Featured Artisan: MelissaKlein


Please start by telling us a little about yourself and your studio.

I believe in both honoring past traditions and breaking new creative ground.  While seeking out methods for antiquing a new table I stumbled across milk paint and an antique crackle formula at a hardware store which had it on clearance for half-off.  There was some left-over paint from the project so I used it as a background for a painting, and then I was hooked.  After some trial and error, I was able to create custom color blends of milk paint for this series.  

Milk paint has been used for thousands of years by many different cultures: from cave paintings to Egyptian tombs to American barns.  Through the building up of layers of paint, I create a metaphor for how we are the sum total of our experiences in our journey through life.  The crackle texture both hides and reveals the color beneath it.  This is an analogy for how significant events in life can shape our personal history, but we can also choose to modify the canvas of life and create and re-create our personal history.

These pieces have at least six layers composed of casien (another form of milk paint), milk paint, acrylic (handpainted or airbrushed), ink, collage and gouache.  All of the materials I use are archival quality to ensure lasting value.  By combining the milk paint mediums and modern art materials, I am creating a bridge between old and new traditions.

All of the paintings have a “happiness guarantee” which means that when you receive it, you are not satisfied, you can return it within 30 days and receive a refund.  I want people to be happy with the work that they purchase from me.

For the cards, I photograph or scan my artwork, and then have them printed out on high-quality archival photograph paper, and use a heavy-weight archival card stock, ph neutral glue and a bio degradable bag. The square cards use a hand-molded paper from Italy.

My husband, Henry Paterson hand-crafts the frames for these pieces and I  custom-stain them to coordinate with the artwork.

I was born in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1968 to a botanist father and artist mother.  I grew up in a large family with one brother and two sisters and a never-ending succession of pets.  My family moved to St. Louis, and then Philadelphia where the majority of my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood occurred.  I earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts from University of Pennsylvania in 1990.  After graduation I worked a variety of jobs including business manager for a bronze art foundry and art teacher at a halfway house for schizophrenics.

While visiting my parents who had moved to Florida, I was caught by hurricane Andrew. Accompanying my father in the reconstruction of the Fairchild Botanical Garden, I produced paintings and drawings, documenting the clean-up, which remain in their collection.

I found work as Mold Master at a foundry where I met the man who would eventually become my husband.  Not long after we met, but long before we married, I moved to Kaua’i, Hawai’i where I lived from 1999 to 2003 and earned a Masters of Education through a cohort program with Gonzaga University and the state of Hawai’i.  While on Kaua’i, I was an active member of the Kaua’i Society of Artists and Garden Island Arts council.

Inspired by the tropical setting, I produced many landscapes; some of these works are in the collection of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.  The Kaua’i Children’s Discovery Museum commissioned a mural, which chronicled both native and invasive species on the island.  I also started a series of “Circus Posters” which poke fun at society.  This series continues to the present day.

I moved to Sequim, Washington in 2003 where I bought a house, got married and fulfilled a lifelong dream by adopting a pregnant draft horse mare as a rescue from the drug industry.  Horse ownership has served as inspiration for an entirely new direction in my work; a more spiritual direction.  I am a proud graduate of the Artist Trust’s Edge program (2006), which has given me invaluable skills for developing my art career.  I am also participating in Christine Kane’s Uplevel Your Business Gold program – and recommend her coaching to any creative entrepreneur who wants to expand their business.

If there’s one thing that defines you, what is it?

I’m really intuitive and have a strong connection with animals.  We have 2 horses, 2 dogs and 2 cats… Even when I am having an office day – and the pets are outside, I’m constantly picking them up, petting them, scratching them, feeding them etc.  I think that my official title for the animals is “Chief Poop Slave.”  They help keep things “real” and having a sense of humor about things, but I also think that they help to create a positive environment in the studio and around the home.

What role does your family play in your art?

My family has always been really supportive, and recognized me as an artist from a very young age.  When I was in high school, I would make a painting to show to my teacher at school the next day, and I would usually put it facing the wall on the way out the door.  Because I tend to be the last one up, when I made it downstairs in the morning, there would be a family member who had turned it around, and would be ready to tell me what they thought.

One of the greatest gifts that they gave me was to be open to critiques and input.  I don’t agree with everything people say about the work, but I’m able to “take” the feedback without getting defensive.   Even negative feedback shows that someone is interested in your work and taking the time to look at it.  My mother did a great thing for me very early on – she insisted on buying a piece when I was fresh out of college, and paying full price.  I would have happily given it to her, but by doing that, really validated it’s value.  And there is kind of a psychology there that helped me to not just give things away for free – if my own mother pays for my work, then so should everyone else.

What are your goals with your ArtFire studio?

I would like to sell work regularly through my ArtFire studio – and have it be the main source of my income.

Where do you live and what is it like?

Sequim is located on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.  The Olympic Peninsula is home to the only temperate rain forest in the world.  In many places, you can see both the ocean and the mountains.  The winters are long and gray and wet, but also beautiful when the mists come down from the mountains.  It has that rare combination of mountains and ocean.  The Dungeness river is within earshot when the waters are running high, and only about a mile and a half walk away from my house.

It’s generally cool and mild year round, with maybe one week of “hot” weather (in the 80’s) in late August.  The wild life is incredible – I regularly see bald eagles, hawks, deer, and the evidence of bear, and cougars.  Sequim is the Lavender Capital of North America and every year hosts a lavender festival where thousands of visitors come to see the farms and activities.

Where did you learn your medium?

While seeking out methods for antiquing a new table I stumbled across milk paint and an antique crackle formula at a hardware store which had it on clearance for half-off.  There was some left-over paint from the project so I used it as a background for a painting, and then I was hooked.  After some trial and error, I was able to create custom color blends of milk paint for this series.

I am self-taught with the airbrush, acrylics, photography, combining the materials and doing collage work.  My mother taught me watercolor.  Most of my formal training was spent on figure drawing and in oil painting classes.  I’ve used the Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain curriculum with my students, and it helped improve my drawing skills.  I’ve always been a natural drawer, and have always drawn from a very young age – or rather unlike many people, I continued to draw at ages when most people have stopped.

How did you come to selling online?

When I was in my 20’s and trying to get into galleries, I kept getting told that my work was “too all over the place” and that they wanted something more focused to make it easier to brand and sell the work.  When I showed my work to people, and was showing at coffee shops, no one had any problems understanding that I work in a variety of styles and mediums – selling online seemed like a great way to connect to the audience directly.

How did you come to find a home on ArtFire?

A friend of mine who is a techie recommended ArtFire – and I liked ArtFire’s generous policies.  I was briefly on Etsy a couple of years ago, and didn’t like having to pay to keep re-listing items in my studio every few months.  I also get really busy in getting ready for shows, so that just seemed like an extra hassle even beyond the money.  I also like how ArtFire is more focused on fine arts, although I’ve never made a big distinction between “art” and “craft.”

Why do you think that buying and selling handmade products benefits society?

I could talk about things like “how it benefits the local economy” and “made in America” and all of those things are true (see the movie Wal-Mart, the High Cost of Low Prices on Netflicks) but I think that there is an energy that goes into a hand made item that is really magic.

I’m addicted to my hand made goods – whether a knit cap from my sister, or a batiked scarf I traded from a friend or the ceramics that I buy from a local potter.  I feel the love that goes into them and having those items in my life, makes my life more positive and happier.  I think that’s true of any thing that is hand made and original – the energy that an original brings into the room versus a reproduction is completely different.  Hand made items really send off positive vibrations, which I think make us better people, and will ultimately make the world a better place.

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