Diana Probst, Cambridge Artist

Spotlight On: Melissa Gay, American Illustration Artist

I have a great respect for the working life and incessant enthusiasm of Melissa Gay, an American artist and mother. This interview took place by eMail; I have edited for readability and length. Melissa was very generous with both time and honesty. In this interview, she touches on the inner critic, working space, and how rocks are utterly awesome.

Black and White of naked, gleaming female with flaming hair and right fist.  She reflects in the same way as glass or metal.How do you describe your work, if you only have a sentence in which to do it?

My work is the result of my earnest attempt to capture the essence of whatever I think is MOST AWESOME about the subject.

And how do you describe yourself?

Enthusiastic over EVERYTHING.

There is just so much that is INTERESTING and AWESOME about the universe that it’s like I’m a cat and there are SHINY OBJECTS EVERYWHERE! Too many to see and study in a lifetime! But that’s ok, it just means there’s an endless supply of stuff to get excited about.

Tell me about your home life.

My home life is fascinating, wonderful, annoying, delightful, and exasperating. My child has high-functioning autism, and it can be extremely challenging for me and my husband to figure out how to speak his language, figuratively. He has a lot of obsessive-compulsive triggers which cause extreme difficulty for him and for those around him, but he is such an AWESOME kid, we just want to do everything we can to help him lead an awesome life. He loves to draw, too, and he loves computers and the outdoors. He does not love it when we say words he hates, which unfortunately are normal conversational words.

(Did I mention some of the trigger words that he hates are “all,” “who,” “there,” “down,” “good”…)

Do you feel you are fitting in the art around him, or him around the art?

DEFINITELY the art around him. I feel there is nothing more important than bonding with him in any way I can, and if that involves completely interrupting what I’m doing in order to sit in the bedroom and watch him arrange his plush animals in neat rows on the bed, then that’s where I feel I am needed the most. Also, I love watching him play!

When I’ve got a tight deadline, not surprisingly, I feel tremendous pressure.

Sinister but attractive flying fairies are silhouetted by the moon.What do you paint and in what medium?

I love to paint anything fantastic! Professionally, this has translated chiefly into scenes of dark fantasy, science fiction, and anything related to roleplaying games. But there is so much fantastic stuff in the world that ANYTHING can inspire a painting! For instance, I used to paint and draw portraits of trees, because I find that each one has a particular attitude and character. It’s just a matter of seeing it with open eyes.

Minerals are challenging, because I think they are SO EXCEEDINGLY interesting, but the idea is to CONVEY your fascination to the viewing audience– so how does one do that when the subject is a rock? [Recently] I did this painting of a chunk of obsidian, which I think manages to convey the history of the stone in the sweep of its lines and the depth of its color (black, which is a painter’s challenge all by itself!) so I was particularly pleased with it.

I paint in acrylic, and have done so for years, although I am on the very cusp of switching back to oils. I started off as an oil painter. In fact, in high school, it was acrylics which were my NEMESIS! I couldn’t do a damn thing with them, and that lack of utility made me think I was just NOT cut out to be a painter and would probably never be able to learn it! But I’m stubborn…

I’d like to touch on that stubbornness. Does it stand you in good stead, as a professional? Can it be a trap?

Yes, and YES!

The best advice I was ever given: there will always be people in this industry who are more talented than you. The key is to outlast them. Sadly, SO MANY people in the arts encounter resistance, or they hit a place in the market where they are no longer THE most talented person in their circle, and they get depressed and drop out. Well, I am well used to being NOT the most talented artist out there! I am SO HUMBLED by the awesome work being done these days, it just fills me with awe that I’m even being CONSIDERED for jobs alongside these people! So yeah, I am stubborn and persistent.

The trap of stubbornness is that you always, ALWAYS have to keep an open mind to constructive advice and criticism. You can’t let your pride get in the way, or think you’re too good to learn from someone else. You always have to be a student, ALWAYS have to be learning. Never be so stubborn that you’re convinced your way is the best way. Always be open to new ideas! Just make sure never to disengage your critical-thinking skills in the process.

A winged, flaming horse gallops across a cloudscape.Different self-employed people have different working styles. What length of day do you work, and where is your working space?

