Author Archives: marcimcdonald

Thinking In Three Dimensions

Thinking three-dimensionally has always been impossible for me.  Not just challenging… impossible.  In the same way that I’ve written here about not ~~seeing~~ paintings ahead of time  –  I can imagine a thing, I just don’t envision it.

Right now I’m very excited about again collaborating with my partner Ben Sweeney, this time to translate some of my recent abstract paintings into big, sculptural, metal pieces, and in order to even talk to anyone about this concept (including Ben, who is extraordinarily good at visualization) I need some drawings.  And since three dimensions are involved, going at it sort of through the back door is the only way I know how.

For example – some time ago a customer who has several of my earlier, figural paintings commissioned me to design a pair of lamps that felt like my paintings.  So considering the limitation described above, and that this was new for me at the time, I finally ended up building a rough model based on my very rough two-dimensional idea before I could come up with even a sketch (let alone a meaningful drawing) or have any idea what they might look like from the side or the back…

MARCI MCDONALD | datura lamps drawing | c.1995

… roundabout, as I said, but I do manage to get there!

In the case of this coffee table, I was able to get away with just the two-dimensional drawing since bas relief is almost flat – I could carve the design without having to know what it looked like from the back…

Marci McDonald | Ben Sweeney | water lily coffee table drawing | c.2000

Marci McDonald | Ben Sweeney | water lily coffee table detail | bronze and marble | c.2000

Marci McDonald | Ben Sweeney | water lily coffee table detail | bronze and marble | c.2000

… and we just figured out the ends and legs as we went along. I have areas of bas relief in mind for the new pieces, combining cast and fabricated elements like we did on this table, but abstract, and on a much grander scale, with more emphasis on patinas.

I’m thinking to start with these two paintings, which I already see as quite sculptural…

MARCI MCDONALD | as it grows 1 | acrylic painting on canvas

MARCI MCDONALD | what is deep | acrylic painting on canvas

 …and tonight I’ll be dragging out old wax and pouring the big, flexible sheets I cut up to make my models.

Then come drawings, followed by working with Ben (which is very high on my five favorites list) figuring out how to physically accomplish this, and then formulating it all into a presentable package  b e c a u s e . . .  this project will require {{funding}} and I’ll write about that in a future post.

Making A Living

First I want to thank Carolyn Edlund for the article featuring my work that was published early this week on her very smart, very informative website – – which is dedicated to helping artists build better businesses.  Carolyn is its founder, with a list of other accomplishments a mile long.

The list tells me that Carolyn is obviously good at keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and that leads me to what I’ll talk about second.

I am so NOT a multi-tasker (limiting, yes, but I prefer to think of it as enhancing my ability to focus intently) and more than that, it seems I can only wear one hat per day.  If I’m a business person today, I can’t be an artist until tomorrow.

Thinking about business gets me wound up, and here are a few of the things circling my brain:

  –   My current studio

MARCI MCDONALD | St. Petersburg studio | 2014

…(which I love and has a great energy) is attached to our house in a residential area.  Would I make a  better living if I moved to one of the art ‘destination’ districts flourishing here in St Petersburg?

   My adorable sister and I are busy formulating and polishing methods and materials to find and engage suitable galleries.

   I did art fairs with great success for over 25 years.  Should I take advantage of the fact that some of the best shows in the country are here in Florida, and do just a couple of shows?

   Before my recent shift from representational painting to abstract, I had an extensive website (with shopping cart) offering original paintings, original prints and reproductions (all imagery with well-proven salability), and promoting the commissioned works in metal my partner and I do together…

Marci McDonald | Ben Sweeney | water lily console table | bronze and marble | c. 1995

…as well as my own commission work.

It was a beautiful, efficient site, and we spent an ENORMOUS amount of time and money on its creation and  promotion.  It was a little ahead of its time, and sales were more than disappointing. That site has been replaced with a simple online catalog of current work, and an abbreviated archive of sorts.

I’ve gone from being a serious, aggressive advocate of the potential of the Internet as a place to make a lot of money selling art  –  to a disenchanted, part-time observer.  But… should I just leave it at that?  How much time should I give the Internet now?

–   Research for grants and other sources of alternative funding for some exciting BIG projects I have in mind for my partner and me.  I’ll write more about that in a future post.

When this blog was born, I said I’d be writing about some of what goes on in the life of a serious artist.  Mostly I try to make it not boring, but also to focus on all the positive things (which do abound).  This post feels particularly ~~whiney~~ to me, and I DETEST whining, but there it is.  I’ll do better next time.


A Milestone!

