News for July
Interview with Melissa Findley
Interview with Melissa FindleyArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
Melissa is a prolific artist who believes in magic as few do. Her artwork is characterized by dangerous, mischievous magic, and she devotes a good amount of time to artists' networking.
How did you come up with your nickname?
Mercuralis? I've had that name for so long now I don't even think about it much anymore. It was in college, I think, during my flirtation with playing chatroom RPG's. I needed a name for a mage character that could also be a screenname, so I started hunting through my dictionary. It's actually misspelled. It should be Mercurialis (with the extra i), but I was in a hurry when I was registering it and didn't check the spelling. I picked it because it had a base that related back to Mercury (one of my favorite Greek Gods, and one of my favorite elements) and the word "mercurial" (which I felt really described my character). Mercurialis is actually a kind of plant, related to indigo, and supposedly poisonous. Like I've said, I've used it for so long now that it's just my other name. Since I always get asked, you pronounce it "MER-CURE-ah-liss"
I know you've studied for many years. What did you study, and why did you never bother for graduating?
Actually I did graduate -- I've got an Associate in Arts degree from Valencia Community College -- it just took me longer to get one than it should have. Mostly because I just really, really liked taking classes. If something looked interesting, I took it. If it even vaguely related to my field, I took the class. I took a couple of them twice, not to make up grades, but because I liked them so much the first time around, or I wanted to see if a different professor taught it differently. I started out going for a degree in Theater, but switched at the end and studied creative writing (specifically screen and playwriting). After about five years of school, I figured it was probably time for me to graduate and get a full time job so I could get my own place, so I did. I'm thinking about going back for a Bachelor's Degree in art, though. Maybe a minor in folklore and mythology... or theater... or writing. I'll figure it out eventually.
Being the big Labyrinth fangirl that you are, how does it influence your artwork (apart from the fanart)? How did theater influence your work? What other things have influenced you?
Ha! Labyrinth is really an extension of my absolute love of Jim Henson's work and Brian Froud's art. I remember being utterly enthralled by the Muppet Show as a kid, and then later, Henson's Storyteller series. I think Labyrinth in particular appeals to me because I can relate to it so much, and because it so closely fits with what I believe about magic and faeries and goblins. If I could pick a personal hero of any celebrity, I'd have to pick Henson. He had this incredible ability to just build worlds from nothing more than a few pieces of felt and his own two hands. He'd have an idea, and he'd make it happen. He believed in enchanting people, of finding the magic in the mundane, and bringing out the kid in all of us. My fascination with his work brought me into theater, as well. I loved theater. I did everything: built sets, costumes, props, hung lights, ran the light and sound behind the scenes, acted, directed, stage managed... and I think a lot of that influenced me as an artist. I see the canvas often as a stage, where I can move around the characters and costume them and light them in order to tell a story.
While most fantasy art focus in the feminine form, there are a lot of *hot!* guys in your gallery. How did they take over your artwork?
I blame society. Seriously, there's two main kinds of fantasy artwork: fantasy geared toward women, and fantasy geared toward men. The first kind has a lot of beautiful women in lovely gowns, flitting through enchanted forests trailing magic and butterfly wings. The second is your standard D&D, Conan stuff... lots of steroid pumped men with giant swords and chicks in a few scraps of leather posed provocatively. There's a third genre developing, though, that I think comes out of slash fiction. Homoerotic art featuring effeminate males seems to be getting more and more popular among women as well. At some point I started looking at these trends and wondering what happened to the men? If you look at the ratios, there are probably three or four times as many female characters as male. When there ARE male characters depicted, they all tend to be either so muscular you can't imagine them fitting through a doorway, or even more feminine than the women. So where are the hetero, masculine, but not over the top males? The kind I ogle when walking down the street? The kind I'd prefer to drool over in calendars? So I figured since very few other people were drawing the kind of men I liked, it was up to me to make up for the lack. I can't say I've regretted it.
Another distinctive character of your artwork is that it is not centered in the happy happy fluffy pink faeries. Tell us about your perception of the fae.
I was really into fairy tales as a kid, and then later in college I really got into mythology and folklore classes. You go back far enough, before the Victorians got their prudish morals editing them, and you'll find the real tales of the faeries. They were not sweet, pretty, butterfly winged chicks wearing rose petals. These things were nasty, pesky, they made all kinds of mischief and were as likely to do you a favor as harm you. You had to stay on their good side, treat them with respect, follow their rules, or you'd end up dead, or eaten, or worse. I get so tired of seeing all these "nice" saccharine coated "fairies" all the time. I'd rather paint them as I see them, bring some of the danger and sexiness and mischief back. Safe is seldom sexy.
What did mark the inflexion point in your life when you decided to become a freelance artist?
