Studio Visit with Marisa Pahl


Please meet Marisa Pahl! Marisa is an artist after my own heart. Her love for the natural world and her efforts to protect these beautiful wild places through her artwork is inspiring. I met up with her on a snowy day in February. Since then she's been creating lots of amazing new work. (Be sure to check out her solo show at Kafka's Coffee opening this Thursday October 12th at 8pm.)Without further ado, let's jump into the interview.

Studio Visit: Monday February 6th, 2017

Introduce yourself. How would you describe yourself as a maker/creative? How do you spend your days?

Hi! My name is Marisa. I'm a watercolour painter and expeditionary artist. Right now I'm painting miniature watercolour landscapes and colour studies that map human connections to wild places. I'm positive there is a connection between our individual wilderness relationships and the small daily actions we do in support of the environment.


Briefly describe your journey. Were there some pivotal things that helped propel you to where you are now?

An essential part of my creative journey is taking wilderness sabbaticals - regardless of perceived lack of time or the typical obstacles that can get in the way of these sorts of adventures. Solo hiking, solo travel and wilderness journeys with small groups have been necessary for me to become content as a creative person. This sort of intense "down time" also gives my mind a chance to ruminate on my dreams and realize they are absolutely worth acting on.


The big, beautiful natural world seems to be an integral part of the work that you make. Was your love of nature fostered at a young age?

Yes! When I was 6 my parents asked me and my two brothers if we would rather go to Disneyland every couple years or build a log cabin together in the woods. The choice was unanimous. During this decade or so of building I had a ton of autonomy to explore outside on my own, sketchbook in hand. This cabin also became the base camp for many backpacking journeys, ski trips, paddles and day hikes.

Was there an 'aha' moment where you saw how you could combine your love for the natural world with you creativity? How important is research in your process?

Learning is huge for me. Writer Austin Kleon believes that problems of output are problems of input and I could not agree more. When I hit a wall creatively I read. The more I read, the more meaningful and interesting and satisfying my creative practise becomes. For some insight into the research for a certain body of work, visit my portfolio online - at the bottom of each collection of artwork photos there is a list of books that contributed ideas, information and philosophy to my process.  { ]

My love for the natural world is hard to separate from my creativity. The two go hand in hand and tend to fuel each other.

I want to live my values in an imperfect, ever evolving way. That means living in a way that treads lightly on the earth, constantly learning how to do that better and sharing my small victories (and epic failures) with anyone who is along for the ride. This approach is also present in my creative practise. I create as a way to refine and distill my own thoughts and knowledge of the world, often rooted in the state of wilderness environments and threatened ecosystems. My painting process mirrors and includes this ongoing learning.

What is your favourite thing about creating outdoors? What are some of the challenges?

Painting outside feels playful, honest and exciting. It can also be physically difficult - which depending on the day can be super annoying, or a creative enabler.

When I'm painting on a beach, my experience of colour and light is so overwhelmingly real, specific and unique to that moment. It feels impossible to capture anything remotely close to what's present - which takes the pressure off a bit.

My abstract colour studies evolved as a way to effectively map colour when I'm painting outside. Light and colour can be so tricky!

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Do you both have any rituals or a routine that help ground you & primes your creative mind?

I read. I walk. I cook whole foods at home from scratch. These are all times when my body is engaged but my mind is barrelling forward on it's own, unguided. For me, these small routine moments are powerful catalysts for creativity.

When I'm feeling stuck in my workplace in the city, I like painting in cafes. It makes me feel like time doesn't exist and the world ends at the sides of my table. Perfect equation for productivity!

Fear and uncertainty seem to be an innate part of the creative process. How do you confront your fears, instead of letting them stop you?

Building positive feedback loops by sharing my work with a wider audience has been unexpectedly amazing. When strangers are sending me positive vibes, engaging with my work in a meaningful way and investing in my paintings - it's difficult to let fear and doubt become too comfortable in my daily narratives.

What kinds of activities/interests do you have outside of your actual art practice, that you feel informs or inspires your work? (or maybe just contributes to a richer life)

I'm obsessed with tiny homes, architecture and design. I go on at least one longer remote 1-2 week kayak, canoe or backpacking trip every year. At home in Vancouver I like to paddle, cross country ski and hike. Gardening is a big one, though I'm a total amateur.  I'm a slow living enthusiast, an aspiring zero waster and a minimalist (who is slowly coming out of the closet.)

I'm not super into fashion but right now I'm falling in love with independent, Canada made + designed clothing. The excitement in this industry right now is contagious and so full of useful information for conscious consumers.

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I’m a sucker for good quotes. Do you have a favourite you’d like to share?

It’s easy for us to blindly consume, when we don’t see the effect it has on other places. The hardest thing in the world is to simplify your life... most of the damage caused by humans is unintentional, I think. In response to people saying “you can’t go back,” I say “well what happens when you get to the edge of the cliff? Do you take one step forward or do a 180 degree turn and then take one step forward? Which way are you going? Which direction is progress?

— Yvon Chouinard

Thank you Marisa!

View more of Marisa's wonderful work here:

  • Marisa's website
  • Instagram
  • Shop
  • Marisa's Solo Show 'Coastlines' opening: Kafka's Coffee @ 2525 Main St. Thursday, October 12th at 8pm