2018 Small Works "Best of Show" Winner Melanie Thompson

05/11/2018 7:34 AM | Stephanie Amato
By Mark Beale

MB: Hello Melanie and congratulations on your Best of Show win.

MT: Thanks Mark, it was a thrill and an honor.

MB: The painting Desert View Layers struck me as exceptional in its aerial perspective. I assume thats why that concept is reflected in the title.

MT: Thats exactly right.

MB: It seems the receding atmospheric layers are the true subject. How did you make that decision?

MT: Well, this answer might surprise you, but while in college I worked as a wildland firefighter on a 20 person crew based out of Pendleton, Oregon. One of the jobs we would do were prescribed burns.

MB: For those who dont know, tell us exactly what that is.

MT:  A prescribed burn is an intentionally set fire which is managed by firefighters to protect the natural landscape. It prevents the spread of forest fires and stimulates new growth to begin in the area burned. Doing that work is what made me want to paint landscapes and the immense scale of nature, it was overwhelmingly beautiful in a way Id never encountered before and I knew that I wanted to capture that majesty in my art.

MB: Wow! I am constantly amazed at the interesting backgrounds of accomplished artists and what ignites their passion, pardon the pun.

MT: Well, the odd thing is, the painting is based on a 6x8 plein air study I did at the east end of the Grand Canyon. When I arrived at the site, it was my first time painting the Grand Canyon, and a prescribed burn was going on that day! I could not believe it. The layers of distance were exaggerated by the smoke and helped me capture what you see in the finished work, which is 12x16. Depicting the layers of the rock topography and geology as they recede into the distance became the subject.

MB: The coincidence seems like it was destined to happen. That is one huge coincidence!

MT: Yes it was! There was a tower there, but I just stood on the ground to paint the 6x8 study. There was no need to climb the tower to capture the scene and I just stood on the ground to paint the 6x8 study

MB: Did you use photography as a tool for finishing the larger painting?

MT: I do use photography, but I have learned to compensate for its shortcomings in capturing landscape scenes. The camera flattens things, boosts contrast and intensity, and changes shadows. My primary use for photography in a painting like this, would be to record the topography. I dont use it for color.

MB: Lets go back in time. How did you become interested in art?

MT: I was homeschooled as a kid and pretty efficient at getting my work done. This left my afternoons free and I spent them drawing.

MB: What did you like to draw?

MT: I was fascinated with elegant ladies in magazine ads. I loved their dresses and faces and I spent hours drawing them.* When I got older, I began to paint floral watercolors and went to college to study graphic design. I got a job working at a newspaper company. Unfortunately, or fortunately I didnt like it. I felt trapped in a cubicle. I first told myself I would just have to get used to it. Then, after about 2 years I just decided I could not do that job and needed more freedom and got a job working for a landscaping company. In 2016 I then became a full time painter

MB: It sounds like you followed your passion and listened to your heart.

MT: I did and it was scary. I am basically self- taught. I bought Kevin MacPhersons books and some used videos on eBay and just went for it.

MB: Did you do any more formal training as an artist beyond your graphic design studies in college?

MT: After relying on books and DVDs for several years Ive recently had the opportunity to take a couple of workshops. While I think you can learn a lot on your own, theres nothing quite like having an expert come in and find what you can be doing better

MB: Was there a particularly good instructor that helped the most?

 MT: Yes, Jill Carver has been incredibly helpful to me. She pushed me to think a lot more about my color choices and how to shift color within a value range. I also studied with Thomas Kitts, and I appreciated his very rational approach to painting.  

MB: What is the most important goal you have for your work?

MT: Its to encourage others to think outside themselves and be filled with wonder at our world

MB: What advice would you give artists aspiring to grow or even begin to paint?

MT: Paint what moves you.

MB: What are your plans for the future?

MT: First is to continue to improve as an artist, but also Id like to travel around the West more, learn about its geology, and find new beautiful places to paint and explore. 

MB: Well, Melanie thanks for taking time to speak with me and I wish you much success.

Mark Beale is a painter in Charleston, SC and has exhibited at numerous museum shows and the historic Salmagundi Club in New York City. His work has been twice included in the National Parks 2 - year traveling exhibit and his work can be viewed at www.bealefineart.com.

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