making time for painting

Improve your art practice: 8 tips on making time for painting

Finding time to paint

When I ask about students’ struggles with developing a solid painting practice, their biggest obstacle is not style, or technique, or shading, or color knowledge. Their main struggle is … making time for painting! 

Hey, I get it. I am a pro artist (as in, I’ve been doing this art thing for a living for over a decade), and you know what? It’s hard for ME to find time to paint. You may think – how can that be? – but here’s how: as a full-time peddler of my own creations, I run a business which requires many parts to be synchronized together. And some of that includes: accounting, marketing, art show applications, social media, image editing, research, answering customer emails, printing, packing, shipping, framing, communicating with galleries and stores… I’m exhausted just listing all of these. So, clearing brain of all that clutter and shoving aside the schedule of all these tasks isn’t always easy…. but necessary, and so I prioritize showing up in front of my easel, on average, about 5 days per week. And once I am finally in full-on painting mode, it feels pretty awesome. 

The thing is, some of our time constraints are literal (when you just don’t have a free minute in your schedule!) and others are psychological (those have to do with prioritizing, and spending less time on social media, and maintaining focus while working, and viewing the task as being more monumental than it actually is). When you’re struggling with making time for painting, it’s important to address both.

Here’s how you can get better at awarding yourself with more painting hours!

Set up your painting area


Set up your painting area AHEAD OF TIME, because nothing kills creative enthusiasm like tedious preparation. If you constantly have to search for canvases, pencils, brushes, unfold your easel, get all of your colors in order, and then stash it all away in different areas after you’re done – not only that eats into your precious painting time, but it also saps your energy. 

If you have room in your home, dedicate a full space to your easel (or painting table), as well as cart or surface area on which you keep your paints and brushes, palette and water. 

Plan your lighting ahead of time, too – if you paint only at day time and your light source is a window, that’s great. But for most of us, window alone does not provide enough of a reliable light source, because even at day time, it can cast a shadow from our painting hand. It is best to have a strong light source mounted overhead – and / or, you can set up lights on both right and left side of your easel for shadow-less process. 

If your home does NOT have enough space to leave your easel and paints and brushes in “ready to go” mode, you can store them away – but make it an easy storage option, ok? Keep them all together. Something like a cart with wheels and multiple drawers can serve as your Artist Station. Clear stackable plastic bins can serve as additional storage (clear, so you can see what’s inside, which can be helpful when looking for that very specific shade of blue). 

Point here is, you should take no longer than 5-10 minutes to prep your area for painting every time you are ready for creation. 


Scheduling a task is one of the most effective ways of getting to it. Seems pretty obvious, right? But many creative enthusiasts don’t treat their art practice that way. 

Scheduling means writing the time down, putting it on your calendar, and sticking to it. Just like  committing to a dinner with a friend, or a class (that you have already paid for!) – you gotta decide on “when” and then show up for it. 

So, even if you can only commit to 1-2 hours of painting per week – get it into your planner!

Minimize distractions when painting


Easier said than done, I understand. You may have children, and pets, and dinner cooking, and loud noises all around. But to successfully get into your “zone”, you need to start with clearing distraction-free time space for each painting session. Think of it like meditation – people don’t run over to the kitchen every 5 minutes to stir soup while they are sitting with legs crossed and eyes closed, right? 

Because when you get interrupted constantly, you lose your flow, and getting back into that flow will take more time, and as a result, your improvements will take much, much longer. 

So, turn off that TV and put your phone on the other side of the room so you don’t constantly get tempted to check social media. 

But you know what you can do? Surround yourself with pleasant sound stimulation. We (visual artists) are lucky in that painting brain normally does not interfere with our sound processing brain (if sound is pleasant, and doesn’t force us to stop, that is), so we can, in fact, multi task here. Allow yourself to consume podcasts or audiobooks, or rock it out to music while you paint. 

And if silence is what you crave – then painting in complete silence has its very soothing and reenergizing special powers too. 


If all this talk about preparation makes you think that you should be all seamlessly and magically aligned before you delve into your painting – get that nonsense our of your head, fast! 

