I would like to introduce you to an artist whose work I greatly admire.
I have had the pleasure of spending time with Melanie Testa on two separate occasions; as we taught at the International Quilt Festival in Houston last year, and when we filmed our Quilting Arts DVD Workshops. She is simply delightful as a person and I find her artwork to be beautiful, layered with meaning and texture, and intriguing. She is one who thinks and cares deeply both about her art, about other people, and about the world around her. Her laughter lights up a room and lifts your spirit. Her artwork draws you in and takes you on a journey.
I hope you will enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.
Lyric: What is your story, how did you become an artist?
Melanie: I have wanted to be an artist since I was a child. I remember watching TV and being riveted when I saw imagery of Andy Warhol walking the streets of New York. My mom used to sew her own clothing and I remember watching her pin a wool plaid skirt pattern out and knew the side seams would not match if she were to proceed, so I stopped her. Then a friend of hers asked if I would like to make a vest, it was a cute little vest and it had hand sewn ribbons bordering the inside front edge. It won a blue ribbon at the fair. I also won a blue ribbon for my Sugar Collection, but that is another story.
So when I was 19, I took a traditional quilt making course at the local Handcraft Center. I fell head over heels for fabric, really I fell in love with conversational prints and vowed to go to art school to become a Textile Designer. It took about 8 years for me to settle down and focus enough to make that a reality. I was accepted into the Fashion Institute of Technology as a 27 year old adult student. I was married and lived two hours outside the city, but we worked together and made it work. My husband has always been quite supportive of me and my creative efforts.
Once I was out of college and had some creative tools under my belt, I took some workshops by well known surface design artists like Jane Dunnewold and Ann Johnston. Making what I had learned into an expression all my own is, of course the adventure of a lifetime.
L: Was it something you wanted to do from a young age or did you take a more circuitous path? Do you have any training in basic design?
M: I was able to afford two years of schooling at F.I.T and do have an associates degree in Textile/Surface Design. The education I got from F.I.T was more of a technical schooling. I was taught to put things in repeat, to paint flower and to weave. My real education came as a result of being a Vintage Poster Restoration Artist. I restore posters by Talouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, and interestingly enough, Andy Warhol. I took this as an opportunity to evaluate drawing and painting styles and I learned to mix paint to exact specification.
L: Do you consciously think about the elements of art as you create?
M: No, I do not. I work intuitively. I think the basic tenets of art making are well and deeply ingrained at this point that I am not really aware of what I am doing at all. I can slow myself down to describe it when asked.
L: What are your fears as an artist and how do you face/overcome/talk yourself out of them?
M: My fears.
That my art isn’t good enough. Isn’t this everyone’s fear? And I don’t think this is a bad thing. If my art isn’t good enough, if I didn’t hit the ‘right’ note, then I still have room to grow, to dig deeply into what I am trying to get at. It is sort of zen, when you think of it this way, as though the very thing you strive to do sits, as if a seed, within what you are doing right now. Being an artist is really about fostering that seed, prompting new growth.
Next week I’ll introduce you to the lovely book that Melanie has written. It has been an inspiration to me over the past several months. And here is something special. During the month of March Melanie and I will collaborate on a small work of art – a textile postcard. At the end of the moth it will be given away to a lucky reader, chosen from the comments on each of the four posts that feature Melanie and her work. You may post each week and have an even better chance of winning this postcard. Perhaps next week I’ll give you a little peek at what we are starting.