Meet Melanie Macilwain: A Blaze of Colour
Combining colours, lines and shapes to form patterns has been a consistent and successful recipe for visual artist, Melanie Macilwain, but painting was not her first career path. Initially, she studied environmental management and later became a teacher before being drawn into the world of art.

Recently, Melanie had a virtual exchange with our blog editor, Jacqui Taylor and it was here she shared her passion for blazers, which also happens to be the theme of her upcoming collection for Nerida Hansen Fabrics. She also touches on her biggest inspirations, her own expectations and living in a peaceful, fishing town.

Hi Melanie, lovely to chat with you. Could you give us a little insight into yourself? Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
My name is Melanie Macilwain. I am 33 years of age and I live in Port Fairy in the South West of Victoria with my husband Tyson and son Hugh. 

As a youngster I grew up in Ocean Grove near Geelong. I was raised by my mum and I also have a brother. We came from a very tight knit family who immigrated from Croatia in the 1960s. It felt like a normal childhood. Parent working hard, sibling issues, grandparents saving the day and imagination at its peak.

When did you start work as an artist?
I started making works consciously whilst teaching primary and secondary school children art in Melbourne. As an art teacher people would inquire if I could make something for them or a friend. After word of mouth it was then in the hands of the Instagram gods. 

Could you tell us about your style? Have you always had this style or has it evolved/changed over time?
My style hasn't always been the same and I don't think it will. I love mark making and when I was first asked to work for a gallery it was very loose. It was really good work but as a very ad hoc person by nature I garner control in art and realised that soon after. I now have much more structure in my paintings and it quiets my mind. I suppose in a reverse way that creativity will allow freedom for others that live by strict routine. 

What is your creative process? Do you have any 'must dos'?
My creative process is to start the night before. I clean my brushes, I lay out the equipment I need and I have a good sleep. I might do some research reading and listening about artworks created by other well-known artists. If I listen to a podcast I find a confidence in comradery that others have similar challenges. I hope to de-load all the insecurities the night before and go about my day about 10.00am in the morning after I have had a coffee and walk with my family. 
What have been some challenges you have faced as an artist? What has changed for you due to COVID-19?
There are lots! It might be feedback, business management, sales etc. But to be honest the only challenges faced are the ones I create myself. My expectations need to be checked constantly. Are they my own? Will they set me up for success or are they someone elses and am I living the expectations someone else has upon me? 

During COVID that story has been similar. Work has slowed down somewhat but I have looked at it as a luxury to have some time away, to look away from the ordinary and to find another challenge. 

When and how did you meet Nerida Hansen?
I have connections in Barwon Heads where I knew Nerida had a business but Nerida reached out to introduce herself and we began a business relationship from there. She was easy to talk to, open to ideas and promoted my creativity. It's always easier to work with someone that lets you go with trust. It takes away the four walls that pigeon hole creativity at the very worst time – deadline time. 

What is the title of your designs for Nerida Hansen Fabrics? Talk about what has inspired this body of work.
I had a painting called Blazers of Henley and that painting set the scene for all the artworks. The book Rowing Blazers by Jack Carlson was a book I had looked through and a blazer I had loved was called The Woman's Corquet Blazer. Blazers are a huge part of the rowing culture and a sport I love. Henley Regatta on the Thames River is also a bucket list event I would love to attend and the colours of this particular blazer is what I imagine my eyes would be spoiled to if I had the opportunity to go. 
What is a typical day for you? What do you do outside of work?
Port Fairy is a quiet fishing town. Everything is in walking distance so that is all I do with my eight month old son and husband. In the morning we have breakfast, then we all go (including the dog) to the local coffee shop, we head off to the harbour and then the beach and back home. The rest of the day we set up an obstacle course to keep a crawler amused until 5.00pm where we let the dog off at the beach again and watch the sun go down. Then at night we settle in to a local beer or wine with dinner and hit the couch. It's a dream to live here. 

Who has inspired you the most to date and why?
My biggest inspiration is still my grandparents. They taught me that hard work beats talent. They encouraged and invited me to help them cook, bake, create woodwork, garden and explore the adult world. I gained a lot of knowledge fast by making plenty of mistakes.

What would be your dream project?
Well, having people wear/use my art from Nerida Hansen Fabrics is it but another project would be a community project in the city of Melbourne. Somewhere people can walk past, maybe a mural or sculpture. I would hope they can feel an energy from my work to set a great day ahead. What a privilege!

What is in the pipeline for you?
I have spent this year collaborating with artists to develop in ways I can't on my own. I think the beauty of individuals is that we all work from different angles and it gives me new and fresh perspectives. 

What is your mantra?
I don't have a mantra but I do have a quote by Andy Warhol, “Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

What advice would you offer to those that are starting out as artists?
My above quote would be sufficient but also, don't be afraid to ask other artists if you can't solve a problem. There are a lot of really great artists, galleries, businesses out there who want to help you, and want to pass on knowledge. No-one makes it alone so jump in and wave a flag every now and again. 

Melanie's works are now available at www.neridahansen.com.au.


Words by Jacqui Taylor

@melanie_macilwain