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The Battle of Hasting:

Art Battle led to a speedier

style for Red Deer artist

Marianne Harris’s home studio has been quiet during the lockdown, but has plenty of room for art students.

For Marianne Harris, succeeding in art has involved some battles.

The owner of Red Deer’s Paintwerx Studios recalls having to battle some negative attitude from her parents when she first started to show an interest in art as a child.

“My parents really discouraged me,” she recalls. Despite a principal’s suggestion that she should enroll in an art class, to her Depression-era parents art was an impractical luxury that no sensible girl would get involved in.

Harris persisted with paint-by-numbers and whatever else could feed her desire until adulthood. She was already a mother herself by the time she took her first weekend class in watercolours, though. An encouraging employer led her to the Edmonton Art Club, more lessons, some shows, and ultimately an opportunity to teach in a private St. Albert studio.

Within a year, Harris was taking students in her own studio. Wherever she has moved since, there has been a teaching studio in her home, where she can share the gift with others that she waited so long to receive.

When Harris arrived in the Red Deer area in 2002, some sustained advertising and word of mouth kept a stream of students driving out to her acreage.

“I was quite surprised at the steady students I had.”

It was another battle, though, that pushed her work in a new direction. Harris was invited to participate in the first Red Deer Art Battle in 2013. Slapping together a finished work in 20 minutes with no reference piece was hardly her style. For years her primary love had been creating detailed, realistic watercolours. But she did it and succeeded.

Harris participated in several Art Battles in the subsequent years, winning both the regional and provincial competitions in 2014, sending her to the national level.

While she didn’t have the same success in Toronto, the overall experience affected her approach at the easel. Working in acrylic for the Art Battle, she called on years of hearing critiques suggesting that she “loosen up” a bit – a necessity within the time limit. Now she regularly takes liberties with representation and gets exciting results.

While Harris hasn’t worked true abstract painting into her repertoire, she enjoys making abstract bases for her representational works. Still working from pictures, she doctors the colours or rotates the canvas while working on the base to see what figures emerge that she can emphasize with detail.

Painting faster has meant producing more work, of course. While pieces are always off visiting shows (including an upcoming show at the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre) or at their home-away-from-home in the A+ Art Gallery, the bulk of her work covers nearly every square foot of wall space throughout her home and gallery. Pandemic rules have prevented it this year, but Harris normally has an open house every June for potential buyers.

The pandemic has also delayed a pending workshop. Harris likes to offer students project-specific workshops, and the Wilderness Discoveries workshop is now tentatively scheduled for August.

'Wilderness Discoveries' is the full-day workshop piece you can register for, likely to be held in August.