I’m excited to bring you my interview with an amazing artist from Australia who specializes in fantasy and equine art, Melissa Chalada. Before you read the rest of the interview, though, scroll down a bit and take a quick look at Melissa’s work. I bet you wouldn’t think to guess that she’s only 21 years old! And self-taught nonetheless. If fantasy and realism are your artistic preferences, Melissa is a sparkling example of what can be achieved in that subject and style. As a lover of pencils, animals, fantasy, and realistic drawing myself, I am certainly inspired by Melissa; her art reminds me what is possible when paint, passion, and hard work come together.
Alison: To start, what are 3 interesting or little known facts about yourself?
Melissa: I used to absolutely hate using watercolours; now I love them!
Despite the excessive amount of equine art I produce, I actually have very rarely gone horseriding in my life (often it is the assumption of people that I won or am closely affiliated with horses). Having said that, I wish I had more opportunities to ride, and each rare chance I get to do so, leaves me grinning like an idiot with excitement!
I have a (non-identical) twin sister! she and I are as opposite as sisters can be in terms of personality, interests, hobbies and career paths.
A: How long have you been drawing and painting, and what first inspired you to pick up a pencil or brush?
M: I have been drawing ever since I first learned to hold a pen. I remember from an early age being envious of realistic drawings, though I can’t recall where or when I was first exposed to these. I always drew things I enjoyed, and I still have a folder of my old (adorably bad) artwork. Most of these pictures featured horses, birds and trees, cats, dogs, and in certain phases, dinosaurs and Pokemon!
A: Like you, one of my favorite subjects to draw is the horse. To me, they are like living, moving paintings. What is it about your subjects that attracts your attention and inspires your work?
M: Something about horses…. both in their build and in their movement, they are so beautiful, so delicate and graceful, yet so powerful; such features are so inspiring to an artist such as myself. I am sure I could watch them for hours if given the chance!
Animals in general I have always preferred to draw over people because I enjoyed their appearance better and found them easier. Drawing peoples’ pets stemmed from this; but outside of commissions or gifts, it is rare that I will draw animals - other than horses or wolves - for my own enjoyment. Wolves inspire me because they are intelligent, wild and agile, with such expressive eyes, although I think I was swept up in the popularity of wolves when I first joined Deviantart. Seeing so many fantastic wolf artworks inspired me to draw them myself. However, unlike many artist on Deviantart at that time, I preferred to keep my wolf proportions realistic rather than stylized
My fantasy themes represent escapism into another world, where things are possible there that aren’t in the real world. Most of my fantasy pictures also elicit a peaceful, magical, peaceful atmosphere, purposely wrought from my own happy, dreamy emotions, to illicit these emotions in the viewer. I have always been a daydreamer and a lover of the idea of magic, which I reflect into my fantasy artworks. I want them to seem so realistic that the viewer will start to wonder if these places and creatures really exist!
A: How did your style develop and has it changed over the years?
M: When I was young, driven by the desire to be able t draw realistically, I started collecting various “How To Draw”-type books. These mostly utilized graphite sketches, and so that was where I began. By age 11 I was able to shade relatively realistically with graphite. At 13 my grandmother gave me an art book on using colored pencils, and while the transition from graphite to colour at first was difficult, I soon learned to use these realistically. By 15 I had hitherto only drawn directly from photos (of animals), bu at 15 I was first introduced to Deviantart, and this is when I began to not only refine my coloured pencil abilities based on whet I saw other artists do, but also to branch into fantasy, and begin creating my own pictures instead of just copying directly from photographs. For a while this gave way to magic at the expense of realism, and when I look back now, my inspiration has wrought these paintings beautiful, yet unfortunately with disproportionate subjects (mainly horses). By this time my own style had developed, and trying to refer to “How to Draw” books now merely frustrated me because they did things differently than I did! At 17, I did art as a subject in my final year of high school. Here (having never don an art class before), I was forced to branch out into other media beyond my beloved coloured pencils, and despite my initial abhorrence of watercolours, very quickly an unexpected change overcame me, and I learned to understand and love them. Soon I loved nothing more than to use watercolours with my coloured pencils, and rarely have I ever since gone back to pure coloured pencil art. I also relearned the value of using references in this class and I reached a compromise between creativity and relaince on references, which resulted in the semi-photorealistic well-proportioned fantasy pictures I produce today.
A: What are the most challenging aspects of working with watercolor and colored pencils and how do you overcome those challenges?
