“I believe if you try to create art for mass appeal, you may start to lose your passion for it. At least, that’s my personal experience.”— Melissa Gilbert
In this insightful interview, Melissa Gilbert, a line artist best known for her expressive work and storytelling, discusses her creative process, the impact of overthinking on her work, and the balance between the business and creative aspects of her artistic journey.
Brady Walker: Hello, today for our spotlight artists we have Melissa Gilbert, also known as MellysArt. Nice to meet you, Melissa.
Melissa Gilbert: Nice to meet you, too.
BW: Melissa, for those who are not familiar with you and your work, could you introduce yourself briefly to our audience?
MG: Absolutely. I’m a solo artist predominantly working with charcoal, and I’m based in Southeast England.
BW: Fantastic. Melissa, you have a distinct minimalist line art style. I’m curious to know how you creatively push yourself with each piece, given that you’re adhering to a consistent style and medium?
MG: That’s a good question. Sometimes, I incorporate color, which is a rare but effective way for me to step out of my comfort zone. However, I do try to maintain a consistent aesthetic as that represents my style. I also create animations, which challenge me due to their time-intensive nature compared to my regular pieces.
BW: Regarding subject matter, how do you explore and push yourself with what you’re actually depicting in your art?
MG: Great question. A lot of my inspiration comes from music, especially lyrics. For instance, my recent piece titled Self Confidence depicts a car burning, which was inspired by a song from NF, a rapper from the United States. My journey into art started when I was in a difficult place in life. I hit rock bottom and began creating art as a coping mechanism, which is reflected in my darker pieces.
BW: Good. I want to ask about your Between the Line series. It’s an interesting expansion of your style, making use of negative space in an intriguing way with horizontal lines. Despite requiring more lines, it feels more minimal than your usual work because you’re able to imply a central figure without explicitly depicting them. Where did this new approach come from? Was there a particular intention or was it just an experiment?
MG: It started when I saw a similar style by another artist on Instagram, whose name I can’t recall now. I thought it would be cool to try and see if I could do it, and that’s how they were born. I chose to depict historically significant figures, like Freddie Mercury from Queen and Tommie Smith, the first black American runner who raised his fist in a powerful gesture after winning a gold medal. It was a crucial moment in time. I plan to create more pieces in this series as well, since I’ve been receiving positive feedback from viewers who seem to really enjoy them.
BW: Are you planning to focus on significant figures in the future? Also, speaking of music, I wanted to discuss your piece Grow Old With Me. It’s an intriguing, very minimal narrative piece that features an aging acoustic guitar. I see an acoustic guitar behind you. I adore this piece, and I’d love to know the inspiration behind it and how the narrative developed.
MG: That piece was inspired by a poem I read. I often visit my local library and pick up any random poetry book. There was a poem about a violin that had been a lifelong companion, which I found to be a beautiful image. In my mind, it could be a guitar or a violin, and that’s essentially how Grow Old With Me came about.
BW: How long have you been playing the guitar?
MG: Since I was about six or seven. My parents gifted me an electric guitar for my seventh birthday.
BW: How does music influence your creative practice? Do you create music in addition to visual art?
MG: I used to engage in music technology, where you create music with just a laptop and a keyboard, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Music has always been a significant part of my life, largely thanks to my dad who used to be a DJ. Growing up, he introduced me to a wide array of songs and genres.
BW: Have you considered creating soundtracks for any of your animations?
MG: Yes, I have thought about it. However, I believe I need to further improve my skills in that area before I could publish an animation with a soundtrack.
BW: Is there a particular musician that consistently inspires you?
MG: I listen to a wide range of music, from Lo-Fi to heavy metal to rap. If I had to pick, I would say NF, because his lyrics are the most relatable to me. He’s one of the few rappers that doesn’t typically focus on standard rap themes like drugs or relationships. Instead, he raps about actual life and its challenges, which is why he is probably one of my biggest inspirations.
