Melanie Buyting was interviewed by Mark Kilfoil on July 29th, 2019. Listen to the full interview here.
MK: I’m with Melanie in the barracks today. Welcome, Melanie, to the show.
MB: Thank you so much.
MK: So I’ve been delightfully interviewing many artists down here, and a lot of artists are doing a lot of different kinds of art. What are you working on this week?
MB: This week I decided to do three separate canvases as one painting. My idea is that I would like them to be able to stand alone but also together. This summer’s theme is “trees,” so I had the idea that because we live in such a beautiful part of the country and have seasons that are changing, each with its own beauty. So I wanted to represent all four seasons in these three paintings.
MK: Something tells me your math is off a bit; why not four paintings?
MB: I didn’t want it to be one tree for summer, one for winter, one for autumn, and one for spring. I kind of wanted it to be a more abstract mesh of the four seasons together. I prefer three canvases over four; I like odd numbers better.
MK: Is that called a tryptic? Is that right?
MK: So obviously not only you prefer this form; it’s a form that’s known. So what kind of painting do you do? Pardon for the background sound, someone is really trying to get someone’s attention.
MB: So I started off with oils way back when I started painting, maybe when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and I didn’t realize how difficult oils were to begin with, so I kind of jumped right in there and ended up teaching myself. It wasn’t until later on down the line that I realized “Hey, oils are really hard to work with.”
MK: Let’s unpack that for a moment. Fourteen, you said? You wanted to do art, so you accidentally picked the hardest kind of painting, and then taught yourself? You didn’t have classes in school or anything like that?
MB: I mean, we had one art class in high school, but it was pretty general, and my interest in art… You know, I was drawing when I was nine or ten years old, but it was just maybe when I was fourteen that I started to paint. I kind of gave up drawing, so I’m no sketch artist, but I just really love oils because you can get such depth of colour with them that you can’t get with acrylics or watercolours, which are also beautiful mediums to work with, but oils are my passion, and that’s what I started out with without realizing what they entailed. I didn’t have any formal training; I was just self-taught, looking at tips and tricks on the internet; YouTube was my friend.
MK: We would know so much less if we didn’t have the internet. So when you started, you said at nine was when you started sketching. So, was it sort of a conscious thing? You saw someone do it and decided you wanted to do it or did it start out just doodling with a pencil and then all of a sudden you found a passion?
MB: Yeah. In class, don’t tell my old teachers, but I would just start doodling. I was really into horses back then; growing up on a dairy farm, I didn’t have a horse for a number of years. So just when I was in school and not necessarily listening to the teacher, I would draw in my notebook. And then eventually I just developed an interest in painting, maybe because I would see a painting that I really liked, or I would see all these different colours in such vibrancy, and I’d think “I want to do that.” So it’s just something I just started doing and eventually progressed into what it is now.
MK: So when you started out in oils, where did you get your paints? You were fourteen; is there an art store nearby where you started hanging out in the paint section?
MB: Yeah, I think it started when I told my parents “Hey, this is what I’m interested in doing. Could I have a set of oil paints for my birthday?” My parents were always very supportive with anything that I wanted to do, so they went out and bought me a set of oils paints just to start, and some brushes. I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning; I didn’t know you shouldn’t use the oil right out of the tube; you should mix them with a medium first to get a little bit more consistency with it so that it goes further. You don’t need very much oil paint to get a lot out of it, but I didn’t know that at the time.
MK: So a lot of lessons learned.
MB: Yes, many canvases that were scrapped (laughs).
MK: Did you keep anything from those days?
MB: I did. It’s been a while.
MK: Is it a little embarrassing to look at now? Many years have passed since then.
MB: Nope, I’m not embarrassed at all looking at my old artwork, because that’s where I started, and I really enjoy looking at the progress that I’ve made, and I think it’s a really nice reflection of what you can do when you have enough passion for something. I really believe that anybody can paint; I see a lot of people and think “Oh, I could never do that.” I just don’t think that’s true; you can, you absolutely can. I didn’t start off painting scenes as good as I do now, and I’m looking forward to the progress that I’m gonna make in the next ten years, but I tell people that you have to have a passion for it, and have a willingness to learn, and make mistakes, and to get past what I call the “ugly stage” of a painting, because there’s always an ugly stage to a painting. Every one. Every stage of a painting, I find, when most people get stuck, because they think “I hate this, this sucks, I can’t paint.” And then they stop. But no, that’s when you have to keep going. I feel like the uglier I find my ugly stage, the happier I am with the end result, because you just keep working at it until you really like it.
MK: That kind of advice seems so apparent in so many fields. As someone who’s starting a bit of exercise, I know that when I hit that hard point, you have to push through, because it’s the most important part. So with painting in oils, you’ve already said it’s hard. What’s so hard about oil painting? What did you find you struggled with the most?
