Thursday, April 03, 2008

Artist Profile: Melissa Lee

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Artist: Melissa J. Lee
Location: Illinois

Website & Blog:
Strands of Beads blog
Melissa J Lee etsy shop

Kissing Bandit
Button in the focal piece by Sarah Moran

Melissa, how do you describe your work?
I like to think of my jewelry as being a little bit quirky, often reflecting my odd sense of humor and almost always reflecting my rather eclectic interests. In my personal life, I tend to be a bit quiet. In business (I am a lawyer by training, although I am not currently practicing), my demeanor has to be conservative and professional. My jewelry provides a “voice” for other aspects of my personality that I might otherwise be too shy to articulate.

What is your creative process like?
My creative process is informed primarily by the fact that I am first and foremost a mother. Before my son arrived, I spent fairly long hours in the office or on the road and the timing never seemed right to pursue any type of jewelry-making beyond really basic stringing project. Plus, at the time, I was leery of working with a lot of unfamiliar equipment. I was frightened of the torch. I was worried that I would burn down the house if I bought a kiln. It all seems a little funny in retrospect. Staying at home with my son gave me the opportunity to try my hand at making beads and jewelry. Plus, although I really loved (and love) having the opportunity to watch my son grow up, I wanted to try something new, something that didn’t directly involve being a stay-at-home Mom. The time seemed right. To my surprise, I found that I loved it. I started with lampworking and a few months later moved on to metal clay. I now work pretty much exclusively with metal clay.

Nowadays, once I have an idea in mind, I sketch it out as soon as practicable. Ideally, I sketch in my notebook. However, really, I’ll use whatever comes to hand, including my son’s crayons and art table, if that is what is available to me.

The next step for me is technical planning. I still consider myself a beginner in this medium, and it’s important for me to work out the best way to execute my concept based on the skills I have, before starting. Once this plan is in place, I’m ready to start working on the actual piece.

I do not have a dedicated studio space. I keep all of my metal clay tools in project boxes which I haul out when I’m ready to use them. As a result, I work with the clay only after my son is safely tucked in bed. Practically speaking, this means that I can only devote a couple hours a day to my jewelry.


Dragon Eye pendant

What kind of training did you have which helped you achieve your current level of artistry?
I have no formal design or art training. When I first became interested in working with metal clay, I purchased one of Tim McCreight’s PMC videos, Sherri Haab’s book, The Art of Metal Clay, and a starter kit. That’s it. I learned over time by trial and error. Frankly, my learning curve is still pretty steep. However, I continue to make progress, and that’s a great feeling.

Having said that, I will admit that I’ve always loved working with my hands. I knit like a fiend. I took pottery lessons at a local studio for a couple years (only wheel-throwing, no hand-building, alas). These experiences may not have had a direct impact on my jewelry making, but I believe that being creative in one medium lends itself to being creative in other media.


Geek Love pendant
Spells out “love” in binary

Is there a tool or material that you can’t imagine living without?
Well, I primarily use PMC3. Without the metal clay, none of my work would be possible!

What inspires you to create?
Everyday people and items inspire me. I recently made a pendant based on a traffic light. That was fun. I am also an avid reader. I have an M.Phil. in English Renaissance literature and love the works of writers such as Shakespeare, Donne, Herbert and Herrick. These writers have inspired many of my pieces. At the same time, I also read genres such as science fiction and Japanese manga and find inspiration in this reading, as well.


Something Wonderful

What inspires you to keep going when the work gets frustrating or tough?
I’m fortunate in that I always seem to have multiple ideas running around my head at a time. My notebook is filled with initial concepts that I just haven’t had time flesh out yet. If I get frustrated while working on one piece, I put it aside for a while and start something fresh. I always find my next project inspiring, and that keeps my interest level high. After time, I’m able to re-visit my problem piece with a fresh eye and perspective, which usually helps.

What is your best piece of advice for those who would like to rise in their level of artistry?
Well, I’m sure most people would find it completely cheeky for me to be offering any advice of this kind at all! I will say that I think it’s important to create your designs around what you love, rather than trying to follow what’s popular or someone else’s trend.


Koi

What takes up the majority of your time besides your art?
My son! He’s an active toddler and getting faster on his feet every day. He seems to be artistically inclined, judging by the copious amount of crayon drawings we have in the house now. I’m looking forward to mother and son art classes with him in the future.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
I love ice cream, particularly Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide. Yum. In fact, I think I’ll go have a scoop right now…

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