Tag Archives: portrait

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.

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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.



acrylic painting of a pit bull dog face in purple

004 Purple Dog

Purple Dog, no. 4, 6×6″ acrylic on canvas. ©2018 Marie Marfia

Purple Dog

I remembered this morning that I had the Anderson Creek Kennels facebook page to use for inspiration and sure enough, there was a sweet pit in today’s pictures. I’ll probably do a bunch of doggy portraits. They’re really perfect for this size.

Calling it finished

Also figured out what to do with the background on this portrait of my brother Joe and his wife Anna. Two of my favorite people in the world. This was a pleasure to complete.

Joe and Anna, 11×14″ pastel on sanded paper. ©2018 Marie Marfia.

Marie Marfia, Three Gingers, soft pastel on textured board, 9x6".

Three Gingers


pastel painting of a red headed man and two ginger spotted chihuahuas

Three Gingers, 6×9″ pastel on board, $110.

I saw this young man with his two sweet dogs walking out in front of my shop and asked him if I could have a picture. He said they were two rescues. Cute pups. One of them needs a hernia operation and he was visiting the pawn shop nearby, presumably to come up with the money for her? I couldn’t resist their faces and they seem so calm and happy with him. I called it Three Gingers because the little dogs each have ginger colored patches that matched their master’s hair.

pastel painting of a smiling man

No. 94, smiling guy

Smiling faces. I can say one thing about this series and that is, I’ve never studied so many smiling faces in my life!

You know, with life model studies the model is never smiling. It’s too hard for them to maintain an expression like that during a long pose. That’s one of the advantages to working with photos. It can be any expression at all, including the manic grin on the face of today’s portrait.

There’s something nice about working on smiling faces all the time. No matter what’s going on elsewhere in the world, right in the moment that I’m working, the person whose face it is that I’m studying is in a happy place. It probably has an effect on me, too, now that I think about it. It’s probably got something to do with science. I don’t know why or how it works, but if it’s science, I approve.


pastel painting of a smiling man

No. 94, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel on Canson mi-teintes paper by Marie Marfia

Marie Marfia, Mr. Grumpy Pants, soft pastel on textured board, 6x9".

No. 88, Mr. Grumpy Pants

Actually, I have no idea if this tortoise is feeling grumpy or not. This might just be his resting tortoise face. Maybe he’s feeling ecstatically happy right now. I bet tortoises would make excellent poker players.

This morning I attended an artist’s critique get together and signed up for membership in the Ludington Area Center for the Arts while I was there. Then I had an enjoyable lunch with five other artists. This is so much fun, meeting arty people and doing arty things. It’s hard to believe that I lived so long without any of this in my life.

I feel like I want to live as long as this tortoise guy, just so I can catch up on everything I’ve been missing, you know?

Pastel portait of a grumpy tortoise

Mr. Grumpy Pants, No. 88, 100 Portraits in 100 Days, 6×9″ pastel portrait on gessoed mat board by Marie Marfia.

Thank you to Eric Kilby for contributing the photo reference for this piece. Here’s a link to the Creative Commons Flickr group where I found it.

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.