Art Break Wednesday: Q and A with Melanie Hall and Book Give-away

**First, congratulations to Jo, whose name was randomly picked from last week’s commenters to receive a pack of notecards.** :0)

Melanie Hall and yours truly at a Highlights Founders Workshop, May 2012

Today we have a lively treat. Melanie Hall is an artist, illustrator and teacher from New York’s Hudson River Valley.  Her 25 children’s books have garnered many awards including the Parents’ Choice Award for an outstanding picture book and the Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2011, as well as favorable reviews from the New York Times Book Review.  Her work, often described as sophisticated and whimsical,  has been exhibited at the Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators (NY) and in many galleries.  She teaches graduate courses in children’s book illustration at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as well as professional workshops.

I met Melanie at the 2011 Highlights Founders Workshop for Advanced Illustrators at Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania, led by an esteemed team of amazing illustrators:  Melanie, Lindsay Barrett George, Eric Rohman, Floyd Cooper, and Suzanne Bloom.

Suzanne Bloom taking pictures as Melanie Hall and Lindsay Barrett George chat at the 2011 Highlights Founders Advanced Illustrators Workshop

The Highlights workshops are tremendous.  Little cabins to create and relax in are heavenly, and the new “Barn” is a terrific facility for group gatherings.  The natural setting is rejuvenating.  But the best thing about these workshops is the faculty.   I cornered Melanie toward the end of the workshop to discuss her poetry book projects, since poetry is my first love and I’d love to illustrate my own poems.  She kindly looked at my work and offered helpful insights.  What struck me most about Melanie was not just her expertise and her ability to articulate concepts, but the joy that emanates from her work and her person.  She looked at a couple of pieces I’d made and said, “You had fun creating that, didn’t you?”  She challenged us to make the kind of work we took joy in, which reflected our personalities.

One of my favorite books Melanie has illustrated is EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS – POEMS FOR THE MIND AND SENSES (selected by Christine San José and Bill Johnson.)  I had the good fortune to meet Bill Johnson at the Highlights Founders “Poetry for All” workshop this past May.  Melanie was a guest presenter there, and it was wonderful to catch up with her and hear about her process of illustrating poetry.  Her collages, paintings, and drawings reflect the variety of voices in EVERY SECOND…, which includes the work of renowned poets and also poems from children.  (See my blog post for more about the book.)  And, drumroll…. I’m offering a copy to one lucky commenter randomly selected this week! (See details below.)

Melanie kindly offered to drop by here today and answer a few questions about herself and her art.

Welcome, Melanie!  Tell us a little bit about your background.  Were you one of those kids who doodled your way through class?

Yup. The girls asked me to draw horses for them in grade school. No one else could figure out how to draw them. They thought it was cool the way the images just came out of my pencil. I did, too.

“Fireworks” – ©Melanie Hall, HIGHLIGHTS magazine illustration

How and when did you decide to pursue art as a career?

When I was a senior in high school, I decided to go to art school. Dad was not happy. He said I would “starve in a garret.” He was very proud of me when I became an editorial illustrator and did annual reports and magazine and newspaper illustrations.

What is it about mixed media that you particularly enjoy?

 I love being surprised how things turn out. It’s not always what I intended, because the right side of the brain is a genius , and if I just get out of the way, my images become inventive, freer,  exciting and filled with spirit.

©Melanie Hall – Clock Doll, assemblage

You wear many hats  berets – artist, illustrator, teacher.  How do you balance the different requirements for each of these pursuits?  (Do you need time away from people in order to create, or do you need to get away from the studio to be with other people?)

Great question. I have to carve up my time to pursue all my interests. Sometimes it means that I work on several different projects in one day: in the morning I’ll do one thing, and then after lunch I’ll do something else, and then at the end of the day I’ll reward myself with personal art.

I used to think it was nutty of me, but I realized it works for me!

In my notes from one of your workshops , I wrote that you said, “What turns my buttons on is to play.”  How do you free yourself to play when approaching a new work?

I arrange some of my favorite pieces of artwork near my drawing table to look at while I’m working so I can get back into that frame of mind.

I also love to look at the masters of both fine art and illustration. For instance, I’ll look at a book of Toulouse Lautrec’s posters or a Martin and Alice Provensen picturebook.

So I guess it’s visual inspiration that gets me going.

Do you have favorite sources of inspiration?

 From time to time, I need to spend the day at a museum to feast my eyes and breathe in that incredible atmosphere; the Metropolitan is one of my favorites. That’s where you’ll find me every year on my birthday to celebrate life.

©Melanie Hall – “Hen Party,” mixed media on board

What are the tools you can’t live without – the items you use over and over again in your studio?

My electric eraser, my“Black Warrior” pencil, and Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper with the wonderful deckled edge.


(I love that deckled edge, too!) Looking ahead, are there any works-in-progress or plans floating out there you’d like to share with us?

Yes, I am writing and illustrating a picture book. I’m on Revision # 6. Each version is better than the one that came before.

