Artist Highlight: Mariel Pohlman

 - December 27, 2017

Common Desk wouldn’t be Common Desk without art. Local artists contribute to the overall feel of our coworking spaces (and now, coffee shops!) in big ways, and we love getting to showcase their talent to our communities and the outside world.

The third artist we’re highlighting in this ongoing blog series is someone who has been with Common Desk for several years now, first as a member, and now as a forever friend of ours. She’s living proof that you’re never too old or too established to drop everything, take a big risk, and chase a crazy dream, and we wouldn’t be telling her story today if she wouldn’t have done just that. She’s one of the newest local artists on the rise in Dallas. She’s a legend in the making. She’s Mariel Pohlman.

Though art (specifically illustration) is now Mariel’s passion and trade, she actually comes from a completely different career background, one that never had art on the horizon until Mariel decided otherwise. She refers to herself as a “Former bored Dallas accountant turned traveling illustrator.” Two years ago, Mariel joined Common Desk as a software consultant, helping mid-sized companies work with a specific type of Microsoft accounting software.

So how did an accounting software consultant turn artist? Thought you’d never ask. Let’s take a quick stroll through the years.

Mariel grew up in a really creative family, and her mom always played the role as her creative teacher. She lived in New Mexico for most of her childhood, and her time at home always consisted of drawing pictures with her mom. During her senior year of high school, Mariel took a few art classes as electives, and she recalls having this professor who was incredibly detailed; that attention to detail in the creative space still sticks with Mariel today, and if you’ve ever seen any of her pieces, detail is easily one of the most striking elements.

When Mariel got to college, art was her main hobby, but it was always on a smaller scale– like painting intricate designs on friends’ nails or painting banners for the dorm’s lobby. When it boiled down to it, insecurity kept her from really pursuing art as anything apart from a hobby. “After I would paint something, I wanted them to tell me how much they liked my work, and if I didn’t get the feedback, then I wasn’t confident in my skills.”

By the end of college, she had done a few in-home murals for other friends and family members, but soon her corporate career at EY took off, and with some work days going until midnight or through the weekend, Mariel found that all creative energy was nowhere to be found amid the corporate world. After 3 years at EY, Mariel switched to consulting for 2 years. Mariel originally joined Common Desk to find social interaction in the midst of the isolation that came from working from her Uptown studio apartment at the time. A friend recommended that she join our Deep Ellum space, and the rest is history. So for a year, Mariel did her consultant work out of Common Desk, making friends with anyone and continuing along her career path as planned.

The two-year mark hit with Mariel’s consultant career, and it was all going really well. But then she looked up one day and realized, “Am I just going to continue this for x number of years and that be it?” After that thought struck, she felt like she had lost all motivation, because she was suddenly unable to see anything worth achieving in the direction she was headed (aside from becoming more specialized in the software industry) (which she didn’t find invigorating at all). In all of this, Mariel realized there was a creative element missing that she gradually found herself longing for.

It wasn’t until September 2016 that Mariel decided to change directions. With her apartment renewal on the horizon, she decided not to renew; now all she had to do was figure out what to do next.

She kept coming into Common Desk as she usually did, but instead of work, she found herself striking up long conversations with fellow members more and more. Two members specifically, Susie and Jeff, were pivotal in working with Mariel through her conundrums. She had booked a trip to Cali to visit a friend, and Susie, being from California herself, told Mariel to make a true trip out of it; so Mariel got a rental car and drove from Vancouver to San Francisco.

This was her first time to travel alone, and before she went, she told her coworkers that she wasn’t accepting any calls, which gave her full freedom and space to sort out her plans. By the time she got to Oregon, she was ready to take a chance. She bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, a randomly chosen destination, for Jan. 1, 2017. Then she had emailed all of her coworkers saying that she was taking an indefinite sabbatical. Looking out of the window of her hostel in Oregon, she remembers thinking, “What the heck am I doing?”

After her 3 week solo road trip in the PNW, she came home for her last month before her one-way trip. She sold most of her things, scrambled to make plans, and flew to Hong Kong on the first day of 2017.

Time for the good stuff:

Mariel spent the first 10 months of 2017 traveling solo– she trekked everywhere from Asia to Australia, then to Europe and even all the way down to Mexico before coming back to Dallas. It was in month two of her travels after arriving in Vietnam that Mariel decided to buy a sketchbook. She started drawing random sketches in cafes, and the people she would meet while traveling would add to her sketch collections, too. It became this fun way for her to pass time, connect more deeply with people, and notice the details of the indescribable moments she was living in.

With every passing sketch, Mariel found herself delving deeper into her sketches and illustrations. She drew everything from architecture to portraits, and because she spent so much time alone traveling solo, art became her mechanism for capturing the scenes she was seeing. She wanted to process the things she was standing in front of instead of merely looking at them, snapping a picture, and moving on. This different artistic approach for processing gave Mariel a new eye for color and detail, enriching every passing experience.

She drew through Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Australia. When she got to Australia, she rented a van and drove down the Australian coast for 2 months, and which is when she started focusing on drawing people and capturing their personalities. By the time she got to Europe, the next stop on the list, she had an unintentional portfolio, chock-full of sketches, and she knew she needed to do something with it. Through continuous positive feedback in Instagram posts and from new travel friends, she finally felt like she had the confidence and drive to take this passion she was once insecure to pursue to further heights.

“I always looked at people who were professional artists and thought ‘okay, they’re allowed to do this, and regular people aren’t.’ In my mind, there was a divide between the professional and the normal, but now I see that the divide isn’t actually real.”

By the time she arrived in Belgium, just before flying back to the States, she had created a website and compiled her entire portfolio onto it. She wanted to be fully prepared to improve her skills more, and she wanted to clearly show that she wasn’t coming back from travels as a software consultant– she’s back as an artist.

This all brings us to today. Since Mariel has been back in Dallas, she’s grown her portfolio exponentially and is already establishing herself as Dallas’ newest illustrator to be on the lookout for. When we at Common Desk decided to turn our new coffee shop into a pop-up Christmas wonderland called “Deck the Hall Street,” we wanted to find an artist we knew would make the outside wall come alive with detail and spirit. Mariel was an easy choice, and within one week’s notice, she had created a mural that’s been Instagrammed nonstop this Christmas season.

Mariel started pursuing art is her way to actively be present in moments. She’s a people person inspired by people. Mariel says that she pulls her inspiration from people– she’s constantly collecting sayings she remembers people for, or elements of their personality that show in their appearance. Because people don’t always intrinsically love to have their photos taken, drawing them was an easier way to get to know a deeper part of them. She loves people and travel, and she’s steadily being inspired by the characters she meets every day and from the experiences and personalities she’s encountered in her past.

Mariel’s illustration style is simultaneously realistic, showing detail and the true elements of an object, but also whimsical and fun. Her favorite style is painting with watercolor and ink, and she loves incorporating that same style into murals with a cartoonish look.

Today, being self-taught in full, she’s focusing on collaborating with local businesses that she loves, improving technical skills, getting more and more acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of design softwares, and honing in typography.

If you’re needing an artist to help with marketing materials, corporate gifts, portrait-work, package design, or murals, Mariel’s your girl (you can view more of her work or contact her here!). Be on the lookout for more @marpohl murals on the rise throughout Dallas in 2018, and in the meantime, drop by and snap a pic with her most recent mural at our Deck the Hall Street Coffee Shop before the shop’s rebrand on Jan. 1!

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