Artist Marilyn MacGregor

Marilyn, at what age did you start drawing and what does your sketch pad represent to you?

I must have started very early because my mother kept a drawing I did when I was three – quite a respectable drawing of a seal balancing a ball on its nose! I don’t remember a time when drawing wasn’t important to me. My father liked to draw and we sometimes would to go with our sketchbooks together – I also have a 19th century relation who was a very good artist and kept sketchbooks (some of which I have) so sketchbooks have a sense of family and continuity for me.

I have boxes of my sketchbooks from my travels and places I’ve lived – they represent nothing less than my life and much of my approach to seeing and processing the world around me.

Drawing what I see around me has given me an acute awareness of how details and the small things that can go unnoticed often carry the most significance.


These days, I hear many school teachers and parents lament about the impact of the digital age on early childhood education.  

A common concern is that young children do not engage enough in tactile exercises such as sketching and drawing and this impedes them from experiencing a sense of wonderment.

What are your thoughts on this modern quandary?

Drawing went out of style for a while in the late 20th century, mostly due to Abstract Painting and Conceptual Art, so the disconnect can’t all be blamed on technology.

I do see more and more drawing in Contemporary Art so the pendulum is swinging back to holding it in high value again.

I can’t speak for all art teachers, especially not for the elementary level, but during my 15 years of teaching studio art at the secondary level I certainly emphasized drawing as a crucial step in doing and understanding art, and most of the art teachers I knew did as well. I use digital processes in my art now and find the possibilities are a great addition to the artist toolbox, but I would definitely hope that teachers understand how important drawing is to develop the eye, mind and hand.

Drawing is not just about putting lines on paper – it is about learning to see.


Tell me about Paris.

You spent a decade living there and you now conduct small group tours to Paris.

What took you to Paris in the first place and what keeps bringing you back there?


I’ve just always loved France and Paris – my quick answer is that I must have lived several past lives in France because I’ve felt at home there ever since I set foot on French soil.

Learning the language, culture and history has been a life’s work, one that meshes perfectly with my practice of art and my teaching of art history.

I believe it is the combination of grace and courtesy in the culture, the magnificence and beauty of the architecture, the endless interesting corners to discover in Paris neighborhoods, and the fascinating complexity of French history that all add up to a very satisfying experience of being where I love to be when I’m there. I call one of the tours I do Paris Arts & Pleasures – it is my way of showing people how Paris is a city of the arts in every aspect, including decorative arts, perfumes, cooking and markets, contemporary art, artisan workshops, gardens, even store window displays.

The big museums are wonderful, but I take people to smaller lesser-known places where arts and traditions of craftsmanship are vital and very much alive in the present.


Who are the artists that have influenced you?

Never an easy question – the true answer is too many to count. But my heart is always with the artists who draw. Rembrandt is the giant and the godfather, but Hokusai and Watteau are favorites, as are Cy Twombly and Basquiat.

Your work appears to skillfully balance a sparkling light-heartedness with a strong sense of purpose and place. How does all this fall together for you during the creative process and how do you achieve this delicate balance?

Thank you – that is a wonderful description.

I consider myself a fairly serious person but one with a whimsical sense of humor – when my art is true to who I really am, it comes out the same way. I’ve tried working with many mediums but the ones for which I have an affinity have always allowed that combination of gravitas and whimsy.

I’ve illustrated a number of children’s books (the best children’s books have that mix) and I worked with ceramics for a while, another good medium, but my line drawings have been the most solid ground for my best work. The spontaneous, immediate style of my drawings is somewhat deceptive  – the quick ‘tossed-off’ quality reflects the confidence of long practice in seeing quickly what will work, composing on a page, and a sure hand to catch the right moment.

I’m now using a combination technique of on-site sketchbook drawings and digital painting.

It’s a very successful pairing of old and new technologies – the digital process gives me infinite choices in color and values, but also allows me to keep the line primary, and to create work that has a crisp graphic quality while also being charming and fun.


Tell me about Philadelphia.

I moved to Philadelphia 6 years ago after 20 years in Northern California (after a long stay in New York City) – I didn’t know much about Philadelphia when we got here but it has been a wonderful surprise.

My husband and I have found it to be a place of extraordinary culture with world-class music, theater and visual art (both museums and contemporary art), fabulous food and restaurants and really great people. Professionally I’ve found it a very fertile place for what I want to do.


Why has art been a constant theme throughout your life?

Sometimes I’m not sure.

I’ve stuck with it through times when it wasn’t working very well for me professionally, and have found various ways to practice ‘art’ as a discipline that goes far beyond just making art. Teaching art history and studio art, writing about art, organizing and leading arts tours, exhibiting my work and creating graphic designs and illustrations have all been part of the mix.

I think choosing, or at least persevering, in a creative field is a brave thing to do in this world and I’m glad I’m part of it.


Click here for the artist’s website.