The most important part of your painting practice is to START. If you are not inspired – START. If you don’t feel like it – START. If bad things are on your mind – just START. 

Dip that brush into paint, and get that paint on your canvas. START. 

I’m sure you already know this habit forming mantra. The biggest hurdle with going to the gym is getting out of the door, right? So think of paint touching your canvas as you opening that door. You will not get anywhere unless you open the door first. START. 

Don’t feel the inspiration to get back to that big canvas you’ve already put so many hours into? That doesn’t excuse you from keeping up with your practice, sorry pal! Grab a small blank canvas and create a warm-up mini piece. START. 

Things begin to align after you start. Those challenging parts work themselves out one way or another, but it happens WHILE you paint. So the most important word of this blog post, I’m not sure if I happened to mention it yet? ….….START! 

Start the painting dammit


There will probably always be a stage in the creation of each painting where you think your work looks HIDEOUS. And this anxiety can push beginners to stay away from painting. 

You may have all the time in the world to get to the easel and finish a piece, but are feeling like a failure because your painting has reached the “ugly stage” – and that keeps you away from even looking in the direction of your art supplies.

And sorry to tell you, that “hideous” process stage may never go away – I’m not immune to it at all, and I’ve created thousands of originals over all my years. 

What DOES change though, is your mindset. And by that, I mean how perceive that ugly painting stage of yours. And the sooner it shifts, the better you will feel. The better you will feel, the more progress you will make. 

Embrace your unsightly painting stage, love it, laugh about it if you have to, maybe talk to it a little. “You poor thing. If people saw you right now, they would be horrified. Lets make you all nice and pretty. Let’s start with this window riiiight here and add a little white. Now, the layering over here. And the grass right down here. Ah! I see small signs of life. Stay with me! It’s a process, but you will be the best! I believe in you”. 

Most importantly, know that it’s an inevitable stage of creation, and it will pass. As long as you keep at it. 


Sometimes during a painting session, our brains get a little stuck, and we find ourselves in need of a break from the piece we are trying to finish. That is completely normal (and, ahem, if your painting is going through that “ugly stage”, you can take a rest from it too, as long as you will return to it and give it love)! Walk away from the painting for a few days, so you can later come back to it with fresh eyes. 

But don’t sacrifice the remainder of your painting time just because that piece is “resting”. Have 2-3 works-in-progress going so you can swap up for another on your easel. Switching between multiple pieces helps to get your brain unstuck and keeps it interesting. 


That’s right, tomato (if you speak Italian, grazie). 

Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique? It’s a very popular time management method, designed to keep your mind in the game. For this, you simply need a timer. Any timer – one on your phone will do (as long as you promise to not start browsing your apps, deal?)

Set the timer for 20 minutes and start painting. You are only allowed to stop when the time is up. After a 20 minute chunk, you’ve earned a 5 minute break! Set your timer for 5 minutes, get up, stretch and relax. Then – back to another 20-minute session. And then – take 5 again. And, continue. 

This method develops discipline of keeping your attention on task. After a while of practicing this, you will get better at ignoring distractions, and that means – less precious painting time lost! 

Oh, and it’s called Pomodoro after that cute little red tomato kitchen timer. Which are still around by the way, so you can totally get one for your painting space!

Studio painting tools


It’s an obvious suggestion, but not everyone does it. Because it’s SO effortless and easy to leave old paint water and palettes with dried up crusty paint sitting around! But that only means, more prep work for you at your next painting date with yourself. And don’t you want to start your next painting date with a clean slate? I sure as heck do.

…And what do you think? Did miss anything? Do you have your own time-creating tips for your painting practice that you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below! And if you’d like to have more discussions and gain feedback on your work, don’t forget to join our Facebook group here (it’s free!) – Expressive Acrylic Painting with Anastasia Mak

Blick Art Materials mural

Blick Art Materials: corporate headquarters mural

For 10 days in November / December 2017, I had (what felt like) a day job and commuted to an office in Highland Park every morning. My project consisted of painting Blick Art Materials mural – a big chunk of a wall in the headquarters the largest retailer of art supplies in the U.S.!

