David Marshak

paintbox in the arctic

Paintings for Cheese; The Art Barter




This time I thought I might delve briefly into the trade, or the barter. Very popular among artists, craftspeople and tradespeople is the barter. It is ridiculously self explanatory, and yet I will explain it. I give someone a painting and they give me, wait for it, something else that I want. I have traded art for, most recently, cheese. Lots of cheese. Oodles of it. I still have cheese coming to me from this glorious trade and the cheese merchant now tells me that he wants something more urban for his next piece. And in return, I will have more cheese. Way more cheese. Other notable trades have been for a set of drums, two amazing handmade guitars (one acoustic, one electric) that have changed the way I play, car maintenance, an actual car, a top of the line wood stove that is the center of our patently adorable rural lifestyle, a pair of overalls made of coyote skins made by a talented and very skilled seamstress, a matching set of seal and wolf fur hat and mittens by a leading Inuit designer, several fares aboard an oceangoing vessel bound for far flung arctic regions, and  of course other artists work, which is perhaps the best trade of all. There are probably other trades that I cannot now recall.

In any case, my life has been enriched by others openness to trade. It is an amazing thing to participate in a transaction that ostensibly has nothing to do with money (other than  the obvious perceived or actual value of goods traded). To get something that is valuable to you and in return provide something that someone else feels is valuable to them is the perfect back and forth. No muss, no fuss. No paperwork, no bill, no receipt. Sweet.

I hope that I can continue to engage in this kind of micro economy. It feels like a healthy thing to do in an age of rampant consumerism and runaway capitalism. It even feels hopeful somehow to think that another way is possible, even if on a tiny scale. It bodes well and who does not like things to bode well?

There it is. My blog post about barters. Hope you liked it.

I should add that I also really, really, um, like, really like getting paid for my paintings too. It is nice to put food on your family. Smiley face icon.


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A Christmas present

Super quick post.

Here is a painting I did for Sarah’s father for Christmas. It is a young Jack with his father… Somewhere in time. I’ll take a better picture soon and add it to the images on my website. I really had fun doing this one.

An old black and white photo that I blew up and painted in paynes grey and titanium white

Merry belated Christmas. Here’s to a good New Year ahead for all of us.



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New commission goes home





Hello Readers (thank you for reading!),

I just finished this commissioned painting yesterday and today it went off to its new home down the road at our friend’s house. We play music together regularly, so I’ll actually be able to visit this one, hopefully for years to come. It’s a view from their beach house on lake Huron. I felt good about this piece. It was challenging for sure. Near the end of working on it I kept wanting to see the wave in the foreground finish its rush to the beach. It’s like there’s an eternal tension created in the expectation of release. Tonally, it was tough as well. Really subtle pre-storm tones of green and purple. A bit of a brain melter trying to find the right balance.

Commissions can be uncomfortable. You have to lay down some ground rules so that it’s not like working with a creative team with color adjustments for matching couches and so on. I can’t and won’t deal with that kind of client. They need another type of painter. And even though in twenty years I’ve never had a piece returned or refused, you always wonder if it might happen. Knock on art wood. Anyways, it’s always good to see the faces of people who you know really, really like the piece they’ve ended up with. A few have cried. I kinda felt bad. But not really.




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prints, oil paintings, limited edition

Prints are now available… For Christmas…

Hi All,

Well, the Yuletide has risen and  is now lapping at our doorsteps, threatening to flood again. I am a prototypical, pusillanimous procrastinator when it comes to holiday purchases. Oh, how I revel in my disdain for the bargain seeking masses who crowd shopping malls and drive home with trunks packed full of legitimately gotten booty. Of course, then, in the 11th hour, when I realize with sickening certainty that I have no gifts for anyone, I find myself joining the zombied Christmas hordes. I rub their scent all over me to disguise myself and descend into gift land, wandering aisles, picking up this and that putting them down for that and this. Finally, shoulders shrugging and patience imploding, the purchases are made and the contrary holiday cherubs start careening around my head again in joyous approval of my support for one or another faceless corporate entity that steals souls of children in faraway lands where Christmas is… not really a thing.

Every so often though, I find myself in a different kind of transaction. I either give a painting or buy some art that I can afford and give that in lieu of the store bought escape clause. I can’t always do this, because as I like to tell my soon to be clients when they balk at my prices, “I can’t afford my own work”.

