I connected with Melanie Oliva both through the Nashville Creative Group started by Beth Inglish, and Melanie's page, Inspiration Pollination (an environmental activism project) on Facebook. Melanie grew up in Nashville, has lived in Chicago and Amsterdam, and is currently living in Miami, where she works as a fine artist.
Melanie's newest project is The Artful Activist (there are Facebook and Instagram pages as well), a " blog where artists, activists and gallerists can express their views on social and environmental issues." I hope you will check it out. We need these spaces now, more than ever (if that's possible). I can definitely say that I am grateful for such spaces.
What does Creativity mean to you?
It’s just connecting the dots – being able to see how unrelated things can fit together to make something new. Living a creative life means having the guts to think beyond what you’ve been taught and to express yourself past what feels “safe”.
How do you expand yourself creatively?
I try to put myself into new and sometimes uncomfortable situations, and I make an effort to meet new people. I try something new with each project, to push myself forward in an effort to grow.
Were you creative as a child? If so, how have you evolved through the years? Did anyone encourage you, especially?
Yes, I was lucky to grow up during a time when we played outside and made things out of rocks, flowers, branches, whatever we found. My parents always encouraged me, even as a small child, to keep drawing and painting (it was also a way to keep me occupied while my mom ran her own PR business from home!). I grew up next door to another artist my age; instead of playing with Barbies, we would spend hours designing/expanding Barbie and Ken’s house, seeing what household items we could make into furniture.
What inspires you most?
Kids who do amazing things. They don’t think about why something can’t happen, they just do it! There’s a young one here in Florida who eloquently advocates for our Black Bears (you can see Megan Sorbo speaking on YouTube), a girl who started a lemonade company when she was 9 to save bees called BeeSweet (Mikaila Ulmer's product is Me and the Bees), and a 9yearold who builds houses for homeless people (Hailey Fort's website: Hailey's Harvest).
What turns you on creatively?
An environmental or social problem that needs to be solved.
Do you have any gratefulness practices?
Almost every day, I try and take a step back and reflect upon all that I have in my life. I’ve found that it’s just so much healthier to focus on the positive than the negative, and keeps you open to new ideas and experiences. Putting that good energy out there is a type of insurance that it will come back to you in some form.
Do you daydream often? If so, does it inform your work?
Yes, I’m constantly envisioning things I want to make happen. It’s cliché, but I’ve had some of my best ideas in the shower. Lately, I’ve had them while I’m asleep. Sometimes they’re cryptic and it takes me a while to figure them out, but those are usually the best ones.
Is there a Creative, past or present, that you would give just about anything to work with? Who, and why?
Banksy is at the top of my list. He’s changing the world with his work, and he’s always done it without expecting personal gain. He’s also altered the world’s perception of what’s considered art.
How do you balance life and art effectively? Or, do you?
They’re so interwoven, it’s hard to differentiate. I’m inspired by life events that inform my art. My art also has a way of steering what I do in my life. Having a studio in my home has helped immensely with the daytoday stuff. Having a disciplined work ethic has helped keep me focused while working at home.
How do you deal with creative dry spells? Do you make space for them, or push through?
It honestly doesn’t happen that often – I usually have too many projects I want to do, and can sometimes overcommit. After being in advertising for 15 years and having to be creative at a client’s demand, I’m just so excited to have the freedom to work on projects that I feel passionate about.
I also think everything happens at the exact time it’s supposed to. There are some days when I don’t feel like painting; during those times, I’ll do something that I do feel like doing, like updating my website, writing a press release or applying for a grant. There are some days when all I do is reach out to people because I get on a roll with connecting with people that day. I figure, it all has to be done, so I’ll do each task when I feel the strongest about doing it. I let my intuition guide me.
How does criticism affect you?
This is one of those things that my advertising career helped prepare me for. After so many years of harsh critique for something I was being paid to produce, I’m somewhat immune to the emotional affects of criticism.
If it’s constructive and the person is trying to help me, I always take what they’re saying into consideration, because good ideas can come from anywhere. This type of criticism can help you grow, and I’m flattered if the person took the time to help me. Collaboration is so important in creating any type of change.
Conversely, I can tell from a mile away if the criticism is coming from a place of insecurity or bitterness.
