Former actor Mary Gaspar revisits her childhood dream of making art

“If you would have told me 10 years ago that I would be a professional artist, I would have said, ‘shut the front door.’”

That’s how Mary Gaspar responded when we asked how she became an artist, as she recalled the twists and turns that preceded her current career path. The Minted painter—whose popular “Plant Cell” series has made an impact in the design blogosphere and led to commissioned work for The Property Brothers—used to work as an actor.

Of “Plant Cell 1” (shown above) and the other prints in the series, Mary calls them the “little plant cells that could” because they’ve been featured on a number of blogs.

In a nutshell, Mary landed her first acting gig at age 13 by singing in the choir in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Chicago Theatre. In high school, she was immersed in both theater and fine art, and grappled with deciding which one to focus on in college. Although she worked diligently on her art portfolio as a teenager, Mary never submitted it to universities and decided instead to study theater at the University of Illinois.

After college, Mary moved to Los Angeles for a few years to pursue acting and worked doing commercials while maintaining a long-distance relationship with her then-boyfriend, Derek, a fellow actor who stayed in Chicago. He later joined Mary in L.A., but long story short, after marrying Derek, getting pregnant with their first daughter, Mary and her young family returned to the Chicago area to be near family in 2008. Fast-forward 10 years, and their family has expanded to three daughters (ages 2, 7, and 9); both Mary and Derek are on the up and up with newfound career paths—she as an artist and he as a restaurateur. But it didn’t happen overnight.

“After I had my girls, my husband was busy with work and school, and I was working for my father doing legal research while being at home all day with the kids,” she explains. “I felt like I needed to make something.” She naturally scratched the itch to paint once again, following her childhood passion for art.

In this interview she tells how the rest is history in the making.


Mary holds the original of “Blue Hearts” painting, which Minted repurposed into a fabric for home decor, such as the “Blue Hearts” table runner below.

Minted: Do you paint with both acrylics and watercolor?
Mary Gaspar: I do now, yes. When I was young, I did some watercolor, but when I started painting as an adult, it was with acrylics. It wasn’t until 2013 that I got back into watercolors, with the Jealous Curator Creative Unblock project. I created a series of watercolor still lifes of everyday objects from my medicine cabinet like Frozen Band-Aids and Rosebud lip balm.

When I started working with watercolor again, it felt like a perfect marriage of control and looseness. I still do quite a bit of acrylics, but watercolor is my jam right now.

The Jealous Curator featured Mary Gaspar’s watercolor still lifes of everyday objects in 2015.

How did you create the “Plant Cell” series for Minted?
I love plants and have a big garden in my backyard. After I had my third daughter, I had just started painting again and was working on a commissioned piece. My mind was in a fog of new motherhood—I was creating stuff I don’t even remember now, like stream-of-consciousness. I had a very limited amount of time to make art; I would play music when I had a spare hour while the baby was sleeping. But I clearly remember picking up a brush one night, and I created two “Plant Cell” paintings in one evening.

The paintings reminded me of when I looked at plant cells through a microscope in grade school. These paintings feel organic in nature to me—they’re earthy but also kind of sexy.

How has your work evolved since the initial success of the “Plant Cell” series?
I created them in black and white at first, and I’ve begun doing them in color. I work strategically but also organically in that I paint intuitively, and I’m influenced by the music I’m listening to. The Minted Challenges help me think strategically and about the marketing point of view. Minted is good for artists because it gives us a path to pursue.

What did you paint when you were in high school?
I did a lot of portraits. For my high school thesis, I painted a series of animal human transformations—like lions turning into women. I did a watercolor of a girl with big ram horns shooting out of her head.

Mary is starting to work on a series of portraits. “I want to paint women and botanicals together, conveying both strength and fragility. The flowers are beautiful and powerful, being held like armor and weaponry.”

How do you create art when you’re also taking care of a two-year-old?
My husband works odd hours, but every Wednesday, he watches the baby and every Tuesday my mom watches her, so I have two consecutive days to paint. If I have a project or a deadline and I’m watching my daughter, I can find ways to work. Sometimes my daughter paints with me, but mostly I’ll try to batch my tasks when she’s watching a show or sleeping.

How do you feel about balancing family life with your work?
I love the hustle and bustle. I work on multiple pieces at once. Having a full plate makes me bring my best self forward. That being said, I plan for downtime. Family dinner every night, trips to the gym, self-care, and sleep!

The producers of The Property Brothers discovered your work on Minted, and contacted you to create a custom piece of art for Buying and Selling Nashville [shown above]. How did that go?
When I first heard from them, I thought, “Is this a joke?” They needed a super-large piece created and shipped to Nashville in 48 hours. I scrambled to get it done, praying that it would dry, and get there in time. The episode aired on September 27, and I was delighted to see my work in almost every shot of the “reveal.”

Some artists and designers tend to be perfectionists—how about you?
I definitely see myself as a perfectionist, although it’s something that I’m striving to let go off. I was just saying to a friend that my visual space has to be just so. My home studio, which we added above our garage in 2017, was a culmination of my dreams. I needed it to be bright and light with shelving, candles, and all the pretty things—total hygge-ville.

Quickfire Q&A with Mary Gaspar
Art style in a nutshell: Feminine, edgy, earthy, undone
Philosophy or mantra: Keep learning, and our house mantra is be kind.
Favorite artist: Too many to name one! Lola Donahue, Lisa Congdon, Ali Cavanaugh, Tina Berning, Jess Franks
Favorite Instagrammer: Ashley Longshore—her posts are hilarious, positive, and inspiring!
Go-to source of inspiration: My garden, interior design, music, and traveling

Advice for up-and-coming artists: Create every day. Give yourself projects or follow projects on social media to keep yourself inspired and creating. Follow the careers of artists you admire. Let go of what doesn’t serve you. Educate yourself! Read, listen to podcasts, watch TED Talks. If you don’t know how to do something, figure it out. We are so lucky to be artists at this time in history—everything is at our fingertips.

More about Mary Gaspar
Visit Mary Gaspar’s Minted Artist Store
Follow Mary on Instagram


About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, Pitchfork, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

Published February 6, 2018

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