Inside the Artist’s Studio
Working My Way Back to You: Melissa DeCarlo
“Both of my parents painted as a hobby, and they encouraged my early artistic efforts. But, when I got old enough to no longer think my parents were cool, I lost all interest in making visual art and shifted my attention to acting in school plays and drama contests, with a little bit of terrible poetry writing on the side. By the time I was finishing high school, I wanted to pursue acting as a career, but in the end, pragmatism won out and four years later I graduated college with a degree in computer science and got a job in the IT department of a VA Hospital,” states local artist and author, Melissa DeCarlo.
If you are attending a local art opening, chances are, Melissa will be there supporting our area visual arts community. She has exquisite talent when it comes to creating visual art and also authored an engaging and wonderful novel several years ago. She explains, “I took several art classes at Tyler Junior College and the University of Texas at Tyler and studied sculpture for a couple of years at the Creative Arts Center in Dallas. For several years I happily played around with sculpture and painting and then shifted my focus to writing. My novel, The Art of Crash Landing, was published in 2015, and although I’m very proud of my book, after its publication, I found myself less interested in writing. I eventually shifted back to visual art and for the last couple of years I have loved getting back into painting.” Melissa recalls, “When I was in my thirties, I dedicated myself to learning the craft of writing. At some point, it seemed like I was wasting a lot of time and so I told myself if I had not published by forty, I would quit. When my fortieth birthday came, most of my stories and a couple of bad novels were still in a drawer so, true to my word, I stopped writing and turned my attention to other things. After about eight years of painting and sculpting, I decided to see if writing still held any interest for me. So, I moved away from visual art and back to writing and this time found success with my writing. Having my novel published was a huge lifegoal I was thrilled to accomplish, but once the book tour was over, I was stressed and miserable. I was under contract for a second novel. After a frustrating year of struggling to write the book I had promised to write, I returned the advance to the publisher. I had hoped getting out from under a deadline would help with my writing, but I finally had to admit all the fun had gone out of writing for me and I didn’t write well when I was bored and unhappy. Once I stopped writing, it didn’t take long for me to miss creating again, so I pulled my old art supplies from the closet and started checking to see if I had any paint that had not dried up. The good news was picking up a paintbrush felt just like coming home and it still feels that way. Even though I tend to be goal-oriented, I am determined to keep my focus on the joy of making rather than trying to achieve some big goal. I have learned the hard way getting overly focused on a goal can take the pleasure out of the doing.”
In discussing her paintings Melissa states, “I love painting people, portraits, or other figurative work. I feel like my style is very much still in development. I’ve been concentrating on gaining confidence in my ability to faithfully render a subject in a not overworked manner. I am currently set somewhere between impressionism and realism. I am drawn to more disrupted realism, and so my goal is to eventually incorporate more expressive and unexpected elements into my work. I always enjoy doing portraits and have sold some commissioned portraits and other figurative work, so I’m very much enjoying the space I’m occupying right now.”
DeCarlo’s portraits are powerful and well-executed. Probably the strongest element in her work, and all portrait work in my opinion, is the artist’s ability to capture an aspect of the subject’s essence in an expression of the eyes allowing the art to create a human connection. Melissa describes, “I find it funny I am an introvert who is usually happy to be alone, yet I am mainly interested in painting people. I am not sure I know what I want others to experience from viewing my art, but I know what I am interested in is people, both our differences and our similarities. We are all strangers to each other and yet we’re all going through our lives loving people and wanting to be loved and mostly trying to do the best we can. I cannot help but be curious about other people’s stories.”
DeCarlo is generally an oil painter although she does not limit herself to oils exclusively. She also explores pencil, charcoal, acrylics, and soft pastels. She says she loves learning new things and the challenge of trying new media. When asked about the best things visual art has brought to her life, Melissa answers, “Peace. While concentrating on making art, I can completely lose myself in the process and drop into a flow state where I lose all sense of time and self-consciousness. The other is community. I’ve met so many wonderful artists here in East Texas, who are kind and encouraging and so generous with their time and advice. I feel so fortunate to be able to make art and be a part of this growing arts community.”
Melissa recommends avoiding comparison to other artists. She expounds, “It is so hard to scroll through Instagram and not despair looking at all the artists out there with fresher ideas and more advanced skills. I just need to keep reminding myself of the great quote by Henry Van Dyke, “Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best. With all the great art I can find scrolling, it’s sometimes hard not to feel like I need to hurry up and find my style. My experience as a writer, however, taught me that a good, authentic writing style emerges over time as you do the work, so I feel confident as I continue to log pencil-miles and brushstroke miles, my skills and style will continue to develop.
Learn more about Melissa DeCarlo at: