Hitchin-born and Cambridge-living, this illustrator has a first class degree in Illustration as well as a MA in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art.
With a mischievous use of composition, a playful use of colour, and more character than you can shake a stick at, her illustrations are powerful as well as comforting. Nostalgic and cheerful, Melissa‘s work feels like a friendly hand in the dark, guiding you to the end of the road. A tad rough around the edges, the rawness of her art simply adds to its charm.
Packed with narrative, each of her illustrations carry stories in their lines. Sprawling and colourful, whether her images show a girl swinging from a branch or a couple watching a sewing machine stitch the fields, her work sticks in the mind long after you’ve looked away.
We spoke to Melissa about the smell of art shops, and what she sees when she looks at a fresh sheet of paper:
How did you hone your style?
My work is constantly evolving and being influenced by my interests, which I guess is how I’ve got to develop a specific way of working. I’ve always wanted my illustrations to have a sense of atmosphere, movement and rawness which I like to add a lot of mark making and texture into my work. But my ‘style’ isn’t really a conscious thing, I just draw what and how I know best and try not to get overly influenced by other illustrators or illustration movements because I find that it stops me producing work that’s mine.
Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m half English and half Colombian and grew up just outside of London in a small town surrounded by fields and open countryside. My love of nature, which is sometimes reflected within my work, I’d say definitely stems from that part of my childhood- growing up climbing trees and getting dirty knees. I now live in Cambridge, where I’ve been for eight years and which also has its fair share of big trees, open parks and rivers. It’s a beautiful place to live and was a perfect place to study when I was doing both my BA in illustration at the School of Art and then my MA in Children’s Book Illustration, which I’ve just completed and loved every last minute of. I now live with my partner and my cat and spend most days in my studio working on new projects and dreaming about one day having my own screen printing studio.
What artists inspire you?
I have such a huge love and respect for all picture book creators and illustrators! Beatrice Alemanga, Laurent Moreau, Blexbolex and Joelle Jolivet to name a few. I also love illustrators such as Jonny Hannah for his stunning use of typography and screen printed wonders, and anyone who has a passion for traditional print practices and stories.
When did you get your first sketchbook?
I’ve always used sketchbooks for as long as I can remember, probably my first when I was five or six. But it’s only been in the last eight years that I’ve used them quite religiously to document my working practice and actually kept them on my shelves for research. But they’re kinda precious to me now. A few months ago I looked at sketchbooks I hadn’t touched for eight years and it was crazy to see how different my work is compared to now. I guess there my only detailed logs of my development as illustrator so they’re like old mates.
Art shops smell like…?
Um… pine. Like when you get a new paint brush and it smells like freshly cut wood. I prefer the smell of libraries though. Old books smell soooo good!
Why do mark making and patterns appeal to you?
I’ve always loved mark making for the spontaneity and rawness of the textures you can make. I feel like it adds a bit of life into images. Pattern is something that I’ve known I liked but I hadn’t added it into my work much until I discovered the wonders of screen printing. With screen printing you have to constantly be thinking about working in layers, and it was pattern and the use of negative space which naturally evolved out of that and I feel that it is starting to re define my work, which makes me excited!
What do you daydream about?
Screen printing all day and one day producing my own textiles and ceramics alongside my illustration work.
How do you pick the colours for a piece?
I tend choose the colours which goes best with the context of the image. A lot of my images are attached to stories which have different emotions, so I guess I look at colour in terms of emotion a lot of the time.
A blank piece of paper is…?