Selective Focus: Mana Bear Bolton’s Paintings and Murals

Mana Bear Bolton live painting on Tower Avenue in Superior in August 2021. (Photo by Jess Morgan)

Between colorful murals, acrylic paintings of beloved pets, playful watercolors and flow arts, Mana Bear has been making the Twin Ports region and beyond more beautiful for nearly a decade. Learn more about Mana’s work in the interview below.

How long have you been creating work as an artist? What first motivated you to start creating?

I’ve been working as a full-time artist since 2013. I went to school to be an art therapist but preferred the freelance lifestyle. When I first started creating, it wasn’t to express my emotions or make a point. It was because I wanted nice things and I couldn’t afford them. I would often take discarded, unwanted and generally things to be considered trash and make them into the things that I needed and desired. My earliest invention was a set of articulating dragon wings. I made them from cardboard colored in marker, duct tape, strings and pulleys rigged up underneath a shirt.

Is MANA a nickname or acronym? What does it stand for?

MANA is my brand, company name and moniker. My name is MANA Bear. It is derived from a childhood nick-name Mama Bear, which was not suitable for my public title, so I adjusted it by changing the M to an N!

The horn accessories worn on the right were also created by Mana.

You’ve work with Sculpey clay, acrylics, fiber arts, decorative cakes, murals, flow arts and so much more. The number of mediums you’ve worked with is impressive. Are there more? What has motivated you to work with so many different crafts and do you have a main medium? How would you describe your focus or style?

I am a naturally passionate and inquisitive soul. When I find a connection with a medium, I dive deep and far. I have discovered many mediums this way. It’s easier to name mediums I don’t work in! In the past I have wrapped wire, silver smithed, worked with fibers, resin, sculpting, needle felting and I often sew and crochet. My main mediums are digital illustration in vector and pixel, and traditional mediums in acrylic, oil, watercolor and aerosol. In my more refined years, I have been concentrating on small and large format private and public installations. My body of work is as diverse as my roots, ranging from full color saturation to analog and greyscale. I practice color theory in all of my work and you will find as the observer, the palettes are what set the mood and tell the stories.

A lot of your art is incredibly colorful and vibrant. You have described pieces as having a “Lisa Frank” quality to them. What is it that you like about working with those types of colors and playful linework?

I have synesthesia and am also on the spectrum. Color plays a huge role in how I perceive my environment. My favorite palette is rose gold, gold, white and teal together. These colors bring me peace. My second favorite palette is pastel rainbow or holographic followed closely by full saturation rainbow. These palettes all play unique parts in the care I take in myself and that is transparently reflected in my creative work.

What projects are you working on right now?

I am currently working on filling my private public art books for 2023. I am designing several murals in Georgia, Washington, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, the most notable of 2023 being the double-sided illustrated story that will be painted on Life Houses’ new Imaginarium building in Downtown Duluth.

What have been your favorite projects to work on? What were the mediums and content of those projects?

I have two categories of favorites. On a smaller scale, I love working in watercolor. I was recently commissioned to illustrate an urbanites dream farm home. It was a slow-paced, therapeutic and dreamy project. Helping my clients manifest their dreams is my favorite cup of tea. On a larger scale, full saturation murals depicting people, animals and emotion are my go-to and collaborating with clients or freestyling without creative limitation has always been my bread and butter.

You’ve been focusing on murals a lot in the past year. What draws you to that medium? Are there any murals you’d like to share about?

What I love about installing murals is its larger than life and becomes a point of connection and communication in a community. I have seen dilapidated areas receive not only a new face and an entirely new energy to the atmosphere by bringing the right art to the right place. Many passersby have expressed gratitude for the service and how it has enriched their lives. Hearing those kinds of remarks lets me know that not only am I keeping myself active and progressing personally, but I am also engaging in the community in ways that make people’s lives better. There’s nothing better than knowing what you do for a living makes a difference in the world

Where have you installed murals? Who have you worked with?