I never wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be everything else. Everyone -- art teachers, parents, adults throughout my life -- told me that art was no way to make a living. It was a hobby, something I played with when I was bored, something I was good at. At some point, however, I realized that people DID pay for art. I was always getting asked to design wedding programs, or paint a picture of someone's kid, or decorate a mailbox or a wall. A friend gave me a wacom tablet as a gift and it sort of snowballed from there. I got into graphic design, did that for about a year, and then when I got married last October decided that I wanted to really concentrate on building my portfolio and doing more freelance art work. I have a very supportive husband who backed me on my decision one hundred percent. I don't make a lot doing freelance right now. I'm hoping that will eventually change, if I keep working at it.
Can you tell us what are you working on now? Do you have any special projects?
Right now I'm doing book covers for an e-book publisher, and working on padding out my portfolio to send to some print publishers. I'm also working with Ellen Million on a little side project that will involve a lot of goblins on all kinds of merchandise. I take commissions sometimes, but I'm also planning to join up with Ellen's Portrait Adoption site to offer more character portraits. Not an overly impressive resume, but I'm not super ambitious at this point.
Can you pick a favorite piece? Why is it your favorite?
Green and Sultry Summers. I think it's probably my best piece of work to date, and it has so much in it that I love. It's all about my love of green places and sunny dappled light and all the wildlife in Florida where I grew up. It speaks to me more than any painting I've ever done.
Name a few of you favourite artists. Is there any of them that has had a direct effect on your learning?
Well, as mentioned, Henson and Brian Froud are major influences for me. Linda Bergkvist: controversial or not, I love her work. It showed me what you could really do with digital art, if you tried. Boris Vallejo, I have a bunch of his art books. They showed me that sexy doesn't have to be dirty, it can be beautiful. Another one, which may seem odd: Mercer Mayer. He's best known for his "Just Me" Little Monster series, but he also did some absolutely stunning fairytale books. His Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, and East of the Sun illustrations really had a huge impact on the way I draw and the kind of art I like. Right now, however, I'm totally crushing on Dan Dos Santos's work. And Matt Stawicki. And Scott Fischer. I want to be them when I grow up.
Being involved actively in art communities and artists relations can be exhausting and sometimes very difficult. What motivates you to do it?
Insanity. Actually, I remember having this totally shocking revelation at some point, when I first started getting involved with putting my art online: all these really awesome artists who I admired KNEW each other. They were friends. They talked. They hung out sometimes. And then suddenly I was there in that mix and they were talking to ME, and teaching me, and it was so incredible. So I get involved and hang around a lot of different communities because it gives me the opportunity, really, to talk to all kinds of awesome artists from all over the world, and to learn and grow. And I like to give back, especially in communities where I feel like I grew the most. I love to feature other people's work on my deviantArt gallery because I think there's a ton of great artists out there who deserve more recognition. I run chatrooms because I like being able to introduce a lot of incredible artists who work in different mediums to each other. I volunteer at Epilogue as a forum moderator because I like the opportunity to help other people who are stepping into this world as big eyed and awed as I was once upon a time. Is it tiring? Yes. Is it thankless? Mostly. Do I sometimes want to strangle people? I'm not a saint, I'm human. But it's definitely worth the minor aggravations.
A pet peeve?
People who say "arts" instead of "artwork." Drives me up a wall. Also, art theft. Lack of respect for artists in general, lack of understanding about how hard art is. Ignorance, really.
Your favourite place in the world?
Someday, I'd like to live in Key West. It's warm, full of really hot guys, you can watch the sunset over either the Atlantic or the Gulf. It's eccentric. I read a phrase once in a book that described it perfectly. It's "content to be itself." I think that's the best anyplace or any person can strive for, really: content to be who or what you are, without making apologies for it.
Thank you a lot Mel, for accepting to be interviewed. As usual, it has been a great pleasure learning more about you.
And now, let's see how you are perceived by other artists
Mel by Christine Griffin:
"Melissa is who I wish I was, 20 years ago: uber-talented, organized, outspoken, and enormously generous. Her buttery hand with Painter is to-die-for, and her design sense...clean and clever. She's a tremendous problem-solver, and if I ever have a question about art programs, she's da bomb. It's a pleasure to fancy myself her friend!"
Mel by Jessica Douglas:
Aside from being a fabulous artist, she's been incredibly generous, open, polite... and all around a good person. It's been a real pleasure to know her.
Mel by Rita:
She is a very wonderful person. She always tryes to encourage and help others. She is busy at the epi-forums, giving her best. She also improved so very much at the last years and I admire her abilities and skills to paint such lovely pieces! She has her own mind how to do some things, but accept also others, it is the result what counts.
Mel by Elin Joseffson:
Melissa is a true inspiration. When I see her art it makes me want to grab my tablet to paint. She is not only a great artist though, she is a good friend. Whenever she has time she helps other artists to become better. Melissa is a creative girls with a warm heart.
If you didn't know about her, go and look at her wonderful gallery. You will not be disappointed.
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