Like many of us, Army spouse and painter Melissa Hedges is finding her new normal in a time with closed galleries. She not letting the restricted access to showings stop her from creating, though. Melissa is setting goals and keeping positive.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about your background and your life so far.
Melissa: I am originally from Northern Virginia and spent the first 20 years of my life there. I met my husband when we were both EMTs at a volunteer fire department in Haymarket, Virginia. He told me he was going to enlist in the military and I supported that even though I had absolutely no idea what that would mean for our life together and my life in general. He enlisted in the Army a few months later and we got married a few days after he graduated OSUT. We actually had to move our wedding date forward a few months because we weren’t sure if he was even going to be there for it. That probably should have been a sign of what was to come! Over the last 10 years, we’ve been to Fort Riley, KS; Fort Stewart, GA; Fort Bliss, TX; and we are currently at Camp Shelby, MS with our three boys.
MilspoFAN: How did I become an Artist?
Melissa: I think I’ve always been an artist, but I didn’t actually start calling myself one until recently. I felt like that was a title reserved for people who knew what they were doing (haha). I used to draw a lot growing up and got pretty serious about it when I was 14-15 years old. Back then, I wanted to be a criminal sketch artist. My friend gave me a sketch book for Christmas Freshman year of high school and most of my work was drawn in that book. Drawing came very natural to me, but I pretty much stopped drawing when I was 16. Things changed and my life went in a different direction, but I guess I was always meant to do something in the arts because I kept going back to it. For me, it was like that quote, “We can’t run from who we are. Our destiny chooses us.” That said, I became a painter completely by accident.
I was laid up after surgery last fall and needed something to do. My mom came down for my surgery and brought down a lot of my old stuff I left behind when I moved out. One of those things was an unused canvas that was probably about 15 years old. I never got into painting back then, but I decided to give it a shot because I didn’t have anything else to do and my house needed décor.
I painted “Splash” from a photo I found on the internet. To be honest, it freaked me out a little how well it turned out because I didn’t know anything about painting. I thought it was a fluke. I bought two more canvases and that was supposed to be the end of that experiment, but I received so much support and feedback from my friends and family that I decided to keep painting.
MilspoFAN: How has embracing a setback moved your art forward?
My mom taught herself to decorate cakes and when I was old enough, she taught me the basics. Though I didn’t have an interest to do it as a career back then, she gave me a solid foundation to build on down the road. I started making cakes myself after my oldest son was born and I eventually started working with fondant and modeling chocolate.
Due to all the moving, I held off on officially starting a business until we arrived in Mississippi because I knew we would be there for a few years. Unfortunately, the cottage food laws here in Mississippi prohibit the advertisement of your products via the internet and social media. With the primary method of advertising being through the internet and social media nowadays, I felt that starting a business here under those laws would set me up to fail. I decided to set aside that dream for the time we were here and try again after our next move. A few months later, I was scheduled for hip surgery so not having that business happened to work in my favor because it was then that I started painting.
MilspoFAN: How would you describe your creative aesthetic?
I am still developing my personal style having only been painting for 6 months, but it seems to be heading in a pretty consistent direction. I paint in a near photorealistic style, but I typically paint a single subject with minimal background. Because I never really learned how to paint, I have a rather non-traditional way of doing things. I am almost completely self-taught and since my background is in drawing, I paint in a similar fashion. I lay my canvas flat on a table and use detail brushes for the majority of the work, even on my larger pieces. The one thing that is completely different from my graphite background is the use of color. I started to understand how to use color when I was decorating cakes, but through painting I’ve become comfortable exploring the range of colors and values. Instead of seeing it as a sort of decoration to pretty up the canvas, it has become and essential tool in my work and personal style. I like to use bright vivid colors with a contrasting dark bold color because it sets the tone for the painting. It grabs your attention and since I focus on the details, the use of color helps highlight the areas I want seen.
MilspoFAN: What’s one piece of practical advice you would like to share with military spouses in the arts?
My best advice it the same advice I received. “Don’t try to be like anyone else.”
A few months ago, I was struggling to figure out who I was as an artist and I was frustrated because I didn’t really see a lot of artists doing what I was doing. There are a lot artists with a looser, soft realistic style or a sharp, defined hyper realistic style, but mine is somewhere in between. I saw a lot of landscapes and seascapes, figurative, and floral paintings, but nothing with a similar style to mine. It made me question if I was moving in the right direction. I went to an art studio to check it out and I was immediately drawn to one studio. It happened to belong to the artist on duty. She spoke with me and reassured me that it was okay that I didn’t want to do landscapes. She avoided them too. She said there were plenty of people out there who love doing landscapes so let them have at it. You will do your best work when you are creating it your way so do not try to be like anyone else. In a weird way, it felt like she gave me permission to be me and I think that is the most effective advice I could have ever been given.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
I am honestly not sure. A lot of my plans have been altered by what COVID-19 has done to our economy and everyday life. Galleries are closed and local markets have cancelled their events so it’s become difficult to build a business and grow as a new artist given the new obstacles we all now have to navigate.
I have earned some nods in recent weeks. My piece “Under the Sea” made the February 2020 FAV15% in the Bold Brush competition and was a finalist it the American Women Artists Spring 2020 Show. So while we are under the shelter in place order, I will continue to paint and submit my work to be considered for exhibitions, competitions, and grants to keep me going until the economy recovers. Eventually, I want to build a brand as an artist. Though I will take on commissions, I would like the bulk of my work to be my own. Right now I am working on an Underwater collection and Pug Pun series so this will give me some time to complete those and perhaps start a third collection.
Find Melissa’s Work online at : http://www.mhedgeartstudio.com/
and on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/she.creates.it/