Beneath the Surface with Marissa Quinn

Since launching Derbby late last year we have featured over 110 of the most talented artists and photographers from across the web. We sat down with one of our newest featured artist, Marissa Quinn, in the back of a busy coffee shop to talk about her earliest memories as an artist, the depth of meaning behind each design, and the design she created just for Derbby. To see more of her work click here. -Jason Markow,Co-Founder/Derbby.

DERBBY: Have you always been artistic / creative?

Marissa: Growing up, my best friend was always the artistic one and I was the one who wanted to play outside. We grew up with fields outside of our house in Carlsbad, CA and I wanted to be out in nature. I would actually get annoyed at her when she would want to do art. Then she moved away when we were in second grade and I switched to a private school. I was really shy and didn’t know how to make friends, so I quickly found my safe place in drawing and art. I had a teacher, Ms. Stein, who let me stay in during recess and color and draw. I didn’t understand what being good at it or not being good at it was at that age, so I love that memory because it just was.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

No. Senior year I was at a cross roads where I felt like, “I love science, I love animals, love anatomy, love art. And I loved writing too.” So I thought, “Do I want to be a zoologist? Do I want to be a biologist? Do I want to be an artist?” I just really loved learning. My dad felt like I needed to do what I love and try art. He really pushed me to follow that path. He wanted me to forge my own way and not settle. He’s been a big supporter of my creative life and has taught me how to be strong.

Oh that’s great! Sounds like he wanted you to follow your heart and not just follow the status quo. So where did that path take you?

Yeah! He has been my biggest cheerleader. So I studied art at Azusa Pacific University and then went straight into my Master’s there where I got my MFA.

What kind of art would you say you specialize in?

I think I kinda made up a name for it. I call it biological illustration with a surrealist twist. I love how detailed biological illustration artists are, like Ernst Haeckel, Darwin, Leonardo DaVinci, Audubon. It’s very pretty and realistic and inside the scenery (except for DaVinci, he’s pretty gnarly!). But I wanted to add a dream-like surrealist twist to this style.

Interesting. Can you elaborate on your style?

Well my main training is in large-scale oil paintings. I started out as a realistic oil painter. For the purpose of the MFA program, I focused on endangered species, specifically the Southern California coastline. I was emailing various scientists and trying to make my work research heavy. But then I had this moment where I felt a disconnect, like it didn’t really feel like my work anymore. So that’s when I began creating a personalized lexicon/dictionary of what each creature symbolizes in my own life. Doing that created the personal story and the intentionality of everything I put down on paper. All of my images have specific meanings and there are narratives that I create.

Let’s talk more about the piece you created for Derbby, “Let the Waters Settle.” First, how long did it take you?

I’d say about nine hours.

And did you begin with the final idea in mind, did you know where you were going with this one?

My process is really weird because I always have a vision of what I want it to look like, but it always turns into something else. This was one of the first pieces that turned out almost exactly how I wanted it to, and I didn’t use any reference images on it. I just went for it.

Can you run through the piece? Where you started and where you ended?

There were a lot of elements that I wanted to incorporate — the black bear, water, the moon, barnacles. I started with the bear faces, which has been a theme throughout this past year and a half. They’re supposed to be Ursus americanus, which is the American black bear. Populations are dwindling, especially due to lack of water in CA. I also really love researching Native American ideology and the idea of spirit animals. 
The barnacles are a personal symbol of anxiety in a lot of my work. This piece was meant to be a reflection on the past several years of a relationship. There were moments of amazing intimacy and connection, but I think when two people struggle with anxiety related issues that seem inexplicable, each person will begin to take on the other person’s burdens to try to save the relationship, so the barnacles are spread across both figures.
In my work, water is a universal symbol of mankind and how we’re all connected. I wanted the two figures sitting in water together, vulnerable, in between states of growth and decay. You can’t tell if the water is toxic or nurturing, but in my head it’s both. I put the moon in there, because I had started my body of work with the moon when we were together and I like the whole symbolism of the moon pulling the tides.

What has your experience with fans been? How has building a following been for you?

It’s definitely been crazy. I’ve been at it for a while, and I get frustrated, but I realize it’s not about the number. I try to keep it as authentic as possible — slowly but surely.

What would you say has been a big personal victory for you?

I think I have finally come to a point in my life where I can actually recognize life-transformational moments. I’m feeling like I’m in a really good spot. Doing a show at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History was amazing. That was a personal victory and I felt proud.

Can you tell us more about that show?

It was an 8-foot live drawing that I did on a ladder. We spread it over two months, every Thursday for about 6 hours. It was 08 Micron pens and some India ink. They just told me to do my thing. I sketched it out before and had an idea of where I was going, but wasn’t sure how it would end up. That was one of those moments where I was like, wow I can’t believe I did that!

Is there any music that you like to listen to while you create?

It’s weird because I feel like if I wasn’t creating art, I wouldn’t really listen to music. But, there’s this band called Me Without You. When I work I’m not at peace or zen. I’m very much in a place that’s uncomfortable and this music helps put me there. It’s in between story and screaming and angst and peace. I like the duality and juxtaposition of emotions in their music.

Do you typically work on one piece at a time?

Yep, one piece, one little line at a time, slow and steady. Each piece takes all of my attention and ideas.

What advice would you give to yourself five years ago?

15 minutes a day. I started out just doing something art-related 15 minutes a day. I would set my timer and force myself to sit and create for 15 minutes a day. Then, once you get over that hump, 15 minutes stretches into hours. And I think it’s important to do things outside of the studio. I like going to the beach, hiking, camping, yoga. These things inspire me and give my brain a break. Also, I’d say just let yourself enjoy what’s going on, instead of always focusing on what’s next.

How would you sum up your art in just a few words?

Opposites, Divine, Craftsmanship (I like surreal). My mantra is “Keep shining.” Because it implies that you already are!

If you enjoyed this interview, please hit the ♥ button in the footer so that more people can discover this artist!

See more of Marissa’s work on her website, on instagram, and on facebook.

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