Artist of the Month: Marilyn Fuerstenberg

 This self-taught artist has found that learning to paint in watercolor is not only fun and challenging, but it also enables her to explore the world around her.

Day Job 2007,
watercolor, 22 x 12.
All artwork this
article collection the artist.

by Naomi Ekperigin

Marilyn Fuerstenberg first began painting in watercolor more than 20 years ago, while she was working as a social worker in Wisconsin. The demands of her occupation propelled her to seek an activity that would balance the turbulence of working with abused and neglected children. “I loved my job, but working with abused children took so much out of me emotionally,” the artist says. “I knew I needed something to escape to, and painting became my therapy.” She first began painting in oil but found the “smells and mess were too much.” Fuerstenberg recalls speaking with a friend who worked in watercolor, and asking what she would need to get started in the medium. From her first painting, she knew she’d found the medium for her. “Just watching wet watercolors mingle on paper intrigued me,” she says. “Watching it mingle and make new colors…I was hooked.”

As a full-time social worker, watercolor was even more appealing because of its quick drying time. “I liked the fact that I could paint for 10 minutes—sometimes I only had 10 minutes,” the artist says. “I painted at my kitchen counter while making dinner. Actually, these quick works were just a way of getting a handle on the medium. I was more playing with the paints than actually making a painting.” After retiring in 2001, Fuerstenberg decided to devote herself to painting full time; she now works six hours a day, five days a week. The artist also finds great joy in teaching senior citizens in her area. Beginner watercolor classes allow her to sharpen her own skills while introducing the medium to others.

Working Man 2007,
watercolor, 17 x 20.

Fuerstenberg’s subject matter is varied, and she views each new painting as a chance to learn. “It can be a coyote far off in a field, a snow drift, or simply a vivid color,” she says. “I rarely will paint something that is not a challenge for me. I strive to keep learning.” The artist primarily paints nature scenes in her rural area, painting both on-site and back home in her studio. “I use rough sketches, and sometimes reference photos,” she explains. “I try to remember to do a value sketch, but I often find myself in too much of a hurry to start painting. When I’m doing a wildlife scene, I just sketch the animal onto the watercolor paper and nothing else. I then wet the paper and start laying in the sky, and take it from there.” This intuitive approach allows the artist to learn as she goes–figuring out how to proceed in each step and developing new techniques and approaches to problems. For instance, in the painting Daffodils, color mixing proved to be challenging for the artist. “The color yellow was difficult because of its high-key value range,” Fuerstenberg explains. “Yellow can turn muddy very fast, and I had to be careful about the colors I would shade the yellows with. The wrong purple—yellow’s complement—can turn the yellow more of a brown. I found, through trial and error–and intuition–that blue worked well.”

0803fuer4_600x409 0803fuer2_600x409
Taking A Break
2007, watercolor,
15 x 22.
2008, watercolor,
14 x 22.

Fuerstenberg’s commitment to self-education is a good lesson for all artists, especially those exploring a new medium. She recommends finding a teacher who can instill the basics, and then buying a few art-instruction books to develop new skills. Most of all, the artist believes a genuine desire and perseverance will lead to success. “Stick with it,” she asserts. “If you have a desire, it will happen. Oh–and never forget to have fun. We may not all become Winslow Homer, but if you enjoy it, that’s all that’s important.”

For more information on the artist, email her at

Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant for American Artist.

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