Latina artist sees nature as a muse and encourages young artists to embrace creative freedom

“I think (nature) is probably our second sense of beauty,” artist Maria De Los Angeles said.|

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión en Español.

Driving past a field, you can sometimes see the grasses shimmering as the wind brushes through them.

“It’s that feeling of the memory,” rather than the exact replica, that inspires Maria De Los Angeles in her artwork, she said on a sunny Friday in late March sitting on a park bench at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

The idyllic state park was the setting of two day-long workshops led by De Los Angeles, which focused on watercolor painting inspired by the park’s natural beauty.

For the artist, the workshop attendees and park directors, it was a special opportunity to connect with other artists of all levels, get outside and let nature stir artistic creativity.

De Los Angeles, a renowned multidisciplinary artist born in Michoacán, Mexico, moved to Santa Rosa at age 11. She attended Lawrence Cook Middle School, graduated from Santa Rosa High and then attended Santa Rosa Junior College to earn her associate degree in arts in 2010.

She spent her college summers selling art and applying for scholarships to afford tuition at Pratt Institute in New York City, where she received her bachelor of fine arts degree in painting in 2013, then a master of fine arts degree in painting and printmaking in 2015 from Yale School of Art in New Haven, Connecticut.

Now, De Los Angeles is based in New York teaching fine art at Pratt Institute and Fashion Institute of Technology. She comes back to Sonoma County regularly to lead workshops, paint murals, participate in exhibits and visit family.

“Don’t be afraid. We have so much paper ― you can do whatever you want,” De Los Angeles said to two high school students, Marisol Álvarez-Diaz and Maria Dalarkiaris, who sat around a koi pond in the garden at Jack London’s ranch using gouache paint, an opaque variation of watercolor paint, to outline the palm trees, the horizon line and the pond as birds chirped overhead.

Artist Maria de Los Angeles, center, talks with Sonoma Valley High School students Marisol Alvarez, left, and Maria Dalakiaris while they paint with watercolors at Jack London State Historic Park near Glen Ellen on Friday, March 18, 2022.  (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Artist Maria de Los Angeles, center, talks with Sonoma Valley High School students Marisol Alvarez, left, and Maria Dalakiaris while they paint with watercolors at Jack London State Historic Park near Glen Ellen on Friday, March 18, 2022. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

"I feel relaxed and just at peace,“ Álvarez-Diaz said, in a hushed calm tone. ”Junior year is really stressful. I haven’t been this calm in a long time.”

The two friends attained scholarships from the park to attend the workshop.

“I felt this opportunity was something extraordinary,” said Álvarez-Diaz’s school mentor, Francie Ward, who had helped the two friends apply for a scholarship from the park. “This was perfect for (Álvarez-Diaz) because of her passion to be an advocate like Maria and her friend Maria (Dalarkiaris) is passionate about art.”

Other attendees at the workshop were also enjoying taking a break from everyday life and being present in the ethereal historic garden as they painted and received encouraging guidance from De Los Angeles.

Patricia Frates, a retired Sonoma resident, was using her fingers to paint a bright bouquet of flowers.

“It’s nice to let the creative mind out of its cage,” Frates said. “It gets to be too locked up,” she said as she dabbed some neon pink paint onto her canvas, “and it’s nice to get away from everything.”

Expression of self and memories

For De Los Angeles, art is about “capturing the memory,” she said at the workshop, where she sported a colorful Nirvana shirt, thick tortoise shell glasses, a jean jacket with lots of patches and patterned jeans.

“I think it’s this subconscious feeling that’s most important,” she said after encouraging the students to pay attention to the way the lights reflected off the plants and features in the park.

De Los Angeles’s art often captures that feeling, as seen in her vibrant murals across the county, including two murals in Glen Ellen, a mural at the Petaluma Health Center and an in-progress mural in the main-floor elevator that is part of the expansion of Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, as well as an upcoming mural at Santa Rosa Junior College.

When she’s mentoring her students, De Los Angeles said she focuses on building a relationship with them so they can feel comfortable exploring different materials and mediums. She tries to encourage them to feel OK when things don’t go their way, like mixing the wrong color or an unintentional brushstroke.

“When we’re children we have so much freedom, but as we get older, anxiety tells us too many things so you have to forget some of them,” De Los Angeles said.

Instead she coaches artists on “just letting it happen.” Then eventually everybody feels comfortable and confident in themselves “because that’s what’s most important,” she said. “Nobody can really teach you that.”

That philosophy was already seeming to translate for Álvarez-Diaz and Dalarkiaris after a few hours painting in the fresh air under the guidance of De Los Angeles.

