March 10, 2008

Interview - Melissa Sue Stanley

Melissa Sue Stanley is a painter, illustrator, and needlework artist living in a suburb outside of Chicago. She has the honor of being the only participant to send it a piece of work containing stitching.

So, you're a full time artist?

Right now i am a full-time artist. To keep my new car paid for i work 20 hours a week at a very Harvey Pekar type occupation - making copies and putzing around an old building.

I'm envious.

I think maybe I always have to have some sort of work - there's something about co-workers, that kinda spontaneous jabber that happens around a copy machine - I like it. Now, anyway. I am planning on ditching the part-time gig in about a year and half so i can work just on art.

So do you like being close to Chicago? Is it good for the artist in you?

It hasn't really affected me or my art, being close to Chicago. I like being close to the city because I appreciate certain aspects of it - but really my heart is in the burbs. And I dont mean, like, the white-fence huge house nonsense of the Chicago suburbs - of which there are a lot. I am very interested in the old main streets and the towns that grew off of rivers and railroad tracks and I think a lot of what I want to represent comes from that sort of environment.

And what is it that you want to represent, sort of a lost America?

I don’t know if it is lost, it's still there but it is being changed. That's the next series that I am working on, the way the old towns are being changed. I don’t know if I can describe it fully yet, I'm still bouncing the idea around. I drive through old towns and cornfields a lot though, so it's coming clearer to me. One thing at a time though, I gotta get through what I'm working on now.

And what are you working on now?

Right now I'm doing a mixed media series - portraits on muslin done in watercolor, pencil, and embroidery. It will potentially get me in a lot of trouble, which is exciting. I plan to start talking more about it and showing pieces from it at the end of the month. It's about privacy and violation. I really love it, I'm very happy with it. And I am also doing small scale embroidery and watercolor on muslin, like my icon, and a series of watercolors, 8x10's, of the men that I know. But today i am painting a dog for a commission.

"...the men that I know..." That sounds intriguing, little mysterious.

Haha - yes! They are all such characters, and they all have their own faces. Painting them is an experience for both of us involved. It's intimate you know? But again it's a little intrusive, because I don’t ask permission.

Well, we can skip it so I don't get you into more trouble. But, I will touch on the mixed media because you're the only one of the submitted pieces that had a bit of stitch work in it. How did you come to the idea that you wanted to combine that and paints and pencils?

I've been playing with 'fiber art' for a while, and wanted some way to bring it into my painting. that piece I sent in just came very naturally, just happened. I was embroidering in sketchbooks and things a little before that but that was the first painting I did with embroidery. It seemed the only way to convey the message/text - which is about my relationship with Joe Varisco (the bird.)

Is he a friend of yours?

He has been a friend of mine since we were young, and in the past few years he has also been a great collaborator and inspiration. I wouldn't say he's my muse, but he definitely keeps me going when I feel everything I'm painting or making is wrong. When I am working I sometimes feel like he is there, a little bird on my shoulder. The painting was pretty literal. We do canned culture together, which is on hiatus now but will be returning in July. It’s a sort of video blog thing where we babble about things we like and art and have parties and try to do salons and things like that.

Did I read correctly that you're self taught? Have you taken any formal art or design classes?

I will sometimes take the occasional class at the local community college. But, I wouldn't say that the teachers there actually teach you anything. They present the still life, or model, and that is where the lesson is. The only formal education that I’ve had is a few very hardcore semesters of art history, which was amazing - that teacher actually taught things and it was great. Right now for example I’m at the local college taking figure drawing classes - but that's only because the format is better than the local art leagues, and it's the same price.

Other than the projects you currently have going, is there anything you'd like to do with your art; more collaborations or projects?

