• Arts Accolade Artist Interview

    Interview with an artist: Maria Saracino

    Canadiana on exhibit  at the AOE Gallery: July 16 to Aug 17, 2015
    Meet the artist: Sunday July 26, 2015


    Artist Maria Saracino with her SÉLECTIONS 2014 People’s Choice winning sculpture entitled ‘Selfie’

    Maria Saracino is an award winning figurative artist, born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. Working as a graphic artist for 18 years, she honed her skills creating watercolour, acrylic and multi-media paintings as well as experimenting with textiles and sculpture. Maria discovered polymer clay in the mid 1990’s and the creative possibilities of figurative sculptures. During this time she has also developed a gift line that includes her limited edition Elves and Fairies as well as other unique seasonal items. Through her masterful use of polymer, resins and textiles, she is able to capture candid snapshots of life’s simple pleasures in her sculptures. She pulls the audience in by connecting with their own experiences. Maria’s original sculptures have been recognized by leading publications and have won several awards, been included in group and solo exhibits in Canada and the USA, and have been part of three museum exhibits in Canada.

    Where does your passion for creating art and sculpture come from?

    I always remember being fascinated with drawing and creating since I was a child. Actually, I can remember the actual moment when art became my passion – it was in grade one and the teacher asked us to draw what we had done during Spring Break. I drew my parents sitting on a picnic blanket along with my cousins and I playing on a hill in the background. I drew people smaller the further up the hill they were and I layered people throughout the drawing. I remember the teacher coming up from behind and making a big fuss over my drawing. That was the first time I heard the word “perspective”. From that moment, she labelled me the class artist. I was so proud and that label stuck right through high school. I don’t remember that teacher’s name, but I can picture her face. Perhaps one day we will connect and I can tell her she helped a shy little girl find her passion.

    How did you discover polymer clay sculpture?

    I have always drawn and painted, but I found it flat and I was continuously trying to find ways to create dimension. I worked in ceramics as well but for me, I was frustrated with the process especially with how it applied to the human form. In the mid 90’s my husband and I were burnt out from 18 years in the advertising business and we both wanted a change. I created some ceramic Father Christmas characters and won a spot in the Uniquely Ontario exhibit in Toronto and that propelled me into the designer gift market. In the meantime, someone introduced me to polymer clay. My first few pieces were very primitive, but I persisted. Lee Valley Tools saw me in a mall kiosk and asked me to create something for their Christmas catalogue, which they used in 1997. They gave me the transparencies which I submitted in a U.S. based international competition and won first place. I haven’t looked back since.

    Did your previous career have an impact on your art?

    Absolutely, I was a graphic designer and illustrator. Everything I did had to have balance. I’m obsessed with details. I also love the research behind what I’m doing. Even though the advertising industry is completely different today, I understand the importance of marketing yourself, entering competitions, showing your work and getting your name out there. The method may be different but the goals are the same.

    Can you tell me more about your paintings? Do you still paint?

    Yes, recently I painted a portrait of my grandchildren. My painting style can probably be referred to more as illustration. I’ve done some other work where I will use things from nature like tree branches to create dimension in the paintings, or I combine relief sculpture into the paintings.

    Who inspires you?

    I feel that I need my work to be human and realistic but in a light hearted and happy way. I want people to be able to relate their own experience to the sculpture and recognize that moment in time I have tried to capture. I love the hyper realistic work of Ron Mueck, like me, he uses clay and textiles, but his work tends to take a dark and depressed view of his subjects. I also love Joe Fafard’s work for his whimsy and portrayal of everyday life in the Prairies. But I relate the most to Norman Rockwell – his clean illustrative style tells a story. Whimsical, playful, funny, even when he explored serious topics you can still relate and recognize. His work is familiar to the audience and they can see themselves in the characters. Each one of his illustrations is so detailed so that every time you view it you will find something new. They feel like you are viewing a candid snapshot, a moment in time. This is what I strive for in my sculptures.

    msaracino_6am Hockey Practice

    6 a.m. Hockey Practice, Maria Saracino (2014) Polymer clay, textiles, wood and wire, 12 x 12 x 24”

    What was your very first sculpture?

