Melissa Holden is a Bay Area artist and block printer, whose play with tension and harmony results in beautiful abstract art. Using a specialized relief block printing method developed by Melissa herself, each print showcases crisp lines and shapes as well as the natural texture left from a hand pulled block print.
Is there an interesting story behind your business name?
My business name is obviously based on my name. However, I used “art” to leave myself the space to create other art besides limited edition block prints. The block prints are my focus right now, but in the future I am hoping to expand my business to include other forms of printmaking and illustrations.
Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes! I have loved drawing and making things ever since I could do so. I always cared about how my room was set up, what was in it, and how it was lit. Art was always my favorite subject in school and I went on to major in it. I love having an idea come to life through my hands and all the twists and turns that ideas take along the way. I think I feel the most myself and the most content when I am deep into making something.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I started printmaking my freshman year in college. I took an introduction to intaglio course. I had chosen this because I wanted to take advantage of the fine arts facilities such as printing presses, acid baths, and dark rooms. I had done a lot of drawing and painting, but not much printing. I found that I have an affinity for the medium, so I made it the focus of my fine arts degree. I love the feeling of anticipation and surprise when each layer of a print gets pulled.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I think my work is a little unexpected. My prints are about creating tension within a harmonious whole. I approach my block prints like a screenprinter, so the work highlights a graphic crispness as well as the natural texture of a hand pulled block print. I also mix all of my own colors from a process set of safe-wash oil based inks, so I can achieve subtleties and depth in the colors.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
I experience failures or mistakes constantly, but they are probably the most important part of the process. The mistakes help me hone my craft and remind me to be patient, rework something, or to be more careful. I have stacks of blocks and prints that I consider failures. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I started printing again was making tiny editions. I would make only two or three of the same print because they were pretty labor intensive. This isn’t the best business plan, so I started making larger editions of my work. Because I create these limited editions completely by hand, I still operate on the small side. I have some editions with only 5 prints, but most are between 10 and 20.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
The two main things I have sacrificed are time and certainty. I don’t mind giving up the time because I really love what I do. I’m inspired to spend my time making and thinking about my business. I do take regular breaks to spend time with my kids, family, and friends. I think these breaks are essential and I usually return to my work with fresh eyes. Then there’s the uncertainty part that raises questions like,”Will this work out and for how long?” This can definitely haunt me and put me in a tailspin from time to time. I’m working on accepting the uncertainty. No regrets. Ultimately, the only thing I would regret is not creating the business at all.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
Honestly, this is my proudest moment. I’m really thrilled to be a part of Renegade and this feature. It’s a great opportunity and I am very thankful for it.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I see the Bay Area as a place that is excited about design and art. People value aesthetics and imagery that moves them. I feel like there is an openness and general appreciation of the handmade process and new creations. Knowing this helps give me the confidence to take risks and put my work out there.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I have had lot of experience printmaking, making things in general, and I understand materials. I was an art teacher for children for many years and I think this has helped me be efficient with my time and stay organized while multitasking. Also, getting business expertise from makers and friends who generously shared their time and gave me a lot of pointers was a huge gift.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
I started printing again when my twins went to preschool. I felt like I was about to burst with ideas and I needed an outlet. I remembered how much I loved making and printing, and I couldn’t stop. My family and friends were very encouraging and supportive of my work which also helped. As time went on I realized that if I could be my own boss, I could continue to make my work and stay flexible for my kids. Now, I work in the morning while they are at preschool and at night when they are asleep.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I find inspiration everywhere. If I see shapes I like or color combinations that I find interesting, it’s usually an instant gut reaction that I try to hold on to. I usually play with these findings in my head before I sketch them out and I often alter them. The shapes, lines, patterns, colors, and space that I see are what I use to create the harmony and counterpoint in my designs. I usually encounter the best material when I’m not looking for it.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Find your voice and craft your brand. Make what you love and stay true to what you think works. Try to stay patient…I’m still working on that one!