But now you can afford my work. So can I! Prints! They are here and they are limited.. So act now! This Christmas give the gift that will sit on your wall for a very long time. They are archival. They are on fine art paper. They are giclee and they are ready to frame and come with a certificate of authenticity. And again, they are limited. Go to the ‘shop’ section of my website and find the conveniently Noel timed prints of various size and price. Merry Christams time everybody.


prints, oil paintings, limited edition

Archival giclee prints now available.


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oil painting on board, canadian landscape

Canaries in Coalmines on Roller Coasters – Artists and Income.

Hi All,

I’ve been meaning to do a post about the ups and downs of making money as an artist. The girls are napping and I have a few stolen moments to write, so blog I will. I had thought better of writing about this particular topic while my income was on a lengthy downswing – one should not opine on such things whilst suffering the slings and arrows of perceived outrageous fortune. Downswings come and hopefully, go.

The art biz is the best way to make money if you enjoy the feeling of being on a roller coaster for most of your professional life. It is economic schizophrenia writ large. One moment you are soaring on golden, self-congratulatory wings made of paint and then you are suddenly looking for dented cans of tuna and feeling genuine excitement about finding a whole bin of them.

Since the big downturn of 2008ish – when I noticed my income was halved as luxury purchases became common for only a more rarefied economic strata of people – most artists I know have been hustling evermore to secure good sales and find new clients.

There are art fairs which cost a few thousand for a decent booth size and there are art fairs that cost a few hundred for a space to set up your tent and shuck your wares. These fairs, large and small are one thing to take on when you are without children (they can be fun, especially if you sell well or they can be rainy, sparsely attended muddy messes that prove to unworthy of your own attendance) but are daunting to say the least with a brood at home.

You can try and get into a good gallery and hope that your work catches fire with their clientele, but galleries are closing left and right and many of any import are not taking on new artists unless you are a proven commodity. I do have many contemporaries who fit that bill and seem to do very well, but I suspect that even in the best galleries there is an increase of bustle in their hustle. Even if you do get in, often their stable is so crowded that your paintings are lost in the mix, but ya know,  big ups to all my friends whose work manages to shine through the artistic conflation that is a gallery and become the cream of the crop.

Yup, the artists are always the canary in the coalmine of economics. Although good art is always made in austere times, the artists are not always paid well for it, if they are paid at all. I gotta say here that I feel insanely lucky to have been on this roller coaster at all. I have had some great years and some not so great years, but I have not held a job since ’97… knock on freakin’ wood… It is hard to feel hard done by when that fact comes into perspective. But now that I have three children (wha?!?) the downturns seem more ominous and hold more potential for self-inflicted psychodrama. I am not known for my prolonged states of zen-like calm so while it is fun to ride a roller coaster, it is occasionally crazy-making to think that the well being of your family depends on you keeping the ride going and ensuring that somehow the up slopes get longer and longer.

So, I am again thankful for people who love art and even more thankful for people who buy art, especially now when the canaries are singing.

Thanks for reading,



p.s. Included in this post are a recently delivered piece and a piece that is 90% done.

p.p.s. Canadian landscape, oil paintings, artist… These are the meta words that I failed to insert into the above text but will now aid in having better placement in the SEO search-scape. Heh.

oil painting on board, canadian landscape

Somewhere near Kangerlussuaq

oil painting on board, 'Bowles Bluffs Rd.'

Recently delivered to new happy owners right here in the Beaver Valley

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One Night Only Art Show… For the children.

I was lucky enough to go to summer camp from grade 6 to grade 11. The Durham Board of education ran a ten day art camp in the wilds of Haliburton and it was amazing. It was also affordable because it was so short. It gave me a window into a world that I barely knew existed, save several educational viewings of ‘Meatballs’, the classic Bill Murray/Chris Makepeace buddy movie (which, as it turns out was filmed at the very camp of which I now speak/write).  The art camp took over Camp White Pine before ‘real’ camp season started in earnest. What made it so special, I think, was that everyone there, from grades 6 to 12, was art interested and selected for this great experience for their artistic achievements in school. Art classes of all sorts ran all day interspersed with sports. I did some cartooning and then went sailing, I sketched in the woods and then popped over for some archery… Tennis, then sculpting. Awesome, right?

I ended up a being a counselor a la Meatballs, and although our particular yearly camp life was short, it was fun. Damn fun. Super damn fun. I remember looking at the names scrawled on the walls of the cabins, repeated in different color pens, sometimes marking several years of attendance. Those were the real campers. They were there for a whole summer. Every summer. That seemed amazing to me. It was like an unseen  subculture had revealed its existence to me through these yearly notations on the walls. I was and am glad to have had the experience of summer camp. I loved everything about it and it was part of shaping me.  Summer camp may seem like a luxury, and it certainly is in a lot of ways, but it shouldn’t seem inaccessible for children of less moneyed families.

