Local Artist Marianne Vander Dussen will be painting live at the WKP Kennedy gallery November 7th-10th between 12-4pm. In honor of Remembrance day she will be working on a large 'Poppy field' piece and is welcoming the public to pop in to watch her work and ask questions!
In anticipation we sat down with Marianne to learn more about her process, the piece she is currently working on along with what she has planned in the near future. Keep reading to find out more:
Tell us a little about yourself and your artistic practice…
My name is Marianne Vander Dussen, and I'm a self-taught artist who came to North Bay originally to study teaching at the Schulich School of Education. I picked up a paintbrush in the Bachelor of Education program, and haven't stopped since. Art became an obsession, and while I was working on my Master of Education degree, I kept painting, first taking on commissions, then selling my work through social media. Eventually, I began offering paint nights, and in 2017 alone I ran 74 paint night events throughout the city. This, combined with my teacher training, taught me so much about process, and how to guide even non-artists through that process to create work that they could be proud of. To this day, I would consider my practice to be a hybrid model; I both create and teach, which is beautifully cyclical. The creative process forces me to constantly experience growth, along with all the challenges that accompany that growth, but then I get to take those tough lessons and teach them so that others may find support in their own journey.
I also run a YouTube channel, currently with 24,300 subscribers, and have an email list of approximately 5,300 artists throughout the world who have accessed the free eBook I wrote on acrylic painting.
Photo credit: Ed Regan
Can you provide us with some information about the piece you are currently working on here in the gallery?
This piece is incredibly significant to me as it is a painting of a poppy field at sunset for my parents. I am a third generation Dutch Canadian; my grandfather came to Canada from Rotterdam after surviving World War II as a child in Nazi-occupied Holland. His family was active in the resistance, and he used to deliver messages through secret channels that were sent to Allied forces. Despite the horrors he witnessed, of which we have accounts that are truly horrific, he was a true believer in human kindness. Due to this familial connection, in 2019 my parents attended the 75th anniversary of Juno Beach in Normandy, as part of a tour through the numerous significant battle sites and monuments of the world wars. After the trip, they wanted a painting that would always remind them of their experiences, as well as honouring my grandpa's legacy. After finding the perfect reference photo over a year ago, I'm finally in a position where I feel I can do this painting justice.
Tell us about your studio practice/setup. Where and how do you normally work?
I have a lovely studio on the main floor of my home, just under 100 square feet. I am constantly tinkering with the layout because I am obsessed with streamlining my practice to eliminate friction (ie. distractions, or things that get in the way of getting to work, and design plays into this).
How I work may seem a little intense, but I often start my day at 5am (I read The 5am Club by Robin Sharma and have been practicing this for months). After exercising, journaling/goal setting, and engaging in some personal development (20 minutes each), by 6am I am often drawing in my sketchbook. My twin four year old boys wake up at 6:30am, so I am busy with the kids' morning routine and getting them ready for the school bus, which arrives at 8:15am. I head back into the studio, get my filming setup prepped for my YouTube channel, and usually paint for the entire morning. I usually paint standing up, listening to music or personal development podcasts. While I'm painting, I'll field calls and manage the rental properties that I own by dictating emails through Siri. After lunch, I'll continue painting, do some business administration, tend to my social media, or work on editing YouTube videos. This continues until the kids are dropped off by the bus. Most days I have support with an hour of after school care with my parents, which allows me the chance to clean up, and get dinner started. After the kids are in bed, usually no later than 7:30pm, I usually start working again until 9:30pm. Since I'm usually tired at this point, it's typically just sketchbook work, or reading books, or watching tutorials on photography or editing software. Then it's time for bed, where I often sleep in my workout clothes to ensure that when the alarm goes off at 5am, all I have to do is put on my shoes and hop on the exercise bike.
