Meet the Maker: Mellybee
One of the most recognisable brands on Folksy is Mellybee, where quirky, naive and playful graphics abound, and just about everything makes you smile. We talk to Mellybee’s creator Melanie Chadwick about her love of art, the people who inspire her and how she found her own style. We also take a tour of her Cornish screen-printing studio and pick up some drawing tips while we’re there…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m an artist, illustrator and designer-maker working freelance and living down south in the sunny shires of Cornwall. I’m married to a youth pastor who although looks like he could be a fellow creative is actually a trained theologian and history buff with a penchant for all things sci-fi. Although our interests are at times wildly different, he is definitely the one who encourages me in my work and is the eternal optimist in our relationship.
How would you describe Mellybee?
It’s a screen-printed brand that produces fun and colourful stationery and textiles for home and gift giving, aiming to inspire joy and creativity as well as producing products that are functional and beautiful.
Can you sum up your aesthetic in three words?
Quirky, playful, naive.
Have you always be creative?
Yes, certainly. One of my first childhood memories is of me at nursery wanting to make both an eggbox dragon and an eggcup daffodil – the lady in charge said we were only allowed to make one and I felt cheated. My favourite lessons at school were art – I always felt like I could escape from whatever problem was bugging me while drawing and creating.
Do you think everyone can draw?
I do… although if I challenge someone to draw who says they can’t I usually get the answer “I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler!”, which makes me sad because drawing isn’t meant to follow rules or be done in a certain way. If you give a toddler a crayon and watch them draw they have no fears or inhibitions and make whatever mark they want. It seems as we get older we’re told how not to draw and that puts more and more constraints on us until we finally give up. Drawing is the most natural thing you can do. We draw before we talk or walk and yet most adults and young people no longer think they can.
Do you have any drawing tips?
My top tips are to observe the things around you, really look at them and then draw what you see, not what you think is there. Draw regularly and enjoy what you draw. If you have a fascination with cacti, draw them until you can draw them with your eyes closed and then draw something else. You’ll find you start to see things differently and enjoy the little shapes and details that you may have missed before.
We love your bold, graphic illustrations. How did you develop your style, or did you always draw that way?
I’ve always been drawn to bold paintings and simple outlines, colourful shapes and hand-drawn letters, but found it hard to translate that into a style of my own – especially as I took Fine Art at degree level, which was largely concept-led rather than illustration driven. Feeling frustrated with the work I was producing at the time I knew it was something that I wanted to do and, after spending a couple of years abroad, I was determined to find a way to create the style of illustration I love. It has taken me some time to find my style and actually feel comfortable enough to show it to others, but I’m so glad I have persevered because the work I’m creating now feels more like me.
Your colours are always bright and cheery. What’s your favourite colour combination?
I really enjoy all the colours, but I guess a favourite combination at the moment is something tropical like salmon pink, fresh yellow, minty green and a dash of bright orange.
How did you discover screen-printing?
While studying Fine Art one of the modules I took was screen printing. Although I found it interesting I couldn’t quite see how it would serve my art practice because at the time I was working with soft sculpture and installation work. It was much much later when I was teaching art classes for children that I came back to screen printing. While introducing the techniques to them I went to a print-making studio in Aberdeen to refresh my memory and printed my first tea towel.
Are there any periods, artists or illustrators that particularly influence your work?
I particularly enjoy the naive work of Henri Rousseau, the beautiful flower paintings of Georgia O’Keefe and bright work of Henri Mattisse. I’m currently enjoying the work of Emily Boyd, Stephanie Cole, Freya Momomoses, Molly Jacques, Andy Smith and Kate Sutton. I also like to look at other artists working in different craft mediums like Brendan and Ruth from I am Acrylic, Donna Wilson‘s quirky soft critters and Jes Liberty’s clay head pots. I also recently found the Instagram feed of Swallows & Damsons and fell in love with how Anna Potter works with flowers. I think what influences me most is seeing someone doing something they love and getting on with it – that encourages me in my career to keep going and producing something I love.
Where else do you look for inspiration?
I find I tend to soak up a lot of things from many different influences – reading books, going to car boot sales, walking the coastal paths, watching the tide, having a good mug of Earl Grey tea, spending time with my husband or a close friend, exploring new places, eating a delicious meal, watching a movie, discussing faith, these are just some of the places I look for inspiration! I also spend a couple of hours a week going for a run through the fields and meadows surrounding us and find that’s an important time to refresh and re-invigorate my senses.
How do you start a piece?
I usually have a notepad that I keep somewhere close by and any ideas for products or designs I sketch down. I then go through them, honing and filtering out the ones I want to take further. I work on the design until it’s ready to scan in and vectorise, print on to acetate and burn on to a screen.
Can you describe your workspace or studio?
I split my time between the garage and a converted second bedroom.The garage is where I do all my print and sewing work. It holds all my materials, supplies and printing equipment. The inside space houses my computer, printer, scanner, paper supplies – that’s where I do the majority of my design, photography, packaging and digital work.
What three tools could you not live without?
This is such a tricky question… especially with all the technology that we have to help us. But I’ve decided to keep it to the Three Ps: pen, paper and paint.
What does the future hold for Mellybee?
Hopefully for the brand to continue to grow and produce new and fresh designs. I know at some point I will need to work out how I balance the making side with keeping up with demand for stock, as screen printing is such a physical and time consuming medium to work in.
What’s the best thing about being a designer/maker?
Having the freedom to try something new!