MB: Well, unlike acrylics and watercolours, there are certain rules that you have to follow with oil paints, and if you don’t have that base knowledge to begin with, it’s going to be a trial-and-error sort of thing, and it is a trial and error for me to this day. Because everyone has their own way of doing things; different style, different ways you can incorporate these rules. But the basic ones are; you need paint fat over lean, so with thinner undercoat and with thicker overcoat, so you paint in layers, because that’s how you get the depth, so every coat that you put over the next layer has to be fatter with more oil involved in it. You also need to paint thick over thin, so as you have a thin layer, you can’t paint a thin layer over a thick layer, because oils don’t dry the same way that watercolours or acrylics do. They dry through a process called oxidation. So they just kind of harden; if there’s no water in there, they harden. So if you have a thin layer over a thick layer, that thin layer on top is going to harden first, and the thicker layer underneath is going to still be in that process, so those molecules are still going to be shifting, and if the thin layer is harden before the thicker layer underneath, then it’s going to crack the painting. So that’s a lesson I had to learn a few times before I understood.
MK: Did it happen a couple of times? You wondered what was going on?
MB: Yes, and then I looked it up and went “Oh, that’s why.” I needed to have thick over thin and fat over lean, and then it also has to be wet over dry. So if you have a painting that’s drier or has hardened first, then you can put a wet layer over top; same idea.
MK: I like how these things have slogan-ish phrases to them; much easier to remember. So did you get a chance to do formal training later on or has it always been your own self-training?
MB: It’s always been my own self-training. I did take a 3D art class in university, but that was more sculptures and buildings that we studied. It wasn’t so much visual art. I’ve thought about taking a professional course in painting, but I don’t know how much I would love doing a basket of fruit. I think I would be bored.
MK: Seems like the stereotypical early challenge for painters, isn’t it?
MB: Yes, I think so.
MK: So how did you challenge yourself to grow as a painter? And be able to self-learn? Was it different subjects or different mechanisms? What did you do?
MB: I think I just really have a strong passion for learning everything to do with art, so that’s always kept me going. I’m always looking for new techniques to try, I’m also looking to develop new styles, and through that I’ve kind of developed my own. I normally do water scenes; I have a few prints here, but I really love vivid colours and I love the ocean, so that’s kind of been the subject in most of my art more recently. So through trial-and-error and just developing my own styles, I’ve grown into the artist that I am now.
MK: What sort of style would you describe it as? How would you describe your paintings?
MB: I’m not really sure. I wouldn’t really fall under impressionist work or realism or anything like that. It’s more maybe semi-abstract, some of them.
MK: So you have some prints right here, and I thought they were photographs; they are absolutely vivid in capturing everything. Over here, I see water scenes. So is realism part of what you’re going for as far as capturing the moment?
MB: A little bit. I think I like the interaction between realism and abstract art. I like to have elements of both present in my paintings.
MK: Is that why the water attracts you so much? Because it’s not formless, but yet it is at the same time?
MB: Exactly. Ever-moving, ever-changing; you can do anything with it. The sea, to me, has always been close to my heart. I love being near the ocean, I love just being near water.
MK: Did you grow up near water?
MB: I didn’t, no. I grew up very much on the mainland, on a dairy farm, but every time I would visit the ocean, it would just feel like home to me, so I think that’s where my passion for paintings water scenes stems from.
MK: Another thing that immediately strikes me is the broad and vivid colour pattern you have. We think of the ocean and most people, right now, are picturing blue, as in the only colour that’s there. And while there’s a lot of blue in here, there’s many different shades of it, but you also have this interesting rainbow effect on a lot of these; sort of a horizon or sunset most likely, and then some green in the water. Are these images you’ve seen? Or is this how you imagine the scene?
MB: I think that’s my own personal touch on my ocean scenes. I love vivid colours, I love painting with a whole rainbow. I take a very intuitive approach to colour theory, so I don’t know much about the mechanics of colour theory, I just have paint on my pallet, and I go with what I feel should be. I love playing with light and different beams and where the sun would be hitting and how that would reflecting through the water and maybe what kind of colours might come out when the light hits the water and shines through. So that’s why I like to have vivid colours in there, in a different range. But I’ll try and make it complimentary as well.
MK: Well these are gorgeous. Are these particular places or were these of your mind?
MB: It’s just scenes that I thought of. I don’t really go down and take pictures and then use the picture as a reference. I just sort of paint from my brain I guess.
MK: Well your brain has a lot of pretty pictures, that’s for sure. So when you’re tackling this tryptic you want to build, are you thinking of the trees in a water-like way? The leaves and colour and all these things can meld together.