For several years running I have been a part of a very cool art show that helps to send young campers to the incredible Taylor Statten Camps in Algonquin Park. This years show is this Thursday night. If you can make it out, please come and help us give some deserving youths an experience of a lifetime. I have some new works appearing for the first time here. Here is one of ’em.

Are you ready for the summer?


‘Bowles Bluff Road, Beaver Valley’, 48″x36″, oil on board


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Studio time(s)


The air is cool and the leaves are changing, dammit. Although our wood pile is full and we are ready for the plummeting temperatures there is still a delusional  desire to do summer things. I swam only thrice this whole summer despite our near proximity to various bodies of water. The trip to the zoo never happened. The new chicken coop is still unfinished. But, the studio needs me more than the chickens do. I must lay some paint eggs and bring home some bacon.

So, Sarah and I have devised a practical set of of guidelines for plotting our respective studio time. We take turns getting up early with the three wee ones so that the other may sleep in every second morning. After a good sleep we can take the option of heading into the studio for the rest of the morning and then switch up at noon so the other has the afternoon for working. It seems to be a working version of sanity for the moment. I was up early this a.m. and after diaper changes, feeding everyone and making sweet, sweet coffee for myself I basically just set about trying to keep various shrieks and hollers to a minimum so Sarah can try to get the aforementioned extra sleep.

The mornings might be early but they are also hilarious and truly adorable. This morning, one of our twin girls, Hanneli, wanted every piece of wardrobe available to her to be actually on her. She strutted about  with a pair of tights, swim shorts over that, two shirts, and a raincoat. One running shoe was all she needed as footwear, apparently. On top of everything she put on a costume dragon cape and gave me the pleasure of watching her parade around with a very proud look on her face. Ineke, however, went the other way and tolerated no shirt whatsoever despite the cool morning air. She wanted to paint while Hanneli walked (yup, both walking like orangutans… no talking yet, just shrieks of varied intonation and volume). It is a couple to a few hours of important, tight family time. I truly feel sorry for families who cannot do this due to the time constraints of their careers. It is one of the trade offs that are apparent to every artist who is blessed enough to get by on what they make with their art. Would I like a bigger bank account and a dependable paycheque? Hellsya, but like I said, it is a trade off and after almost twenty years I’m used to the schizophrenic ups and downs of art based income.

So, back to the studio – I have a couple of new pieces on the go. One is of a mountain descending to the sea in Greenland and the other is of a local piece of ground, Bowles Bluff. We have back to back studio tours rapidly approaching and the amount of work available for  viewing is not exactly voluminous. In fact, I think I’ll be postponing a show I had planned for mid-winter as I just can’t foresee a full gallery worth of work materializing before then. This is no lament, but rather an extrapolation. Just the facts, Ma’am. Another big solo show will come when the time is right.

Right now I am in the middle of the big sky in the Bowles Bluff piece. I seem to have developed a habit of painting a tone or two too dark on my first pass which necessitates a re-paint. Frustrating but very learny. A little more preparation and forethought is obviously required. Still, it has been a while since I’ve done some big poofy clouds and I am reminded that there is nothing that is easy about capturing the floating elegance of a good cloud.

Have my thoughts meandered enough for this post? Before I start lamely talking about about what brand of paint I use, I’ll sign off.

Again, check out my new site featuring my drawings and doodles, https://marshakian.wordpress.com/.

And prints are still coming. Soon.

Be well.



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The End of Hiatus – Galvanization

Hello summer lovers and lovers of summer,

I’m trying to post regularly but it is difficult and I’ve been procrastinating. First of all, I’m not a writer, and I feel slightly pretentious expounding. I’m not driven to write anything except songs – those just come when they want to. I do not, however, long to blog. But, having made the decision to get bloggy for purely professional reasons, it is now necessary to come up with topics that seem relevant to the artistic process and can sustain more than a paragraph or two of my ramblings. So, for the past few weeks while I have been enjoying my self imposed exile from my palette and easel, I have been trying to brew up a picture of what my return to the studio will look like and what I might write about at the end of such a protracted break.  I dunno.  But I should be writing something, this I know.

The summer has been so full that it seems germane to explain, briefly at least, how a hiatus can so stubbornly persist.