Blick Art Materials mural

Largest retailer, and (for me) – largest mural. This 8×18 foot baby was the biggest painting I have done to date, by square foot. The piece was created in the entrance reception area of the office. As bright as Blick retail stores are, their main office walls were in need of some color… so I was invited to help.

Blick Art Materials mural


Blick Art Materials mural concept was designed by me from old advertisement and archives provided by Blick, and it consists of: elements of Chicago and NYC (representing Blick and Utrecht, respectively); Blick’s very first product (the Payzant pen); Blick’s sales building from the 1920-ish era; an old school paint milling machine; containers and tubes of paint / varnish / pigment.


Blick Art Materials mural

Materials used: acrylic paint and brushes from Blick, of course. (most of the colors were of Blick and Utrecht store brand, with a couple of bottles of Golden for black and white).

Blick Art Materials mural

It was a physically demanding and yet extremely rewarding project. Plus, Blick knows that the money they paid me for this work will be certainly making its way back to them in a form of art supply purchases – since I seem to have a black hole in my studio, into which all the paint and canvases and art panels disappear. …Whooosh!

Blick Art Materials mural

Included here are snapshots of the mural creation progress.

Blick Art Materials mural

Blick Art Materials mural

Blick Art Materials mural

Take a look at this time lapse video of the whole “mural birth”. (I sure wish my painting process was as fast as it appears here!). And, a little confession: occasionally, when their video people were out of the office, it was up to me to turn the GoPro off an on, position it properly and put on the right setting. And…eh…. lets just say I made a couple of user errors. But despite my gaps in coverage, this came out nicely! Thanks Blick!

Chicago Woman Magazine – artist of the week feature

Hey there Chicago Woman Magazine, thanks so much for making me your artist of the week! I’m proud to be a Chicagoan, and a woman, and an artist, so this all fits together nicely. 😉

Here’s the link to feature and interview.

Screenshots are below:

chicago woman Anastasia Mak

chicago woman Anastasia Mak

Dayton City Paper feature

Hey Dayton City paper, I enjoyed reading your witty articles during my downtime, while spending the weekend doing art festivals in Kettering and Yellow Springs. Thank you for letting me bring in some Chicago art influence into your world. And thanks for the interview! Being a featured artist at this year’s Art On The Commons in Kettering was a great experience.

Here is link to the published interview:

dayton city paper anastasia mak

art on the commons anastasia mak

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Anastasia Mak Art visits Chicago Hilton ballroom

When acrylic painting, interior design, corporate budget, and city pride meet, results can be super unique! Such as – this gorgeous event that took place earlier this month at Hilton on Michigan Ave.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton ballroom debut happened during a celebration party for a couple thousand event planners that gathered for a conference in our sweet home Chicago.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

The artwork images were licensed for this one evening only, and, with the help of Access Chicago transformed into lit backdrops, columns, translucent panels, and cocktail table covers.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

The smaller ballroom had a “Violet Hour” theme, with which my pastel Chicago Bean painting went pretty perfectly.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

The center reception area featured a modern twist on decorative columns – painting images that wrapped around a vertical box and lit up when the event started.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

The main ballroom had large bar, themed food stations, and dancing. Each themed food station was adorned with a lightbox featuring a painting image of mine that is tied to a neighborhood – Lincoln Square, Wrigleyville, Bucktown, the Loop, etc.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

My art was “honored” to be a part of this event, but personally, so was I! There was work to be done – throughout the event duration, I created a painting live – of yet another Bean, of course, since this was a very Chicago-focused evening. (Better not dip paint brush into that wine glass!)

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

This 16×20 piece was worked on for 2.5 hours and later completed in the studio.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

The whole evening was like a fairytale. It was perfectly executed, and seeing my art juxtaposed with the classic ornate designs of ballrooms gave it a bit of an Alice-in-Wonderland feel.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Access Chicago did an excellent job with getting my image files imprinted onto translucent plastic and making them glow. And huge credit goes to Jackson Junge Gallery for facilitating connection with this client.

Anastasia Mak Chicago Hilton

Thank you for a magical night!

