A Guiding Hand: DFAC Teachers Share Passion for Art
by Mitzi Gordon
From the time she was 5 years old, our award-winning faculty member Markissia Touliatos knew she was an artist. “I had a natural ability,” she said. “I was always drawing.”
What Markissia didn’t know as a budding artist was that her path would eventually lead to the Florida Governor’s Mansion.
As an accomplished classical painter, she was commissioned about eight years ago to paint for the Miniature Portrait Collection of the First Ladies of Florida, a cherished part of mansion history dating back to the 1940s.
“It’s a lifetime job,” Markissia said. “They’re all beautiful ladies and it’s a pleasure to paint them.”
After painting official portraits for Carole Crist and Ann Scott, Markissia is now preparing to complete a miniature portrait of Florida first lady Casey DeSantis.
As a largely self-taught artist, Markissia said her accomplishments pay testament to the transformative power of dedication. “When you have a passion for something, if there’s a will, there’s a way,” she said. “I decided that I had to do this on my own.”
Markissia first came to the Dunedin Fine Art Center in the 1990s to draw from live models in open studio sessions. At the time, she was making art daily while raising three children at home, studying from books and taking workshops when she could.
She began working in pastels, but fell in love with oil paints after studying classical realism at the Atelier of Plein-Air Studies in Clearwater. Under the instruction of Nelson Shanks — the renowned artist who painted portraits of Diana, Princess of Wales, and president Bill Clinton — Markissia honed her craft.
“Artists are always trying to get better at what they do,” she said. “You’re always learning something more, and that keeps it exciting.”
A professional painter for more than four decades now, she specializes in “alla prima” techniques, building up layers of wet paint in compositions (the phrase means “at first attempt” in Italian). Her style reflects the centuries-old traditions of classical realism and miniature art, as a Signature member of the Miniature Artists of America.
On the faculty at DFAC for 12 years, Markissia shares what she has learned, teaching four classes weekly in the classical technique, including beginner’s oil painting, plein air landscape painting, and portraits from a live model. On Friday mornings, her class meets in local parks to work outdoors in the natural light.
Markissia demonstrates by working step-by-step through lessons, offering individual help and critiques. The satisfaction of seeing her students grow and improve keeps her feeling inspired too.
“I love teaching,” Markissia said. “The students that are really dedicated have a passion for it, and they really get good at it. They’ll sign up in the morning and just stay all day and paint.”
Student Cathleen Martinetto of Indian Shores said the classes are both creative and social.
“It’s a real sense of family,” Cathleen said. “We all stay in touch and find ways to get together outside of class. It is so wonderful to be involved in an organization where the creative process is such a part of every person.”
Cathleen met Markissia at the Stirling Art Studios, and recalls being struck by her skill and style. As a student, Cathleen appreciates the individualized attention shared in Markissia’s classroom.
“She is just exceptional in her grasp of traditional principles, details and color theory,” Cathleen said.
A few years ago, Cathleen transitioned from large-scale paintings to miniatures, and readily took to the challenge. With a maximum size of 4 by 6 inches, these detailed, realistic works require a careful hand.
“When I started studying with Markissia, she took me to the next level, because of her knowledge of techniques and emphasis on detail,” Cathleen said. “My frustration level went down and my fun level went up! Now I’m winning awards and selling more. I’m painting all the time and entering all these international shows.”
Cathleen won Best in Show at the recent DFAC Student-Member-Faculty exhibition for her miniature painting, and was featured by Charley Belcher on the Good Day Tampa Bay television show for her celebrity portraits.
“Markissia just opened it up for me, and now it’s so much fun,” Cathleen said. “A little bit of instruction from an expert can just break through blocks.”
2016-2019 Capital Campaign Donors
David and Nancy Bilheimer
Cultural Affairs, State of Florida
$100,000 – $499,000
The Collins Charitable Foundation
Syd and Irwin Entel
Gail and Chip Gamble
Betty and Ed Proefke
Paula and Peter Vosotas
$50,000 – $99,000
Barbara Grazul Hubbard in Memory of John G. Hubbard
Dick and Sandy Kennedy
Anna and Joseph Kokolakis
Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton
$20,000 to $49,000
Estate of Ethel D. Fritts
Amy Heimlich and Ed Koslow
Kathy and Rowland Milam
$10,000 – $19,000
Teresa and Robert Johnston – The Johnston Group at Morgan Stanley
$5,000 – $7,500
David and Pilar Bernd – The Bernd Group
George Ann and Colin Bissett
Blenner Law Group PA
Ivon and Jane Culver, Charitable Trust
Dee Dee Cook – The Dana Foundation
Lionel and Dianne Wheatley Giliotti
John and Sara Kessinger
Robin and Charles Klein
Senator Jack Latvala
Harry Lester and Morgan Galazia
Remembering Dick Short
$1,000 – $4,999
Marc and Terry Banning – Banning Lumber and Millwork
London L. Bates
Frances and Elizabeth Burke
Genevieve and Lawrence Dimmitt
Olline (Bunny) Dutton
Ann Byal Feldshue, Artist
Ann and Alan Feldshue
Delores (Dee) Kilgo
James and Karen Lehrburger
Max Fadden Charitable Gift Fund
The Nevrkla Family Foundation
Christopher Thomas and Richard Rohrbaugh
Debra Thomas Weible
SCENES from the DFAC Archives