artworkStudio Tour

Studio Tour: Marina Dunbar

by Sofia Tuovinen

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge
In the heart of the historic district in Columbus, GA stands an old brick building that oozes old-time charm and nostalgia. Despite its stately demeanor and excellent location in the small neighborhood, this old school is still somewhat of a hidden gem, even for locals. When Marina Dunbar was looking for a new art studio space, she didn’t even know that this building existed. “Most people in the community don’t know who works here or what people do here. I heard of this space from a friend and when I came to visit I absolutely fell in love with it,” Marina explains.

As spacious and practical studios are hard to come by in Columbus, Marina knew that the old school building, located in her favorite part of town, was a unique find. The tall windows not only add to the historic feel, they also serve as a vessel for one of the most precious tools an artist could ask for — light. “It makes or breaks a studio space, and the light in this building is incredible, which is how I knew instantly that this would be the perfect workspace,” Marina adds.

Marina’s studio is an old classroom, with a large chalkboard running along an entire wall and windows facing two directions. Despite the wonderful light and generous size of the space, there were still several things that needed to be updated to make it accommodating to Marina’s creative process. To brighten up the studio, Marina painted the lavender-colored walls white as soon as she moved in. Even with the help of her mom and husband, this turned out to be the most challenging and time-consuming part of the update. It’s great having tall walls and high ceilings, but painting them is a whole different story!

When setting up her studio, Marina wanted to preserve the openness of the space while utilizing as much of it as possible. She creates her signature, nature-based paintings with layers of ink and watercolor washes, which she applies while the paintings are lying flat. The work method is very physical and to create even a medium-sized painting, Marina needs a good-sized table and plenty of space to move around. For a stable and flat work surface, Marina put together two plastic tables and stacked small wood squares under the legs to level out the unevennesses of the old warped wood floors. She also laid out thick foam padding around the work table — this trick both protects the floors and provides comfort when standing around the table for hours at a time. In between color washes, Marina hangs up her paintings to dry. A suitable drying station for her artwork was achieved by installing two cable wires that run parallel to the walls and act like clotheslines. Not only are they practical, they also create a wonderful installation of art in the making.

Besides making her studio suitable for her artistic process, Marina also wanted her space to feel comfortable and inviting. “It needs to be a place where I am excited to work but also feel relaxed,” she says. With this and her studio visitors in mind, Marina created a seating area in front of the large chalkboard, which has turned out to be ideal for writing down notes and to-do lists. Marina has made the most out of her old classroom studio, and she couldn’t be more grateful for having a space that is so perfectly suited to her needs. We’re so excited to share Marina’s creative process and selected works of art with you today, shown here in the gorgeous and bright setting of her beloved studio space. —Sofia

Photography by Sammie Saxon and Ken Rodriguez 

Image above: With six windows facing two directions, Marina’s 750-square-foot studio receives plenty of natural light throughout the day. “I love hanging my works on paper directly in front of the window. I think it looks really beautiful when the paintings are lit up from the back,” Marina says.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina in front of her ink and watercolor paintings. “My works on paper are inspired by floral and botanical imagery. I also get a lot of inspiration from looking at floral x-ray photography, I love the depth and transparency you can see in those photos.”

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina’s studio is located in an old school building and features a long, wall-to-wall chalkboard. Marina uses it for writing to-do lists and color formulas and for visualizing painting arrangements. “It is one thing I never knew I needed before moving in!” she says.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina uses her work desk for doing small studies and warm-ups. The Buddha Board is one of her favorite tools for experimenting with preliminary compositions. Painting on the grey board with water will create a design that, once the water evaporates, disappears. “I love the concept of it; ‘the art of letting go’,” Marina explains. 

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Color studies and small “movement studies” lie on Marina’s desk. The 10×10 studies were originally large paintings that Marina cut into smaller works. “Sometimes when a painting doesn’t turn out the way I like, I reduce it to a smaller size and it becomes a lesson in composition. I have to decide what areas of the painting were successful and why, which teaches me a lot about balance and harmony within a painting.”

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Studio supplies — for her works on paper, Marina uses ink and watercolor. When working on wood panels, she opts for pigmented resin.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

The high ceilings allow Marina to stack paintings on top of each other on the walls. A layer of foam protects the floor around her work station and provides comfort when standing for several hours at a time.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

When working on paper, Marina uses a foam brush to apply watercolor and ink. She then hangs up the piece to dry, then continues working on new layers. One painting can contain anywhere between five to fifty layers of color.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

This wall gets light from all six windows and is where Marina photographs her completed paintings.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

In between washes of color, Marina’s paintings are hung up to dry. The illusion of transparency is a key feature in her works on paper.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

The bright white walls in Marina’s studio are the perfect backdrop for her colorful yet delicate works of art.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

The bust, made of terra cotta clay and finished in powdered graphite, was sculpted by Marina during her last year of college and it’s still one of her favorite pieces. “Working in three dimensions informed my sense of space and composition, which now has a big impact on how I approach two-dimensional work,” she shares.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina loves working in a building that has history. “We live in an age where a lot of things are generic and quickly manufactured. As an artist I value authenticity,” Marina explains. The walls may have cracks, the doors are far from standard size and the floors are worn and aged. “I think all these things make the building more beautiful.”

