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Posted on February 3, 2016 in Featured Artists by Katie
It’s my pleasure and joy today to introduce you to a polymer clay artist whose work and personality I truly love and admire, Melissa Terlizzi. I found Melissa through FaceBook over a year ago and instantly fell in love with her work, especially her animal sculpts [my favorites are her frogs]. I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to Melissa for jumping in and agreeing to do an interview. Without further ado … Melissa Terlizzi.
I live in Northern VA with my husband, 4 kids (ages 11 to 20), 2 very round cats and a goldfish. I don’t have a lot of hobbies (clay has pretty much taken over everything), but I used to run a lot (4 marathons!), knit, clean my house, and try to play guitar. I grew up in Tennessee and Florida, and attended the University of South Carolina with plans to become a marine scientist. Somewhere along the way I got distracted, and 4 years later I graduated with a degree in English. As a little girl I dreamed of one day becoming an artist, but that dream faded and I decided I would become a famous writer instead. I wrote advertising briefly after college, did a little freelance writing, and held a couple other forgettable positions, but never managed to become famous. I was content to follow my husband while he built a military career (we’ve been fortunate to live in and visit some amazing places) and focus on our children, who were my everything for many years. The polymer clay “thing” came out of nowhere–fairly recently–and I’m as surprised about it as anybody.
Like a lot of folks, my first experience with polymer clay came as a craft activity with my kids. I still have a polka-dotted lizard that my (now 20 years old) son made out of blue Sculpey when he was little. In 2010-11, I started feverishly knitting scarves and hats (along with a million other knitters), to peddle on Etsy, and came up with the idea of making pins to match my scarves—I thought that if I paired my knitwear with a handmade piece of jewelry, it might set me apart from the other sellers. Polymer clay was the material I chose.
The first thing I made was a square brooch with a blossoming cherry blossom branch on it. It was pretty awful, but thank goodness I didn’t realize that it was—I think if I’d seen all the phenomenal polymer work that was out there, I would have given up before I ever really got started! I quickly became obsessed with the clay, creating things every day. I stopped knitting almost right away, and focused entirely on polymer clay. There’s rarely a day when I don’t touch the stuff.
Gosh, I don’t know! The thing that I hear most from people who visit my studio is that my work makes them smile, or feel happy. I have a theory: I think my animal subjects (bugs, frogs, birds, etc.) remind people of things they were fascinated by when they were young or when their kids were young. Then they grew up and had to become serious. When I’m researching something to make for the first time, I feel a sense of wonder and also the obligation to get the details right. But I don’t take myself very seriously—this is meant to be fun, not work–and I think that attitude comes through in the things I make. I hope so anyway!
[From my point of view, Melissa’s work stands on the verge of whimsical and realistic. Most people do one or the other, not both. Melissa has taken her art to the next level by keeping reality with a hint of whimsy that can’t be denied.]
I do have a studio at Artful Dimensions Gallery in Fredericksburg, and I used to work there 3 or 4 days a week. At least a year ago, I started slowly shifting toward working at home, and today I am practically a hermit. I stay in my pajamas all day and only leave the house when I see my kids rummaging for crumbs to eat under the table. I have clay “stuff” spread all over the dining room. And after Christmas, I cleared a spot on the dining room table for working with my new interest, precious metal clay (PMC.) I have all the tools I need to work with PMC there on the table, and all of my polymer clay materials and gadgets line the perimeter of the room. It’s chaos, and an eyesore–a definite source of conflict with the husband, who seems to believe that dining rooms are for eating in! Pshaw!
I like doing all sorts of things! I really love making frogs and toads—it’s all about their eyes! And birds and turtles. I also like making simple canes, and especially love tackling things I’ve never tried before, or presenting something familiar in a new, or off-beat way. It’s actually simpler to state what I don’t enjoy: I don’t like making beads or designing complicated necklaces. I’m not very patient, and stringing beads feels a little bit like root canal surgery to me. And making multiples of things eats my soul up a nibble at a time.
The author Sarah Bird once said that book ideas come to her from the showerhead and the steering wheel. I think that’s brilliant! I do a lot of my thinking in the shower, and also while stuck in the glacial traffic flow that results from living near DC. A lot of my ideas wake me up at night. And my kids are a great source of “Mom, some day you need to make___…” (I can tell if a piece is going to be successful if it resonates with my children. They are the bluntest critics, but fountains of great ideas!) I do a lot of research before I start, staring at heaps of photos, and reading all I can. If you can’t examine a plant or animal in real life, the only way to capture its spirit is to stare at photos taken from every possible angle. Flickr is great for that—good nature photography makes me swoon, and Flickr is a treasure trove.
I really, really love what I do, and so I have a lot of favorites. Artworks are like your children—you love them all, but they are different and pull on different heartstrings! I love my “Beneath our Feet” wall piece because it reminds me of my favorite things in the woods. Because the colors are fairly subdued, there’s something peaceful and calming about it. I love my macaw piece called “Feathers and Foliage” for the opposite reason: it’s a big colorful riot.
I like my recent work “Feeding Time at the Koi Pond.” It was inspired by the koi ponds we used to visit when we lived overseas in Okinawa. My kids were much younger then and enjoyed feeding the koi, but the wild feeding frenzy of the fish always inspired nervous fantasies: if my toddler flips over the rail and into that water, will she be devoured by all those thousands of gumming fish lips? I wanted my koi piece to be humorous, and I also wanted it to capture the “action” of the koi tumbling over one another to get to the food. I think I nailed it. I love that piece.
Donna Kato’s book “The Art of Polymer Clay – Millefiori Techniques” was the first polymer clay book I ever opened, and it’s still my “bible” for caning. I’m very fortunate because next month I’ll be taking Donna’s class at Polymania UK. It’s going to be a pinch-me day, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to stutter, giggle uncontrollably, and do something stupid like roll my hair through the pasta machine. Other artists? There are so many fabulous Polymer clay artists out there! Cynthia Toops’ micromosaics are something I hope to see in person someday. And Kathleen Dustin is a genius. I want to be her when I grow up.
I don’t have a website or online store–yet. I’ve been saying “I’m working on one” for at least a couple years, but whenever I sit down to actually do something, I get overwhelmed and abandon it for another day. Someday I will have a website. Currently I show my work at local galleries in Virginia (I am a member artist at a 3-D art gallery in Fredericksburg, VA, called “Artful Dimensions Gallery”), and I sell things informally through my Facebook page. I post photos of everything I create on Facebook, so I tell people if they see something they like, they should message me—and do it quickly. I am blessed; almost all my work sells right away.
Thanks for joining me today,
Until next time, Happy Claying my friends!