The one who moves from town to town
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Q. Welcome Melissa, tell us what part of Mississippi to you live in?
A. I live in Hattiesburg. My husband is an Active Duty soldier stationed at Camp Shelby so we will not be here permanently, but we love the area. I never thought I’d ever live in Mississippi, but as far as the community and what the area has to offer, this is my favorite place we’ve been stationed
Q. Tell us something about yourself that everyone should know.
A. I am ADHD which used to be something I avoided telling people, but it is not just a kid thing and needs to be normalized like any other condition. It does create some obstacles, but I believe it is an asset. Actually, the woman that gave me the advice to just be me also has ADHD and the fact that we had similar styles made us believe it may be a reason why we paint the way we do. I am becoming more open about it to show people that it is a real condition and you can still be successful in your pursuits when you find a way to adapt instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.
Q. How would you say you navigate through Mississippi’s art scene?
A. I will let you know when I start managing to do that! Two weeks after I made the decision to start painting professionally, Covid-19 shut everything down so I have yet to get my bearings for the local art scene beyond Mississippi Artist Facebook pages. I recently joined the Hattiesburg Arts Council so I do plan on getting more involved when we are allowed to gather again.
I am currently seeking gallery representation, but I know my work is not traditional Mississippi style or subject matter so I am going into it knowing that there will be a smaller pool of galleries that show interest in my work which is okay. I love that there is such a strong cultural and artistic identity here so even though my work may not necessarily fit, I’m hopeful that there are a few galleries out there that take chances on us square pegs.
Q. Tell us about your background in art.
A. If you want to go back to the beginning, the show Pappyland actually got me interested in drawing. My brother and I would sit on the couch and follow along. I would always lag behind, trying to get things just right so I guess my perfectionist tendencies have always been there.
The bulk of my education was from two beginner drawing books my mother bought me when I was about 14. I’d always loved to draw, but that’s when I really got serious about it. I took art for two years in high school, but to sum up that experience, when I showed my art teacher what I’d been working on, she told me anyone could draw from a photograph. If you want to crush a young artist, that’s exactly how to do it. I also had some other things going on in my life at that time so I ended up packing everything away. I’ve drawn a handful of times over the years, but I didn’t enjoy it like I used to.
I started painting last fall. I guess it was a weird chain of events that actually got me into painting. I’d originally intended to make cakes after our move to Mississippi, but cottage food laws prohibit all online advertising so there was no way to grow my business being so new to the area. I was still figuring out a plan when I found out I needed surgery for an FAI and torn ligament in my hip. My mom came down to help out with my kids during my surgery and she brought some of my old stuff she’d been storing for me. On top of the pile was an old a canvas. I never had an interest in painting, but I had nothing else to do so I decided to give it a shot. I actually referred to my first few paintings as ‘paint by numbers’ because I drew them out and filled them in with paint I'd mixed in little containers. I didn’t know anything about painting so my approach was a little strange, but functional.
To simplify things, I do say that I am self-taught, but if I am being real, I think that would be giving me too much credit. Saying I found out I had the ability to paint and the willingness to refine that would probably be more accurate.
Q. How do you classify or categorize your work?
A. No matter the medium, my work is always contemporary realism. When you get down to the little details of something, you get to know the subject and see the beauty in it exactly how it is. You tend to notice things that you missed. Both of my living great grandmothers turned 100 this year and I painted them each a portrait of them and my great grandfathers. Through painting them, I got to know them through their expressions and their body language which was actually a pretty unique experience. I try to show a subject as it really is because I think there is beauty in what is right in front of you.
Q. What mediums do you work in?
A. I work in traditional graphite pencil, oil paint, and acrylic paints, but I also work with modeling chocolate, fondant, and other edible ingredients. My mom taught me how to decorate cakes when I was younger and when I had kids, I started making cakes for them. I built on what she taught me and started creating edible sculptures and cake toppers.
Q. How much time does it take to complete a project?
A. It takes between 30 and 100+ hours. I am a slow painter, but I also put a lot of detail into each painting which can be time consuming. I am sure people are shocked at the price of art, but when someone spends a week straight working on a single painting, it starts to make sense why things are priced the way they are.
Q. Do you have any habits that help with your creative process?
A. I listen to Netflix. If I have something to follow along to, to preoccupy that part of my brain, I can focus better on what is in front of me.
Q. Do you ever feel like you have to censor your work or ideas?
A. Yes, all the time. I guess it’s like any other career where you stick with what is safe as you establish yourself before you branch out and take risks. I am still painting what I want, but I have a ‘not yet’ list of ideas that will have to wait until I am more established as an artist.
Q. What art do you identify with most and why?
A. I think there are 3 types of styles I identify with, but they all overlap. I identify with contemporary realism. The smooth, photo-like realism has always been interesting to me. Within, that category, I like portrait and macro-style art. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the details. If I want to paint a tree, I want to paint each leaf, not just the shadows and textures that give the appearance of leaves. When I paint an animal I paint the hairs individually. I can do that with portrait and macro paintings, but not so much with landscapes. I love looking at landscapes and sea shapes, but it is not something I personally create.
Q. Who or what are your biggest influences and why?
A. In terms of art? Honestly, I feel like I should have an answer for this, but I don’t. Aside from choosing subject that interest me, when I was drawing, I found that the more I learned, the less of me there was in my artwork. When I started decorating cakes on my own, I was careful not to look too hard into how things were done. I would look at something similar to an idea I had or I’d run through a tutorial once to get the gist of it, but I needed the creative process to be my own. I found out later that my process was a lot different than what is typically done, but that also wasn’t a bad thing. Outside of making sure the products I use and the steps I take ensure quality and a lasting piece of art, I am really trying to limit outside influences in my painting until I have enough experience so I don’t lose me in the process.
Q. What has been your scariest experience in the art world?
A. Well, I am currently in that moment awaiting the results of my submission into the International Guild of Realism. I think it’s scary because when I do not get accepted into exhibitions, I don’t take it personally. My piece may not be what they are looking for and that is a bummer, but it’s okay. The IGOR looks solely at your body of work and the technical skill t determine if you will be accepted. My entire style is built on realism so to not be accepted would sting a bit. I’ve been painting for less than a year so it may have been too soon to try, but there is no turning back now! If I am not accepted, I will certainly try again in the future because being a member of the IGOR is a sort of validation of my skills. It would be an amazing achievement so I hope that I will be accepted this time or the next.
Q. What has been your most positive experience in the art world?
A. I was really intimidated entering the art world because my one and only experience with it was with high school art teacher. I’d heard that it can be tough and that I needed thick skin so I kind of came in prepared to have my soul crushed a few times. Surprisingly though, everyone I’ve met has been really great and so supportive. I’m not sure I could put any experience as better than another because every has been really great.
Q. Is there anything you would like to tell those who are thinking of pursuing a career in the Arts?
A. Have confidence in your style and your skill, but understand that your art is only a small portion of what you need to learn to be successful. There are so many artists out there, but so few make a living off their work. I don’t. Currently, my art covers the basic art supplies I need to keep painting. I was accepted into two national exhibitions, a group exhibition in a museum, and an online juried exhibition before I sold my first original painting. I used to joke that I’d be famous first before I ever sell a single painting. I’ve been rejected twice as often as I’ve been accepted so you have to be able to let that roll off your back. You also need to understand marketing and business to be successful. It IS hard work, BUT if it is something you truly want to do, go for it. Create a plan and achieve your dreams.
Check back with us soon for our second interview.
You can find more of Heathers work on her instagram @she.creates.it
Until next time!
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