Marissa Madonna

Eclectic, acrylic and colored pencil

-Marissa, we'd love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today, both personally and as an artist.  

I have always loved to draw and create ever since I can remember. My parents shared many books with me from a young age, and I used to make my own books out of cardboard and scrap paper. I was very interested in storytelling, but what I always loved the most was the illustrations. I continued drawing as I got older, but never really pursued it outside of a small hobby that I mostly kept to myself. I always played clarinet in band, and at the time my school schedule did not allow for many elective classes outside of that. Then, once I had the time during my junior year of high school, I signed up for an Intro to Art class on a complete whim after some encouragement from friends. From the moment I began taking that class, I knew that I had discovered my true calling.

When I was accepted into Hartford Art School, I felt that I needed to work even harder to keep up with those around me who had been taking art classes for many years. Even though I started later, I actually think everything worked out how it was meant to. The discipline and creativity of music, as well as the important lessons I learned along the way, have helped shape me into the person and artist I am today.

I felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study at Hartford Art School, and this drove me to make the most of my education. Through hard work and dedication, I achieved meaningful accolades including best portfolio in each of my yearly departmental reviews. My time at Hartford led me to many lifelong connections in mentors and friends, as well as opportunities beyond graduation. Projects as a professional illustrator have included children’s book illustration and private portrait commissions, as well as sports illustration. My work has been featured on television segments with ESPN, first when Illustrating Peyton Manning’s “Art of the Comeback” segment on Sunday NFL Countdown in 2012, and then again in 2016 drawing the trophy for the UEFA Soccer Tournament. Most recently I have been creating illustrations for Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s yearly concert production “Tales of Halloween” with composer John Jesensky, as well as band artwork – coming full circle back to my musical roots.

Marissa Madonna

Maggie - Rose Kombucha, acrylic and colored pencil

-What led you to combine acrylic and colored pencil in your mixed media approach? How do you think this combination enhances the storytelling aspect of your work?

Illustrator Bill Thomson was my mentor at Hartford Art School who first inspired me to pursue illustration. He introduced me to the mixed media approach combining acrylic ink and colored pencil on hot press watercolor board. I was also taking drawing classes at Hartford with another great mentor Dennis Nolan, and my favorite technique we would often use for figure drawing was colored pencil on toned paper. I continued using acrylic and colored pencil for many years, along the way finding a technique that worked for me and making it my own. Once my son was born and I started illustrating again (with less time to do so in new motherhood), I wanted to explore a way to streamline my process even more. I combined the lessons of both mentors and started experimenting with using the mixed media approach on toned paper. This has proven to be a great technique for me, particularly when meeting illustration deadlines, as it is often much quicker to build up the painting than when starting on white watercolor board. I have continued to grow and experiment, most recently with the additions of metallic and glitter paints for a sparkle of magic in my illustrations!

I think that the mixed media approach lends itself really well the storytelling aspect of my work, as it combines the boldness of paint with the delicacy of drawing for fine details. It incorporates transparent washes of acrylic ink, rendering in colored pencil, and finally accents of white opaque acrylic for highlights. Each element is added on top of the other in many thin alternating layers to gradually build up values and richness. As the painting is developed, I can carefully explore all the details along the way, giving life to each subject I am portraying.

Marissa Madonna

Alina, acrylic and colored pencil on toned paper

-Can you talk about the importance of the 'vitalizing details' in your work and how you go about selecting these details?

When I am planning a composition, one of the things I decide is which details I want to include in the scene, most often focusing primarily on the details of my models. One of my biggest passions has always been portraiture and capturing a likeness. I especially love working with models that I know personally, as well as getting to learn about new models through creating the artwork. Growing up, my dad would often say “Everybody has a story!” and I have found this to be especially true as an artist capturing the vitalizing details that bring my subjects to life and make them who they are.

Marissa Madonna

Ballerina in Blue, acrylic and colored pencil

-In your experience, what are the key elements that make a visual story resonate with an audience?

As an artist, I bring together inspiration gathered in all different memories and experiences throughout my life. In this way, I feel that I am able to tell the visual story of not only my subject, but also my own narrative behind it. I love including elements in my work that are symbolic or have some kind of deeper meaning for me – even in the most everyday objects and scenes. It is exciting getting to transcend the narrative behind the artwork into the world of the viewer – ultimately finding new meaning in their eyes. We all bring our own lens of experience when viewing artwork, and I find that as a viewer I am most drawn to artwork with elements that bring me back to my own inspirations – whether it is a certain type of scene, or a particular color or pattern. By creating artwork that I am most passionate about, I hope to tell stories that also resonate with viewers in their own unique way.

Marissa Madonna

Maggie, acrylic and colored pencil on toned paper

-What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?

My work can be found online at the pages below:

Instagram: @marissa_madonna_illustration
Facebook: Marissa Madonna Illustration

Instagram is where I will post updates and current projects most frequently. I would love to grow my online presence even more to reach a larger audience.

As a freelance artist, I really appreciate the support from everyone I have the opportunity to work with, and hope to make new connections by sharing artwork that tells a story!


My artwork is very much inspired by visual storytelling. The thing I love most is capturing my subject’s likeness through vitalizing details – both on the surface of the artwork, as well as the narrative behind it.

I often use a mixed media approach combining acrylic and colored pencil. Working this way combines the freedom of laying bold washes with the tight control of drawing. As the piece is built up in many thin layers, I can carefully explore all the details. Quilting these details together as a visual story is where I find my greatest artistic passion.

Marissa Madonna

Courtney, acrylic and colored pencil on toned paper


Marissa Madonna

Lindsay, acrylic and colored pencil

Even at an early age, Marissa has shown an enthusiasm for illustration. She can recall spending hours creating and illustrating stories inspired by the many books her parents shared with her. That inspiration has led her to some of her greatest artistic passions, including childrens' book illustration and portraiture.

Marissa earned her BFA in Illustration at the Hartford Art School in Connecticut, where she found new inspiration in her professors. While there, she received many distinctions for her work, including best portfolio in each of her departmental portfolio reviews. She has also had the honor of having her work featured in numerous exhibitions, including the Society of Illustrators Annual Student Scholarship Competition in New York City.

Since graduating from Hartford Art School, Marissa has continued to follow her passion as a freelance illustrator and portrait artist. After completing her first children’s book illustration project, she went on to be featured in numerous publications and television appearances. Her projects have included collaborations with ESPN, as well as creating illustrations for Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s yearly concert production “Tales of Halloween”.