    My very first sculpture was a primitive old world Santa with two children by his side. I had a braid of my hair that I had kept when I cut my hair short as a teenager and I used that to create the children’s hair. The coarseness of the hair was out of proportion with the size of the child. You would not recognize that piece as being from the same artist as my work today. But it’s been 20 years since I made that first piece.

    How long does it take you to sculpt a piece?

    I rarely start and finish one piece at a time. There are usually several pieces in various stages of completion, mostly because I like to step away several times during the process to re-evaluate and tweak or change things as I go along. An estimation would be 20 hours for a single character from start to finish. On average I make four to five compositions a month. Inspiration and energy comes in waves so there are weeks or months where I am spending 12-14 hours a day in my studio. Then there are other times where I average only 6 hours a day. A lot of time is also spent researching, looking for inspiring faces and mapping the composition.


    Artist Maria Saracino in her studio.

    Artist Maria Saracino in her studio.

    Can you describe your process and practice?
    I work every day, if I’m not sculpting I am creating patterns, sewing, creating wigs or hair pieces, sculpting shoes, looking online for a specific accessory and keeping up with the business side and social media. There are several ways and techniques for sculpting in polymer clay. The results vary from arts and crafts products to museum quality pieces. My method has developed over the last 20 years and through trial and error I have developed my own system. I like to create an armature base to the head and face in aluminum foil which has an expansion rate of less than 2%. This ensures I don’t get any cracks or fissures. How I condition my clay also minimizes the risk of air bubbles being trapped in the clay. Although I have done full body sculpts, I prefer to sculpt the body parts separately and assemble them after the clay has been cured. There is less chance of breakage this way. Once all the body parts are sculpted and detailed, I assemble and create the body armature. I cover this armature with a skin like fabric. Then it’s time for pattern making and sewing. The hands are the last thing that gets added and positioned. I usually let the piece sit overnight before signing my work just in case I make changes. I have this thing . . . Once I sign my work, no more changes can be made.

    What do you want visitors to the AOE Gallery to experience at your show?

    I like to work with themes. This exhibit is called Canadiana. I was part of a conversation about what it means to be Canadian, and certain images and situations came forward that are symbolic of our culture. In my research I found some great information about things that are Canadian or were initiated or developed here that few people might know about. These things are incorporated into the sculptures. Even quotes, like Pierre Burtons quote about how you can tell a real Canadian was the inspiration behind “Canoedelling”. A recent article in Readers Digest was the inspiration behind the reliefs of “Canadians of Influence”. I look at this collection with happiness and pride and am so pleased with the timing of the exhibit so close to Canada Day. More than anything, despite the political banter, I realize how fortunate we are as Canadians to live in this country.

    Canoedelling Maria Saracino (2014) Polymer clay, textiles, wood and wire 24 x 11 x 6”

    Canoedelling, Maria Saracino (2014) Polymer clay, textiles, wood and wire, 24 x 11 x 6”

    How many exhibitions have you done?

    I have been part of a three year exhibit called “Timeless Treasures” and a one year exhibit called “Presenza” at the Museum of History. I have been showcased in a Norman Rockwell exhibit in a Phoenix Arizona gallery.  I have also participated in several Ottawa group exhibits with Figure Works and the National Capital Network of Sculptors and recently had a very successful three week solo exhibit at the Orange Art Gallery.

    Any advice for young emerging artists?
    Persist and persevere. It’s not enough to have talent. Learn and understand the business side of things and put yourself out there.

    More about the artist Maria Saracino

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  • Commission a Portrait


    Maria will meet with you personally, by telephone or via video conference to discuss your project in advance.

    If possible, Maria likes to meet the subject and take her own photographs, if this is not possible, you will need to provide a good assortment of photographs from different angles and profiles. 

    You’ll be provided with a sketch or example of what Maria plans to do before she begins the sculpture. You will also have the opportunity to see photos of the work in progress before the sculpture is cured.You'll have input in the costuming, fabrics and colours used.

    How Much does it Cost?You'll receive the signed finished work, a signed hard-cover bio book and you will automatically receive 10% discount on future purchases of Maria's existing work. 

