Today I’m excited to share an interview I did with artist Melissa Luster, who paints, draws, and creates beautiful art over at Illusterations. I met Melissa while attending an event as 73 Spring Street Studio, where she works alongside Roxy of Society Social and artist Inslee Fariss. Melissa is super talented, creating art that is fun, feminine, and full of charm. Working in ink and watercolor, Melissa specializes in fashion illustration (I especially love this pink Christian Siriano gown she recreated), still life pieces, and commissions for individual clients. Read on to learn more about Melissa’s work, what it’s like to be an artist in New York City, and how a trip abroad reinvigorated her creative energy.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got to where you are today?
A: As a child, I loved any activity that revolved around art. It’s funny how you can re-discover and realize your childhood passions did have meaning after all. I remember celebrating multiple elementary school birthdays at a local paint house and cherishing a painting I did of Queen Elizabeth in art class in third grade. If only I still had that piece… I’d love to see if it lived up to my memory!
Somehow over time, art faded to the background. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to go abroad in college that my passion came back to life. I spent a few months in Milan, consuming my weight in gelato and taking a class (in Italian) on the fashion form. Perhaps it was the Milanese street style – the women with their oversized fur coats and twig-thin legs, or perhaps it was my Italian professor that trained my hand to produce mile long-legged “Versace-esque” figures. When I returned to the States, I knew I had to follow the art path.
During my senior year at Fordham University, I began an internship with Inslee. Being a part of her business truly inspired me – the summer after I graduated, I launched my own brand, Illusterations.
Q: What medium do you typically work in, and why is that your favorite?
A: During my time in Milan, I mostly worked in colored pencils. The pieces I produced were extremely detailed and intricate. When I started working with Inslee, I began experimenting with watercolor paint, as that was her medium of choice. I now solely work in watercolor as well, loving how quickly I am able to get my vision down on paper. The fluidity of the paint allows my hand to keep up with how fast my brain is working!
Q: What are your favorite subjects to paint or illustrate?
A: At first I was drawn to illustrating objects, primarily gathering inspiration from Pinterest and compiling photos that spoke to me over time. Lately, I’ve been enticed by the “fashion face” and aiming to capture facial features in a few simple brushstrokes.
[Sidenote: Melissa happened to be dog-sitting for Roxy’s pup Oscar when I went over to shoot these photos, and I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots!]
Q: Can you tell us about some of your favorite pieces or favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
A: I really enjoy working on commissioned pieces for friends, family members and clients because for the most part, I am illustrating a piece that helps them cherish a special memory or moment in time. I recently worked with a client to commission an illustration to give to his wife on their 30th wedding anniversary. I painted a portrait of the couple holding hands and arranged for the piece to be framed. When the client received the piece, he wrote me the nicest email, saying that this painting would be passed on to his grandchildren so they could remember their grandparents’ love for each other. It truly made me realize how special my work was for them.
I also recently worked with a client to commission an illustration of his three children as a gift for his wife’s 40th birthday. The picture he sent over for reference was significant in that it was taken at a beach in Maine, a spot they visit each year. I really enjoyed this piece as I expressed the photograph in a more abstract form than I typically work in.
Q: You work with Inslee and Roxy at the 73 Spring Street Studio – that sounds like so much fun! Can you tell us about what you do there?
A: I absolutely love Spring Street and am very lucky to be a part of the Inslee by Design and Society Social team! Since I alternate days working for Inslee and Roxy, some days I’m an art-store aficionado, a professional pillow “fluffer”, or a part time dog walker to Ophelia and Oscar….but on a serious note, I am both of their assistants! When I’m in the office with Inslee, I try and handle the business aspect of the brand so Inslee can solely focus on her artwork. I answer email inquiries, arrange and schedule commissions, fulfill print orders, help with framing and any other tasks that need to be taken care of. In addition, I am now an illustrator on the Inslee by Design team and am grateful that Inslee passes a few commissions my way as well.
Melissa’s most recent commission on team Inslee.
When I’m in the office with Roxy, I help answer customer service emails, work closely with wholesale stores, create graphics for e-blasts and blog posts and help with design consult appointments. Every day in the studio is different and that’s what I enjoy most about it!
Q: What advice do you have for those looking to get into the art industry?
A: Don’t be afraid to let your style evolve over time – what I am drawn to now is completely different than what I liked a year ago. I’m very interested to see what next year brings!
You can keep up with Melissa on Instagram and if you’re looking for a personalized and really wonderful holiday gift for someone special, consider contacting her for a commission! How excited would someone be to receive an original, personalized piece of art? I would die. Her phone cases, prints, and notecards would also make for wonderful gifts for yourself or someone else, so be sure to check out the shop!
photography by Jacqueline Clair
Um hi, dream job! Loved getting to know more about Melissa (beyond from Roxy + Inslee’s Instagrams)…her work is beautiful!
Seriously…I’m like, can I be Melissa, Roxy, and Inslee’s assistants? Haha :). I agree, her work is beautiful!
Love love love Melissa’s work! She surprised me along with my husband, with a portrait of my mini poodle! And most recently I bought her phone case. I get more compliments on that!
So sweet, I love that!
Interesting post Jackie with excellent pictures. Love Oscar, the pup!
Thank you! Ahh I know, he’s SO cute!
Great post! Love all the spring street girls!
I love your work and your apartment! I especially love the commission you did of the 3 children at the beach.
Wow Melissa, so very excited for you. Great work, wonderful article. Love watching you follow your dreams xo
Thank you Ms. Moo!
M, you’re an amazing person with amazing talent. Love you honey!xo