What i've been up to lately
What I believe
I grew up like any typical Canadian kid, hiking, camping, skiing and exploring BC's many mountain ranges.
When I wasn't outside, art ruled my life. Drawing, sketching, observing, painting and exploring were daily actions. The only thing I loved more than being creative was learning. I was captivated by new facts, stories, ideas and conversations. Every week I would go to the library and come home with a stack of books taller than me. (Actually. Just ask my mom.) I learned about the world... and I learned how to imagine a better world.
When I thought about "what I wanted to be when I grew up," being an artist made sense. I already was one. Despite this easy affirmation, I didn't believe that art could change the world. My smart, curious, big-hearted brain just couldn't imagine an artist making significant and positive impacts for the environment. Perhaps my greatest failure of imagination to date.
Back then, my dream job was to be an environmental lawyer or a marine biologist. These were people making real, visible, measurable victories for wild places and animals. At 18, I accepted an au pair position in the Swiss Alps and moved to Switzerland with my life savings as a lifeguard - to chase snow, learn German and experience something other than the suburbs where I grew up. I travelled solo all over Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands with a backpack and sketchbook. When I came home I chose to take art and psychology at my top choice university.
In the next four years I studied how individuals and communities develop, adapt to change and thrive. I earned a degree in Psychology. I went to Burning Man, started teaching art full time and dreamed about a time when I could paint every day.
When I stopped dreaming and started doing, that's when this current journey began.
If the Marisa Pahl Institute was a real thing, it would be about:
1. Lifting up rad folks doing exceptional work in support of the environment (also writing them big league cheques)
2. Cultivating a community where informed optimism happens naturally and people freely share their own imperfect journey of treading lighter on the earth.
3. Painting as a way to participate in the conversation around wilderness, sustainability and advocacy. Painting as a form of meditation, a process for seeking joy and a way of sharing how I see the world.
I work full time as an artist and own my own business. I'm privileged to be able to do meaningful work with a variety of partners, mostly non profits. This balance between studio time and outside relationships keeps me feeling productive and connected. This current rhythm fuels my curiosity and desire to make positive change at a systems level. I like solving problems and sometimes an artist's perspective can provide actionable insight. Right now I have an amazing partnership with a local school where I lead a small group of seniors through independent studies in visual arts.
I've found this to be a sustainable practise for me so far, though I am working towards project grants so I can be more ambitious and experimental with my personal creative projects. The more I master the details of this workflow, the sooner I can hire a studio assistant!
conversations I CAN Contribute to
I believe strongly in starting now, with one thing today. In 2016 I raised almost $6000 for environmental non profits. Right now I"m focusing my energy on the Pull Together campaign.
Plastic Free Living
This is an ever evolving, imperfect journey and I am definitely not at the finish line yet! I do love sharing my thoughts on conscious consumerism and how to eliminate the natural overwhelm this topic brings on.
As a 10th generation Canadian, I'm just beginning to understand my settler heritage and how I can actively participate in reconciliation.
Cultivating informed optimism is not green washing, it's about studying small victories of the past in order to see where the greatest potential for positive change is.
Fashion is not something I have cared about in the past. Today, the garment industry creates almost as much waste as heavy industry. That's why local + handmade matter more than ever.
Marisa is an artist working at the intersection of environment, education and social practise.
With a BA in Psychology and love of the natural world, Marisa's creative energy is focused on raising awareness and funds for wilderness non profits that are ensuring the future integrity of land, water and air here in Canada and beyond.
Fittingly, this Canadian artist's painting practise maps human connections to wild places. This happens by mapping her own connections in the backcountry, working in an extremely small scale on multi day paddling or hiking trips. Back in the studio, the format shifts to interviewing wilderness advocates about the unique places they work to protect and painting as a response to these conversations. A painting becomes a vessel for each story, enabling it to reach more people. Each 37 x 37 mm watercolour landscape has an abstract, colour study pair where colours and geometry flow together. Often a series is anchored in a specific dialogue about wilderness, sustainability and individual action.