M: As with any art, patience is a virtue. I have seen many amateur artists on Deviantart disheartened when their coloured pencil or watercolour art hasn’t turned out as good as their favourite artists’ work. Falsely do they blame their lack of skill, when in reality they are comparing their one-hour painting to 15-hour ones and expecting them to be just as good! Furthermore, I have learned that good quality paper is one of the most important things when using both coloured pencils and watercolours. With coloured pencils, many layers are required to result in a smooth finish, and thin or cheap paper will start lifting before this can be accomplished. Similarly with watercolours, the thinner, cheaper paper will not be able to handle very much water, while the thick but cheap alleged “watercolour” paper will soak in too much of the water, before the wonderful watercolour textures can be developed! It is worth paying a little bit extra to produce good quality art. I personally use a brand of watercolour paper called “Arches” for both my coloured pencil and watercolour artworks.
A: Do you have a specific creative process from start to finish?
M: Like most artists, I begin with a pale, lead pencil outline. With watercolours, I will protect my subject (e.g. horse) with masking fluid; this means I can paint the background more carelessly without worry of intruding onto my horse’s form. Once the background is finished and has dried, I remove the masking fluid and work on the foreground. I shade and colour with watercolours as I go, slowly building up from a washed-out form to become darker and more vibrant. Sometimes at this point I will switch to coloured pencils for the detailed shading, while other times my detailed shading is accomplished still with watercolours.
With coloured pencils, I begin shading with black pencil, and then work my way up the darker colours to the lightest, layering as I go, with the next lighter colour reaching a bit further onto the untouched white paper than the last. A smooth coating is often accomplished with white pencil.
A: I’m in awe of your ability to produce such realistic textures, colors, and proportions in your art. What techniques do you use while drawing/painting to achieve your realism?
M: Even after all these years of drawing horses, I still rely heavily on reference photos of them to get their proportions correct. Backgrounds, I also refer to reference photos, but less closely. In terms of colour and realism, I greatly enjoy higher contrast, and will seek photos taken in sunlight - the natural light typically provides bright highlights and deep shadows. As for texture, that is the beauty of watercolours; they are unpredictable, though you can direct them to a certain extent. They behave differently depending if you use them onto wet or dry paper, and can be warped with salt, alcohol, or extra water. My techniques I have learned through experience and trial and error. A detailed explanation will be too long for this interview.
A: I’m also a self-taught artist myself. I’m relatively new with colored pencils, and I’ve recently become interested in color theory, studying the subject through books. What has been your self-taught path? do you read books and tutorials as guides, or have you mainly learned through doing?
M: In a primary school at around age 10, we one day had an art lesson where we were taught about shading. The revelation of a light source, and the idea of shading a gradient from dark to light, really stirred my natural artistic talent. My grandmother and great great grandmother on my mum’s side were artists, adn more recently I’ve learned one of my dad’s sisters is also an artist. However, i never learned art from these relations, as I never lived in the same state or country as them, but clearly some genetics may be involved. As I’ve mentioned, in my earlier years I used to refer to “How to Draw” type books quite often, and then later would refer directly to photos. After starting high school, my first art class wasn’t until my final year, by which time I was already self-taught, and my art teacher once told me that it was rare that he’d ever had a student that required such little instruction. The downside to being self-taught is that I never learned the theories of perspective and composition. As a result, I feel that my foregrounds never perfectly integrate with the backgrounds as well or fantastically as other artists can accomplish.
A: When did you know you were ready to begin offering commissions to the public?
M: Actually, it was my mum’s idea, when I was 13, that my artwork was good enough to sell. With her help and encouragement, I started a tiny stall at our local markets selling Pet Portraits for quite cheap - having never had a job before, it was exciting to be earning money for the first time! While my colouring style was till grainy and sketchy, my proportions were fairly accurate even back then, and people must have found the likeness and personality to their pets good enough to purchase. I did this for about 6 months, but got sick of waking up early on a Saturday morning! Ever since then I have sold pet portraits by word of mouth. When I joined Deviantart, I think it was a friend of mine that encouraged me to start selling commissions there.
A: Your gallery is filled with consistently high quality work, and at such a young age! What is your plan for the future of your art?
M: Art is an enjoyment and a hobby for me, and any money I make out of it is a nice bonus, but not my only source of income nor my only aim. Though I love being an artist, I am also a passionate microbiologist, and the scientist within me would not be able to settle for fulltime art. I love the art/science balance I currently have. I do, however, aspire to one day have my art displayed in its own exhibition in a gallery, and I want to try to illustrate a book! I have also considered studying art at university in the far future “just for fun,” but we’ll see!