I know it seems like a lot, and it is. But there's a few things I'd like to note. My work feels like breathing to me, and there is so much to learn and only one precious life in which to do it all. So when I call it work, it's not a job. It's who I am. I would far rather be doing this work that deeply satisfies me than watching TV (on average, I watch one show per week, sometimes nothing at all). The other thing I'd like to note is that it took years and years to build the kind of mental and physical muscle that it takes to maintain the pace that I work at, and that it didn't just happen overnight. And while this is an average day for me, there are certainly times when life throws a wrench, and I need to rest or roll with whatever proverbial punches have been dealt.
How does it feel to paint live in front of the public eye versus alone in your studio?
It actually feels very comfortable, because I'm so used to painting publicly! Having taught so many paint nights, I quickly lost my fear of painting publicly. I also painted in the Northgate Mall for three days back in 2020 as part of a fundraiser for Children's Aid Society, and if you can paint in a crowded mall, you can paint anywhere. Since I have a decent audience through YouTube and Instagram now, even when I'm working alone at home, I never really feel alone, since I'm always documenting the process. It certainly makes the work less lonely.
Is there a specific medium you prefer working with?
I prefer oils, for their blendability. However, I usually teach in acrylics, as they're more accessible for beginners, and my sketchbook is made with acrylic ink and gouache paint (which is an opaque watercolour). My YouTube channel is a mix of oil and acrylic painting tutorials, but acrylic tutorials are much more popular. I am currently working on a course that I will be offering through my website, which will be how to paint flowers in acrylic paints.
Are there any artists you look to for guidance or inspiration?
Absolutely! Although I am primarily self-taught, I owe a great deal to Olaf Schneider, who introduced me to oil paints in his home studio in Mississauga, and who remains a great inspiration and friend to me. I greatly admire Canadian artist Renato Muccillo, a landscape artist specializing in tonalism. For flower paintings, I love the work of Alexandra Averbach, Katie Whipple, and Thomas Darnell. For sketchbooks, I am fortunate to have learned from Dina Brodsky, and am inspired by the work of Elena Limkina and Gizem Bozkurt.
How do you define success as an artist?
This is a fantastic question, because the idea of "success" is relative, fluid, and always evolving. Success, for me, is growth. Growth is always accompanied by pain, and often hard lessons, but success means that you persevere. You keep going, and you keep learning. I like this definition because it takes success out of the realm achieved only by a select few and instead makes it accessible. As such, success is never static, but another step in the ladder. Rather than focusing on external metrics, such as follower counts or sales of artwork, you focus on becoming the best person and best artist that you can be, and how to best serve your audience. I don't think success is a level that you achieve which then allows you to coast. Success is a lifestyle of ongoing growth.
Do you have any advice for new artists?
Harness the power of habit. When I first started, I would work in bursts, painting for hours and hours when I felt like it, and neglecting the easel when I didn't. But I genuinely believe that motivation is somewhat of a myth. Even now, I often don't "feel" like painting, but habit takes over and soon I'm knee deep in it. If you can train yourself to resist the temptation of distraction, to work on your craft whether you feel like it or not, and discover the power of being able to teach yourself new skills even when it's difficult...you'll be unstoppable. To quote Marie Forleo, everything is figureoutable. Trust the process. More importantly, trust yourself. You've got this.
What’s next for you?
I'm currently working on building a content library of courses. First will be an acrylic painting course with a focus on flowers, with more subjects and mediums to come. I am also developing a podcast talking about many of the things I discussed in this interview, I would love to dive deeper into the many connections between creative practice and personal development. I hope to launch this in early 2023. In addition, I'll continue to add more content to my YouTube channel, and in the future will be writing another eBook, this time with a focus on oil painting. I'm also continuing to explore in my sketchbooks, and right now have an interest in merging math with avian studies (inspired by the sketchbooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, who was fascinated by mathematics and science). I'm teaching myself about platonic solids and sacred geometry, which have already started to feature in my sketchbook content. Basically, I am a professional nerd, which makes me extraordinarily happy.
Where can we continue following along with your journey?