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Easter Lily Pink, 36×24, watercolor and ink on paper.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina’s plants serve as sources of inspiration for many of her works.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

“What I love most about my studio is the light!” — Marina

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Marina loves arranging her small works on paper into one big unified piece. “I think the strict grid arrangement is a nice juxtaposition to the organic shapes and lines in the paintings.”

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Ages Slowly Sail, 20” diameter pigmented resin on wood panel.

Marina’s Horizon paintings are created with pigmented resin on wood panels. The resin comes in two parts and needs to be mixed to cure. Marina adds the pigment while mixing and then pours it on the panel. “I usually work with one or two colors of resin per layer and I use a heat gun to move the resin until I achieve my desired composition,” Marina explains her creative process.

Artist Marina Dunbar’s Studio in an Old School | Design*Sponge

Pink-Edged Clouds, 20” diameter pigmented resin on wood panel.

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  • Wonderful space for a fantastic artist.
    As great a writup as this was, the depth and character created by her three-dimensional resin processes really can’t be fully appreciated any way but in person. Stop by the studio and you’ll see what I mean!

  • i love your work marina. the flow of your brush strokes and the color of the florals is strikingly beautiful.

  • Not to take anything away from this artist, whose work is truly lovely, but I am wondering how she affords this great space? About a second after I graduated from art school, I realized that the odds of making enough money to live on through producing fine art was at best, very, very slim. I had to (and am grateful that I did) find another way to make a living- which consumed most of my waking moments and left no time for anything creative. The only artists I know who are actually making art, have (or have had, like my own mother) a spouse to support them. I continually see women on this site who are engaged in creative endeavors of one sort or another- and I keep on wondering, who is paying the mortgage or rent? I think it is about time Designsponge has a conversation about the realities of making a living in the arts. I am guessing that many of the women that you feature here have financial support from a spouse or parents, and I would like to see that discussed.

    • Pip

      This is something we’ve discussed often in Life & Business columns. We’ll be discussing it more in a larger upcoming essay series this fall, but I don’t expect everyone to feel comfortable discussing their finances online. That said, I understand your concern- and share it- in the sense that I don’t think everyone should expect all working artists to be able to afford huge (or any) working spaces in today’s market. It’s an issue we’re addressing soon…stay tuned.


      • Grace- That sounds great; I’m already looking forward to this series! As an artist who works full time and squeezes my artwork in after hours, I’m always interested in how other creatives balance out making art and paying bills. Thank you for such a well rounded discussion.

    • Hi Pip. Thanks so much for reading and for your kind words about my work. That’s a great question and I don’t blame you for wondering! For one thing, my studio is in Columbus, GA, where cost of living is low compared to big cities.. Living here has its pluses and minuses. A plus being the low costs but one minus (for me) is that there is really a lack of galleries, art scene, etc. And to be perfectly transparent, I put together art shows (locally), I worked part time jobs and I saved every penny from every art sale I made this year and made sure I had enough projects/commissions lined up to afford this space. It wasn’t/isn’t easy or given. I do have a spouse and parents but they don’t support me (not financially, but lots of moral support:) To me being a working artist also means being independent and that is such a big challenge. The reason I am sharing this is because I totally agree, a conversation should be had about the reality of trying to live as an artist. Because that conversation certainly isn’t being had in art school so I share your frustration there. What has really helped me understand how to work as an artist is learning from other artists. I love to research, talk with, read about other artists and see how they are making work. That’s why I’m grateful for D*S and other online resources which share stories and advice on this topic. Thank you for asking this question and bringing up a very valid point!

      • Wow, Marina! What a lovely and articulate response to what could have been a contentious comment! And it is a beautiful space. May you enjoy many many creative moments there :) Grace, I would also be very interested in a discussion around real life and pursuing art as a career.

      • Thank you Marina, for sharing your gorgeous work, your gracious work space, and your honest answers about your experience and priorities as a working artist. Keep up the amazing work! And thanks to Grace for providing the space for these conversations. So appreciative!

  • Thank you Design*Sponge for sharing Marina’s amazing artwork and beautiful studio space. Her paintings are so lively and happy and inspiring!! Also, thank you Marina for providing honest inside into making it work as an independent artist. I’m sure that candid conversation about all aspects of making art and living will help many other artists to believe that is possible and doable!
    Thank you!!

  • Thank you for sharing the work of this amazing young and so talented artist.

    This is a wonderful studio for such creative and inspiring artist.

    I love Marina’s artwork. And I enjoyed reading this article that includes amazing photos of Marina’s latest work.

    Thank you!