barn. I liked her upright form against the barn and the sunlit green grass. It’s a reminder to me of how her days begin. Up before the sun, out to feed the chickens, providing sustenance, and warm regards (“Good morning, sunshine!”). When I miss her most, I imagine myself walking in the dewy grass with her, and I feel better.

So much of how I remember is visual as well as emotional. Photos can be painful to look at sometimes, because so many feelings well up from them. I often put pictures away and close photo apps because it seems as though I might never stop crying once I start. I’m not sure why I want to cry but I’ll continue to explore it. I think it makes for better paintings. And paintings may soon be the only way I can share what I am feeling if or when the day comes that I no longer have the words.


Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!

Share
Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"

Old Bones

Recently I spent a day visiting the family cemeteries with my brother and his wife. It’s traditional to plant fresh flowers, wipe off the headstones, pull weeds and just spruce the plots up a bit before Memorial Day. I used to go with my mother.

As well as driving around the places where I spent my childhood, I like spending time with Joe and Anna. We tell stories to each other about the people under the headstones. There’s a lot of laughter mixed with the yarns and there’s something therapeutic about digging in the dirt. Anna always says goodbye to everyone before we head for the next stop.

I try to imagine what it would be like to be buried in one or another of the cemeteries–Fennville, South Haven or Covert. I think I’d like Covert best. It has lots of old trees, and the road that passes by there is quieter than the others. Also, Mom’s family were not given to as much drama as Dad’s and I think it would be more peaceful to spend eternity among low key folk.

In honor of Memorial Day weekend I decided to paint a picture of my father in uniform and this was the one that I chose. On the back of the original polaroid it says “This family lives in Room # 204,” and then lists the names of the men he’s standing with: Edwin Manson, Dan Mannen, Roy Mann, with my dad on the far right. This was a picture he sent home to his parents and I imagine he was trying to inject a little humor into what was otherwise an anxious time. From the letter, he was in air force training school in Miami and so these must have been some of his classmates as well as the guys closest to him alphabetically. The year is 1943, so he would have been in his twenties.

Though the original was black and white, the photo is sepia-colored now, and my memories of my father are taking on those faded overtones, too. As with any portrait, I have to decide which shapes to define, where the highlights will go, and what will stay buried in shadow.

Marie Marfia, This Family WIP, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12".
This Family, WIP.
This Family, detail.
This Family, detail.
Marie Marfia, This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12x12"
This Family, soft pastel on gessoed gator board, 12×12″

I have always loved imagining my dad flying through the air, arms outstretched, chasing crows across the landscape. He died over twenty years ago, but I still think about him a lot. I wish that the end of his life had been easier. He had Alzheimer’s and the last seven years were spent in nursing homes. I remember laying my head on his knee once while visiting him and feeling his hand on my head, comforting me. He lost almost all of his memories but kept his ability to let me know that everything would be all right. I’m grateful for that.


Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!

Share
pastel painting of the ludington lighthouse in late fall

Ludington Lighthouse, pastel painting of a late fall scene by Marie Marfia

Another painting of the beach in Ludington, Michigan. Love snow fence as an element in a painting! It’s so bright and lively in an otherwise pretty dull colored seascape. Some people don’t care for the red slash but I just love the splash of color!

Time-lapse of Ludington Lighthouse.
Ludington Lighthouse, 7×5″ pastel painting of a late fall beach in Ludington, Michigan. Available $145.

Here are the studies I made of this painting. Each is 3.5×2.5″.

study of the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 1.
Study for the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 2.
study for the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 3.

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

Share
pastel painting of the Lake Michigan shoreline with snow and clouds

Ludington Lighthouse, pastel painting of a lake scene by Marie Marfia

November Clouds, 9×6″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, ©2019. Available $200.

Here’s a piece that I just completed today. I have been getting out to see Lake Michigan whenever I can now that I live so close. I hope to have a series of these kinds of paintings, the dunes covered in snow and the sky peaking through the clouds, by next spring.

Here’s the time-lapse:

Here are the three small studies (4.5×3″) that I did before I started on the final.

Study No. 1
Study No. 2
Study No. 3

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

Share

First Light, pastel painting of sunrise in Michigan

My dogs love wandering around in our “back forty” now. So many little critters to roust out of their beds! I like being out there, too. Especially on mornings like this, where the sun and the clouds combine to make a colorful layered palette in the sky–blue, purple, pink and gold. It’s just glorious.

First Light, 8×5″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, ©2019. Available $180.

Here’s the time-lapse for this painting:

Time lapse of First Light, pastel painting by Marie Marfia.