A cousin of mine – I’ll eponymously call him ‘The Galvanizer’ – arrived for a stay of two weeks. We had not seen each other in almost four years. When the Galvanizer and I get together the bacchanalia dial goes to eleven and this reunion was no exception. We played music, drank good wine and beer, smoked too much, discussed things deep and shallow and above all, cooked damn fine food almost exclusively over open wood fires. There was feast after feast and everyone reeked of wood smoke. The culmination was a whole pig cooked Hawaiian style in a deep pit of coals for about 7 hours.

So, that obviously was not the right time for a return to the studio. We had guests after all. And a pig.

Now, our guests are gone, the pig is is in deep freeze (we could not eat the whole thing despite our best efforts to please Bacchus) and we are, Sarah and I, lightly stunned and slightly hungover. Suddenly it is September and we have a fridge full of leftovers to sort out.  Our garden is bursting at the seams with vegetables screaming to be harvested. Our twins are walking and our nearly four year old son asks ‘why?’ every two seconds. We need to finish the chicken coop. Life continues at a pace faster than we may always be comfortable with. The lovely illusion of summer is over and after a break from studio work and a summer full of family and friends, it is back to the larger reality. The reality is of course, that Sarah and I are both working artists and our only income is derived from selling the work we make. Luckily, despite my choice to abscond from the studio for a longer time than I had planned, we both love what we do and feel tremendous gratitude that it is possible at all. Sometimes though, you need to step away for awhile to be galvanized. You need to forget your routine to appreciate it again. At least I do.

Did I mention I’ll be offering limited edition prints very soon? Doing the final test prints now.

Also, check out my new site of doodles and drawings, marshakian.wordpress.com

Ok, back to work, dammit.

More sooner,







Lemmy’s BBQ









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Rare family portrait


Since I don’t post family pics on the Fb behemoth I thought It’d be nice to put one up here for family and friends to catch up on our family visual vibe. More art related posts coming soon. The hiatus still is on for now…

Summer, glorious summer.

Best to all,



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The Hiatus

The Hiatus

July has been hiatus month for me. My wife Sarah is an artist as well and I gobbled up the lion’s share of studio time these past few months getting work done for my show with Harold Klunder (at Flesherton Art Gallery until late Aug.). It is coming on three weeks of no painting and the various aspects of hiatus-ing, both pro and con are becoming evident.

Things get done outside of the studio. Not by me, except for a lawn mow or two. I mean, by Sarah. So far she has built a huge bookshelf (it had been nearly two years without seeing many of our books), finished our taxes ( I am unable to face them), weeded the vegetable garden and designed herself a new website. Oh, and she weened the girls too. No big deal. So, my hiatus has certainly provided opportunities for domestic advancement. And of course, I have been able to spend days with all three children in the yard and lolling about lazily in the living room. Good things.

But what does the hiatus do for the artistic mind? For some it would be torture. I know a few painters to whom the hiatus is anathema. Whether due to obsession or work ethic, some artists simply cannot take breaks unless forced upon them by geography or tragedy. For me, there is refreshment in stepping away. I can see what I’ve done over the past months and reflect on it in a different state of mind. I can critique my work with less anxiety. It is done, there will no more strokes. I can let go and let the critical chips fall where they may.

Is it always refreshing though? Not necessarily. It can also be vexing. If a break lasts long enough, I start to forget what it is like to paint every day and begin to feel alienated from the whole process. It becomes apparent again that it is actual work – that from beginning to end, a painting is a series of decisions and commitments. I am not complaining. I love working in my studio. I love the process. But for those who think that every artist has a dreamy floating-on-a-cloud kind of day every day in the studio? I wish.

One of the hardest things about returning to the studio after hiatus-ing is the kick-start back into action. After twenty years (woah) of doing this, I still feel like a nervous child approaching my rolling palette table. What colors? What to paint? Can I still mix? I need more reference material. The doubts tend to creep in whilst on hiatus. What if I suck? What if I always sucked and I’ve just been lucky to get by? Will my fraud be discovered? Is it over? Shall I apply for a server position and polish my manners to mine for better tips?

No. Not a chance.

I don’t know what I’m going to paint yet when I get back in to the flow. I don’t know what I want to paint. I have boards waiting. They look at me with their eager, burnt sienna toned surfaces as I walk into the studio and head for the chest freezer to get hot dog buns. They wonder what the hold up is. What’s up, dude?

I’m coming, I’m coming. I’ll be there soon and we’ll see what happens. Ok? Geez.


The servant waits while the master baits.


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