20 Questions w/ Marisa Aragón Ware

In anticipation of the Vibrant Femmes Gallery Opening, madelife sat down with Vibrant Femmes Artist Marisa Aragón Ware for a quick talk discussing her life as an Artist, inspirations, and process.

Don’t miss the Vibrant Femmes Gallery Opening on April 7th!

Describe yourself and your work: 

Born and raised in Boulder, Colorado, I garnered my deep appreciation of nature from a childhood spent enveloped in the forests and glades of the Rocky Mountains. Those formative experiences heavily influence both my art and outlook, and I strive to depict the beauty of the natural world to help others connect with its abundant primordial magic.

Currently, the main focus of my work is divided between writing and illustrating children’s books, creating fine art pieces for gallery shows, commercial illustration, and tattooing.  

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

Spiritual inquiry and exploration, as well as meditation practice, have had the biggest influence on me as a human and as an artist. I’ve been studying Tibetan Buddhism since I was a teenager and it has provided me with guidance and inspiration on a daily basis.  

How did you get started in your career as an artist? 

When I was 24 years-old I was working as a journalist at the Rocky Mountain News, which was the the oldest and largest newspaper in Colorado at the time. I had been there for about a year when it closed down, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I decided to do a month long meditation retreat, called a Dhatun, and realized while I was there that I felt called to pursue a path as an artist. It just became so clear to me, so I did some research on art schools, and the next year I moved to the Bay Area to attend the Academy of Art in San Francisco. I graduated with a MFA in Illustration a few years ago. 

“Halcyon Song” by Marisa Ware Paper Sculpture


What piece of work best represents you and why? 

Probably my paper sculpture, “Halcyon Song.” I think it’s is a self-portrait of sorts, yet also a portrait of experience, showing the union of juxtaposing opposites and contradictions that reality so gracefully holds. The swan offers itself as a sacrifice, with it’s softness and innocence, while the snake symbolizes ferocity, strength, forbidden experience, and danger, yet also transformation and rebirth. To me this piece simultaneously shows both vulnerability and strength, both woundedness and the ability to rise. It’s about endings, but also about how beginnings are always spiraled and woven into every end. It’s a fairytale or a myth, something known and familiar, yet standing on the edge of the shadows of a dream.

How do your materials influence your work?

Since I work in various different mediums, my work varies greatly depending upon which one I am creating with. The mediums I most often work in are pen and ink, Photoshop, paper sculpture, and tattooing. Each medium presents its own set of challenges and possibilities. Regardless of the medium though, I seem to always be a slave to detail and precision.  

Where do you go daily / weekly to get inspired (websites, galleries, book stores, antique shops – can be physical or digital and can be more than one answer)?

My meditation cushion and the hiking trails near my house are pretty reliable providers of inspiration. If I drink a cup of coffee and then go for a run, I will have a cacophony of ideas raining down on me the entire time. 

My Instagram feed is full of artists I admire and if I spend ten minutes on there I am fired up to get back to work to try to keep up with all of the amazing art other people are creating. Also, www.thisiscolssal.com is pretty awesome.

While I love going to museums and galleries, nothing inspires me more than a day spent in quiet observation with my dog, wandering in the woods alone. 

What have you learned through creating that has surprised you?

I’ve learned that mistakes are often unexpected opportunities for new directions, that intense self-doubt can be an indicator that I’m about to create something wonderful, and that fear and anxiety often accompany the burgeoning of greatness and growth. 

Describe your work routine for your artistic practice (i.e. morning person / night person; how many hours at a stretch, organized or spontaneous, warm-ups – you get the idea).

I can only sit down and work once my dog and I have both gotten exercise, so I tend to not start working until around noon. I usually work until around 8 pm, though sometimes it’s later. I’ll make a cup of tea, put on an audiobook, and work until my dog insists I stop. 

Tell us about any recent collaborations, why they worked or didn’t.

I haven’t done much collaborating, though I did have a friend of mine who is a very talented hand-letterer do the lettering on a few concert posters I created. She’s a pro, so it was a very smooth process and the posters came out lovely. Her name is Emily Rasmussen.  

How do you balance being an artist and making a living?

Sometimes it’s easier than others, but I feel very fortunate that I always have commissions and projects lined up. Also, tattooing is a great way to make consistent money doing art- people who would never consider spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a piece of art to hang on their wall are willing to do so for a tattoo. 

I also work constantly! There’s no such thing as a weekend for me and I am always thinking about my work. 

What is your process for coming up with new work?

I’ve never suffered from a lack of ideas- my issue is that I have too many. Inspiration hits me all the time, and the hard part is choosing which projects to put my time into. 

That being said, when I decide to pursue an idea, I’ll start with a concept sketch, then a refined drawing. Depending on what medium I’m going to use, I’ll either ink the drawing, or begin the arduous process of figuring out the construction for a paper sculpture, which includes hundreds of different pieces and layers. 

Why do you believe art has value?

Renee Magritte said it best: “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.”

 What is playing on your stereo these days?

As a violinist, I have a deep love and appreciation for classical music. Right now I’ve been listening to a lot of Chopin, Liszt, and Philip Glass. I also listen to audiobooks when I work, as well as podcasts like On Being, Radiolab, and Invisibilia.

What are you reading right now? 

I’ve recently read A Gentleman in Moscow, The Night Circus and The Book of Dust- all three are worth reading! I’m a huge fan of books. 

Where is your favorite place to visit (here or abroad, visited or wanting to visit)?

I lived for a summer in a town called Trinidad in Northern California near the Oregon border. The cabin I lived in sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean and blackberries grew in abundance in the yard. About an hour away is Redwood National Park, which is a magical cathedral of ancient trees, mist, and moss. If you hike through the forest you’ll reach a very special beach called Ossagon. There are herds of elk grazing in nearby meadows while dolphins and seals ride on the waves. It’s one of the most vibrant and ecologically diverse beaches I’ve ever been to and I have incredibly special memories from every time I visited. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received in your creative career?

From Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

 Which new (or newly discovered) artist is currently inspiring you the most?

There are a bunch… Charley Harper, Teagan White, James Jean, Jeremy Lipking, Miles Johnston, Erica Williams, Owen Davy, Jeremy Mann, El Mac, Caitlin Hackett, Marco Mazzoni… just to name a few.   

 What’s the best thing about your studio/ workspace/ workshop?

The view overlooking all of Boulder and my dog sleeping on the couch behind me. 

What do you do when you hit a block?

Exercise, nap, yoga, take a hot shower, eat a snack, go for a run in the woods, play with my dog… anything to give it a little bit of space. Then return to the work. Persistence is key.  

What’s the best part about being an artist? 

Making art soothes loneliness, gives a sense purpose and meaning, and provides endless self-exploration. 


To find out more about Marisa’s work, visit her website.

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