Artist of the Week: Melanie Smith
This week Brighton Journal spoke to local designer and illustrator, Melanie Smith. Storytelling is at the heart of Melanie’s work, and she’s often influenced by themes such as “exploring” and “looking”. We discussed projects she carried out for the Royal Sussex County Hospital and the National Portrait Gallery, her journey to becoming an artist, and her love of walks in the Downs. Take a look at Melanie’s highly detailed work.
What are you doing today?
I’m creating some sketches for a new series of prints I’m working on.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
Most of my work is made at home in my study. I have a whole space where I can sit and draw and get inky. I also have a fantastic view from my window, and I can see the sea. So when I need a break from detailed drawing I don’t have to go very far to see a bigger picture.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
I’ve been lucky to work on some fantastic projects over the past few years. I think the most exciting one has been working with the Royal Sussex Hospital to create six large scale illustrations for the new building. The illustrations will act as wayfinding for the hospital, so they will both be useful and inspiring at the same time.
Another favourite project was working with the National Portrait Gallery to design and illustrate a family trail for the gallery. I really enjoyed coming up with the concept for the trail, and creating different activities for families to engage them with key portraits in the collection.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I’ve always loved to draw. And as a teenager I used to sit in my bedroom and draw for hours. But after completing a Foundation Course in Art, I was nervous about becoming a practicing artist and designer. So I went to University to study History of Art, and then became a curator and producer for quite a few years, before realising that what really that made me happy was drawing and creating. So I went back to University to study Visual Communication, and I started to draw again. I discovered that I was able to make a career from being creative after all. In addition to my illustration work, I am also a designer. Over the past few years I have created brand identities for local start up companies like the candle company Seven Seventeen, whilst also working with larger Brighton based organisations such as Culture 24.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on creating a new set of prints at the moment. Up until now I have mainly worked on commissions, but I’ve been asked by lots of people if they can buy my work, so I think perhaps now is a good time to make some new things! I’m also looking for new opportunities to create work and collaborate on projects. And I’d love to work with more organisations in Brighton.
What are the key themes in your work?
This is an interesting question! I don’t think I’ve really thought about the themes in my work, but having thought about this question for a while, I think the themes that are present in my work are probably to do with exploring and looking. And also with storytelling. Every time I draw something, whether that’s a person, a bird or a postbox, I’m always thinking about the story that goes with the image. So, where the bird lives, where it has travelled from. Where its family are. Or for the postbox, I will think about all the letters inside, and the people who wrote them, and the stories that are just sitting in there. And yet from the outside it just looks like a postbox.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
I’d like people to notice the detail in my work. It’s the thing I notice most about the world. I love looking at details. Whether that’s the detail of what someone is wearing, what they are saying, or the small details in nature, and my environment.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
I love the immediacy of pencil and pens, and I guess it’s also what I’m used to using. I also love using watercolour and paint, because you can make wonderful colours, and sometimes the paint will do different things to your image, and I like the fact that I don’t always control the outcome. So the medium can develop a drawing into something unexpected.
What equipment could you not do without?
My pencils and ink pens – all of my work begins as a hand drawn sketch, and I’d be lost without these.
Who or what inspires you?
People, stories, nature, my family. It sounds a bit corny, but inspiration is everywhere.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
Living in Brighton gave me the space I needed to go back to my practice, so I think it has affected me profoundly in that way. There is a gentleness about living by the sea, a softness in the people. And that space allows for growth.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
I love walking on the Downs, with a view out to sea. Just being outside with all that sky and all the green hills, it’s a pretty magical place to be.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
I don’t think I could choose just one! We’re very lucky to have so many galleries close to us here in Brighton. I love the Towner in Eastbourne – it has some really great shows and is a beautiful space. And I also love the Turner in Margate.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
Wow – this is a tough question, there are so many to choose from! I think I would choose Corita Kent. Her work is so vibrant and playful, and at the heart of it there is hope and a desire for a better, more peaceful world. She was such an inspiring artist, you can’t help but feel inspired by her and her work.
What’s your favourite colour?