Inspired by Illustrations
As the oldest of five, Marsh John often cared for her younger brothers and sisters. As they all would sit, settle, and watch TV together, Marsh would draw characters like Bugs Bunny or the Rugrats straight from the screen. While her extroverted brothers and sisters attended choir rehearsal, Marsh, an introvert, frequently sketched in her notebook instead. “As a kid, art was something to keep me occupied, and I wanted to prove I was good at it,” Marsh shared. Growing up, Marsh’s stepdad and his friends, who were also creatives, would challenge Marsh to draw on the spot from sight. “I bet you can’t draw this one!” they would tease playfully — and, to their surprise, she would produce a replicated image almost every time. Pursuing Her Purpose “I come from a West Indian family and a Southern family with super high standards,” Marsh identified, “and to be an artist is considered a hobby.” When it was time to attend college, Southern Connecticut State University awarded Marsh a volleyball scholarship. At the institution, she double majored in psychology and athletic training with a minor in nutrition. “At that time, I felt like I needed to pursue a ‘real career,’” Marsh said. But, despite her plans, something in the stars said otherwise. While playing in a volleyball tournament, Marsh severely injured her right shoulder. When the damage never fully healed, she knew it was the end of her time as a collegiate athlete. After her injury, Marsh took an intermission from college. “I had to realize there were other things in life I needed to pursue that made me happy,” Marsh acknowledged, “because sports weren’t going to be it.” “Also, the pressure from my family — wanting me to do this, wanting me to do that — once I got hurt, I didn’t care what anyone wanted me to do; I was going to focus on what I wanted to do,” she added. “Taking on that energy allowed me to explore parts of who I am, and I acknowledged that there is this artist inside me called “Marsh.” And, little by little, Marshun art became introduced to the world. Memorable Mentors Marsh started drawing everyone’s tattoos around her New Haven neighborhood. Before long, her extraordinary work was on permanent display across a spectrum of skin tones. Yet, for Marsh, the idea of being an “official” artist still seemed out of reach. Once her talent for tattooing emerged, Marsh searched for an apprenticeship to advance her skills. After countless calls and inquiries, no one gave her a chance to hone her craft — so she started tattooing herself. It wasn’t long before a neighborhood tattooist recognized Marsh’s signatures and tags sketched out for customers coming through his door. After connecting with others in the industry, another tattoo artist offered to mentor Marsh and teach her the tools and tricks of the trade. During her first few years of creating, Marsh didn’t move from her tattoo station. She wasn’t interested in exploring color and had no desire to experiment with paint. Witnessing her hesitancy to design outside her comfort zone, Marsh’s mentor pushed her to practice other avenues of art. “My mentor said to me, ‘Listen, it’s not always gonna be busy, and you need to be practicing your work on a daily basis — and that doesn’t just mean tattooing.’” Pursuing her passion, Marsh later explored art through education, enrolling in an art-focused degree program. With an academic distinction to back her artistic abilities, Marsh graduated from Gateway Community College with her undergraduate degree in Fine Art and Graphic Design. Pause-Worthy Portraits During her postsecondary experience at Gateway, Marsh recalled an art assignment to complete a self-portrait. “Everyone created these super elaborate versions of what they thought they looked like, and I didn’t want to do that,” Marsh explained. Instead, she created five faceless portraits, and the simplistic watercolors soulfully displayed the spirit and essence of each subject. “On critique day, once I saw other people hanging up their work, I thought for sure that this might have been too bold of an idea, and I questioned whether I was going to get a good grade. It turned out everyone, including the professor, was captivated,” she shared. Producing empty faces filled with emotion, Marsh’s portraits captured life and love and left a lasting impression on her classmates.
A Lost Art Despite her art’s success, during a dark period in her life that followed, Marsh stopped creating for two and a half years. While reflecting on this chapter, “I had forgotten who I was and what I had to offer the world,” she recalled, “I didn’t even know that art was in my blood and soul the way that it was. But I kept having the same thoughts, the same ideas, the same vision — and I ignored it,” she described. But one day, without warning, the creativity that simmered just below the surface surged. Once Marsh returned home from work, something inside of her awakened. She summoned a brush, sat down, and painted for three days straight. “I was almost in a trance. When I came up to breathe, I was like — wow, I had no idea how much of me was missing,” Marsh enlightened. Having recognized that artistic expression can be an effective form of self-care, “I need to keep creating,” she acknowledged, “because in creating, I am giving and understanding more of me.” Art: A Medium for Mental Health Before making art her full-time business, Marsh worked two jobs — one as a part-time tattoo artist and another as a teaching artist and youth mentor. “Some days I was saddened because we have brilliant, beautiful little people and no one connecting with them on a level where they feel met, understood, and comfortable learning — and all of those things are important,” Marsh detailed. “I always want to be a teaching artist in some way,” she specified. “My favorite thing is to see students have a sense of pride in something they worked hard on.” Marsh also worked with children and adults, administering programs for participants with intellectual developmental disabilities, mental health disorders, and other special needs. Although she found the work worthwhile, Marsh couldn’t create the way she wanted to. “Art isn’t just a visual thing,” Marsh explained. “It helps us with expression, and it helps us get through the world. As kids, we would draw, not even realizing how therapeutic it was. Now we’re adults, and we say things like, “I’m not picking up a coloring book, I don’t have time” — so we’re not even serving ourselves in ways that could be super beneficial.”
