When local artist Maggie Pierce isn’t working as a front office assistant at Dawsonville Veterinary Hospital, she’s painting vivid images with soft pastel sticks.
For Pierce, creating charming landscapes scenes and cherished furry friends brings her peace, relaxation and, sometimes, a yearning for more.
Pierce displayed a vignette she was working on of Indian Falls, located in Alabama’s DeSoto State Park near the border with Georgia.
“I found it by mistake,” she said about the waterfall. “I heard the water running. Water is like energy to me. It pulls me toward everything. I get so energized by it [that] I just can’t help it.”
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Pierce earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts and master’s in art education at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
During her undergraduate days, Pierce actually enjoyed forging pottery and earned the nickname “the glaze princess” from her peers because she could “make that [desired] color the first time,” she said.
She first picked up stick pastels, which are softer than their oil counterparts, during an art class on oils and pastels. Picking out a color for an object without having to mix hues to make that color appealed to Pierce, and she soon preferred painting with the sticks over painting with oils.
However, Pierce’s artistic journey took a bit of a detour. Upon graduating with her master’s degree, she discovered that art courses were being taken out of many K-12 schools at that time.
So, Pierce began working an array of jobs, then moving up to the Dawsonville-Dahlonega area 23 years ago.
About 10 years after her move, she started hiking more, venturing to spots including Dawson County’s Amicalola Falls. During a stop at a regional outdoor supplies store, Pierce bought a guide on waterfalls that would prove to be influential in her future endeavors.
Motivated by her find, she said she planned trips to area waterfalls using a map for navigation, the old-fashioned way.
Pierce’s interest in nature landscapes ended up being cross-continental. In 2010, she signed up for a three-week art class and trip to Scotland hosted by renowned pastels artist Maggie Price.
With her fiercely independent tendencies, Pierce said she decided to go to Scotland ahead of the art class and drive around the outer part of the country.
This was a big change for someone who’d never been out of the United States before or driven on the left side of the road.
When the course commenced, Pierce and her peers traveled to Blair Castle in Blair Atholl, Scotland. The castle was still actively used by royals, so guards stood outside and marched at certain times of the day.
Pierce also got to see Balmoral Castle, a favorite of the late Queen Elizabeth, as well Castle Campbell, which is well known for its historically strategic location and all-around view atop a hill in the Dollar, Scotland area.
Her views of nature were equally breathtaking in a more quaint sort of way. She glimpsed shaggy highland cattle in fields as well as a valley carpeted with finger-like purple heather flowers reaching up from the ground and dotted with sheep, a river stream and stone bridge.
While in the valley, Pierce absorbed the peaceful, quiet atmosphere and went straight to it, painting rocks interspaced within the babbling stream.
She chose the simpler subject because although she was taking an intermediate-level class, she still considered herself a beginner and wanted a manageable subject to paint.
The teacher, Maggie Price, complimented her depiction of the water, which Pierce took to heart.
“I can’t swim, but I love water,” she said.
About 1,400 pictures and multiple artworks later, Pierce returned from Scotland and resumed hiking in the Southeast, photographing countless waterfalls, drawn in by their enduring energy.
In a world that’s becoming filled with trash and pollution, Pierce said she felt driven to “show the world what’s beautiful.”
“Handicapped people…they can't [often] get into the places,” Pierce said. “If I paint it, they can see it and be there. So it got me into painting the waterfalls or the covered bridges…nobody gets to see this stuff [otherwise].”
“I just want to show ppl that there’s still beauty in the world,” she added. “You may not be able to get there but you can still see it.”
Painting these scenes also allowed Pierce to slow down and appreciate the texture, movement and everything else in those remote environments.
Her artistic pit stops include Amicalola, Indian, Panther Creek and Rainbow falls and other picturesque spots across northern Georgia. She’s also traveled through western North Carolina, pulling over to park and paint various waterfalls.
She’s gotten used to the animals around her stops, pointing out that she’s seen less bear and more friendly deer during her hikes.
One part of Pierce’s process has been to take a buddy with her to many of the state and national parks and recreation areas that she paints. She also shoots bursts of pictures when capturing her intended subjects, particularly if she may paint off-site.
The pictures practice also helps to capture precise moments, like dawn light shining through the stained glass windows of a church or the unusual glow and clouds surrounding a solar eclipse.
Then other times, Pierce will take a composition and switch up the season, as she has a preference for fall and warm colors.
For pet portraits, she asks people to bring or send her at least 10 pictures to reference when deciding how to paint a pet.
“I saw all of these pets [in pictures], and I could see all the love and care in their eyes,” Pierce added. “And I’ll be pointing that out to people. I’ll look over them (the pictures), and then I’ll see it in the pet’s eyes,” she said, “and that’s the one [picture] that I paint.”
Besides a phone camera, Pierce’s other artist essentials include portable pastels and papers with enough grit or tooth for the pastels. Pierce often works starting with a scene’s background to avoid smearing the pastels and make it easier to cover up or scrape off accidental color spots.
She considers an underpainting with at least three darker tones key so subjects pop when she lays down brighter colors and highlights.
Sealing and framing her creations is also important.
“I work with different sizes [of artworks], but I also mix up matting and frames, which are just as much a piece of art,” Pierce said. “I won't frame it (an artwork) unless I can find the right frame.”
She’s taken to sorting through frames at thrift stores to find the perfect matches for pieces.
“I tell customers, ‘when I find the right frame, I'll let you know,’” she added.
Pierce has also had to work through something many creatives experience, artist’s block.
“When I’m stuck, I either put the painting down and work on another one–I’ll have up to five going at one time–or open up another pastel case,” Pierce said. “When I have more than one pastel case [in use], I can finish two paintings in one week.”
Painting people has proven difficult for Pierce. She said she’s connected with other subjects more easily, citing her “knack for pets and waterfalls.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge she’s faced was a 2014 house fire, where her residence was saved but about 300 works were lost.
For her, the loss represented “50 years worth” of paintings featuring old buildings and a lot of animals and waterfalls, all drawn since her move to northern Georgia.
Fortunately, Pierce has made just as many paintings since then, and she’s understandably wary to part with many of her creations, short of selling or gifting them.
“I don't throw any painting away, because even [with] a bad painting, you can learn from it,” she said.
Through her creations, Pierce’s joy has become the joy of both customers and other recipients of her artworks alike, particularly for pet portraits.
“I take and unveil the painting, and you see the expressions on the [pet] owners’ faces,” Pierce said. “Right there, you know that that is a painting worth every penny to that owner. It’s just magic to them. It's magic.”
Maggie Pierce can be reached for questions about artwork commissions and purchases at