Artist Spotlight part 3: Melanie Testa – process

March 15, 2010

The past two weeks I’ve enjoyed introducing you to a favorite artist of mine, Melanie Testa. Today I’d like to introduce you to her artwork. Together we’ll learn a little more about her process.

Lyric: I’ve seen just a bit of your visual journaling and it is just as lovely as your artwork. How do sketching and drawing help you in your textile work? Why did you choose textiles rather than a more traditional media?
Melanie: My journals are so import to me that I can’t imagine not keeping them. I draw inspiration for stamps, marks, actual artwork, they help me to remain focused creatively. Just today, I met up with a friend and we went to the Met to draw, I feel so alive when I am looking at and evaluating what I see. When the line looks like what I am trying to draw, it is such a thrill. I can’t take that for granted! But even though I utilize my journals and sometimes even share them when I write articles, the journals are private, they feel intensely personal to me.
As for why I work in cloth? I could not have it any other way. I just tried to imagine myself as an oil painter. I need the ragged edge, the dye, the stamps, the sewing machine.

L: I am fascinated by your juxtaposition of symbols and words with imagery from nature. How do you go about choosing which images to combine? How did you come upon the process of layering images with sheers?

M: Working with sheers came about as a result of journaling. I came to a place where I found my journals held more artistic focus and intention than my quilt art, but my quilt art was more important to me! So I evaluated the difference in approach and technique. I had been using tracing paper in my journals, I would trace a drawing from one page onto tracing paper, paint around and over the tracing, then glue that onto another painted page. The transparency is what held sway. So I figured out cloth equivalents to my favorite techniques. Silk organza became tracing paper and could be dyed with Procion MX dyes.
I started using words in my art because I was working with a man who used words in his paintings but I could not stand how he did it! I started using text and symbols because I knew there had to be a better approach. The words ought to merge with and become one with the piece almost as though in pentimento. As for using nature in my work, I find great solace in all things natural. 
L: Do you work from a plan or do you improvise as you go?
M: I like to plan loosely. Right now I just started a series if 20 Common Birds in Decline. I am working on an image of an Evening Grosbeak. the drawing of the bird needs to be perfected before I begin because the artwork is only as good as your original drawing. But the background and the collaged elements are not in the original drawing. I like to leave as much as possible to chance.
L: What is it about birds that draws you to use them so much in your artwork?

M: When I was a girl, I wanted to be a bird, to be able to flit, watch and leave by taking flight! I began bonding with birds when I was a teenager, my father had bought a bird feeder and a Roger Torey Peterson identification book and we began putting names to shapes and colorings. As an adult, I started keeping my own feeder, then bought binoculars, and now study and read all I can. Right now, I am an armchair bird watcher! Simply? The shiny sparkle of light in a birds eye bowls me over, I can’t resist it. 
L: Your use of stitching is so well integrated into the composition of your work. Do you begin with your stitched lines in mind or do those ideas come afterwards.
M: I do loosely plan the images used in my work. As I print, paint and stamp, ideas will float past and reveal themselves, but it is only when I get to the sewing machine that I can listen to and enact a plan for the stitch.
L: If you went to a desert island for a week and could only take a shoebox of art supplies, what would it contain?
My backpack is about the size of a shoebox and often contains, scrap, batting, needles, thread, embroidery floss and beads, a journal and a small box of paints, one pencil, two pens (Pilot t500 and a Pentel Pocketbrush) and a niji water brush. My wallet can be left behind to accommodate more cloth, perferably hand dyed dupioni, my current cloth crush. 🙂
So dear readers, are you as in love with Melly’s work as I am? Her process fascinates me and I’ve enjoyed studying it and sharing with with you.
I’ve finished the 5×7 piece from the ginkgo fabric that Melanie sent to me. Next week I’ll tally up all of the comments on the four posts featuring her. Yes, you can leave a comment on each post and be counted four times!

I’ll throw the lot into a random number generator (or have one of the kidlets shout out a number between so and so) and the lucky winner will be sent this lovely little piece of art. It is 5×7 and made with the beautiful piece of organza printed by Melanie. I do believe that she is posting the piece she made with the fabric I sent her on her blog this week as well.
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  • Reply
    March 25, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Its nice to hear Melanie talk about her love of bird.

  • Reply
    March 23, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Inspiring and inspired!

  • Reply
    March 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    I am really enjoying your interviews with Melanie — your insightful questions and her equally insightful and informative answers.

  • Reply
    March 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I've found the interview very inspiring. I just received your book as a gift and now I am doubly inspired.

  • Reply
    Randi Nervig
    March 17, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I have so much enjoyed these interviews – you with Melanie and Melanie with you. And I appreciate both of your books too – it's inspiring to learn the technique behind the beauty.

  • Reply
    Tracie Lyn Huskamp
    March 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Really interesting the process… Thanks for sharing Melly's story with us Lyric

  • Reply
    Tracie Lyn Huskamp
    March 17, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Really interesting the process… Thanks for sharing Melly's story with us Lyric

  • Reply
    Diana Trout {}
    March 17, 2010 at 2:27 am

    What a beautiful interview and YES! i am in love with Melly's work. This was so interesting and in-depth. I love the structure in her work and the thought proces and, of course, the journals.
    Thanks Lyric!

  • Reply
    March 17, 2010 at 2:25 am

    I love this piece – and feel fortunate to see so many of Melly's dyed fabrics as originals. Great series that both of you are doing.

  • Reply
    Betsy Brown
    March 17, 2010 at 12:24 am

    You both did a great job interviewing each other. I have a better understanding of her artistic process.

  • Reply
    Carol C
    March 16, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    I am really enjoying these interviews! It's wonderful getting a sneak peek at how both you and Melanie create your art. Very inspiring!

  • Reply
    Carol C
    March 16, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    What a great way to get two wonderful artists up front and center. I've enjoyed both yours and Mells interviews tremendously. What a great piece of artwork too!

  • Reply
    Linda Robertus
    March 16, 2010 at 12:42 am

    I am loving this series about Melanie and the one about you on her blog. It's very inspiring!

  • Reply
    March 15, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    How wonderful to have the opportunity to win a piece of art that is a blend of two incredible talents.

    Thanks very much for sharing,
    Sharon Bourque

  • Reply
    March 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing your and Melly's artwork and perspectives on creating. You both are amazing! I am awaiting the delivery of your DVD, hopefully today – yeah! After reading your book, I knew I wanted more. Oh, and I learned a new word today – pentimento! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    March 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    thanks- I am glad I understand a bit more about the process Melanie uses in developing an art quilt. I would love to do some bird quilts too.
    PS to Laura Lea- are you the same that took Lyric's classes at Quilt U?

  • Reply
    Laura Lea
    March 15, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    Oh it is lovely, I love the line of beads. Thank you for your thoughtful interview of Melany. You drew out answers that she didn't cover in her book which is wonderful! Fascinating the use of fabric done by another and sewn by you. I can't wait to see what Melany has done with yours Lyric. This is a wonderful collaboration.

  • Reply
    Jane LaFazio
    March 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    lovely ginko piece by Melly! and very nice interview. I too, love her work and her process! oh, and did I mention, I love birds too.

  • Reply
    March 15, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Just Beautiful! Mells work and yours. The interview has been very fun to read. Thanks for sharing!

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