Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen : Fame

Marla Thirsk: Artist of the Month

Posted on October 1, 2011 by hannahb
Categories: Acrylic, Articles, Artist Interviews & Profiles, Inspiration and Creativity, Medium, The Artist’s Magazine Tags: Acrylic. Bookmark the permalink.

DISCONNECT (acrylic, 30x36) by Marla Thirsk was a finalist in the category of The Artist Magazine's 27th Annual Art Competition.

Marla Thirsk

Hometown: Ucluelet, B.C. Canada

Early Art Years and Education

My dad used to tell everyone I must have been born with a paintbrush in my hand. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t doing/creating art, when I was two years old I started drawing faces in my Dad’s university textbooks, which had the only clean white paper I could find. I liked the stark contrast of a dark line on the white paper. I’ve never had formal training—I’m a voracious reader so I have an extensive library of art books that have given me my education. If I found an appealing style or genre, I would get anything written about it and try it out until I mastered it or moved on to another topic. A lot of times the initial foray would lead me to interpret the medium my own way.

It took me until I was 40 to really believe in myself and approach art as a full-time occupation. Before that I painted, drew or created, but wasted a lot of time in questionable lifestyle choices.

Genre and Media

I was originally recognized as an accomplished watercolorist, but have developed a deep enthusiasm for acrylic, which I now work in exclusively, during the last three years. However, I’m eclectic in my creating. When I need a ‘recharge’ I also make highly original art dolls, metal ‘spare parts’ robot sculptures, collages and paint murals.

Inspiration for DISCONNECT

A few years ago I saw a fabulous painting (and I regret not remembering the artist) of two women in 1950s-style bathing suits. That reminded me of a collection of old photographs I had of my mother spanning the 30s to early 60s. She was very ‘vogue-y’ in them and when I started using them as inspiration, the floodgates opened. My mother passed away 25 years ago so it has proven cathartic in a way to use these images. The old salt box in the painting has been in my family as long as I remember—and as it is Delftware it reminds me of mom too—she was a Dutch war bride. The painting also reflects the rather disconnected and tortured relationship my mother and I had. I learned a big life lesson when she didn’t recognize me when I saw her just before she slipped into a four-month coma and then passed away.

In DISCONNECT, a pose from one of my mother’s photos was the initial inspiration. I used a projector to transfer the image in burnt sienna pencil crayon to the prepped canvas. I then played with the image—sometimes changing the facial expression or hands or arm placement. When I came up with this pose, I went over it with a copying pencil (this type of pencil was used in the map industry; it doesn’t photocopy and so you aren’t left with unwanted lines. An acquaintance had given me a huge box of these, which are about 60 years old.). The hair design was actually inspired from an old magazine my hair dresser gave me.

The backgrounds in DISCONNECT started with a piece of old fabric, and that morphed into me sketching little designs, scanning them into my PC and reworking the sizes and printing the sheets. Then I cut out all the elements and played around with the designs until I found one that pleased me and pasted it onto a sheet of paper to rescan and make many copies. I then transferred these by hand onto the background using graphite paper. Time consuming for sure! It generally takes about a week to get the canvas image laid out before I start painting.

My palette is original, in that I mix my own colors from what’s in my studio. The usual initial color choices are: burnt sienna, raw sienna, titanium white, Mars black, alizarin crimson, value 4 red, value 5 red, acra magenta, value 4 purple, value 7 blue, hansa yellow middle and hansa yellow light. These are usually the standards but depending on what color mix I wish for the background, things are added or subtracted. I have lots of little jars of my own mixes around.

Time Spent on Paintings

This always seems so hard to answer. Usually a painting of this size and detail will take about three weeks to complete. If I get into the zone I sometimes can spend 12 hours at a stretch working—mind you, my arm and shoulder want to leave me after. This painting just flowed out for me. I completed it in a week and a half.


Art is just every single reason for me being on this planet. It saved my life when I decided to quit my formerly reprehensible lifestyle and focus on the one true shining part of myself: art.

I’ve been creating art in one form or another for 55 years now but it wasn’t until I pulled out these old photographs and the floodgates opened into the past with my mother that people really started to notice my work. It was the process of working out the demons of my relationship with mom that my soul really shone through. I guess it’s true that until your heart speaks through your medium, you are just good with your hands.


Artists of the Month are chosen from the list of finalists of The Artist Magazine’s Annual Art Competition.

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