Oil Painter Mary Sundstrom

Welcome back to another episode. I can’t wait to share my interview with painter Mary Sundstrom. 

As you’ll hear in her bio, Mary's work is derived from nature, but that’s only part of the picture. Mary’s work has a strong surrealist edge that carries a psychological layer shat shimmers just beneath the surface. The result is mesmerizing.

Before we get to the bio, I want to put some of our conversation into perspective.

When we talk about studio space, I mention that I have an enormous, light-filled studio in our dream home. It is important to give you perspective here. When I say dream home, I’m not talking about wealth. I'm talking about having the space I’ve always wanted — and needed — to live and create.

We are far from wealthy at this time, but I want to someday be wealthy. I don’t believe people shouldn’t want that, especially artists. Let’s all move away from the starving artist paradigm. As Abe Lincoln pointed out, "You can’t help the poor by being one of them."

In working toward financial health, it is important at any stage in life to manage debt and live below your means, if possible, to be able to have the freedom from stress over survival — as much as we can control on our end, anyway.

As it happens, I’ve been married for 20 years, so when I say my husband gave me the biggest room in the house with huge windows, I believe it helps you to know that it took me a long time to get there. In addition, we chose to move to a modest, amazing town in the midwest where the cost of living was much lower than California where we met. This was to support our values of being near family and of being able to afford a home large enough to have an extra room for a studio.

When I had no extra room, I painted in shared basements of rental houses, attics, garages, on 4 x 8 foot balconies, and even at my mom’s house, driving over evenings to get my work done. Even when I was tired. I was always glad I did.

Likewise when I say I have gym equipment. I’ve been collecting a piece at a time for 20 years. I buy used equipment, but it’s second hand from fitness facilities. It’s important because there were times in my life when I didn’t have the room for equipment. So I took it outside and I went running. Even in the winter with yak traks on my shoes. Now I love to run more than any other exercise, but my knees no longer love it. Without running, I happen to know that for me working out at home is my happy place, and the most likely scenario for consistency. Now I have no excuses. And though it may look like I love to work out, the truth is I love how it clears my head and gets me focused. I don’t always want to do it, but I’m always glad I did.

See the theme here?

I am not making excuses for the life I’ve created thus far. I’m actually doing the opposite. I’m suggesting that you take a very honest look at your life and try to figure out where you may be letting excuses get in your way.

There are seasons in life where we don’t have the ability to create (or exercise for that matter), due to an unforgivable schedule or a health issue. Those are real things and I don’t pretend they aren’t. So I’m not saying paint the Mona Lisa while working three jobs or recovering from a stroke, as I had to last year. In those cases, do the best you can with what you’ve got and be kind to yourself along the way.

The rest of the time, in your "everyday life," remember that time is your most valuable resource. I am suggesting that if you take it very, very seriously and come up with a list of ways you can get where you want to go, much of the time I think you can find the road.

Mary tosses out so many gems of wisdom during the interview, I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Let me know what you think of this tough-love episode. Drop me an email at caroline@passionatepainterpodcast.com.


Mary Sundstrom Biography Mary Sundstrom is a West Michigan artist, illustrator, and art instructor. Mary is greatly influenced by the natural beauty of her location. As a naturalist, she enjoys painting the creatures and plants living among the bayous that surround the Grand River near where she lives. Her playful artwork represents what she sees in the landscape. When Mary is not painting or mushroom hunting in the landscape she is the Artistic Director at the Holland Area Arts Council. Here she designs classes, exhibits and public art projects. Mary has been at the Arts Council for eleven years.

Contact Mary

Email: marysundstrom@gmail.com

6934 Wintergreen Drive
Fruitport, MI, 49415
United States

Website: www.marysundstrom.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mary.sundstrom.5

Instagram: Mary Sundstrom


  1. Nataly Kenny on February 7, 2021 at 10:26 am

    A very interesting interview! Thank you for sharing your artistical life experience, very enriching!

    • Caroline Italia on February 7, 2021 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you, Nataly! So glad you got a lot out of it. Please keep in touch and let me know if you’d like to hear about anyone or anything in particular.

  2. Therese on January 27, 2021 at 6:56 am

    Great discussion! Thank you.

    • Caroline Italia on January 27, 2021 at 8:14 am

      Thank you for your feedback, Therese! I learn so much from these chats, I’m happy you have gotten something out of them as well. Please let me know of topics and/or artist you’d like included in the shows.

  3. Delaney Ann Prins on January 25, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Loved this interview with this caring artist whom I have known for quite a few years . She had encouraged me and has been a calming influence at the HAAC. I loved her talk especially about our treatment of earth which I saw in her paintings without knowing her agenda . Her message comes across loud and clear in the deafening sounds of “could care less “ of so many people. I have the space too after years of painting in cramped quarters and I have always had the support of my husband which I have been eternally grateful for . I remember seeing her first caravan paintings at an HFA of Holland meeting years ago.

    • Caroline Italia on January 27, 2021 at 8:13 am

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Delaney. Mary’s warmth and talent has inspired me as well in just the brief time since we met. I’m humbled to have you with us, please let me know if there’s anyone or a particular topic you’d like to hear about!