Local Folk Art, Water Color Painter: Marni Manning

At not even 30 years old, Marni Manning’s life experiences so far would be enough for the average person to cross off a lifetime number of bucket list items. She’s taken up residency in South Korea where she found her soul mate (Seoul-mate?) and has turned her passion into a fruitful profession.

Marni is a full-time painter, using water colors to produce folk art, which means that there is more to her work than meets  the eye.

Read our interview with Marni below to discover more about the emerging artist:

Where are you and your family from originally, and how and when did you land in Northern Virginia?

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and grew up in different cities around the state. After college, I moved to South Korea for work, where I met and married my husband. We decided to move back to the States for his work, where we found ourselves relocating to Northern Virginia, early 2016. These days, my family currently lives in Frederick, Maryland – not far from us. After living halfway across the world, it’s nice to be nearby and hang out on the weekends.

Family portrait commission.

How did you discover art, and what made watercolors “stick” as your medium?

Everyone in my family does something creative, either for a job, or a hobby. I’ve been drawing and doodling since I was a little kid. I went through different mediums: crayons, pencils, colored pencils, charcoal – I even found a love for sewing and majored in Costume Design in college. Eventually, I came back to painting, and focused on watercolor.

I’m somewhat impatient, so investing time in other mediums like oil would make me antsy (although it’s on my to-do list.) I love how unforgiving and unique watercolor is – it’s a wonderful challenge to constantly be practicing and learning new techniques.

‘Gluttony’ was painted for and sold at the Hayao Miyazaki group art show with Spoke Art Gallery in New York City, September 2017.

In your own words, what is folk art and is there a specific culture that you regularly portray in your art?

I realized early on that the art I wanted to create needed to have a deeper meaning than to just reproduce a pretty landscape, still life, or portrait. There is tremendous power in art: to move, to motivate, to enlighten, and to strengthen our society. Art is a platform on which I’m able to communicate my beliefs and opinions about our current political and social climate. I’m passionate about women’s rights, mental health, marginalized groups, and celebrating differences as well as discovering sameness among the cultures that make up our world.

Folk art has always been attractive to me. I love the deceptive simplicity and depth. It conveys that anyone, regardless of social status and skill, is capable of creating uniquely beautiful art. It’s my hope to convey in my art, truths to my audience, about love, acceptance, and strife, while still bringing immense joy. Folk art allows me to focus on the intention behind my art, without fussing over realism. Primitive art has more charm, anyways.

“Therefore, I Suffer’ was exhibited with Splendorporium in Portland, OR for their Day of the Dead/Tarot show October – November 2017.

Are you naturally gifted artistically, or did you have to be more deliberate about developing your skill?

I’ve always had an affinity for art, but in combination with hard work and dedication, I’ve been deliberate about growing my technique.

I attended a university for their theatre arts program; there, I honed my design and sewing skills by studying Costume design. I learned about art history and took a few drawing classes. Having also studied Musical Theatre, I was a performer: singer, songwriter and actor. I think all of these interests funneled themselves into my art.

After I picked up watercolor, I scoured the internet for painting how-to videos, and became familiar with my contemporaries. If ever I’m feeling stuck, I read, listen to music, and go to art museums.

Family portrait commission.

Tell me about your relationship with your husband, and is he an artist, too?

My husband had returned to his hometown of Jinju, South Korea, at the same time I started teaching English at a university there. He had been living in Canada previously, wanted to keep up his English fluency, and so enrolled in my conversation class. We were smitten with each other, became good friends and spent a lot of time getting to know one another at coffee shops. We dated, were engaged,

and married within a year. It was a wonderful whirlwind! We love that we come from different cultures because we’re never bored.

My husband has many talents, art being one of them. Sometimes I make him paint me a picture, and I always love the result. He’s a Renaissance man, but mainly a bilingual electrical engineer.

How did living in South Korea for so many years affect you as an artist?

Living in another country is a strange experience. It’s exciting, frightening, intoxicating, and frustrating. I struggled with depression the third time I moved back to Korea, mostly because I couldn’t find my place in the society. As a married woman, I had certain expectations placed upon me, but I was aching to be appreciated for who I am: an independent, individualistic, American woman. I was desperate to create a safe haven for myself and to have an activity that took my mind off of my troubles. After stumbling upon some watercolors in a nearby art shop, I got to work! My work started as art therapy for just myself, and in time, I was able to break through the fog of my depression.

How do you sell most of your art?

I’ve been selling my art online since the beginning of opening my business. I knew it was important to build a following on Instagram (@marnimanning), which is where a lot of my marketing energy is directed. Half of my art is commissioned, with a spike around the holidays (my family portraits make popular and fun gifts!) and the other half of my art grows from my own thoughts or is for group and solo shows around the country.

What are your goals for 2018 and beyond?

I’ve been fortunate to make some wonderful connections in 2017 that will take me into 2018 with a pretty full calendar. I have solo shows and shows with other artists, including an exhibit with my sister, artist and poet A.C. O’Dell.

I hope to make more connections with galleries around the United States, including locally. I have an interest in doing more editorial illustration work, as I’ve already dipped my toes in with The Washington Post. All that to say, I love doing anything and everything that allows me to tell stories through my watercolor paintings, and supports my folk art aesthetic.

It’s a dream to someday have my own gallery space or studio where I can host art shows, drawing nights, perhaps serve tea, and just have a happy, inviting community that puts art first. Basically, it would be a brick and mortar store of my Instagram feed.

To learn more about Marni, visit www.marnimanning.com.

ASHLEY CLAIRE SIMPSON
Ashley Claire Simpson is a Marketing Communications Specialist for a local military association, but her real passion is freelance writing for a number of publications, including Fairfax/Alexandria Woman. She has been writing features and human interest pieces since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia, where she graduated in 2008. Ashley has lived in the D.C.-metropolitan area for most of her life and always relishes the opportunity to learn and write about so many inspirational local women who make a difference in the community - and in the world at large.