It sounds simple, I know, but I have finally arrived at what I’ll just call a ‘way of working’.  A gathering of processes I’ve struggled with while transitioning to abstract painting that means I can freely attack a concept with a rough idea of how to develop it, and move intuitively as I work, not thinking so much about what the paint is or isn’t doing.

It’s only temporary of course, and just one of many such transitory methodologies to come, but a milestone!

My mom and dad used to save the newspaper want ad pages for me to draw on when I was little (small type, nice and uniform, no bothersome big titles or photographs) and I so clearly remember settling down on the floor with those big empty pages, excited to begin.  I still feel exactly the same when faced with a wonderful blank work surface, and at the moment, feel particularly liberated – ready to devour them!

The  ‘impressions left by some kind of dynamic energy force…’ concept (see 9-20-14 post) is still with me…
MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | 4-10-15MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 2 | 4-10-15MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 3 | 4-10-15MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 4 | 4-10-15… and I’m working on it…



Paintings – my own included – often look more beautiful to me on a computer screen.  More luminous.

What I like about this painting – just finished, acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 40″, title ‘simply, deeply’

MARCI MCDONALD | simply, deeply | acrylic painting on canvas

… which I think looks fine here on the screen – what pleases me is that it looks more beautiful standing right in front of it.  There are some really wonderful things going on with the paint, not really having color and composition in mind.  And THAT pleases me because it means I’ve learned some things since my last post (which was longer ago than I promised myself when I started this blog, and I’ll write more about that when I finish writing about this painting) about working more successfully with the paint I’m using.

Here it is in an earlier stage…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | 12-22-2014
… and some wonderfully wild things happened that I’ve pretty much learned how to cause, but more important, to preserve when I see them happening…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 2 | 12-22-2014

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 3 | 12-22-2014

… (I often think I’ll feel like I’ve REALLY learned something when I can make huge, breathtaking paintings that I like as well as some of these detail shots, but as I’ve written before, I’m working on patience and a grown-up kind of acceptance of the fact that the radical change I’ve undertaken requires time and the ability to focus on the progress that IS being made).

Next to the picture of the painting in progress on the easel, it’s easy for me to feel like the finished piece is too refined, but I do like the complexity of the layers, and I think they are what creates its glow… I’m working on it.

And since I’d really like to post this today because I’ve promised myself to do it every Monday, I’ll write about why I haven’t been doing that next time.

I LOVE The Internet

Beautiful women are just so much fun to look at.  As are women who know how to dress – on the flashy side with a real sense of fashion and style and drama and what makes them look good (boy would you not know I have this interest by looking in MY closet!).

In my own head there is the work I do now, and everything else is B.A.  Before Abstract.  The B.A. period was full of beautiful women, and an obvious fashion element…

MARCI MCDONALD | dashade | silkscreen | 1991

MARCI MCDONALD | circlet | silkscreen | 1991

… and so at that time a collectibles marketer (Bradford Exchange) commissioned me to do a series of paintings for a set of plates with a very Erte-esque art deco theme.  I liked this one best…

MARCI MCDONALD | tango dancers | acrylic on board | c.1990

… and was looking online for a picture of the actual plate for my adorable sister who is working on an archive of sorts for my website.  (  A search for “tango dancers” led me to the work of Brazilian artist Juarez Machado, and I HAVE to put some examples here…

Juarez Machado05

Juarez Machado 1941 Brasilian painter - Tutt'Art@ (26)


… even though my own images look a little pale next to his.  I absolutely LOVE some of his paintings.  And he is incredibly prolific, also a sculptor.  I had trouble with his translated website ( but there are a ton of images to see just searching his name.  GAWD I love the Internet.

Keeping It Light

Too dark, too many shapes, too defined… I only want to suggest shape…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress |October 2014

… I’m still working on this, and my next step is to layer light colors over areas I feel are too dark.  Light over dark can yuekd juicy surprises, but can just as easily look overworked.

I know less is best, and I will get a consistently lighter hand.  I’m working on it.



Am I Lucky Or What

Whenever I’m painting and it’s going well, whichever part of the process I’m involved in (presently there are two, quite different from each other) is my ~favorite~.  I work away thinking “I love doing this.  I like this best.”

How lucky is that.  How many people get to say that about what they’re supposed to be doing?  (I did just have to go back and change the opening phrase from “Whenever I’m working…” because work – actually making a living from painting – involves all kinds of things I don’t like even a little.  And this is just about painting. 

The canvas goes back and forth between table and easel several times before it’s finished… today so far has been at the easel, working with airbrushes…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | October 2014

… on the canvas that started here  (see 10-15-14 post)…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | October 2014

… and on that day I was sure pouring and throwing paint with abandon was definitely the best.  Pretty lucky.