Lahu village thailand

Northern Thailand Adventure

This past November, we had an incredible trip to Thailand. After briefly visiting Bangkok in 2009, I was ready to return to get to know this country better, and away from hustle and bustle of a giant city. Since we only had 2 weeks for this trip, we decided to skip the beaches, and focus on the hilly North. Here are some photos from our Northern Thailand adventure.

Chiang Mai view

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, but it feels way different from Bangkok – much more laid back and provincial, with a slower overall pace. No wonder so many expats settle here – for a season, or a couple of years, or the rest of their lives.

Chiang Mai street

It also has hundreds (if not thousands) of temples, and while it is simply impossible to check out every single one, big effort was made to stop in all the ones within the walls of Old Town. Of course, the long songthaew (passenger truck) ride to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep up the windy road in a rainforest is a must.

chiang mai temple

chiang mai temple

Chiang Mai Sunday market is a treat for all senses and goes for blocks and blocks. There are trinkets, and furniture, and clothing, and art, but our goal was to eat street food until we drop (of being full, not of food poisoning, of course).

chiang mai sunday market

I had quail eggs and seafood and sausages and cheesy snacks and exotic mushrooms, and for the first time ever – some insects! Starting off easy, we got a little bag of fried silkworms, which were crispy, greasy, and tasted a little bit like anchovies. You think it’s gross? But how is it different from eating all kinds of other creatures with legs and feet (shrimp, for instance)? Don’t knock em until you try them! They are full of nutrients. The following morning, we asked our hotel staff to add them to our eggs. They were happy to do it!

omelette with silkworms

Next stop (after a 3 hour hilly road van ride) – Pai, a so called “hippie paradise” (just like a tropical island, but inland!) is a small town in a beautiful mountain valley, overlooking a river. Sometime ago, this was a tiny, quiet, and serene place. Today, it is bustling with tourists, and yet still manages to feel quiet and serene (once you walk away from the main street), so while there has been plenty of development with the guesthouses and restaurants, it manages to hold on to its charm. The best thing to do in Pai – nothing! If you have a hammock and this view – what else do you really need?

Pai thailand

From Pai, another van took us to Soppong and then a pickup truck taxi dropped us 8 kilometers uphill at Cave Lodge. A fun guest house with no-frill bungalows, it caters to backpackers and adventurers.

Cave Lodge Thailand

Our schedule was all preplanned here, and the following morning at 7 am (Thanksgiving Day), with met our trekking guide with a funny name – Gaymoo.

Soppong Thailand

This is Mae Hon Son province, a mountainous area of Thailand bordering Burma, technically in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is home to numerous hill tribe villages (such as Karen and Lasu), residents of which often do not even speak Thai. Gaymoo himself was born and raised in a nearby Karen village, and he effortlessly switches between Thai, Karen, and English (although he will tell you that he only learned English from tourists and does not read it just yet).

Trekking in Thailand

Our trek was one of the most interesting 2 days of my life. We went through hills, caves and farmland; waded through many rivers and mud. Gaymoo was super entertaining and fantastic, especially at cutting through jungle with his machete. Due to his mastery with the knife, extensive knowledge of forest, trails, and plants, on our journey we enjoyed endless amounts of fresh tropical fruit and sugar canes.trekking in thailand

I learned rice fields run around here: rice gets harvested and laid out to dry for a few days / weeks. Then it gets pounded to separate grains from straw (look, I got to help!). When it is ready for consumption, it is run through the machine that removes grains from shell. Villagers don’t get paid to work the fields, they just take turns volunteering and always have a year worth of rice stored in their common sheds (just in case, of a bad harvest year).

Thailand rice fields

We spent the night in a Lahu village hut (owned by a lovely woman who did not speak one bit of English, took care of many animals, as well as her toddler grandson). We played with puppies and pigs, ate the most deliciously cooked thanksgiving meal, and slept on (slightly bouncy) bamboo floor.

Lahu village thailand

Lahu village thailand

Thanksgiving in thailand

There was a surreal moment when I walked up the hill to take in a stunning sunset view. This small, basic village felt like it was cut off from most the world, I certainly did not have a slightest phone signal on the long trek here. Somewhere between those distant hills, is a Burma border. I raised my phone to snap this photo, and….. ding! A text comes in from a friend in Chicago. “Happy Thanksgiving!” it said. “Happy Thanksgiving to you too!” I typed back.