I work very chaotically. No one should ever ever copy my working methods! I start my day with a cup of coffee and checking email, and then I pretty much jump right into it! I like to get the administrative and post-production work out of the way early, then do the creative stuff later in the day. (Except for those days when I am on a really tight deadline, during which it makes me work faster to just STARTASEARLYASICAN!) For instance, I just came back from a convention, so I’m spending mornings answering friend requests and following up emails and sending out queries and the like, while simultaneously I am scanning a series of paintings to send to a client. Did I mention coffee? The coffee helps a lot.

I always have to play music, TV, or podcasts while doing anything creative. These things help to silence my inner critic, which otherwise would stand over my shoulder and correct every tiny drop of paint or line of pencil and I’d just freeze up. Finding the right distraction is, I believe, one of the keys to my productivity as an artist.

My working space is my studio/office, which on the floorplan of my house is listed as the dining room. However, it has never been the dining room and has been my studio since we moved in. It has two huge east-facing windows and gets the best light in the house! I work and live in clutter, because when I get busy I don’t clean.

A shadowy monster with glowing eye pits and teeth looks terrified and terrifying.  it could be fleeing or poucing.Do you think we all have an inner critic?

I do. I’ve read that fear is an outgrowth of the instinct we all have to survive– our fears exist so that we protect ourselves from behaviors that are too risky. Unfortunately, in my experience, fears also inhibit us from behaviors that are, yes, risky, but would certainly help us advance in our careers, such as approaching that art director and introducing ourselves and handing her a portfolio to look at and possibly eviscerate!

I think that inner critic, while an expression of our natural drives for perfection, is ultimately the voice of our fears. “If my work isn’t perfect, no one will ever hire me for anything ever again. My community will shun me. No one will love me. I will never work again, my spouse will divorce me, and I will end up homeless and off my medications and probably stabbed to death in a gutter.” That’s what *mine* says… The time for criticism is *after* you put the sketch on the board, *after* there is paint on the canvas, NOT before. And DEFINITELY not while you’re staring at the blank expanse.

Does the US plan to sell your punctuation to offset your National Debt?

I’m sorry, that information is Classified.

And finally, big yourself up. What are you doing, and where is your website. How can people see your work?

I was lucky enough to be there at GenCon at the Ennie Awards, when a game I worked on, The Dresden Files RPG by Evil Hat won six gold and silver Ennies, including Best Game, Best Product, Best Production Values, and Best New Game. I feel my six tiny illustrations were integral to these successes.

New releases with my work are Part-Time Gods from Third Eye Games, one of the best independent games to come out this year, and I’m so thrilled to be on the project! Also this summer, Apex Press is now accepting pre-orders for Tower of the Forgotten, third in the Penemue trilogy by Sara Harvey, for which I did the cover art and interiors.

My next big project is promotional art for Hypericon 2012, and there are other things in the works that I cannot yet speak of, woo!!! My next confirmed public appearance is at IlluXcon in Pennsylvania in November.

Interested parties may view my online portfolio and blog at


Continual happiness and enthusiasm can be terrifying, and so I have carefully edited out such from her answers, with the British reader in mind. For the true Melissa Experience, I have put them down here, where they can be admired as art in their own right:

A winged fairy sits on what may well be a poisonous toadstool, gazing up into a beam of light.Hey, this ought to help! ๐Ÿ˜€ HEE! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ Ok, ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ lol Thanks for asking! ๐Ÿ™‚ , LOL ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ !!!!! It’s all fun! This is my dream life! ๐Ÿ˜€ !! ๐Ÿ™‚ ROFLOL!!! ! ๐Ÿ˜€ ;D — LOL!– ๐Ÿ™‚ lol. I laugh lest I weep. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ !!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ (THAT’S RIGHT, SIX!!!!!) ๐Ÿ˜‰ OMG *GASP!* WONDERFUL… FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER… SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!! INSUFFERABLY HAPPY!!!!!! And this is just on the OUTSIDE, you know, where I’m exercising mature restraint and holding in my true feelings!!!! just brain-exploding. … inner nine-year-old… ROCK STAR! That was an amazing feeling. :)… kid-in-the-world’s-largest-candy-store… ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait to spew my enthusiasm all over xx xxxxxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxx!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Wait, I didn’t even get to the second part of the question. Lemme send this off and I’ll answer in a separate email!