MB: Yeah, so I think this a point where I would really want to try something different and step out of my comfort zone with this piece. As you can see, I kind of have a light sketch of a woman there. It was kind of a last minute decision to add a person because I don’t really paint people.
MK: That’s something I hadn’t noticed in any of these so far; no people at all.
MB: No, not at all, I’ve never really painted a person. I’ve always wanted to; that’s something I feel is the next step in my journey through art is to learn how to paint people. I want to start incorporating them in my portfolios, and these pieces in particular… I just feel that we humans, as a collective, feel separate from nature and are always on our phones or at work and we’re busy and doing things, and we kind of don’t realize that we are a part of nature, and not separate from it. So I really want to incorporate a person in here and to be among the trees and the leaves and the branches, to kind of show that return to nature.
MK: It’s interesting that you have these wonderful pictures of oceans and water that inspire you; you’re here to paint trees, and the first thing you start with is a person. So is it that they trees are going to embrace the person? Essentially?
MB: Essentially, yes. That’s what I’m looking for. I’m painting on wooden canvases because I want these trees to have natural wood showing through.
MK: Would paint not obscure the grain of the wood?
MB: So with oil painting on a wooden canvas, you do have to be careful. As you can see, there are some white areas there; it’s where I crowned it to give the oil paint something to stick onto, otherwise it would just be absorbed into the canvas. I have two other canvases at home that are this size, which will be part of this painting; a 40” by 30” I believe.
MK: I was going to say, when you say this size they look substantially large; is that what you typically work on in this size?
MB: The largest painting I’ve done is 48” by 60”. That’s hanging in my living room right now, but I love working on huge canvases. I just feel like there’s so much room for creativity. And also, any mistakes that I make I can easily blend in and fix them on a bigger canvas as opposed to a smaller one.
MK: So are you here for one week or two?
MB: Just the one week
MK: So this is a pretty ambitious painting; not only one, but three.
MB: Yes, I’m gonna be working on this portion here. I have the two other canvases at home, which are just going to be the trees coming in to this one. I’m going to be working on those at home in the evenings and on this one while I’m here.
MK: So all of the time is spent painting. Is that what you prefer? Getting into the painting and then days will disappear and all of a sudden you have paintings?
MB: Yes, time seems to not exist while I’m painting. The difference between five minutes and ten hours is nothing to me. It’s funny because painting is one of those… I call it a “passion” because it truly is. It’s that time when time just doesn’t seem to exist; I don’t get hungry, I’m just in the zone, I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m just kind of letting my brain and my creativity do its thing.
MK: I hope someone stops by with a sandwich from time to time; the term “starving artist” isn’t meant to be taken too literally. So obviously the ocean inspires you, and colour inspires you. Are there particular other things that inspire you? Any particular painters or other paintings you’ve seen?
MB: Yes, my favourite artist of all time is Brad Kunkle. If you have a chance to look him up, his artwork is absolutely amazing. He does a lot of surreal works and so he’s kind of where I draw inspiration, from his stuff.
MK: Is he a contemporary artist?
MB: Yes, and I try to incorporate many elements of his into my own work, for this week.
MK: So this is a week if experimentation for you. And when you’re done with something like this, is this something you’re also looking to put on the living room wall or is it something that someone might take a shine to and put it on their’s?
MB: I rarely ever keep my own artwork. For me, it’s the process of creating. By the time I’m done with it, I’m sick of looking at it and just want someone to take it. So it’ll probably be up for sale.
MK: With the exception of the one you have in your living room. What’s that one look like?
MB: That one, I actually have an image of. So this piece that I have in my living room really spoke to me when I was done, and it’s something that… It’s the only piece that I’ve ever felt really connected to after I was finished painting it. Because once I’m finished painting a piece I typically feel like “Okay, my work is done, it can go to a new home now, it’s meant for somebody else.” But this was the first that I painted where, after I was done, it was meant for me, so I kept it.
MK: So it looks like a small sailing boat on the ocean, no sign of land anywhere, a brilliant sunset or sunrise, and again, your use of colour is amazing. It’s literally a rainbow of colour on this, especially the water and the clouds; it’s gorgeous. So, if people want to see more of what you’re doing or check up on an exhibition coming up, is there a place online that people can follow you?
MB: I have a Facebook page called Melanie Buyting Artworks. I have all of my artwork up on that page; I’m going to be developing a website; it’s not live yet, but once I do then I’ll post a link to that page as well so people can go online and order art if that want to. I also do commission works, so if that’s something that people are interested in, they can contact me and I’d be happy to work with you to do something personalized and customized.
MK: Well, I want to thank you very much. It’s beautiful work; I can’t imagine what the tryptic is going to look like in the end. Everybody should be looking forward to it. Thanks again, Melanie.
MB: Thanks very much, Mark.
Charlotte Simmons, FAA Summer Events Coordinator 2019