I have installed murals across Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin over the last two years with the most notable ones being found at At Sara’s Table, Tweed Museum of Art, Life House, Legacy Glassworks, Dubh Linn Pub, ASI Accounting, Chief Buffalo, Sooch-a-Pooch, Izzy’s BBQ and Ignite Dispensary as well as a dozen private murals for collectors. The first person I collaborated on a mural with was Taylor Rose and then Anton Horshnick, Moira Villiard and Ann Lewis in that order. I’m looking forward to working with other artists in the future! It would be amazing to work with Apex Collective from Colorado. I will be painting at a festival this year with them, and you never know!

What projects are you hoping to do in the future?

I want to put a mural on Earth Riders in Superior. Their wall has been something I have driven past for many years dreaming about our gorgeous and unique ecosystem proudly displayed on their wall. I am also looking forward to being flown to places I’ve never been to enrich communities that have been looking for the energy that I bring to the table.

Mana sold a large Lake Superior Agate that was dear to her when a woman asked to purchase it and Mana “hadn’t learned to say no yet.” Eight years later, she posted on the “Lake Superior Agate Collector’s” Facebook group to see if she could find it. The owner of the agate saw her post and returned it to Mana. In return, Mana painted this portrait of their dog.

The returned agate inspired a series of dog paintings paired with a Lake Superior Agate.

Have you collaborated with any artists in the past year on projects or shared experiences with others that particularly stood out to you?

I lent a helping hand to Moira Villiard with the Chief Buffalo Memorial Mural and worked with DSAI and Life House to extend the art in the alley another block in Downtown Duluth. These projects have opened my eyes to the true community experience that installations such as these can bring. There are countless places in the world, including our home in the Twin Ports, that are calling for culturally impactful motifs in their communities and I plan on reaching out to them.

Taken while helping with the Chief Buffalo Project.

Another angle of the Cheif Buffalo Mural, taken while Mana helped with the project.

In what ways do you feel supported as an artist (or want to be better supported) within Duluth and the communities that you’re creating within?

When I first started installing murals in Duluth, I was responding to a call for help. I made myself available, did the work for less than it was worth and was proud to do my best. This energy landed me on a team of hardworking influential people in the Duluth community who are making the moves and having the conversations needed to bring a change to the places where we can do our best work. I find myself full of pride and desire to do the hard work and am open to receiving opportunities my community recognizes are perfect for me.

What’s one of your favorite things about Duluth and the communities that you’re creating within?

Duluth is my home. When I stand on the shore: I taste the clay, I smell the pine, and I see our sprawling ecosystem over many generations before and after us. My heart yearns to do everything I can to preserve it and the culture that comes with it.

In what ways have you interwoven your identity into your art and in what ways has that been meaningful to you?

Creating is my main mode of expression. When someone is suffering, my present for them is some type of creation. It could be creating a nutritious meal or setting an environment for a calm recovery. I see the world in three actions: to create, to observe, and to destroy. I choose to create. It is my love language.

Are there specific images, colors or references that you like to continuously work with within your artwork?

I work mostly with a fully saturated rainbow, with white highlights, and black outlines when not practicing realism. I do not refer to references often, and when I do it is just a glance to get an idea for shapes, color or size. Most of the themes in my work are fantastical, whimsical and emotionally laden.

Do you have any videos published of working with flow arts? What are the tools or objects that you use for those performances called? Is that a medium that you work with very often?

My buugeng are featured in a cute introduction video I filmed years ago at Leif Erickson park in Duluth. I was breaking my shell and dipping my toe into performance arts while playing Pokemon Go with the community. The video can be seen on YouTube and is called “Meet: Mana Bear.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I’m hoping to find opportunities to grow and eventually purchase my first home. Meeting new business connections and finding the spaces that are seeking my energy takes a healthy grapevine and I’m hoping the garden I am tending to takes care of me and helps me thrive the same. Most importantly, I would love to connect and become your friend.

Mana is doing a holiday giveaway of an original hand-painted portrait … but only if enough people help “power Santa’s sleigh.” The details can be found in the embedded Facebook post above. Mana is also booking private and public lessons, workshops and commissions in small and large formats. For commissions, prints, stickers, mural information or to continue following Mana’s work, visit They can also be followed on Instagram @findmanabear, or on the MANA Mana Art Nature Allied Facebook Page.

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