We would like to introduce you to Melissa Washburn. Melissa is an illustrator and designer specializing in food and nature illustration. Her fascination with things that run, fly, and grow has led to commissions from the Dunes National Park, Smithsonian Magazine, Edible Magazine, and three books in the Draw Like an Artist series from Quarto Group Publishing.
We asked Melissa to share some of her favorite work with you and to tell us a bit about her process and inspiration for the art she creates.
How did you get started with art & illustration?
I have been drawing and painting since I was old enough to hold a crayon or paintbrush. I earned a BFA in fine art (oil painting and printmaking) and have always kept up an art practice even though I went into museum/nonprofit work and then marketing and graphic design. At some point I realized that illustration was the sweet spot between the image making I wanted to do and what I had learned in the graphic design world.
What inspires your artwork?
The natural world provides most of the inspiration for my work. Growing up in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, I was always out hiking, camping, and fishing with my family, which fostered my knowledge/appreciation of everything that runs, flies, and grows. I now live in the Indiana Dunes region on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, an area that is a hotspot for birders and nature enthusiasts of all kinds because of its biodiversity and beauty. There is always more to learn, and the forms and rhythms of nature are both incredibly inspiring and centering for me. I am also often attracted to the darker, weirder side of nature. I have a soft spot for creatures that are maybe not as cute and fluffy; nature is so rich in symbolism/interpretation throughout human history, and I have found that once I learn more about something like a spider, it becomes far less frightening and more fascinating. Even things that we may have a knee-jerk reaction too as ugly, frightening, or otherwise unpleasant, play an important role in the environment and ecological balance.
What medium do you work in?
Most of my work is created in watercolor, ink, and colored pencil, and then brought into Photoshop for digital composition and finishing.
Tell us a bit about some of your favorite pieces
This piece was inspired by Huginn and Muninn (meaning “thought” and “memory”, the Norse god Odin’s ravens, which fly all over the world and bring him information. In many traditions crows and ravens are thought to communicate between the living and the dead.
So much of our natural space is being carved up by development and land use by humans, and this division is a threat to ecosystems everywhere. Wetlands in particular have suffered from decades of development. Nature can’t speak for itself, so it is up to the tireless advocacy of humans to protect wild things and speak up where they cannot.
Cicadas have become a powerful symbol to me. Many species live underground as nymphs for nearly two decades, emerging as adults to live as beautiful winged creatures, singing in the heat for just a few short weeks before they mate and die. Ephemeral, powerful, and maybe a champion of late bloomers everywhere.
Who are your clients and what type of work do you take?
My clients include magazines, book publishers, greeting card and calendar companies, and several local nonprofits. One of the pieces I’m most proud of to date is a vinyl wrap mural on a kayak locker at the Indiana Dunes National Park that depicts a scene of native prairie plants, birds, and insects.
A few more things about Melissa Washburn
In 2019 Melissa earned her Indiana Master Naturalist certification through Gabis Arboretum and the Indiana DNR, and enjoys learning as much as she can about the natural world. When not making art you can find her coaching nature events for her school district’s Science Olympiad team, hiking in many of Indiana’s beautiful state and national parks, or enjoying a good cup of coffee.
We’d love to connect you with Melissa for your next project. Let us know how we can help!