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Humans and all types of critters are featured in local artist’s paintings
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Humans and all types of critters are featured in local artist’s paintings

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Crows tend to show up in many of artist Melanie Troutman-Williams’ paintings.

Her love for them started at a very early age.

Years ago, when she was a child growing up in Greensboro, a friendly crow visited her backyard.

Troutman-Williams said her mother sent her outside to the backyard and told her she would be there in a minute.

“She was going to bring like sunscreen and probably Kool-Aid or something like that,” Troutman-Williams said.

When she went outside, she noticed a crow sitting in the backyard.

“I walk up to it slowly and it just sits there and stares at me,” Troutman-Williams said. “I pet its little head and sit there for a little bit. ... I was able to pet it, and it was comfortable around me. It was sitting there like no fear and no anything.”

But, as soon as her mother came outside, she said, the crow flew away.

“I’ve always liked them,” Troutman-Williams, an animal and nature lover, said of crows. “I actually have a tattoo of one.”

She creates paintings, primarily in oil and acrylic, from animal portraits to human portraits.

One of her latest pieces in progress is a painting that she keeps coming back to in between other projects.

So far, in her painting, two crows are sitting on a tree, which she describes as a tree of life.

“It’s just kind of a depiction of how we transition through our lives,” Troutman-Williams said. “It’s going to be almost seasonal — spring to fall to winter.”

Q: How would you describe your art?

Answer: My work is usually but not limited to, representational. I paint in acrylic or oil paint on canvas or wood panel. Pet portraits are popular, but I paint humans as well. It depends on the project I’m working on, and I welcome commission work. I use color, expression and composition, to evoke calm, humor or happiness. These three things appeal to me, and I often incorporate them. I do use different styles from time to time. These styles are either a more traditional approach with a subtle color palette or a graphic-design style. This started after my “Doggone” series of dog blocks for Art-o-mat became popular. People wanted their pets painted in the same style with bright colors and white outline.

Q: How have you evolved as an artist?

Answer: You change, and your artwork changes with you. Years ago, I was studying classical art in college and trying to find my voice as an artist. After graduating, I worked different jobs and painted on the side. Then for a few years I did not paint at all due to health conditions. It was the worst time of my life. So when I decided to get a studio in the Arts District and paint full time, I felt like I was picking up from where I left off in college. This time, though, I knew more about myself. Now, I am more confidant in my work. I am not caught up in having a signature style or sticking to one theme. I start different series, I take on commissioned work, enter shows and challenge myself more. After all of this, I have come to the same outlook I had as a child. Paint what you want.

Q: Who has influenced your art?

Answer: I was fortunate enough to grow up with art around me. My grandfather, artist Frans vanBergen, was a huge influence on me. I would watch him paint in his studio, and he would let me use some of his supplies when I visited. Other artists such as Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent are some of my favorites. Their color palette choices and sense of calm are gorgeous.

People in the Downtown Arts District have also influenced and inspired me. Organizations and galleries like the Downtown Arts District Association, Art for Art’s Sake, Studio 7, Delurk Gallery and Associated Artists of Winston-Salem have given me several opportunities to show my work and meet artists who are doing wonderful things. We challenge and support each other.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

Answer: For me and so many others, it’s chronic pain. It sucks the life right out of you. The smallest tasks can seem impossible at times. Realistically there are some things that I’m not capable of doing anymore. On the plus side, it has taught me to prioritize my energy and time. I’ve learned to only take on projects that I really want to do and rest when I need to. It’s OK to say no and not over extend yourself. I will not sign my name to a project unless I can give 100 percent.

Q: What does art do for you?

Answer: Well, especially after these past few years, SANITY! Something that I love became a form of therapy. Art has helped me deal with chronic pain, the pandemic and other topics for another time. I look at my artwork and process in two ways. One is an escape. While painting I use color and subject matter to get out of my head and focus on something else. The second is channeling, taking all of the stress and whatever emotion I’m feeling and getting it out onto the canvas. When things come together, it’s magic. You have lost track of time and things going on around you.

Q: Any advice for other artists?

Answer: These will read as cliché, but I live by them. Create whenever you can and as often as you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect or profound. Don’t wait for the perfect time. You need to create at your worst and your best. During difficult times use your talents to make life more livable if not joyful. You will find your audience.

Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in Relish. Send your story ideas to fdaniel@wsjournal.com or call 336-727-7366.

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