There are unfortunately some people who feel they need to tear others down to make themselves feel better. We should all be doing the opposite. There’s always a way to build each other up, focus on what someone’s doing right, and give constructive criticism if they’re truly seeking help.
Everyone has an opinion, but it’s ultimately up to me to be confident enough to pick and choose what advice I take. A friend of mine uses the response, “That’s an interesting perspective”, which I like because it makes the advice giver feel heard, but doesn’t reveal your opinion of the advice.
Has your work ever been copied? If so, how did you deal with it?
Only as a child – but I’d feel super flattered if it happened now!
How important is self compassion to your creative process?
Compassion in general is critical to my creative practice, as I choose my subjects based on who or what I want to help. I don’t think I could have empathy or compassion for other people or wildlife unless I first felt self compassion. It took self love to be able to leave a career that I was no longer passionate about, so I have arrived at being a fulltime artist at exactly the right time.
Do you have any other mediums you use to express yourself creatively?
Writing, PR, art direction/design, peopleconnecting.
Do you enjoy collaborating, or prefer to work alone?
Both have their place, but to me collaboration is the magic sauce. It adds energy, new ideas and new audiences. Even with paintings that I technically complete alone, I prefer if I’ve collaborated on them in some way – whether it be with activists, scientists or photographers who have supplied me with an idea or a photo to work from (a percentage of the sale of the painting will go back to the photographer).
Do you plan thoroughly for projects, or go with the flow?
I’ve learned that no matter how much I plan, things change and a project almost never turns out how you thought it would. So, I’ve been going with the flow for the last year and it’s landed me in all sorts of amazing places. I usually have an idea of what my next project might be, but I’ve found that it works best if I do what the universe is telling me to do at that time.
Do you utilize social media? If so, how?
I use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on a regular basis to promote my art and work from Inspiration Pollination, a Facebook group I started. Social media is also a great tool to inform, educate and connect.
Do you believe art can change the world? If so, how?
Absolutely and there have been SO many times when it has. Changing the world is first about changing peoples’ minds, by informing them or making them feel. Art has a tremendous power to do that, whether it be a documentary or movie, music that gives you the chills, or artwork that makes you think about something in a new way.
Do you surround yourself on a daily basis with creative, inspiring people?
I try to! I’m inspired by positive, generous people and gravitate towards them.
What effect do you want your art to have on the world?
I’d love for my work to educate and open peoples’ minds, so that they can feel empathy and compassion for ALL of Earth’s inhabitants. To shift the perceived hierarchy that’s ingrained in our society – from the notion that humans are the RULER of all living things, to being the GUARDIANS of all living things. In my mind, no one life should be more important or deserving than another. We are all one.
Does your creativity enable you to contribute to social work in some way?
Yes, I enjoy creative problem solving – connecting ideas and people. I think I’ve been given the ability to see things differently and I try to use that to help create social change.
What music, if any, plays while you work? What are you listening to at this very moment?
I can’t paint unless there’s music playing. It has to be happy music that makes me feel good. Right now, I’m listening to “Feel It All Around” by Washed Out.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Carol Garvin, an accomplished and respected Miami artist, has been kind enough to give me some excellent advice, including: “Don’t let people tell you ‘you can’t’ – you can” and “Don’t take to heart people who are critical, or judges who ignore your work. That is just one opinion. Trust yourself and keep moving forward. It’s a jungle out there and you must make your way through it.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring creatives?
Life is too short to not do what you’re passionate about. Find a way to follow your passion and it will all work out.
Do you have any upcoming projects/collections to share?
I’ve been working on my “Afterimage” series, which highlights environmental issues. Each painting represents what you see when you close your eyes, after staring at something bright – suggesting the subject may only survive as an afterimage unless action is taken. With this series, I can give endangered plants and animals a voice, who so desperately need our empathy and respect.
Inspiration Pollination is an ongoing project that primarily lives on Facebook. It’s a community of over 600 artists, makers, creators, teachers, scientists and more who use their work to connect the public with the plight of pollinators. It’s open to everyone, so please join! You can read more about it on Huffington Post: Artists Want to Save Pollinators, Through Pollination.
Do you have a favourite quote?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead
Where can we find your art?