SEAS graphic artist spent time ‘off the grid’ at Pictured Rocks


While spending three weeks alone in a secluded cabin may seem daunting to some, for Todd Marsee it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Marsee was presented this experience when he was chosen as the 2017 Artist in Residence at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Read Todd Marsee’s blog about his experience as the 2017 Artist in Residence at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Although Marsee had initial reservations about staying in such a secluded place, he eventually came around to the idea.

“I realized that’s actually great because I can focus on just painting. Looking back, it was a blessing to not have any sort of connection to the world. It allowed me to focus on painting,” said Marsee, a senior graphic artist at the Michigan Sea Grant in the School for Environment and Sustainability.

His abstract, celestial take on natural landscapes brought a new flare to the program.

“In the past, the park staff chose mostly plain air artists, artists who go out and paint on location or are photographers,” he says, “I was happy that they chose me because my work is abstract. I was excited to showcase a different style of art during my exhibit and presentation at the Miners Castle visitor center.”

Todd Marsee, enior graphic artist at the Michigan Sea Grant, spent three weeks painting as the 2017 Artist in Residence at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Marsee earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Sienna Heights University and a master’s degree in watercolor at Eastern Michigan University.

The daily variance in his work at SEAS keeps Marsee on his toes. He says he particularly enjoys “the variety of projects: designing brochures, educational posters, guidebooks, logos, technical illustrations, cartoons and photography to name a few. In the end, these projects educate our audiences about sustainable Great Lakes resources, economy and water safety.”

Being a regular hiker and biker, Marsee has spent many vacations in the Great Lakes region. After hearing about the Sea Grant, Marsee says, “The job description fit my interests perfectly. I was very excited at the idea of being able to use my graphic design, photography and illustrating skills to advance Great Lakes research and education.”

The Great Lakes area has been a consistent muse for Marsee, with Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in particular having had a steady influence on his art. It all began during his first backpacking trip at the park with some friends after college.

“We were walking right along the edge of cliffs, looking out at Lake Superior’s brilliant blue-green water and the textures of rock formations. It was a daylong hike to get to our campsite. That hooked me right there, so I’ve been up there many times since.”

During his residency at the park, Marsee spent much of his time on the beach near his cabin.

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“I thought I would be hiking to my favorite spot, Chapel Rock, every day. I ended up enjoying the beaches that were close to the cabin, especially Hurricane River. It was a pleasant surprise, as I explored some new areas of the park. There’s a lot of subtle, colorful rocks by Sullivan’s Cabin,” he said.

Marsee’s method for painting each new piece coincides with his work as a graphic designer for the Sea Grant. “Before starting a painting, I think, ‘What design elements can I use to differentiate this from my other paintings?’ I study the shapes, textures and composition of my photographs and often pull them into my painting.”

Marsee’s experience left him with a deeper admiration for the Upper Peninsula.

“Getting up to Pictured Rocks National Park from Ann Arbor is a time commitment, but it’s well worth the drive. I’ve done it in a four-day long weekend, but a week is best. I’m looking forward to the next time I can head to the U.P. and enjoy some time off the grid.”


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