Billy Frank’s Place | Pastel | 6 x 9 inches

Artist Spotlight: Marz Doerflinger

Marz Doerflinger eloquently communicates through two mediums — sometimes pastels, sometimes acrylics — the quiet glories of the austere desert Southwest and the lush Pacific Northwest not far from her homes near Rio Verde, Arizona, and Olympia, Washington. She tends to avoid obvious scenic landmarks in those and other locations. “I like painting ordinary things and making them beautiful,” she says, “instead of trying to paint beautiful things, falling short, and making them ordinary.”

Art has long held her in its thrall. “I think when I was as young as 5, growing up in Los Angeles, my parents used to reward us for getting good grades in school by letting us choose any activity we wanted. For me, it was always the art museum. I would see paintings by Salvador Dalí and Picasso, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to go to a restaurant and just pay the waiter with your scribbled napkin,” Doerflinger says. 

Her family moved to Olympia, Washington, before she entered high school, where Marz excelled in her art classes. She went on to earn a degree in fine arts from Washington State and worked as a graphic designer and illustrator.

Delta in Magenta and Chartreuse | Acrylic | 20 x 30 inches

About 10 years ago, while on a road trip after her son went off to college, Doerflinger stopped at a small gallery in Winslow, Arizona, and was bowled over by an abstract painting she saw from a local artist. “I had never bought a painting from another artist before, but when I brought it home, it compelled me to think about starting to paint again.” 

So, she retired early and began doing just that, reviving her skills and acquiring new inspiration through more recent color studies with pastel artist Casey Klahn. “He’s helped me take what I would consider a fairly unsophisticated but heartfelt color sense and refine it,” she says, “paying more attention to how the colors speak to each other, to pick up a stick of color or a paintbrush full of color and put that color where it wants to go.”

Spring Greens, Brown Ranch | Pastel | 9 x 8 inches

Such an approach of sophisticated innocence leads to landscapes that open viewers’ eyes to the natural world’s wonders in surprising new ways. Consider, for example, the artist’s two dramatically different yet equally arresting takes on the same scene in the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, a frequent subject for her. She originally painted Billy Frank’s Place in 2022 as a relatively quick but still complete plein air work done in oil pastels, its juxtapositions of rapidly applied, vibrant colors capturing the scene’s fresh energy. Then, back in her studio, she further intensified and simplified the composition, eventually resulting in her larger 2023 acrylics-on-canvas Delta in Magenta and Chartreuse. “That’s the beauty of painting in the same place over and over again,” Doerflinger says. “The decisions are already made about what you’re going to paint. All you have to worry about is how you’re going to paint it.”

Doerflinger’s work is available at Art House Designs in Olympia, Washington, and online at

Based in San Rafael, California, Norman Kolpas is the author of more than 40 books and hundreds of articles. He also teaches nonfiction writing in The Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension.

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