BW: I’m keen to discuss The City of Eden, one of your more intricate pieces. This utopian world you’ve created, where one can casually sit atop an elevated subway, surrounded by treehouses, is quite compelling. I used to live in Brooklyn, and I assure you, there are no treehouses near any elevated subway in New York. Can you elaborate on this world? Have you further developed this concept?
MG: The City of Eden was inspired by a random thought I had about the state of our world and how it might be if we hadn’t destroyed so many trees. I’ve always wished to live in a world with more nature. Living in a city is not for me. I worked in central London for about a year and a half, and I couldn’t continue. I was thinking about how to make a city more livable for someone like me, and that would be to surround it with more nature. That’s where that piece comes from.
BW: I’d love to see more pieces like this from you, depicting such a utopian world. It’s one of my favorite pieces from you, alongside Grow Old With Me. I also want to talk about The Perks of Being an Overthinker, a cleverly named piece with an accompanying poem. It reminded me of a grown-up Shel Silverstein poem. You’ve referred to yourself as an overthinker in a few instances in your work. Could you elaborate on the negative effects of overthinking you’ve experienced, and how it influences your art?
MG: I’m a massive overthinker indeed. It makes me doubt myself and creates entire narratives in my head that I eventually believe are real, despite them being far from the actual situation. It often holds me back from saying yes to things. For instance, when you invited me to this, I accepted immediately to avoid the chance to overthink. My advice is to simply act before overthinking has a chance to set in.
BW: How do you recognize when you’re overthinking an art piece?
MG: I recognize it when I start disliking the piece.
BW: Is that when the overthinking happens, when you start disliking it?
MG: Exactly. It happens when I start working on a piece, get halfway through, and then start questioning, “What if I do it this way?” or “What if it ends up looking like this?” In the end, if I’m not satisfied, I drop it and move on to the next one.
BW: How do you handle that?
MG: Typically, if I end up finishing a piece I’m unsure about, I have to walk away from it for a week or so. I then return to it with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, and continue working until I eventually like it.
BW: Does speed influence the overthinking? Would finishing a piece faster help short-circuit the overthinking? Or are you a constant reviser regardless?
MG: There are two sides to this. One is when I’m deeply invested in a piece, I won’t put the iPad down until I finish it. If I really like it, I’ll continue working for hours, engrossed in the piece.
On the other hand, if the work is taking a considerable amount of time and I start feeling exhausted, I need to remind myself to stop and resume when I’m refreshed. Regarding overthinking, no, I believe I would continue to ruminate over it for a while. I’m sure there are some pieces on my iPad that I’ve overthought and never published.
BW: It seems there’s a sentiment among Web 3 artists to develop a diverse range of skills—visual art, software, animation, music—and constantly learn new things to stay ahead of the curve. Others, like you, seem to go deep instead of wide. What advantages have you found in maintaining a consistent style versus being a jack-of-all-trades?
MG: I do explore areas outside of Web 3, such as learning to paint with real paint and working with watercolors. I have an artist friend who’s been teaching me a lot about these. When it comes to staying ahead of the curve, I think having assistance, especially in marketing, can be invaluable.
Self-marketing is challenging, especially for an overthinker or someone dealing with self-doubt, as I often do. My day job is web development, so that aspect doesn’t concern me as much. But self-promotion is certainly outside my comfort zone.
One piece of advice I’ve heard from a successful artist is that getting an assistant was a game-changer. As to why I haven’t strayed too far from my style, it’s simple: I love it. I wouldn’t do art if I didn’t enjoy it. I believe if you try to create art for mass appeal, you may start to lose your passion for it. At least, that’s my personal experience.
BW: You’ve conducted many interviews within this space. Is there anything you’ve learned from these interactions and incorporated into your own practice?
MG: For a while, I interviewed other artists and wrote about it on Medium. I’ve stopped now, but that experience was beneficial. The artists’ answers to my questions helped me articulate my responses when I was interviewed. So, it was a fruitful period.
BW: What motivated those interviews?