This canvas was set aside a while back because there were areas I liked in spite of having worked it to death, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it.  Last week I was down with a cold, and thought poking at something that was already started might be a good way to get really rolling again.

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | October 2014

But things only got murkier…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 2 | October 2014

… so I played with lights, basically starting over but hoping to see a little of what was underneath.  And as usual kept pouring it on (I’m working on that! see 9-29-13 post), ending up here.

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress |October 2014

The ~impressions left by a dynamic force~ (see 9-20-14 post) thinking is still with me, so I started throwing and layering again with that in mind… we’ll see…

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress | October 2014 MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress 2 | October 2014

MARCI MCDONALD | painting in progress detail | October 2014


Never Say Never

It seems I’m just not going to get the lesson put forth in the adage “never say never”.  No matter how many times it comes up.  And I don’t just say something like “You know, I’m done with such and such. I’m not doing that anymore.”  It’s more like “I WILL NEVER, EVER IN A MILLION MILLION YEARS EVER DO SUCH AND SUCH AGAIN!!!”

For example, in the late 90s, experiencing something like burnout after 25+ years of doing art fairs, I stopped doing art fairs, making the usual unassailable edict to that effect.  And I didn’t just say I was never doing another art fair, I was never looking at another art fair.  Ever again. 

So earlier this year when my adorable sister suggested we go to Mainsail – one of the nicer Florida art fairs, which happens to be right here in St Petersburg – I surprised us both by agreeing.  And then was surprised to kind of enjoy being there, and even more surprised to find myself actually entertaining the idea of participating!

There have been things to miss about the fairs and the constant travel – getting immediate feedback, meeting a lot of great people, being with my partner 24/7, room service… but all in all I’m happy to have gotten away from them, and to be thinking more about working with galleries these days.

Life after art fairs has been too quiet for me, and I certainly miss the money (although that’s more a result of my disappearing from art entirely, not just the show scene).  But considering exhibiting completely different work in that venue is what made me come home from Mainsail thinking that to actually do the show might be interesting.

Entering shows requires submitting photos of your display along with photos of your actual work, so this week I’ll be up in the rafters dragging down dusty old road gear (which of course would have been right out the door at never-another-show-decision-time if I’d had my way)…

Long's Park circa1998

… (everything is so SMALL… and so OLD…) and which would need to be at least double to accommodate the size of my new paintings… it could be fun… we’ll see…


Airbrush In The Abstract

I have a tendency to make rash decisions.  Regarding matters large and small, all or nothing kinds of decisions.  I’m not proud of that, but there it is.

So it was characteristic for me to tear into painting in the abstract ignoring everything else.  The decision had been made – in my mind I was now an abstract painter.  I no longer did representational work.  Or used any of the techniques I had used in my ~old~ work.  Nevermind that I’d spent years developing them, and was recognized for them.

Painting abstract and turning my back on anything from the past eventually produced some things like this (‘high and low’, acrylic on canvas, 48×60)…

MARCI MCDONALD | high and low | acrylic painting on canvas

… which I like well enough but could be anyone’s, and I began to think that some visual connection to past work was more important than I thought at the beginning of my transition.

Acting on the astute advice of someone much wiser, I reincorporated a few of my familiar practices into the mix of new things I was trying with such frustration, and found myself struggling way less to produce paintings I was at least okay with.

My representational work had also been done in acrylic, using an airbrush.  I was happy with the images at the very end of that period, and felt like they expressed some things that are really important to me (‘blue tattoo’, acrylic on board, 40×32)…

Marci McDonald | blue tattoo | acrylic painting on board 40"x32" | c.1995

… that meticulously refined, illustrator-y look still pleases my eyes but the accomplishing of it makes me absolutely CRAZY.  Like painting in a mummy bag.

I love long, beautiful curves and easy, sweeping lines.  They’ve always been a part of my work and I now realized I could incorporate some of those precise curves in my newer, looser paintings without feeling the old crazy-making confinement.  Now I just quickly make a lovely long line on the canvas freehand, either with the airbrush or with charcoal, and use tools similar to my old shields (sort of like French curves on a bigger scale, cut to my own shapes)…

shields on tables shields

… to develop the sharp edged curves, moving the shield and the airbrush along the curve at the same time.  Resulting in images whose contrasts between controlled and uncontrolled please me… (‘a path to all wonder’, acrylic on canvas, 48″x60″)…

MARCI MCDONALD | a path to all wonder | acrylic painting on canvas

… and that I feel relate more to work I’ve done in the past.  Not as loose as I see for the future, but happy progress.