The Significance of Support As soon as Marsh caught on to the benefits of pursuing a creative career, she persisted in the arts to advance her future profession. Consequently, Marsh’s character further developed too. “My first couple of art events, my mom, also known as ‘Momma Marsh’ by many, was right there with me. I was super shy, so I would bring my sketchbook or do a live piece so that I wouldn’t really have to talk to anybody, but my mom would come and have my table surrounded by people because she would talk and call people over.” Even today, fellow creators from the beginning of her career still stop by to witness her latest work and ask Marsh, “Hey, where’s Momma Marsh?!” Modern-Day Marshun Art “My love for art has had different phases,” Marsh described. “People always ask, ‘Is your work contemporary? Is it pop art?’ But it’s neither — it’s a combination of my education, experiences, and emotions— it’s Marshun Art,” she confirmed. Inspired by American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marsh’s subjects range from American history to pop culture and social justice. Her mediums include illustrations, mini portraits, murals, and other original art. Current and consistent symbols in Marsh’s artwork include:
· Arrows · Clouds · Hearts · Lightbulbs · Peace signs · Smiley faces, and · Sunflowers
From a shy girl with a sketchbook to an amazing artist glowing authentically, the words incorporated in her work also display inspiring sentiments to her audience — encouraging art enthusiasts (and beyond) to “dream big,” “be yourself,” and “trust the seeds you’re planting.”
Coming to Fruition: A Full-Time Art Career
Heeding her own advice and trusting her innate talents to illustrate and ink, Marsh has worked as a professional artist since 2020. Whether she’s creating through painting or tattooing, each medium appeals to Marsh differently.
“With tattooing, I can sit down and start a session, and five hours will pass, and I won’t even realize it — it’s like I'm mapping out this beautiful story on skin — and when painting, I constantly ask myself, ‘ok, what can I do next’.”
When asked what creating full-time is like, “It feels amazing,” Marsh confirmed.
“It’s an absolute privilege to get up and do something I love. Whether it’s slow or super busy, or I’m trying to navigate work, relationships, and life — you know what? I could be having to get up and go to work to make someone else’s dream come true — I’m just really grateful.”
An Artist on the RiseUP
When RiseUP for Arts, Connecticut’s only statewide non-profit public art organization, published an Instagram call-out for its Norwalk Art Manifestation competition in 2021, Marsh thought, “Why not” and applied to compete on the last day of the submission deadline.
After being approved for consideration for the contest, Marsh won the entire competition.
“RiseUP for Arts came through and showed up in a way that I didn’t even expect — they became a source for me to continue my career as an artist,” Marsh stated gratefully.
“Now it’s really cool because I’ve met people like Chis Gann — and he’s dope! I would have never met him in any other circumstance. Chris came out and helped me with a project last summer because it was high up off the ground, and since that’s his thing, I learned so much. I now have a network of artists and people who are familiar with how the art world works that I can reach out to.
“I’m not just flying or floating in this abyss — I now have connections. I now have people I can talk to. I now have people who understand me — I have that with this community.”
In 2022, Marsh painted several murals for a Connecticut Department of Children and Family Services foster care visitation room.
The same year, she painted Equalization (EQ) in New Haven, among countless other canvases.
“I was blessed with a talent, and every time I tried not to do it, it kept calling back to me,” Marsh recognized.
“My creations are the messages I want to give to the world. I want to show culture and connection. I want to show that Black and brown people have beautiful lives and stories.”
Giving a piece of herself in every creation, “You have to give back to the world,” she added.
“So many family members have sacrificed for me to even share my art. My maternal grandmother and my mom were both very community-oriented, and I can only repay them by being the same type of person. Because of the love and the lessons my family taught me, I can make a career out of being an artist,” Marsh said with a smile.
“I want to illustrate to others that we should always be dreaming and that we have to give those dreams a voice.”
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