Marisa had her first solo show in 2014. Since then she has continued to show her work regularly in gallery and installation settings. Highlights of this year include being selected as an exhibitor for Kate Duncan's highly curated regional design event, Address Assembly. In June, Marisa hosted a solo show at the Gam Gallery for her Future Oceans series. In October, a series of 36 paintings inspired by journeys to Haida Gwaii and Newfoundland were featured in a solo show called Coastlines at Kafka's.
Marisa's paintings reside in collections in Canada, The United States, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.
Kate Duncan's ADDRESS ASSEMBLY - Artist Interview
The Vancouver Courier - 5 Reasons Vancouver is Awesome This Week
Uppercase Magazine - Creative Responsibility: Start Where You Are
The Westender - Vancouver artist embarks on ‘Wild’ environmental fundraiser
CKNW News Talk Radio AM 980 - Artist Interview with Estefania Duran
The Daily Juicebox - Artist Interview with Mantar Bhandal
Pacific Wild Blog - The Wild Road to Pacific Wild
Vancouver is Awesome - Local Artist Pitches in to Raise Funds for Bella Bella
My Home (and away) Studio
In a city like Vancouver, space is precious. It is also highly unpredictable. I've rented studios in a few neighbourhoods in the city. Some didn't have heat. Some didn't have working electrical or decent wifi. Now my partner and I both have separate painting studios in our East Van home. Yes, she's an artist too! (And no, there's no sugar daddy here.) We are privileged as renters to have a spacious home with room for these workspaces. In a way it's a necessity that we have pretty much designed our life around. Who has time for renovictions? When you rent three separate spaces in rapidly gentrifying neighbourhoods, this can be a unfortunate reality.
My studio is where I paint.
It's also where I stage my artwork for photo shoots, where prints get processed, packaged and mailed, where paintings live when I'm preparing for a show. It's where my art supplies, packaging and stationary are stored. It's a work space, a sanctuary and a well of optimism. My studio is where I retreat daily for solitude, silence and the rituals that make this creative life function.
Some days (or weeks) my studio is beach, a trail, a mountain top or a forest. I take multi week wilderness sabbaticals a few times a year, often with my partner Rachael. I paint while hiking, paddling and camping in remote areas - and even on day trips from Vancouver.
My Creative Process
I approach art kind of like research.
For me, painting is a way to refine, distill and digest what I'm learning, listening to and seeing. When I plan a larger painting project with a storytelling or fundraising element, it's often an excuse to speak with people I deeply admire about the work they do in support of wild places. As an introvert, this human connection is explosive and transformative for my practise. Conversations become fuel for living, loving and learning. Stories become a vessel to take others with me. Painting is the easy part. It's what allows me to explore human relationships with wild places and how these connections are a spark for more intentional living.
For me sustainable creativity is not about inspiration raining down from the sky like lightening bolts. Good creative work comes directly from practise, play, experiments, failing, showing up, observing, exploring, learning, listening, researching and doing the work. My best work happens when I am actively participating in communities and conversation. Moving my body. Exploring outside. Feeling all the feels. Learning all the things. Being present.
I'm a watercolour painter.
I paint wilderness landscapes, often in a miniature scale. I use single pigment watercolour paints made by Daniel Smith. The current, tiny square format I'm doing developed as a way for me to paint in the backcountry on multi day paddling and hiking trips. Right now, I'm mostly painting 37 x 37 mm watercolour landscapes. Each one has a colour study pair, my way of mapping colour and light on the go.
I've also been experimenting with large scale colour studies, painted on location.
- all packaging is 100% paper and plastic free
- come with a certificate authenticity, care instructions and a note about the artwork
- on my annual Giving Tuesday fundraiser, 50% of print sales are donated to a non profit working to protect wilderness in BC (2-4 days)
- all frames are handmade locally in Vancouver by our partner woodworker
- frames are made of kiln dried, sustainably sourced Maple or Poplar hardwood
- paintings are installed professionally by Liz McLaughlin Framing
- very tiny (from 37 x 37 mm)
- sometimes painted on backcountry adventures, sometimes in my studio at home
- precise + playful - each tiny landscape has an abstract colour study pair, my way of mapping colour on the go and bringing play back into the process