Thank you for playing along, Melanie!

Visit Melanie at her website and her Etsy shop.

To read more about the Highlights Illustrators workshop from last year, here’s my blog post about it.

To be entered to win a copy of EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS, please leave a comment below by midnight EST Monday, Oct. 22.  Do you have a favorite way to “play” to free up your creative side? One lucky art lover will be randomly selected and notified next week.

34 thoughts on “Art Break Wednesday: Q and A with Melanie Hall and Book Give-away

  1. I LOVE the colorful hens in Melanie’s “Hen Party.” Chickens are my favorites, (next to possums, of course.) Once my four year old grandson told me, “Ma, when I grow up, I want to be a chicken.” So, now I’m a chicken lover.

  2. For my current work in progress, I played a dice game called The Chaos Game, which was referenced in my research. It was amazing to watch a pattern emerge after hundreds of rolls. I also got out my ruler, drew shapes, colored shapes with colored pencils, and made a collage. It really helps me understand what I’m working on better — to set aside the writing and play/create.
    I’d love to win a copy of EVERY SECOND SOMETHING HAPPENS!

    • I love that, Sarah! Thanks for sharing. I’ve always been fascinated at how your creative mind toggles back and forth between the visual and verbal. And you’ve got all that math ability tossed in there, too (which comes out in your quilting as well as in your books!).

    • You’d love Melanie, Peggy! I appreciated her finding inspiration at the Met, too – I’ve just been there once, but I could move in for a few days. Or weeks. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Dear Robin, how lovely to see an interview of this creative person, Melanie. The clock doll is incredible, plus I love the look of the chickens. I know a friend with a farm who would love that one. The picture book is great to see, would love to win it! Thanks for all the story-telling!

  4. Great piece! To get my creative juices flowing I usually go for a walk. I take notice of the world around me and try to be open to ideas that percolate to the surface.

  5. Thank you for the introduction to this wonderful artist. I love Melanie’s work. Being new to the illustrator’s world I am always excited to see who creates and what makes them tick. Thank you!

  6. You’ve moved going to a Highlights workshop higher on my bucket list, Robyn! I love the idea of Melanie as a child, with her classmates gathered round, watching pictures come out of her pencil like magic. I love the “Fireworks” illustration — so vibrant and full of motion. Wow! Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Hi, Keri! Oh, if you can make it up to a Founders workshop, you won’t be disappointed. Thanks for visiting! That “Firworks” illustration makes me smile every time I see it.

  7. I have seen Melanie’s artwork before as well as read her poetry; however, I have not seen her assemblage works and that is just an example of how multi-talented this artist is. Her work is never overpowering – but her colorful spirit is always behind it.

  8. Thanks for the interview, Robyn. Melanie’s work has such breadth — I was amazed by the firework illustration and the doll.
    I admit to writing a poem in response to a post on “Regretsy” — the site that spoofs Etsy. That’s my kind of play. When I need a work break, walking the dog is my best kind of play.

  9. Thank you for the introduction to Melanie’s work – I love her Etsy shop too. It’s interesting what she says about thinking she was nutty then realising actually it’s okay, that works for her. I think that’s why I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore…

    And good luck with your own illustrating.

  10. Robyn, Will you be doing an interview with Christine San Jose? Are you included in he “selections” for this book? thanks for sharing Melanie and her art with us.

  11. Thanks for popping in, Joy. I haven’t met Christine though I’ve had the good fortune to meet Bill. I don’t have a poem in the book – there are lots of great ones including many by kids.

  12. Hi Robyn…I love Melanie Hall and loved your interview. Great questions! I saw her recently at the illustrators breakfast and was so inspired just being with her and the passionate spirit she has. You are doing great work Robyn, so creative an now being able to do your art more. Still nurturing (coaxing) that part of my brain especially trying to rewrite a few more of these pond poems. This fall I am being more creative landscaping than writing or finishing this book. Eileen Spinelli sent Beth and me a note and a fall poem the other day and said finish that book and push those poems out of the nest so they can fly…so I have. Sent out to two publishers this week. When I need inspiration I read some of her poems or Davids or Rebeccas…some great favoites that inspire me.
    One of the best things for me here in Honesdale is being able to attent a workshop a year, meet incredible people and improve what I know about the craft of writing children’s poems and… getting to know wonderful people like you Robyn.

    your friend.


    • Hi, Bill!

      So honored you dropped by. Yay on getting those poems out – (Really, did you have much of a choice when nudged by Eileen? What a nurturing taskmaster she is!) I’m thrilled to be able to send your book out to a lucky commenter this week. It’s such a treasure.
      My best to Beth and hearty good thoughts for all your creative projects. :0)

  13. What a nice surprise to stumble upon this interview with my friend, Melanie! I was on Jama’s site and clicked on the link for your oatmeal bars (yum), and then clicked on your website and voila! Melanie truly is a brilliant artist and wonderful person. I enjoyed this! And Robyn, I also love your woodcuts- especially the crow and cauldron- beautiful!

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