When an artist’s work resonates with you so much that you see yourself in even the quirkiest of their creations, you know you’ve found your artistic version of a kindred spirit! For me, that artist is Melbourne-based illustrator, Marianna Marx.
Marianna’s use of the ordinary makes it easy to relate to her art. And her use of her seemingly limitless imagination makes for easy escapism. For years now, Marianna’s whimsical illustrations in dreamy pastel-coloured hues have been transporting fans like myself to faraway places where anything is possible.
Each of her illustrations holds personal meaning and Marianna no doubt has some fascinating stories behind all the symbolism! But they have also been left open to interpretation so that any one of us might identify with her sketches in our own unique way. She clearly has a lot of fun planting seeds in our minds and sparking imaginations. Hearing the different interpretations of her artwork is Marianna’s favourite thing about being an artist, besides drawing itself.
Marianna’s portfolio is a treasure trove of mysterious characters and curious creatures, often lost in some dreamlike scenario or simply lost in their own thoughts. The more I become familiar with Marianna’s work, the more I wonder where all these creative ideas hail from. How does one become such a deeply imaginative soul? As a mother of daughters, I am interested in what might have influenced Marianna growing up and what parenting ideas I might be able to pinch! As it turns out, Marianna not only has advice to share from her creative upbringing but also a few words of wisdom from her own experience as an art teacher.
“I don’t think there’s such thing as creative people and non-creative people, everyone expresses their creativity in their own unique way” ~ Marianna Marx
Marianna graciously agreed to answer all of our questions, divulging details of her artistic process, insights into her life and career as an artist, and various other musings, from the musicians who inspire her to what the future holds.
Introducing Marianna Marx…
1. You’ve been drawing since you can remember – can you tell us a bit about your creative upbringing?
I’ve always loved drawing and have wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I did have a brief stint of wanting to be an archaeologist. However, after finding no treasure in the backyard with my metal detector, I went straight back to drawing. Drawing and painting has always been the thing that has felt most natural to me.
My parents are both geologists however they have always shown a huge appreciation for creativity and the arts and are both creative in their own ways. They have always encouraged my brothers and I to pursue wholeheartedly whatever we are passionate about. When I was painting my first mural, my mum let me practise on the laundry room walls. To this day it is still covered with half painted tree branches. We were always given the time and space to play growing up and using our imagination was always encouraged.
At school I chose as many art subjects and as few math subjects as I could. I spent a lot of time tucked away in the art department. I went on to do my Bachelor’s degree in Visual Art. I learnt a lot about art history and how to write about art, I also met some of my best friends. It was great way to meet so many like-minded people. After I finished my degree, I completed a Diploma of Illustration, which was wonderful because it was basically two years of drawing constantly and it helped me develop my style and technique a lot further.
2. Can you tell us how pencil and watercolours came to be your preferred mediums and what else you like to dabble in?
I’ve always been drawn to pencil and watercolours perhaps because they allow for a lot of spontaneity, which I think is a really important part of drawing. You can take them anywhere as they are quite compact and lightweight so it allows you to capture an idea quite quickly. This is great because often the less time your mind has to overthink an idea, the better. I also like the subtle and gentle feeling created with light washes of watercolour paint. The watercolours are never too intense which kind of matches the gentle feelings that I express in my drawings.
Playing with other materials is a part of my practice that I’ve been allowing more and more time for lately; sometimes I’ll sketch with fine liners or create collages using pages from old books or I’ll paint murals using acrylic paints. After seeing the Van Gogh exhibition at the NGV, I was inspired to give oil paints a go again so I went and bought a cheap set of oil paints. The painting I created wasn’t anything I’d ever show anyone but it was fun to get out of my comfort zone and do something different. I think it’s important to not be scared to try new things and to experiment in a less controlled way.
Sometimes the best drawing will come when I’m not setting out to do a “finished piece” but when I am scribbling absentmindedly on the back of a receipt.
3. How did you end up specializing in illustration and what can we expect to see from you in the future? Hopefully some children’s books!?
Specializing in illustration was a very natural progression for me. I’ve always been drawing so I turned some of those drawings into prints and it all kind of snowballed from there.
I started by selling my work at The Rose St Market in Fitzroy while I was studying. Soon after I had enquiries to sell my work as cards and then began wholesaling my work as cards and prints to other stores as well as taking on more commissions.
Most of my ideas for drawings come directly from my everyday life so wherever that leads, I hope that I’m able to continue expressing myself through my artwork. I’ve been doing more life drawing lately and have been exploring figurative work more. I’d love to exhibit my work more, both individually and in group shows. Maybe even a children’s book one day if the right story comes along!
4. What is the hardest part about pursuing a career as an artist and how do you overcome any challenges you face?
Sometimes I find the self-promotion side of things a little bit difficult. Social media is a really important way of sharing my artwork and connecting with other people. However, I’m slightly more on the introverted side of things so it can feel quite unnatural sometimes to step out and promote myself. I’m starting to find my own way of putting my artwork out there, in a way that still feels authentic and natural to me. For example, I’ve been told a lot, that the key to social media is consistency but sometimes I just don’t feel like saying anything and if I did it would come off as forced so now I try to embrace that idea and only post when I feel it is something I genuinely want to say. I think ultimately people will relate to you more if you are being real rather than trying to force something.