Northern Thailand mountains

The evening was wrapped up by local villagers bringing us rice whiskey, and everyone tasting it with sticky rice dessert, cooked inside of bamboo sticks over the fire. Morning was started with strong coffee, more rice sticks, and preparation of snacks for the road (wrapped in bamboo leaves). What followed was another beautiful, day-long, hot and humid trek through the countryside.

Lahu village trekking

After such intense 2 days, normal people rest their bodies, but instead, we woke up and chose to go scrape our feet (and knees and hands) against some sharp rock on a 6 hour trek through Tham Nam Hoo cave, one of the most picturesque caves in Thailand. Getting through this cave involved swimming against the current, and balance, which we did not have much of left. Yet, another crazy fun experience and the one I will never forget!
Thailand caving

Moving on from Sappong, our Northern Thailand adventure continued in Mae Hong Son.

Mae hong son thailand

It is a frenzy-free town, with Burmese-style temples, hills, and gorgeous views, mostly devoid of tourist crowds, was a welcome place to rest.

Mae Hong Son thailand

A nightly market here was another food heaven.

Mae Hong Son night market

We decided to visit a “long neck” Kayan tribal village, reached by a 20 minute wooden boat ride down the river. Kayan “long neck” village visits and their ethical repercussions are a source of debate (some believe that they are akin to a human zoo, as the neck rings that ladies wear are extremely uncomfortable and supposedly worn for tourists and not as much as a custom or tradition). However, after weighting the pros and cons, we made a decision to go. This informative TravelFish link presents balanced information on the current status of Mae Hong Son “long neck” villages.

Mae Hong Son river boats

We very glad that we had an opportunity to visit this place. We paid a fee to hire a local guide, and that decision made a big difference. He took us around the entire village, not just the gift stalls where ladies are selling scarves and crafts.

Mae Hong Son Karen village

We visited village residents’ homes, and dropped in on school classes where cute kids were learning Thai, Burmese, and English.

Mae Hong son long neck village

We learned about these people’s struggles, how the older generation migrated from Burma, fleeing a war zone, and how they still do not have Thai citizenship as they have not been recognized as residents by Thai authorities. As for long neck ladies themselves – they were extremely nice, and those who knew English, were happy to converse with us about their lives. The village residents make a big portion of their living from tourism. We purchased many hand woven scarves, and contributed to school’s donation boxes.

Mae Hong son long neck village

My plan for a last day in Mae Hong Son was a courageous one: to finally learn to ride a motorbike. Kurt was game. It costs $6 to get a cocktail here; it also costs $6 to rent a motorbike for an entire day. We have NEVER driven a motorbike (or a motorcycle) before, and I admit, that by that point of our vacation, I have already witnessed a couple of crashes, and almost chickened out on the way to the bike rental shop. Yet, after signing paperwork, and handing over a deposit, we had bikes and helmets ready to go! The “riding practice” took place in circles, right there in a market square – there were a couple of unfortunate turns, but overall I started to feel more confident (and, suddenly, so free!).

Mae Hon Song motorbikes

So, we set our travel destination to be a famous bamboo bridge, and then, right at Burmese border – Ban Rak Thai, a picturesque village of Chinese settlers. We hoped to make it back before sunset, relying on phone GPS. Here is the view of our travel route (not too shabby for the first time ever on motorbikes, eh?) Estimated travel time though, was accurate for cars, but was way off for us, and it took us 2 hours to reach the place.
Mae Hong Son motorbike path

Bamboo bridge (Su Tong Pae) did not underwhelm, it is a gorgeous landmark of Mae Hong Son province.

Mae Hong Son bamboo bridge

Here is a brief description of it, from “Used daily by villagers and monks, the name of the bridge translates as ‘successful prayer’ in the Tai Yai language and Su Tong Pae is a source of pride amongst the local community. Rice plantation owners donated the land and the villagers came together to construct the bridge using interwoven strips of bamboo for the walkway and wooden supports to elevate the bridge above the rice fields.”

