Category: In The Artist's Studio

Maria Burtis: Perennial Painter

Spontaneous and inspired by nature, the work of Maria Burtis is both serene and full of energy. We spoke with the artist to hear more about her process, inspirations, and the importance of continuous creation.


Maria Burtis hard at work on one of her “Array” pieces.


What is your studio space like and how does it affect your process?

My space is my own; I use every inch it. There is one long 20-foot wall where I do most of my painting. I usually have several pieces going at once, and often move things around to get a fresh perspective on them. My palette is a table that is on wheels — I can move it around the room to get it closer to the pieces I am working on. I have several other “zones” in the studio — one where I tear the strips for the Array pieces, one where I have my daily paintings and a setup to work on other small scale pieces, and a table that is dedicated to sketchbook exercises.

I have just finished a 50 page “grid journal” and am working my way through a color mixing one right now. The sketchbooks are idea factories where I can play with composition, color and materials in a low stakes way. I do not bring my computer into the studio unless absolutely necessary — I like the zone to be as analog as possible!


Do you listen to music or podcasts while you work?

I do listen to music and sometimes podcasts when I work. I find that music is really great during the exciting beginning and tangled middle period of a painting — podcasts are great when I am in an editing or finishing phase. Music helps me transfer energy onto the canvas, while the spoken word of podcasts helps babysit my overly verbal brain and gets me to a place where I am editing based on feel, not on intellect or what “should” work.


The artist’s studio pup, Winnie, posing with a piece.


Can you tell us more about your daily painting practice?

I have been making one small painting a day for 18 years. The daily paintings are 5.5” x 7.5” are made in acrylic on paper, and I usually spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes on them. I have painted in airports, on trains, in hotel bathrooms at the crack of dawn while my family slept, friends’ houses, in many countries and cities across the US. If you had told me 18 years ago when I made my first painting that I would be continuing this practice this many years later, I would have stopped right there and gone back to bed!

I realize that my way is to be incremental in all things, always taking lots and lots of small steps toward something rather than making big proclamations or deploying grand gestures. It works for me, the aggregate of small actions to form a larger one. Through that process I am strengthening and integrating my creative practice into daily life. Making one small work a day means that I never have to worry about stopping, and every painting does not need to be a masterpiece — there are days when the prosaic emerges, and days when a jewel is revealed.

The main teaching it offers me is that showing up with curiosity and maintaining a loose grip on the whole exercise is the most important thing. I am then able to bring that energy of openness and curiosity into the studio and not get worried or sidetracked or stuck on the larger work. If it is going well, it’s going well — if it isn’t, well, there’s always tomorrow.


Maria in her studio.


What are your main inspirations?

Painters I admire are many numbered, but two heroes are Joan Mitchell and Richard Diebenkorn. Eckhart Tolle has taught me the most about increasing the power of presence and decreasing ego. The landscape of northern California and coastal Massachusetts fill me with awe. Being in nature brings perspective to most things!


How would you describe your work and what do you hope viewers see in it?

I would describe my work as abstract landscape painted in a style that is open, airy, loose — the color is fresh and clean but balanced with passages of toughness, some grit, some tension. I hope viewers see what they want to see in my work, but moreover I hope the work evokes a feeling or a connection on the somatic level of the viewer. If someone stands in front of my painting and feels something in their body, I don’t need to control what that feeling is — but I am glad the work is connecting in a nonverbal way.


Agreement With What Is, mixed media on canvas, 48 x 60 inches


View more work by Maria Burtis.