Pour yourself a cup of tea/coffee/whatever and settle in – CRAZY excited about today’s conversation with a beloved friend, much-admired woman in MY life, and a creative who has been a familiar presence on these pages almost from the beginning.
It’s hard for me not to gush over this woman I have so much immense respect for – which is why I’ve shared her with you so often over the years. Melanie was one of my first “bloves”, my first subject in the still-trying-to-figure-it-out “i can’t/she can” series, and part of my 2016 “i’m with her” gift guide.
After feeling out a brand new format with Paige (thank you AGAIN Paige!), I felt completely reinvigorated about this series. As I look through past “blove” posts it is remarkable how many of the subjects are on to something completely different today. And as everyone’s story and path are different too, the “set” questions I always asked no longer resonated.
Today’s conversation with Melanie is a perfect example of that. As closely as I think I follow her, there was much I didn’t know – and I walked way with even more admiration for her, along with some always-needed inspiration for myself!
So take it away Melanie (all images courtesy of Melanie Biehle)!
When we met, you were blogging at Inward Facing Girl. Which – truth be told – I STILL miss so much. How long did you blog for, what did you get out of it (or hope to) and what made you decide to make a change?
I started blogging at IFG in February 2009 (Fun Fact: I had a VERY short-lived blog in 2005 called Kate in L.A. It was right after I moved there for the 1st time and I didn’t want to use my real name yet. I wanted to chronicle some of the cool places I was visiting around town). Anyway, IFG was meant to be a tool to get me into the practice of writing again. I had been working a very stressful job in movie marketing and had quit creative writing. When I moved back to Seattle (for the 4th time), I wanted to get my mind and my life back. IFG was part of that process.
In 2010 I started dabbling more in photography by doing a 365 day project. I had been into that off and on throughout my life, but writing was always my 1st love. I also became a mom, got postpartum depression, and finally got treatment for a lifelong anxiety disorder. So, if you look at my blog in 2010, there’s a bunch of bad photography and baby stuff.
The blog you remember didn’t really start until 2011. That’s when I started getting a *little* better at photography, and started learning graphic design. I also started columns like You’re My Obsession and Art I Heart. I discovered design blogs, learned about Alt Summit and realized that I could combine lots of creative stuff that I like to do and get work in those fields. So I kept writing, photographing, designing and marketing and trying to “be a blogger”, until I stopped posting 5 days a week in the summer of 2013.
I decided to take a break from daily posts for the summer and from trying to figure out what I wanted the consulting part to be like. I never went back to 5 day posting, but I still posted frequently until the end of 2014, right around the time I took my first abstract painting class.
I’ve dabbled in art off and on for the past 20+ years, but always remained in the periphery…I would hang out with artists, visit museums and galleries, write about them, share and pin their work, interview them, etc. But I never thought I could make art. Until 2014.
In 2015 I did the 100 Day Project – #100 Graphic Patterns – and that instilled a daily art practice. I make art every day unless I’m sick or traveling . But even when I’m traveling I never go more than a day or two without sketching or painting something. I still post on my blog, but now it’s all about the work I do and what inspires my work. And I don’t do it as often.
I remember when you took that break – it felt so scary and brave to me. Like, how can you just WALK AWAY???? Your next moves, in retrospect, should have come as no surprise. While I loved your writing and photography, my favorite posts of yours were the “curated” ones – you have such a great eye and even the posts that were not your own original work (like a collection of office supplies, or images relating to our crush Sofia Coppola) were always so beautifully put together. With a real artist’s eye.
I’d love you to share a bit of your professional journey since 2015 – I know that you went down several paths in pursuit of that “next step”. Was there a plan when you set out? Did you follow it through or were there changes along the way? And if there were changes were they driven by how successful (or not) those next steps were, or by shifts you were experiencing for yourself?
I rarely have a plan. I have things that I’m interested in and I go down those roads and see what’s there. I feel like 2014 and 2015 were really about exploring my style as an artist. In 2015 I started making some work I was really proud of. This year I’m focusing more on figuring out the business side of art – where the best places are to see my original paintings, how I can get my art to be used commercially, what products make sense for my style and what companies/people can I partner up with. It’s a lot of trial and error, research and reaching out…in addition to all of the art-making. I’m really at the beginning of this career.
I just love that last line: “I’m really at the beginning of this career”. In the time that I’ve known you, you’ve never been afraid of stopping, regrouping and shifting gears. I absolutely adore the work you’re doing now, and your enthusiasm is evident. Do YOU think that you’re brave, or do you think that – with creatives in particular – that passion is a driving force that kind of eclipses the fear?
I’ve been told that I’m brave ever since I started moving around the country without having a job first or sometimes even a place to live! I was told I was brave when I left my full-time job to pursue a creative freelance career. I guess sometimes I feel brave. Sometimes I’m scared, especially when I’m not working on a project or selling much work. But mostly I feel COMPELLED. I HAVE to do the things that I do, especially now. I think I’ve tiptoed around being an artist for a long time. Even when I started my own business I leaned toward my “safe” options first. At the end of 2015/early 2016 I committed to going all in. And, although it happens less often now, even when I have those days when I think that it would be so much easier to NOT want to do this I know I can’t go back. And I don’t’ want to go back! For the first time I feel like I’m moving forward in the right direction.
How did you know you were finally moving in the right direction? And – my favorite question – looking back, could you have gotten there earlier (knowing what you know now), or did all the preceding steps factor in somehow?
When I was about 20-ish years old my mom let me have a bunch of acrylic paints that she wasn’t using. I sat on my bedroom floor and painted really bad paintings. I remember the feeling that I had then. Time flew by when I was painting. I was 100% present and engaged with what I was doing. I experienced that again when I dabbled in art for 20+ more years. Peace. Flow. Presence. I never thought, “This feels so great! I should be an artist!”. It’s only in retrospect that I remember. It’s the same way I felt when I started taking abstract painting classes in 2014. I felt peaceful and energized at the same time. I saw myself improving my skills. I love the process of painting. All of my other paths felt like I was trying to figure out what to do, then do it. I found painting without looking for it. THEN I started figuring out what what to do WITH it. Yes, I think I could have done it earlier, faster, and in a different way. If I would have kept painting when I was 20. Or 30. Or when I first started my own business. It took developing the daily practice of making art to improve my skills. It took the daily practice of getting out my paints and putting color on the paper to make me crave it every day. Now it’s a part of who I am. It’s different from other things I’ve done professionally. It’s me.
There is SO much to take from this conversation, don’t you think? Which is why I made the decision to move away from “asking questions to a blogger” – and why I want to go back and re-do every interview I’ve ever done! Whether you are an artist/maker/creator or NOT, Melanie’s words can resonate for pretty much anyone who is – or has felt – “stuck”. Her description of how it felt when she was doing what she really loved – versus how everything else before that – is something that everyone should be able to experience. And I am so grateful to her for taking the time to really – REALLY – put it all into words for us.
Find out more about Melanie on her web site and shop, and follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. You can hear Melanie on Jennifer Snyder’s “Create Your Own Path” podcast (she’s also the 2017 CYOP Artist Resident!), and you should definitely sign up for her Creative Brief – “for a dose of art and life. I share what’s inspiring me, mood boards for art and pattern collections, a behind-the-scenes peek into my creative process, and subscriber-only sales”.
Thanks MB! xoxo