    Prices vary depending on whether it's a single subject or multiple subjects. It also depends on whether props or accessories are involved and if they have to be constructed. The other variable is size - most of Maria's work is in the 22"-24" size, but if you want it bigger it will cost a little more. These are just approximate figures, but the prices range from $1,500 to $4,000.

    A 50% deposit is to be paid upon signing of the contract. In the event of cancellation after the sculpting has begun, a penalty of 15% of the total amount of the contract will be withheld. If a cancellation takes place after the sculpture has been completed, the deposit will be non refundable. The remaining 50% is due when the commission is completed. The commission will be shipped after the commission is paid in full. Taxes and shipping of the artwork is not included. 

    From the moment that the concept and the subject matter is approved by you, it takes on average about 4 - 6 weeks to complete your One of a Kind Original Sculpture.

    Maria Saracino retains the copyright.

    To contact Maria Saracino about a portrait commission you can contact her directly at or 613-425-1729 or through the Orange Art Gallery at or 613-761-1500

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  • 'Life's Simple Pleasures' Exhibit

    I'm thrilled to announce an exclusive exhibit at the Orange Art Gallery in Ottawa, Ontario called "Life's Simple Pleasures". From February 4 to the 22nd, the gallery will be showcasing over 30 of my sculptures that celebrate the simplicity and rewards of everyday life. With Valentine's Day falling right in the middle of the exhibit, there will be a collection of works that fall in the "Romance" sub category - after all, romance is one of life's sweetest simple pleasures.

    Also included in the exhibit is a series of 20 relief sculptures called "Study of Expression". I had a lot of fun doing this series and even threw in a portrait of my son. Here's a picture of the series, but it's even better in person. If you have the opportunity to visit the gallery you'll probably recognize some personalities or characters you know in the group.

    study in expression

    chris expressionsThe idea for this series came from a conversation where I referred to people I know as my "artsy friends" or my "Rotary friends". Thinking about it, I realized I wasn't the only one who characterizes my friends. Someone I know made mention of her "yoga friends" or "work friends". This series is a celebration of the different people in our lives - how we're all different but all connected by a common element.

    In addition to the exhibit I will also be doing a demonstration and offering some hands-on mini-workshops on the first Saturday of the exhibit. I hope you can make it to the exhibit, but for those of you who live to far,  keep checking my facebook page at, or this blog for photos of the new pieces.lp-3


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    The National Capital Network of Sculptors (NCNS) is a non-profit corporation founded in 1984, with a mandate to increase awareness and appreciation for the sculptural arts in the National Capital region. Three original sculptures by Maria Saracino will be included in this exhibit.

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  • The Selfie

    "The Selfie" was selected by the AOE Arts Council in Ottawa for their annual juried exhibit, SELECTIONS 2014. They received 247 submissions, of which approximately 60 pieces are selected for the exhibit. The exhibit runs from September 25th to October 21st at the Shenkman Arts Centre. During the opening reception on Thursday, September 25th, three winners will receive prizes awarded by the jury. The public can also vote for the People's Choice Award during the course of the exhibit by visiting the AOE website at The People's Choice Award winner will be revealed on October 22nd.

    The Selfie has received some attention for the contrast it shows between old and new, and the attempt of an older generation to stay current with technology. The piece came about because of a discussion with my son about my outdated cell phone. One of his comments stuck with me - "You have a responsibility to stay current with technology, otherwise you will always need someone to help you".

    That discussion led to the creation of "The Selfie". . . but I still need to get a new phone.


    “Warm, vulnerable and touching – insisting on staying human . . . “

    Win Rooteri, GalleryFor.Me, NY

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  • The Creative Process

    Sometimes a sculpture reveals itself to the artist while it's being sculpted, and sometimes an object triggers an idea and the artist has to coax it into being. This piece was the result of finding a wrought iron bistro set. It took 14 days to complete from start to finish. I documented it along the way so you can see the process. The finished dimensions are 22" wide x 18" tall x 15" deep.

    Step into my studio and watch the process on my YouTube video.


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