The first time I got the chance to admire Melanie Steinway’s work was a couple of years ago, during my time working at Ozo Coffee – a staple Boulder business that seeks to support its local community in several ways. I showed up to work at the shop to find fantastical, visceral creatures burned into the wood of sliced trees and guitars adorning the walls. They seemed so alive, as if the artist had somehow burned souls into the inanimate creatures.
The second time I experienced Melanie’s work was a few months later at a RAW: natural born artists event at Boulder’s own Absinthe House. This small waif of a woman with wispy hair carried a humble smile upon her face and sat at a table behind a display of pendant necklaces carved from deer antlers. She was waiting for her band to be called to the stage – then called Howl Moonshine Howl (since disbanded). When she took to the stage, she commanded an honest and candid presence that struck the crowd’s attention by heart and soul.
The energetic connection between all of Melanie’s work paints an impressive portrait of a creative soul. It is obvious that there is a force driving the visual into the musical back into the visual into words into something indescribably interactive and all of this culminates as an expression of something underivative and visceral – something completely authentic and engaging. So when I heard that Melanie was beginning a career in tattoo artistry at Urban Element Tattoo in Denver, it felt like a consummation was coming to hand of everything that Melanie’s work could be; becoming something personal shared with the individual, a transfer of spirit. It felt right.
This week I have the privilege of not only introducing some of Melanie’s own favorite works – including those that sparked her unique stylistic path – but also that of digging deeper into the methods and mind behind them. Check out more of Melanie’s work and follow her future projects on Facebook, Tumblr, and at her domain melaniesteinway.com. Without further ado, Melanie Steinway:
LMB: Melanie, can you tell me what inspires you to create?
MS: A large part of my creation process dwells in a very quiet, primitive part of my brain. It’s instinctual, and strange creatures have been emerging from my hands since a very young age. While middle schoolers were trying on make-up for the first time and finding their clique, I had my eyes out the window, flying amongst strange beasts who knew me so much better. I think a large part of my inspiration comes from growing up in Colorado, where I spent a lot of time tromping alone or with my younger sister barefoot through the pine needles. I was always a dragon and she was always a unicorn. I grew up owning a myriad of small animals, including mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, even a ferret at one point. When I was three or so, I thought I was a dog, and my mom would catch me eating the dog food and running around on all fours. I have occasional dreams still of being an animal – I’ve swam as a seal, howled as a wolf, and soared many a time as a bird. There’s something really fascinating about living according to instinct – this absolutely silent knowledge of what to do that we lack so hugely in our over-evolved state. Some of the emotion in my artwork comes from my love of music as well. There’s a similarity between the feeling of playing music on stage in a band and flying as a bird. That level of synergy is almost sacred in its purity.
LMB: Beautiful. And can you talk about how your work interacts with the world?
MS: For a long time I kept my work to myself. In middle and high school I got into digital artwork, coloring my linework in Photoshop and posting to communal gallery sites like Deviantart. In 2008 I traveled east to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, where I was surrounded by eccentric, brilliant creatives that I really jived with. Here was somewhere you could be yourself. For a couple years the creatures got pushed back in favor of tedious figure drawings and perspective studies, where the charcoal never really left underneath your fingernails. Towards the second half of my RISD attendance I discovered woodburning via a classmate who had used the woodburning tool for a project. I stuck with the medium and spent most of my final year there figuring out how to ideally use the medium in my style. The potential for this medium catapulted into the classroom with two pieces; “The Antlers” and “I Am (Surrender)”. People were impressed and this was the beginning of, “hey, I think I’m on to something here”. These two pieces took people somewhere else. Someone will walk up and say, “I know that feeling”. Around graduation in 2012 I started woodburning on musical instruments, which was a big leap for my exposure. After a couple warm-up instruments I collaborated with Fender Guitars on two acoustic guitars that were on display at NAMM, an annual musical instrument convention in Anaheim, CA (and a large one at that). My woodburning work was starting to get attention. So many people were unfamiliar with and curious about this medium. Last October I had the pleasure of woodburning a telecaster for Ritzy of The Joy Formidable, which felt pretty good. Seeing her play it on stage felt REALLY good. Very recently, my artwork has taken another leap in its worldly interaction via tattooing. Art can’t interact with people much more personally than that. I had been designing tattoos for people for a few years and a few of them were like, hey, you’d probably be really good at this, you should ink people too. So, now I do. It’s an incredibly satisfying and humbling experience to work with people on that level. A great teacher that I had at RISD, I just realized, foresaw pretty much all of this happening. He would refer to me as an aspiring tattoo artist before I even really realized I wanted to do it. He told me that all of these different mediums for my work traced back to the same life force, and that they would all converge again, somehow, in some form. They’re all part of one big picture. I’m not sure if I’ve quite figured out what that big picture is, but I’m starting to get some sort of idea. A medium is just that; a medium. The physical material you use to manifest something greater. Regardless of the way my artwork choses to take form, it’s all striving towards the same perfect, primal energy. Like the way it feels to fly.
Melanie’s winning entry in The Antlers’ poster design contest for their newest album, “Familiars”, released in June.
Melanie’s 2nd place entry in Young the Giant’s poster contest from March for album “Mind Over Matter”.
“Youth” – Woodburning and white pencil on cedar, inspired by the song “Youth” by Daughter.
“I Am (Surrender)” – one of the woodburning pieces that sparked Melanie’s unique stylistic path.
“The Antlers” – the second woodburning piece that sparked Melanie’s stylistic path.
Back view of personal woodburned Fender telecaster. (Photo credit to Ian Glass.)
Front view of personal woodburned Fender telecaster. (Photo credit to Ian Glass.)
Bison Skull Guitar collaboration with Born Guitars of Broomfield, CO.
“Creator/Destroyer” – Woodburning, wood stain, paint, mixed media on pine.
“Dog String Bird” – Drawing.
Durer’s Rhinocerous – Tattoo on bicep. Courtesy of Josh Berntsen.