Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Artist | Melissa Branin Wheeler

Super Talented Visual Artist & Musician

Artomatic Location: 08-377

W&I: What kind of art do you make and how would you describe it?

Melissa: I paint silhouetted oil portraits of musicians and pop culture icons who inspire me.

W&I: What INSPIRED you to start creating this kind of art? 

Melissa: I curated at a gallery in Northern VA called The Soundry, and we had a very popular annual show called "Baby Canvases" where all of the art was done on 2 inch by 3 inch canvases. I did a dozen little rock star portraits and, to my utter astonishment, sold almost all of them. After that, I kept getting commissions for portraits in the same style. I figured since there seemed to be a demand for this kind of art, I would just keep making them. Then I had a vendor booth at a music festival last year, and had to create a large stock of paintings for that. I painted about 80 paintings in about 4 months. Almost half the collection has sold in under a year, and I'm continually trying to improve and refine my techniques to make my new work more compelling.

W&I: Tell us a little about how you make your art?

Melissa: I procure an image of someone, usually a musician who I love, and manipulate the image. I use very thinned oil paint to cover a canvas (usually working on 5-10 canvases at a time) and splash the wet oils with water to achieve a runny/bubbly texture. I'll do that 4 or 5 times with different colors on the same canvas, building textured layers that create different color clouds over the canvas. I finish by splattering/splashing different colors over the built-up layers of pigment. The final addition is the person's image, which I paint by hand from the manipulated image.

W&I: What are your sources of inspiration?

Melissa: Most of my inspiration for visual art comes from other visual artists. I love art history, museums, galleries, street art, design, and look to other artists for inspiration regarding mediums and techniques.

W&I: What is it that you try to communicate through your art?

Melissa: Because I paint musicians and other people, I try to capture something special about that person in the portrait. Every portrait artist does this, but I don't necessarily consider myself a portrait artist because the images I use of the people I paint are 2 dimensional. I use color, patterns, stencils, and the movement of the paint to convey ideas or feelings about the subject. People like my art and buy it because they feel a connection with the subject, whether its Bob Dylan or Bob Marley. I feel a connection with every person I paint; music is a very integral part of my daily life and being, and each of the artists that I paint have influenced me in specific and special ways.

W&I: How do you stay WIRED?

Melissa: It sounds lame, but buyers keep me motivated. I do a lot of different kinds of arts and crafts, and am also a musician, so I have a lot of creative outlets and painting often takes a back seat to my other interests that aren't as time intensive or messy.

W&I: Any words of encouragement or wisdom for the struggling artist out there?

Melissa: If you're struggling with artistic blocks, just create--create crap until you purge your mind and open the flow of ideas. This can take a long time, patience, and frustration. Don't get too discouraged if you're not happy with what you're making right now, just keep going and the satisfaction will come. Chasing the muse was never easy. If you give up, you'll never get there. Surround yourself with positivity and people who support you.

W&I: What are some of your most memorable moments as an artist?

Melissa: Working at The Soundry, with the artists, creatives, and kindreds who were there, was the most incredible artistic experience of my life. The whole place was constantly full of inspiration in so many forms. It really spoiled all of us who were there, and we all miss it so much. I learned so much about art and artists there.

W&I: We want to know more?!

Melissa: My art will be on display at Artomatic on the 8th floor, space number 377 (proceed south west out of the elevator and through the first doorway on the right) until June 24th.

Find my art on Etsy or on my website, You can find my music and gig schedule on facebook, soundcloud, and follow me on twitter.

Here's a video of my new folk duo project...

W&I: Thanks for participating in the interview Melissa! Very inspiring. Your art is just my type :). Wish you continued success.


  1. Incredible, inspiring, I love it!!!!

  2. I've only just discovered your work and I'm already overwhelmed by your techniques and style, I love it! Keep it up, you're amazing!