MG: Initially, it was an attempt at marketing. I wanted to experiment and see if it would gain traction. The interviews did quite well initially, but it eventually became overwhelming, almost like a full-time job on top of my actual full-time job. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. It was a great way to connect with the community, and I’ve met several Web 3 creators who have supported me ever since.
BitErrror from MakersPlace consistently appreciates my work. It’s wonderful to have that connection, and there are others too. The interviews were also a way for me to integrate into the community.
BW: Interviewing has been my favorite way to engage with the community. I even interviewed BitErrror a couple of months ago. He’s fantastic. Personally, it’s a joy to delve into a specific artist’s work, to think about it profoundly enough to ask thoughtful questions. Sometimes I spend hours studying someone’s work before feeling ready to formulate the right questions. It’s been an enlightening process. Shifting gears, here’s a new question I’m experimenting with: how would you describe your work to a recently blinded person?
MG: That’s an interesting question. Assuming they can visualize, I’d say, imagine a white room. In this room, there are mannequins on the floor with distinct outlines. Then I’d describe the scene within the artwork. For example, in one piece, there’s a woman playing with her child, and they’re painting. The outline of this is set against the white room.
BW: I can envision it. Very creative!
MG: Thanks, that was a challenging question though.
BW: What’s a valuable lesson about art, creativity, or process you’ve learned in the past year? Something you wish you had known earlier. This could be a new habit, mindset, or even a trick on the iPad.
MG: Learning all the Procreate shortcuts has saved me a lot of time. If you use Procreate, I highly recommend that.
Additionally, I’ve learned to try and manifest whatever idea is in my head. In the past, I’ve come up with intriguing concepts but was intimidated by their complexity. For instance, I envisioned an animation of an airplane flying through different seasonal clouds, symbolizing life’s ups and downs. It’s a complex piece, and I haven’t finished it yet. The project seemed so daunting in my mind that it felt difficult to start. But the key is to just begin.
BW: It sounds like a perfect concept for a looping piece with never-ending elements like rainbows, the divine shake, the storm. When can we expect that piece, or is that something you’re not ready to set a date for?
MG: I’m not ready to commit to a date yet. However, I am working on another animation with a Spanish artist, which should be ready by the end of August.
BW: Can you share the name of the artist, or is that a surprise?
MG: It’s a surprise. You’ll have to wait and see.
BW: Do you have any specific rituals or practices that you rely on to keep the creative momentum going?
MG: Rest is a significant factor. If I find myself working late at my regular job, I often won’t want to pursue art in the evening. So, I need to remind myself to take a break. That’s probably the most critical factor because rest is where creativity springs from.
BW: Earlier, you mentioned getting help with the career side of your creative practice. Can you tell me a bit more about what that help looks like?
MG: Certainly. Initially, my partner helped me with social media, as I didn’t have much free time. Friends have also lent a hand. The ultimate goal is, once you’re earning enough from art, to hire an assistant to handle all the mundane tasks like website updates, social media uploads, and so on. While it might seem minor for one piece, when you’ve done it hundreds of times, the time really adds up. So, the assistance starts with friends, and when you’re earning enough, hire someone for about eight hours a week.
BW: Is there anything else you’d suggest or do to balance the business and creative aspects of what you do?
MG: It ebbs and flows, really. Sometimes I’m in the mood to tackle the business side of things, and at other times, I just want to focus on the art. I believe it’s important to listen to yourself in these moments.
If you force yourself to handle the business aspects when you’re not enjoying it, it can lead to resentment as it pulls you away from the art, which you love. My advice is to just go with it, especially when starting out. If you’re a full-time artist, however, there has to be some sort of structure, like in a regular job.
BW: Where can our audience find out more about you? Where can they follow you, and what can they look forward to seeing from you next, apart from your secret collaboration with the Spanish artist?
MG: You can find me on my website, mellysart.co.uk. On social media, I’m @mellydevsartwo1. In terms of future work, apart from the collaboration, I’m focusing on honing my charcoal drawing skills. Expect to see more of those, and perhaps some Between the Lines pieces.