By Madison Blair
Photos by Lindsey Culver
As a child, Melanie Morris’s mom sat her in front of a tree with a pencil, a piece of paper and one simple instruction: draw the tree. Even as her work has evolved, traces of nature can be seen in her art, spanning from colorful florals to landscape paintings.
Her art encapsulates the beauty of the places she’s traveled, from rocky coastlines to quaint coastal cottages. “I’ll paint from a photo when I get back [from traveling]. I usually look for a scene that has really nice strong light and shadows,” she says. Melanie has been inspired by places from coast to coast, from Big Sur to Acadia National Park to Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Each of her floral pieces, on the other hand, are painted from bouquets of fresh flowers that she arranges herself. Set up in a still-life before her, she captures the bright tones of each petal in every brushstroke.
Looking back though, Melanie wore a lot of hats before finally settling on being an artist. She started out pre-med in college, changed majors a couple of times and ended up getting a degree in communications with a minor in graphic design. “It turns out when I have my blood taken, I practically pass out, so I thought maybe pre-med wasn’t the best option,” she says with a laugh.
After working for years in healthcare marketing and advertising, Melanie’s husband suggested that she take some art classes. She enjoyed it so much that she ended up going back to school for painting. “I didn’t want another degree. So I just audited whatever art classes I wanted to, and that’s how I got into painting,” she says.
Today, 20 years have passed since Melanie’s first art lesson. Since then, she has been selling her art online and teaching online painting lessons.
Over the years, Melanie has learned what works and what doesn’t. For her that always means painting with acrylics. “I’m allergic to oil paint. I found that out the hard way when I was back at school,” she says with a laugh. She usually sticks florals and landscapes, all complete with muted shades of pinks, blues and greens. Melanie is inspired by other painters, too. Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Hopper, and Wayne Thiebaud are some of her favorites.
Her art has also become more abstracted over the years, more dreamlike and whimsical with every brushstroke. “I think that you become more confident the more you paint, and you don’t feel as wed to things,” she says.
In addition to painting, Melanie also teaches art classes everywhere from Elizabeth Hubbard’s Studio on Linden in Homewood to the Hudson River Valley Art Workshop in New York. She’s been teaching online courses for a little over a year now and has attracted students from all over the world. “The last time I launched it, I had people from 14 countries,” she says, noting how classes combine skills she learned in advertising and painting expertise.
Though she started her art career, she’s found a love for teaching as well. “I love to take a concept that’s a little complicated and make it so people can understand it,” she says. “I like to encourage them, to see where they go from maybe walking in a little scared to leaving the class feeling really comfortable and happy with what they painted.”
The support of the Homewood community is key for her as well. “Before COVID, I taught a lot of [in-person] workshops. A lot of people from Homewood would take my classes. Sometimes, they’ll come by and see what I’m painting.” Locally, here work can be found in the new Valley Hotel in Homewood and the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
With her work comes the need for balance, which comes in the form of having a separate space for her art from her Homewood home. She recently moved from the studio she had in Homewood for nine years into a new studio in Mountain Brook, where she has plenty of space to teach online classes and paint. She treats art like a regular job, always being sure to leave it behind in her studio when the day is done. “I think when you work for yourself and do something you really love, it doesn’t feel like work,” she says.
Looking forward, Melanie hopes to incorporate a landscape course into her teaching and to start selling prints of her paintings. “My goal is for when people see my work, they know it’s mine,” she says. “I try to bring my personality and my experiences to my work, and I think that really shows.”
Find Melanie’s art on melaniemorrisart.com or follow her on Instagram @melaniemorrisart.