Paper, ink, beeswax, and thread tell the story of a place in Marilyn Joyce’s mixed media works. Residing in Portland, Oregon, she finds that her passionate interest in the natural world, joined with a walking practice, provides parameters for her art. As Marilyn writes: “Direct observation combined with felt experiences leads to intuitive gestures, mark-making, and staining that become distilled through experimentation, to create abstract place-based compositions.” Currently, she is creating a body of work specific to a recent PLAYA residency. She received her B.S. degree from the University of Oregon and her post-baccalaureate degree from Oregon College of Art and Craft. We met her at PLAYA’s mixer in March, where she mingled with writers visiting Portland to immerse in the Associated Writers and Writing Programs conference.

Marilyn, what led you to PLAYA?

As a child, I would visit eastern Oregon during family vacations. I remember traveling over Mt. Hood in the backseat of our family station wagon, my eyes barely level with the window. The pillars of tall fir trees gradually gave way to sparse vegetation, then to an open vista that spread in front of me. The fantastic rock formations allowed for hours of imaginative play. I have carried those memories with me and often return to them. I was interested in finding out if time at PLAYA could provide an opportunity to revisit those fond memories and also offer the chance to delve more deeply into my present interest in this region.

Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?

My intent at PLAYA was to continue mapping in relationship to place. I wanted to complete research specific to PLAYA and use that in a new body of work. My work has shifted as a result of my residency. I am amazed by the ongoing development of my place-based work since my time at PLAYA.

How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?

Two things I had hoped for at PLAYA were that my work would hold breathing space and impart simplified shapes. I thought a great deal about that before I arrived. The land and water, specifically the land, continue to influence me. I close my eyes and picture the space, drawing inspiration from the flashes of images I experienced. I am very motivated to distill the visual information. I pinned word responses to the landscape on my studio wall after returning home. Examples include expansive, wild, mysterious, powerful, dramatic, meditative, light, solitude, and fragile. Those words have acted as mantras that I repeat as I work and help to bring me back to a centered place of recall. I have used sediment and am currently grinding pigments from PLAYA, which provides a new approach. The distilled information has resulted in pieces using minimal shapes, texture, and color. The work is asking for this.

Describe a typical day at PLAYA.

My typical day was never typical at PLAYA. I tried to allow myself the chance to be out of my comfort zone in terms of my usual way of approaching my work schedule. I did, however, begin each day with gratitude for the precious opportunity of time and space. I pinched myself every single day over the gift of the residency. Because I walk as part of my art practice, my day began there. Frequently I walked midday and again in the evening, before dinner. I was feeling and sensing the environment, through my feet on the ground. The morning walks followed with sketching, journal writing, and inspirational reading. I loved having the ability to work, any time of day or night, which I did. Lots of soup, more reading, more writing, drawing, pigment play, beeswaxing papers, and observation time. A perfect life!

What were some highlights for you?

So many highlights! I decided to give myself travel time, so I had a marvelous two-day excursion driving to PLAYA. A friend recommended The Geology of Oregon, 2nd Edition, which was my travel guide. I stopped at numerous markers along the way, referencing the book and having an opportunity to understand the geology.

Three of us rose in the middle of the night and witnessed the lunar eclipse on January 31, 2018. We saw true magic in that, followed by an incredible breakfast and an early morning, much-needed nap! Being in the companionship of such amazing writers and visual storytellers added a sense of community to my life I hadn’t experienced before. The entire staff also wove their loving touches through the whole residency.

Playa Walk #4, 6.25 x 17 inches. Ink, Sumi ink, playa sediment, thread, beeswax, papers. Marilyn Joyce, 2019

The above is a piece that I completed after my residency last winter. I continue to develop a body of work around my time at PLAYA. The work was a part of the annual Cascade AIDS Project auction in Portland. Spreading the wonder of PLAYA around!


Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.