And here are the studies I did first. Each one is 4×2.5″ on sanded paper.

First Light study no. 1, red and purple underpainting.
First Light, study no. 2, red and yellow underpainting.
First Light study no. 3, blue and yellow underpainting.
First Light study no. 4, blue and aqua underpainting.

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

Share
pastel painting of a winter scene

Heavy Snow, pastel painting of the first snow of the season

I know I’m probably going to get tired of it sooner than later, but for right now I’m really loving the snow!

Here’s a time-lapse of a pastel painting from this morning’s walk out in the back of our new place.

Heavy Snow, pastel painting time-lapse.

I’m busy painting a few originals to bring to Laurie Carey & Friends Holiday Artsie Craft Show that’s coming up in just about 10 days. This snowfall came at just the right time for me to make some new winter scenes.

Before I did the larger painting, I did four little studies using a different watercolor underpainting for each one. Then I picked the underpainting I liked best for the final. Here are the little studies, all 2.5 x 4″. Can you tell which study I used as a reference?

Heavy Snow, study no. 1
Heavy Snow, study no. 2
Heavy Snow, study no. 3
Heavy Snow, study no. 4
Heavy Snow, 5×8″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia ©2019. Available $180.

Share
pastel painting of a river bend at sunset

River Bend Sunset pastel painting time-lapse

I’ve been having fun with an online pastel painting class by Marla Bagetta for the past few weeks. This painting is a result of an assignment to take a black and white landscape photo and turn it into a nocturne. So much fun!

Here’s the time-lapse for you:

Fun with nocturnes!
River Bend Sunset, 9×12″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, ©2019. Available $300.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

Here it is with my reference photo.

River Bend Sunset with reference above.

I love to take classes, especially with someone whose work I admire. I learn something new with every lesson and I feel like I make more progress when I am accountable to someone other than myself.

Share

Daily paintings

I did a study on regular Canson paper and then a larger one on sanded paper. I’ve been reading Carlson’s book about painting landscapes and it’s really helping me a lot.

This is the one on Canson paper, 6×8″.
This is the one on sanded paper. I also started with a warm (red, orange, yellow) alcohol underpainting with this one. 11×14″.
Share

What we leave behind

I love walking in the woods in the spring. No wearing three layers of clothing, no mittens to keep track of, no boots! I can just slip into my regular tennis shoes and a jacket, throw the dogs in the car and off I go.

Unfortunately, when the snow melts the other thing that’s out in the woods besides me is garbage. I don’t mean beer cans, although there are a ton of those out there. I mean garbage like television sets, shingles, plastic containers, tires, diapers… Just crap, really. A whole ton of crap.

I go from euphoria at being outside all the way to absolute fury at the way some people use the woods as their personal dumping ground.

I wish there was a place where people could drop off all their crap. Oh wait! There is! It’s called a dump! But it costs money to take your crap to the dump or to have someone haul it away and it’s so much cheaper to drive down a two track out in the forest somewhere and throw it out there.

I wish I had a superpower that would let me zap all the crap in the woods so that it would disappear from the forest and reappear in whoever’s house it belonged to. Right on their living room floor. Or maybe on their bed. Yeah! Take that, you littering litterer!

Anyway, after walking the dogs I was so depressed at all the fresh garbage out there, I got out my pastels and painted a scene from another walk I’d taken recently with my family. A beautiful day on the Pere Marquette River, sun shining, water flowing, birds twittering. A gorgeous, gorgeous day.

Of course, we also found snarled fishing line, bait containers and cigar wrappers along the banks. Wherever you find beauty I guess you can also expect to find evidence of thoughtless humans. We picked up what we could on the way out.

I guess I’ll start bringing a garbage bag with me on my daily walks. It’s little enough, but it makes me feel a little better to at least clear the areas where I love to wander. Painting also helps. Although having a crap zapper superpower would be nice, too.

Share
dunes lake michigan path

Rainy Day

Lately, I’ve been driving out to the state park in the mornings before I settle in at the office. Today it was raining but I just parked in front of some dunes, rolled down the passenger side window and zenned right out.

Rainy Day, soft pastel on sanded paper, 6×9″.

You can buy my art imprinted on all kinds of cool stuff in my Fine Art America Shop. You can purchase downloads in my Etsy shop or signed cards in my Signed Cards store. Buy greeting cards in my Square shop. Please contact me directly about purchasing original artwork. Thanks!

Sign up for my Marie Marfia Fine Art newsletter! You’ll get regular updates about my latest work in the studio plus insights into my process. Plus, get a free downloadable print just for signing up!

Share