Marta Stares is an artist and educator interested in painting the outdoors, especially the Northern Ontario landscape. She works primarily in oils and uses bold, vibrant colours in her work. Marta currently teaches Visual Art at the high school level in Peel District School Board, where she co-organizes Peel’s annual student art exhibition called Walk the Art. We interviewed Marta to learn more about her practice, inspirations, and what she is working on today.
1. What does your creative day look like and what inspires you to make art? Has your creative day changed due to Covid-19?
A typical day in my day in the studio always starts with a cup of tea. I don’t get to painting right away because I like to spend a lot of time looking over source material, pin up my photographs on the walls or spread them out on the floor, and think about what I will make… Then I get into my painting clothes. There was a time when every piece of clothing I owned had oil paint on it so now I have a few designated outfits. Once I am in my painting clothes it means business. I am either stretching canvas, priming, or mixing paint. It helps get me in the zone and makes painting a lot faster once I’ve created a colour palette. I usually work on multiple canvases at a time because there’s a drying period between layering oil paint.
I love to listen to podcasts while I paint. When I really need to focus I’ll play my favourite episodes on repeat just to have some background noise. My practice hasn’t changed too much during the pandemic. There are still many cups of tea. In the early days, I was super motivated and finished a large piece pretty quickly. As we became more isolated there were days I felt less motivated and it stayed this way: a bit of up and down. I am starting to take some of that pressure off myself. We are living in a strange time so I think it’s ok to give yourself permission not to be productive all the time.
2. Tell us more about your art studio.
I love my studio space. It’s often messy and filled with all my supplies, discarded painting palettes, and photos of places that mean a lot to me. Being surrounded by these images helps me to capture a specific memory. My studio also holds dozens of paintings, many of which I don’t like, but altogether they are an important reminder of personal progress made over the years.
3. How did you first get interested in your medium/s?
I first tried oil paint in high school, when it was still acceptable to work with traditional oils in a classroom setting. I loved the depth of colour (even though I was probably using really cheap paint), blending ability and how slow-drying it was, which meant that I could continue working the paint for much longer. I haven’t stopped painting with oils since. I dabble in acrylic occasionally, but the process is not nearly as flexible and the outcome is never as luscious as I prefer.
4. Describe your style in one sentence.
Just one? That’s so hard! Ok, here we go…
My landscape paintings are often framed from the canoest’s perspective, communicating the energy and capturing the mood of each place using bold brush strokes and vibrant, saturated colours.
5. Has your style changed over time?
Yes! In fact, I think it’s still changing because I’m not sure I’ve narrowed down a specific style. In art school I’ve done quite a bit of portraiture, especially working from a live model. I hated landscape and developed an interest for it only after working at McMichael. Being surrounded by Group of Seven paintings really got me to see and appreciate landscape on a whole different level. I’ve recently started to incorporate the figure into landscape and will spend more time exploring where that takes me.
6. What are your main artistic tools?
Brushes of all sizes in natural and synthetic bristle. I have more brushes than I can count but I could probably use a few more.
Oil paint, mineral spirits, linseed oil, and various mediums. Lately, I’m loving Neo-Megilp from Gamblin. It’s a soft gel that increases transparency, flow and has a very silky feel.
Greytone disposable palettes. Super handy for accurately mixing colour. I go through many of them but I often love the colour combinations so much that I keep them.
Varnish. The most satisfying part of the process is seeing your colours become even more enhanced.
Cotton rags like old t-shirts or towels. Great for wiping off excess paint from brushes and for clean up.
Large plastic (yogurt) containers with lids. I have a system for washing brushes that saves time and money. One container with solvent for first wash, another for the second wash. After a day or two, all the paint will settle to the bottom which means you can pour out the clean solvent into new containers and start again.
7. Do you ever experience creativity blocks and how do you stay positive and inspired?
Of course. I think this is a normal part of being an artist so I try not to get overly discouraged by it. When I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated to paint, I gently remind myself that it’s a temporary phase, that it will pass. I try not to force creativity because nothing good comes out of it. Instead, I focus on activities that help recharge my batteries, like going for a hike, spending time in nature or with family and friends.
8.What artists - either contemporary or from history - have had an impact on you and your art practice?
So many amazing artists out there it’s hard to choose.
Currently, I am really inspired by Kim Dorland. I love everything he does. He paints landscapes but also explores the human psyche - he’s got this signature way of caking on oil paint. It’s so good you just want to eat it.
I also enjoy Julie Himel’s recent works. She paints very expressive landscapes using painterly marks and drips.
Another artist I admire is Steve Driscoll who paints vibrant Canadian landscapes with urethane on the plastic panels. His works are amazing to see in person, you could easily get lost in them, especially the large ones.
When I worked at McMichael Canadian Art Collection I rediscovered Tom Thomson's works, especially his small plein air sketches of winter in the woods. With just a few brush strokes he was able to capture a warm feeling - you could almost hear the quiet of winter. You don’t even realize how many pinks, purples, and blues there are in the snow until you look at a Thomson sketch. He was an excellent colourist.
9. Do you think the art world has changed or will be changing due to the pandemic? If yes, how?
Historically, some of the most important art has emerged as a result of social/political unrest or difficult times. I think that uncertain times force people to get even more creative and inventive so I am optimistic that there is an artistic upside to this pandemic. We’ve already seen positive environmental changes and a reduction in pollution as a result of a global shutdown. It’s exciting to see the positive ways in which the art world will evolve.
10. What project are you working on right now? What would you like to do next?
I recently returned from a camping trip in Pukaskwa National Park feeling very recharged and inspired to paint. Pukaskwa is situated along the rocky shores of Lake Superior: picture towering cliffs, windswept spruce, secluded sandy beaches, and lush boreal forests. I was in love! Took an excessive amount of photos of the forest. The way the setting sun peeked through moss-covered trees - it was so enchanting. I think my next series will feature the magic of the boreal forest.