5. Your illustrations are often described as whimsical, quirky, thought-provoking and highly imaginative – can you tell us about your creative process, what inspires you, and how this has evolved over time?
I tend to find most of my inspiration from pretty ordinary, everyday occurrences or observations. I love taking something quite ordinary and changing it to make it something extraordinary through scale, colour or form. Sometimes I am more inspired on a bleak wintery day than when I am travelling in a beautiful city.
I think maybe this is because the more ordinary something is, the more room your imagination has to play and the more space there is to make it into something beautiful.
Sometimes I have an idea and I’ll sketch it directly onto watercolour paper and complete the drawing pretty quickly and other times it will begin with a scribble in my sketchbook and two years later the idea will come back in to my mind and then I will finish it. I think some ideas need a little time to come into fruition and it is best to wait for the right time to bring it to life. Over time my process is becoming looser and looser. I’m becoming less concerned with it all looking perfect and trying to focus more on conveying the gestures and ideas involved as well as just simply enjoying the process.
Let’s Fly Away, Marianna Marx
6. I have read about how important music was to you growing up and how songs continue to inspire many of your drawings – can you tell us more about this? And who are you loving at the moment?
I think that I’m inspired by music because of its ability, like all art, to take you somewhere else and to spark your imagination. Music will often trigger a certain emotion or nostalgic feeling for me and maybe because my drawings are so emotion driven, for me, music and drawing go side by side.
I listen to a really wide variety of music from country to classical to folk and everything in between. I’m particularly drawn to music that tells a story or has beautiful lyrics. I’ve always loved listening to Lisa Mitchell and am really enjoying her new album. Some other favourites are Angus and Julia Stone, Vance Joy, Wilco and Austin Bashman.
7. What other illustrators do you admire?
Too many to list! One of my favourite illustrators is Shaun Tan. I think he has a brilliant mind and I admire the way he conveys such complex and quirky ideas in such a unique way. I admire the way he has pushed the traditional boundaries of picture books. I also love the work of Kareena Zerefos, Kat Macleod, Oliver Jeffers and the drawings of Egon Schiele and Toulouse Lautrec.
Along The Way, Marianna Marx
8. The Melbourne creative community seems to be incredibly supportive of one another – have you found this? What do you love most about Melbourne’s art scene?
I feel lucky to be an artist in Melbourne at the moment. The creative culture is always evolving and continues to inspire and challenge my work. By selling my work at markets like The Rose Street Artists market I’ve learnt so much from being surrounded by so many talented artists and designers. Whenever I go to markets I have such a warm feeling because of the support and creative bond between everyone there.
Being an artist can be quite a solitary profession so having a strong creative community around you is so important.
9. Your drawings reflect your limitless imagination and hold a lot of personal meaning but also allow the viewer’s imagination to wander. With so many layers of meaning and possibilities for interpretation, how often do you get to hear what others’ see in your work?
I absolutely love hearing how differently people can interpret my drawings. Besides drawing the picture itself, it is my favourite part of being an artist. At the markets where I sell my work, I get to hear people talk about what a particular drawing might mean to them. There’s one drawing in particular called Travelling On that a lot people comment on. One lady said it reminds her of motherhood because it’s hard work but you’re ultimately creating a really beautiful nest. Other people can relate to it because it suggests a transitional time in their lives. Another lady told me it reminded her of a recurring nightmare she’s had where she’s being chased by a large ball that looked like the one in my drawing.
10. Can you tell us more about your love of teaching art to children and what you have learnt from your teaching experiences?
I’ve taught art in various places since I finished school and have just opened my own art school called Gloworm Studios in Northcote. I love seeing how even at a young age, your art can reflect your unique personality and I really enjoy seeing kids make art with such a lack of inhibitions.
“For children the end result isn’t about creating a final piece to hang on their wall, it’s about having as much fun as possible with the process, which is something I think we sometimes forget as we grow older.”
I always love chatting to kids about their ideas for a project, I often talk at length about the imaginary scenarios and ideas they have for their drawings and have a lot of fun seeing where those conversations take us.
11. What advice to you have for young aspiring artists?
That they are already artists!
“If you are making work that comes from your heart and that you enjoy, then in my opinion, you are an artist.”
I don’t think the goal of being an artist is to be able to sell your work (although that is a wonderful outcome if it is to happen!) I think it’s more important to focus on following your own curiosity without fear and creating work that fulfills you. The most important thing is to enjoy what you’re doing and to not compare yourself to anyone else.
12. Finally, any words of wisdom for creative parents who love art and want to make it a fun part of life for their kids?
I think encouraging kids to play and explore their creativity in whatever form it takes is really important. I don’t think there’s such thing as creative people and non-creative people, everyone expresses their creativity in their own unique way, so I guess my advice would be to give your child the space and time to play and to explore what the best form of expression is for them.
For more on Marianna Marx,
- check out her website
- follow her on Instagram or
- visit her on Facebook or
- sign your littles up for an art class with Marianna at Gloworm Studios