Mae Hong Son bamboo bridge

The ride to Ban Rak Thai was steep. And hilly. Did I mention steep, as in crazy uphill curvy road? My motorbike was slow, but managed it, however, Kurt’s almost did not have enough horsepower to take those hilly roads. He was worried that he would have to get off and push it, and I stopped to wait for him constantly. Yet, eventually we made it to our destination. The Chinese village was cute and quiet and full of tea shops. We sat down in a restaurant to rest from our crazy ride, pointed at a few things on the menu and somehow ended up having one of the best meals EVER. There were mushrooms, and veggies, and meat, and was so hungry that I completely forgot to photograph it! Here is the village though:

Ban Rak Thai

Ban Rak Thai village

On the way to Ban Rak Thai, one thing we never came across, was a gas station. At the village, our tanks were nearly empty, and it was time to ask around about gas. (which is the word no one understood). “Petrol?” “Oil?” “Gasoline?” “Fuel?” People at the restaurant smiled at us, but had no idea what were were talking about. Finally, a manager was motioned over and I made some super awkward motorbike gestures. “Go around the lake, that way!” he said. After more searching and asking, we found it! No wonder the gas stations here are hard to notice. It’s not a station! It’s a bunch of plastic gasoline bottles, conveniently sitting next to flammable straw brooms. One bottle = full tank. Excellent! We can make it home now.

Thai Gas station

If the road to get here was all steep uphill, you can only guess the satisfaction of reverse. My hands hurt from gripping the breaks. It was amazing. And so freeing. And I want to wrap myself forever in that scenery of setting sun and rice fields and villages and Thailand beauty. I’m hungry for more!!! We made it back to Mae Hong Son just in time to navigate rush hour traffic. I would say, we passed our initial motorbike test pretty well, and I can NOT wait to get on one again!

Thailand countryside

From Mae Hong Son, there was a brief 40 minute flight, and suddenly, we were back in Chiang Mai, where it all started. By the way, Chiang Mai music scene is not too shabby: Croissant, the reggae band, played covers, but always rocked it. The jazz club musicians we also excellent.

Chiang Mai music scene

Chiang Mai Jazz club

Last, but not least: elephants! There are many places to visit them, some humane, and some not-so-humane. We chose to go to a no-riding elephant sanctuary, which houses a few female elephants and a baby. Adults were actually “rescued” (bought out) from places that used them in the past for riding.

Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary

Elephants are so cute and weird. They are like aliens – their trunks are powerful and multi functional, which is both entertaining and awe-inspiring. That thing is a nose, and a hand, and a thumb, and just wait until one sneezes on you – you get showered with a stinky mist, and yet it is somehow also very lovable. They eat tree branches and tree trunks for lunch with ease, and readily take bananas from your hand, wapping it with their giant tongues. We gave them a mud bath and they seemed happy, prancing away to their tourist-free pastures.

Chiang Mai elephant sanctuary

Northern Thailand, you were amazing. Your people are friendly, kind, and gentle, you are full of beauty and adventure. Of course, you have some strange parts, but think I’m in love with you, and no surprise, many others are, too. Someday, we will meet again, and until then – please stay as wonderful and safe and peaceful as you were to us.

57th Street Art Fair 2016 poster by Anastasia Mak

57th Street Art Fair 2016 featured artist

I was thrilled to be invited by the 57th Street Art Fair to create a commission for their 2016 poster and banners.

This Fair is a nice show in Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Hyde Park, located not too far from University of Chicago campus. The commissioned project involved creating a painting, completing a poster / lightpole banner design, as well as making all of festival’s other supporting materials (postcards, bookmarks, lanyards, etc) – print ready.

After brainstorming the painting subject matter with the festival committee, we settled on Botany Pond – a serene little water spot in the Main Quadrangle of UIC campus, full of lilies and surrounded by plants and flowers, with a walking bridge over it. The building I placed behind Botany Pond in the painting is actually located a little further away in real life (on the other side of UIC’s Main Quad). But I chose it for this piece because I found it so interesting. Its gothic style has many little details that are fun to paint, and the right portion of it reminds me of a castle.

