Marilyn “Mara” Parent

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The Art of Inspiration

By Kim Roth | Photo By Keith Boe | Article provided by Coeur d’Alene Living Local

Marilyn Parent is a woman who has done most everything she has ever wanted. And if there’s something she’s interested in and hasn’t done yet, she’s willing to try. She is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is an artist. She is a watercolorist who has turned her passion into a highly successful career. She has started an online business. And she is a charming, kind lady with a cheery outlook. Perhaps what is most admirable about her, though, is that she wasn’t always a prestigious artist with accolades. She wasn’t even always an artist, for that matter. Marilyn began as a busy mother of four children with an interest in art and no fear of trying something new.

Born in Chicago, Marilyn moved many times throughout the country before settling to live in Coeur d’Alene. While raising her children in California, she began taking art classes. Art was something she had always been interested in but had never had the time to develop as a skill. Her first class was oil painting, which she enjoyed. Once she began working with watercolors, however, she knew she had found her medium! She immediately loved the flow of the watercolors compared to the heavier oils. She admits it’s still a fun challenge to control the colors, while letting them go freely—an art form not unlike raising children.

Seeking to learn more and improve her skills, Marilyn enrolled in the Otis Art Institute and ultimately took every extension class available. She began signing her art as “Mara” to take less space on her finished work. “Mara” quickly became her professional name. She began selling her originals in galleries and was noticed by Suzanne Caygill, the creator of a very successful coloring method. Marilyn describes Suzanne as a dynamic lady who worked in Hollywood during the Golden Age. She introduced Marilyn to many people in the movie industry.

Suzanne suggested Marilyn try painting on fabrics, and so Marilyn began experimenting with silks. This was a fun new challenge for her and something that had not been done before. She experimented with watercolor on scarves and other silks and immediately loved the way the colors flowed. She worked to develop her ability and eventually people began coming to her for lessons. After enrolling in as many classes as she could and always being the student, Marilyn had become the teacher. She explains that she became something of a pied-piper during this time. People were so interested in this new, artistic idea! While in Cambria, California, people flocked to her for lessons on how to paint on silk.

A life-long learner, Marilyn admits, “I learn a lot by teaching.” She remembers being a student in one of her first classes. She had been assigned to paint a dish, but it hadn’t gone well. The teacher came by her table and began yelling, “No! No! No! That’s not what you’re supposed to do!” Marilyn admits this was a difficult experience, but she was not deterred. “This experience always motivates me to teach, instead, through encouragement,” she says. “I love to get a new student who comes a little afraid and leaves feeling successful. To help someone feel successful is so exciting!”

Marilyn believes anyone who feels even a little bit interested in art should try it. “I have people tell me all the time, ‘I can’t even draw stick figures!’” But Marilyn contends that “if you have a desire, you can learn it. Few are born with a real artistic ability. It’s acquired through learning and lots of trial and error.” She, herself, admits she did not feel successful in the beginning and even many times thereafter. Each time Marilyn tries a new technique or medium, she is challenged and has to put in a lot of work to improve. This doesn’t stop her, though. “It’s really fun to try something new,” Marilyn admits with honest enthusiasm.

This eagerness to try something new has been a pattern throughout Marilyn’s life. Even now, she has begun a new venture to turn her artwork into an online business. Marilyn and her daughter have created NorthernReExposure.com to be a site where her artwork can be more available to the public. Buying original art through galleries is expensive. But by putting her art on coasters, cutting boards, tiles and other decorative household items, Marilyn—with the help of her daughter, Marcia Helton—has been able to make her artwork available to more people. Starting this new business has not been easy. They had to buy special equipment and invest lots of time in learning both the technique of transferring Marilyn’s art to the household decorations and the methods of successful online business. “There was a big learning curve,” she admits. Marilyn is learning the business of optimization and marketing skills of getting customers to her site. Not surprisingly, she enjoys the challenge. “And working with my daughter is great! She handles all of the product line,” Marilyn adds.

Despite a lifetime of hard work and overcoming challenges, Marilyn says, “I would still try something new if it came along.” Even in her personal life, Marilyn applies this enthusiastic attitude. “When something difficult comes along, I’ve learned to see it as an adventure and just believe it’s going to be good. Any disappointments I’ve had in the past have always worked out to something better.” 

How often does Marilyn paint now? “All the time,” she says. “And when I’m not painting, I’m thinking about it.”  She loves living in North Idaho because it has “the most wonderful places! God has created such beauty in North Idaho, and I want to paint it all.” Before she begins each painting, Marilyn takes the time to pray. Her faith is an important part of her work and who she is.

She likes her work to be impressionistic. She doesn’t like her paintings to look like photographs. Rather, Marilyn prefers her work to be open for people to think about. She explains that she sometimes paints a piece two or three times just to loosen it up and experiment with color.

As Marilyn shares her life story, she exclaims through sincere surprise, “Jeez! I guess I’ve done a lot!” She doesn’t see herself as extraordinary, though. She doesn’t know that both her art and her life are an inspiration. She says simply, “If I can inspire anyone, that’s what I like to do. The older I get, the less important it is to be prominent. I love art. I love people and I love my family.”

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Raniel