When it comes to nature-inspired art, “you can change a tree ― you can even make it pink if you want,” Álvarez-Diaz said, as she worked on adding shades of blue to a palm tree. “It doesn’t have to be so concrete ... There’s endless possibilities.“

Latino culture depicted in artwork

As a first generation immigrant, Álvarez-Diaz said knowing the Mexico-born artist was going to be there opened her up to attending, even though art isn’t her forte.

“I felt safe to come here because (De Los Angeles) has experienced some of the same things,” Álvarez-Diaz said.

Álvarez-Diaz is passionate about social justice and her father works in the fields in Sonoma Valley. She said despite there being a large population of field workers in Sonoma, she feels she hasn’t seen a lot of representation in artwork at her school or in the local community, except for De Los Angeles mural in Glen Ellen.

“When I saw that I did a double take,” Álvarez-Diaz said to De Los Angeles over lunch at the park. “I was just like ‘woooow’.”

Álvarez-Diaz hopes to organize the creation of a mural in a high-traffic area in her high school depicting the Latino community and field workers.

“Maria De Los Angeles motivated me a lot because I was feeling so deteriorated,” Álvarez-Diaz said. “I didn’t really know anyone that did a mural or is passionate about doing murals of people of color.”

She said her takeaway from the workshop was motivation to continue fighting for her ideas on representation of people of color in artwork as she moves forward in her life.

Inspired by Mexico’s landscape

De Los Angeles, remembers drawing in Mexico as a young child.

She remembers drawing the mountains, plants and animals in her hometown, which has a tropical climate, and in ways looks similar to Jack London State Historic Park, she said.

“I think (nature) is probably our second sense of beauty,” De Los Angeles said. “Probably our first one is our mother and the people around us and then as the world gets bigger, it becomes nature ... so it’s kind of our first muse.”

Many in the art world say artists are always emulating nature.

But with deforestation, pollution, and global warming constantly on the rise, “Maybe we need to go back into the world a little more now that we’re destroying it so quickly,” she said.

“We have to teach ourselves appreciation again for it, right?“

Art is a form of that appreciation, and being in the park, “feels like the right place to be,” she said, taking in the view.

One of her murals in Glen Ellen is landscape and nature-inspired.

“For me the roses are really important,” De Los Angeles said. “And the distant hills ― they have a big personality.”

She said stepping back into Sonoma County, the art is much different than the New York art world, where much is figurative drawing, still life oil paintings and buildings. “I think they’re both exciting,” she said. “It’s like stepping into two different energies.”

That energy of our surroundings and the people around us growing up often has an impact on early artwork.

“A lot of children, they draw their family and whatever is around them,” she said. “For me I grew up in my grandparents’ farmland,” where she painted flowers and the landscape.

While attending SRJC, De Los Angeles became interested in figurative drawing, abstraction, mixing landscape eventually and figurative elements with magical realism.

Continuing the connection between art, culture

De Los Angeles has worked on a total of four murals across Sonoma County, including a recently completed mural at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and an upcoming interior mural at SRJC.

Artist Maria De Los Angeles in Glen Ellen on July 11, 2021. (Photo: Jane Vick)
Artist Maria De Los Angeles in Glen Ellen on July 11, 2021. (Photo: Jane Vick)

Spending time at Jack London park and workshops “is perfect inspiration” for her upcoming mural with SRJC she said.

The mural will incorporate native plants, an oak tree and themes on the community’s relationship with nature.

“It’s beautiful to be out here,” she said. Being in nature “makes us feel small again.”

Matt Leffert, the executive director of the Jack London State Historic Park met De Los Angeles during her mural commission in Glen Ellen in June last year.

“I thought her approach to that project was really interesting,” Leffert said. She had toured the park last year in a journey to understand the local community on a deeper level.

Leffert attended the Saturday workshop and said it was moving to see students exploring the park for the first time, and noticing nature from a creative lens.

“For many of these students, looking at the landscapes to draw their own interpretation of the environment, to me is such a meaningful moment,” he said.

Those experiences when connecting with nature can be truly transformative, he said. The park plans to host more art workshops to get students and community members connected to their environment.

"Nature has the ability to improve not just our physical health, but our mental and spiritual health too,“ Leffert said.

And the natural world can also inspire creativity.

“Seeing how unique and interesting each leaf is and each tree really enables students to see more deeply into what’s around them,” he said.

“For us it was great to have an opportunity to have an accomplished artist like Maria to come and teach a workshop at the park,” Leffert said. “We feel very lucky to have made that connection with her.”

There will be another workshop led by Los Angeles at Jack London State Park on April 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, contact Kristi Lanusse, the park’s associate director of donor relations, at

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or On Twitter @alana_minkler.

Read more stories celebrating the local Latino community here.

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión en Español.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.