Here is the initial proposal sketch:

57th Street Art Fair poster sketch

….And completed painting along with my final poster / banner design:

57th Street Art Fair 2016 poster by Anastasia Mak

….and one of many street lamp banners advertising the festival!

57th Street Art Fair 2016 banner

What a fun project! I look forward to being there during the show days on June 4th and 5th! Stop by my booth (just south of the info tent) to say hello.

Forbes feature - Anastasia Mak

Forbes: Price Ranges and Studio Images of 14 Contemporary Artists

Very honored to be included in this Forbes list of contemporary artists’ studios! I’m in the company of some very talented people here. Thank you, Jason Borbet, for the feature! Here is the link to the entire piece.

Forbes feature - Anastasia Mak

Dipping my feet in plein air painting

This summer, I have been enjoying a fresh (to me) way of creating: via plein air painting! While I have done plenty of street sketches during my travels, painting a canvas outdoors is something that I don’t typically engage in because my original pieces are so time-consuming.

Lately though, I have taken advantage of our perfect summer and fall weather, and worked on several canvases on location. This “new hobby” has forced me to paint in busy, ever-changing environment and with faster-drying acrylics. I believe that plein air painting serves as a great creative exercise, and plan on continuing this practice, whenever weather allows.

Here is the piece I worked on in July, all the way in Seward, Alaska, with a final studio-refined result below.

Alaska Plein Air painting

Seward Alaska painting

Now, to be clear: I do not (and will not, at least in the foreseeable future) consider myself a plein air painter in the full sense of this word. Artists who are fully dedicated to creating their paintings en plein air, normally complete their pieces on location from start to finish. They tend to stick to a loose impressionistic style, and do not refine their works later in the studio. I, on the other hand, start my pieces outside, and then tinker with them in the studio, using pens and other media, as long as I want to, until I deem them complete.

So, for me, plein air painting simply means enjoying some creation time outside. All of the other rules I make up as I go.

Here is a piece created on a beautiful September day, on a beach in Evanston, IL (with studio completion):

Beach Prairie paintng

Evanston Beach plein air painting

And this one was born on a beach in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. I focused my piece on the red umbrellas and cute vibe of Chicago Waterfront Cafe, a hidden gem tucked between highrises on our beautiful lakefront. I’ve been painting local scenes with Joy of Art De Joie, a super prolific, talented plein air artist.

Chicago plein air painting

Chicago Waterfront Cafe painting


jazirat al hamra historic village

Visiting empty, eerie Jazirat Al Hamra Historic Village

For my live painting session at the RAK Fine Art Festival, I had to come up with a subject that connects to Ras Al Khaimah – so, the obvious choice was to depict a local landmark. There is a lot of new construction in RAK, as this is a rapidly evolving region of a very young country – but what’s more interesting to me is historic decay. After reading about Jazirat Al Hamra Historic Village (sometimes spelled Al Jazirah Al Hamra), I became fascinated by it and decided that it had to be the subject of my painting.

jazirat al hamra historic village

After we settled in our hotel in RAK, Kurt and I took a cab out to the village to explore it. We were told that it would probably be difficult to catch a taxi back to our hotel, as there are not many that go by the village – so we made arrangement with our cabbie to be picked up in the same spot in an hour.

The historic town is located near an older residential neighborhood, where many people were out as this was Friday – non-working prayer day for Muslims. (by “people”, though, I mean men – women tend to stay at homes with families as opposed to walking to mosques with their husbands). After we entered the village, however, we became enveloped in total silence – this is a ghost village, after all, and channel a strong eery sensation it did. Not surprisingly, many locals claim it to be haunted. Overcast weather also helped set the backdrop.

jazirat al hamra historic village

Jazirat Al Hamra  – which translates to Red Island – once was a busy coastal settlement. It thrived on fishing and pearl-trading, and was occupied by the al-Zaab tribe. Its remains are full of pre-oil era architecture, with many buildings constructed around early and mid-20th century. The settlement itself dates way back to the 14th century. At one time, it actually was an island – but the space around it was slowly filled in, connecting it the mainland.