I am always interested in certain types of collaborations - that's why the 100 artists project appealed to me, it was right up my alley. (btw, I am so happy/in awe that the single mailer project turned out so well - great job on that!). There are several people I’d like to work with, but it's got to be organic for me, I can't really plan these things. It’s hard for me to approach people on collaborations, I like rather when we stumble into each other. The COD (College of DuPage) Tattoo Project was like that. Me and this other artist, Patrick McGuan, decided one day to take photos at the community college we were both at - photos of tattoos on campus. About a year later we had over 1000 pictures and an art show. It was fantastic.

Are you involved in a lot of groups now, like Illustration Friday for instance? Things that inspire you to turn out work consistently?

Not so much. I get the illofriday emails, but I haven't done one in a while. I've got so many ideas bumping around my head that I don't have time for them, much less trying to find new things to get inspired about. I read a few blogs, but not many.... mainly I just try to sit down and do The Work as much as possible.

Like painting with wine?

Yes! Oh man, that was nasty! Haha! I need to revisit that - maybe with some better wine that doesn't smell like hell. I think there is something there though - I wanted to do some paintings about a certain type of art going on right now, the very aesthetic-image-tea and roses and Anthropologic girl in the city with a scarf and a dream sort of thing. But I didn’t get past testing the wine on paper, maybe next month.

Well, as a drawer of hoboes I was very inspired by the idea.

Yea! Go with it! My husband really complained about the smell, I left the wine open in my studio for a couple days – haha! By the way, the hoboes, and rabbits, and all that - I love that sort of thing and was very happy when I stumbled into it.

Glad you found it.

To that end, what media are you most comfortable with, assuming it's not a 97 Tempranillo?

I love graphite, and watercolor. I never thought I’d be doing watercolors, but here I am. Beyond that I love working with fabrics and yarn, and making weird sculptures and taking photos. I am pretty crafty with a crochet hook and have been able to create what I think is a pretty awesome series of soft-sculpture creatures - I sell them on I’ll work in anything really. I paint murals in acrylics, and portraits in oils, but I really love drawing, which is why I think watercolor works best for me.

Now I see you've got an Etsy page as well. Is that where you make your money or do you do commissions for people? How do you make your living as an artist?

I do alright selling the yarn creatures and things on Etsy. Not the paintings, those don’t sell on Etsy (though I honestly haven’t *really* tried). I do commissions for people I know on my own, but I’m really picky about it. Honestly, where I am at right now is I decided a couple years back that I could not work in an office 40+ hours a week anymore, so I started saving and set a date to quit and then did it, and with the help of my part time gig, and my husband's health insurance, I’ve been able to really dig in on making my portfolio what I want it to be without worrying (YET!) about profits.

My website is a train wreck; it has none of my current work on it, so that's a big focus for me right now - getting a batch of work done and getting it out there. I’m giving myself about 2-3 years to make enough income to support myself fully with art. I’ll keep you posted on that little adventure - haha!

Oh, I watch all the contributors. That won't be a problem. But I'm sure a lot of people will be curious. Making the switch to living off your art is a big thing.

It’s all I want to do, so most days it's pretty easy. Hopefully people will respond to the work I am doing.

And how do you relate to other people. Do you think it's easier now to have fans and folks who would buy your work or do you feel there's too much out there now?

It’s been pretty easy for me, I’ve had some great "internet experiences". A few years back I painted a portrait of Claire Rabe, one of my favorite authors, just for fun you know, and posted a picture of the painting on my website. Well, the family of this author came across the painting and contacted me about it and wound up buying it from me.

That's pretty amazing.

It was a huge milestone for me as an artist. As far as there being too much out there, I don’t think about it so much. I have artists that I follow just because I’m a fan, but otherwise I just do my own thing.

That’s pretty much all I've got. Any parting words to your devoted fans or fellow artists?

Well, I am now accepting applications for Devoted Fans - send 'em in! For everyone else, just be Honest and Let Go. And, thanks for all your work for this project, and for your time today talking! It was fun.

Indeed. It was wonderful talking to you.

If you’d like to see more of Melissa’s work, you can visit her site at

No comments: