I am excited to bring you this new feature blog, Artists Inspiring Artists. I joined the WVA community to meet other artists, exchange ideas, and learn from and with each other. As an emerging artist, I delight in finding out how others have paved their creative paths!  Today, I share my own art journey using the format that is the foundation for this blog series. In the months ahead, I hope many of you will allow me to share your stories!

My Artistic Evolution

I’ve been drawing since I could grip a crayon, and throughout school, a sketchbook was always under my arm. My formal art education came after high school when, rather than going directly to college with my friends, I was offered an apprenticeship with artist Jim Prohl at his atelier in Milwaukee. For two years I studied figure and still life drawing with Jim in the style of classical realism. 

The most recent development in my art journey happened in 2018 when I took a life-changing trip to Latvia, a country on the Baltic Sea. My grandmother, uncle, and father fled Latvia as refugees during World War II and settled in Wisconsin, never returning to their homeland or reuniting with the loved ones they left behind. My trip was to honor their memory and to learn more about myself.

While in Latvia, I visited with my 90-year-old uncle and many cousins, was inspired by the large collection of Art Nouveau art and architecture that graces Riga, the capital city, and found the country to be a mecca for artists and craftspeople – including many in my own family. Learning more about my heritage caused me to contemplate themes of war, survival, refuge, and most of all, belonging.

Today I create portraits that bring to life the thoughts that were sparked in Latvia. Each work is my attempt to think through that yearning to “belong”. My immigrant family was irrevocably tied to the past while trying to build an identity in a new world. My current works are both a wistful and hopeful expression of that duality.

My Preferred Medium

Right now I work in pen and ink and love the permanence of the medium, as well as the need for precision. My portraits use very fine layers of stippling to create dimension. While I carefully lay each tiny pen mark, I contemplate traditional cultures. I view the detail in my work as an homage to the ancestral weavers, calligraphers, woodworkers, and other artisans from whom my family came.

My Influences

One of my biggest influences is my late mentor, Jim Prohl. Every time I put pen to paper, I hear his voice inside of my head, pushing me further, and yet reminding me to be kind to myself. He was an accomplished painter, and his work looked as though you could lift it from the canvass; while today my style is very different from his, I still utilize many of the techniques he taught me. Even more than being a great artist, Jim was a gentle and compassionate soul who loved to sing in the studio and share a hearty laugh – and his example is a good reminder of how to enjoy the process of creating. Beyond that, I draw inspiration from the dignity and contemplation found in the portraits of Cassatt and Van Gogh, and I love the experimentation of contemporary street artists who specialize in figurative work.  

My Current Challenge

One thing I’m struggling with is photographing my work for social media. I’d love to learn about the techniques that other artists use to successfully capture works on paper. Because my art is so detailed and is meant to be viewed from a distance where all of the individual dots and lines can mix together to create a cohesive image, it’s hard to get the shot just so. Right now it’s a lot of trial and error with my iPhone. If anyone offers a class or tutorial, let me know.

My Current Celebration

In September I had some pieces on display in the member’s shows at the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts and the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Later in the fall, a number of my pieces will be on display at a financial firm in Elm Grove. Little by little, I’m hoping to share more of my art with the community. I love that WVA allows me to learn about opportunities to show work and meet other artists along the way! What a gift. You can follow Mara’s art posts on Instagram @creativityspringscoaching and her travels and adventures on Instagram @entertainingfamily.