Many of the walls here were are constructed from beach rock, corals, and sea shells, mixed in with mud. Decorative elements of houses appear to be made out of porous concrete (or a material similar to it). The village has now been abandoned for about 5 decades, and many parts of it are very brittle. Hiking through these ruins, I had a feeling that some of the remaining standing walls could crumble had I decided to push them hard enough. I could have taken pieces of these buildings home in my suitcase if I wanted to. The village is wide open for anyone to enter, and yet there was NO ONE – not a single soul – there aside from the two of us.

The wealthiest residential home in the village (which belonged to a merchant) is constructed with wind towers – they were are designed to funnel any breeze into the house and served a fan in this hot climate. (Modern architecture in the Emirates mimics these types of wind towers – although now, that air conditioning is prevalent, they are only built as an imitation for decorative purposes).

al jazirah al hamra emirates

The center of the village contains one of the oldest mosques in the Emirates, along with once bustling market stalls where pearl trading and sales of goods, shipped in from faraway lands, used to take place.

At the cusp of the 20th century, Jazirat Al-Hamra had a fleet of 25 ships and many more pearling and fishing boats. Pearl divers from the village performed grueling journeys out to sea to fetch the treasure from pearling beds. Village’s positioning on the Arabic Gulf shore helped make it an important hub, into which goods from Africa, India, Iran were brought by sea and then distributed by resellers to other locations.

It was amazing to think of all this history while climbing over ruins of rock, stepping inside old buildings and not encountering a single soul. Once we reached the central market area, we had to turn around and head to our meeting place with the cab driver because an hour went by so quickly. But we knew that we did not see the entire town, and we were craving to explore the rest. Well, 2 days later we were in another taxi headed back here.

Our second cab driver had never heard of Jazirat Al-Hamra and has no idea where to go. He even consulted with other cabbies, and we pointed to it on the map, but he still did not have a clue. Luckily, we now knew the way and guided him as he drove. We didn’t ask him to return to pick us up – getting a taxi back from the village may be difficult, but certainly not impossible (we were happy to take our chances). This time, I also wore tennis shoes – because climbing rocks and ruined in fancy sandals previously proved to be a little painful.

Our return was on a sunny day, and because of clear weather and white puffy clouds, village felt less haunted, but was still very quiet and 100% empty again.

Around 1930’s local pearl trading industry started to dry up, as Japan was underpricing pearl sellers from this region. Over the next 3 decades, the village was surviving on sales of other goods and boat building, but local inhabitants began to have problems with their government. Eventually they started to relocate to other bigger cities, attracted by better job prospects in the evolving oil industry, and others were given newer residencies elsewhere in Ras Al Khaimah. Yet some locals strongly believe that people moved out because of Jinn – spirits from another world that haunted this town. One way or another, Jazirat Al Hamra was abandoned in the 1960s.

There is no other place like it in the UAE, and while efforts are underway to protect and clean up Jazirat Al Hamra, we were amazed to see how accessible and open and full of rubble it is. This ghost town is quite large – on our second day we walked for another hour and a half and saw the rest of it. And while our hotel (a 15-minute cab ride away) was packed with European vacationers, NONE of them were making their way here – it just doesn’t seem to be a tourist destination, which is mind-blowing considering how fascinated I was by this place. I certainly don’t think it will stay like this – as Ras Al Khaimah continues to develop and attracts more international visitors, the village will eventually get ‘discovered’ and tourist crowds will follow. I also believe (I hope!) that this place will become better preserved, which probably means that most fragile buildings will be off-limits. …For now though, if you are in the Emirates, want to step back in time, away from any noise, and be completely alone – there is a very good chance you will find that in Jazirat Al Hamra. Just wear comfy shoes.

As for my live painting subject, I selected the village’s oldest mosque and its entrance fort. I juxtaposed both structures on a square canvas. Go here to see painting’s progress shots along with a completed piece.

Oh, and here I am with Anna. She is a reporter who lives in Ras Al Khamiah. She has immense knowledge of the area and its people. If you are interested to read an in-depth piece on Jazirat Al Hamra (along with a link to the interactive map of the village’s center) – check our her article right here.  She also runs an amazing Facebook page, People of Ras Al Khaimah .