Artist Journey: Melanie Demmer
last updated 27 April 2020
Bright artist Melanie Demmer can remember drawing ever since she was old enough to put crayon to paper. Nowadays, Melanie typically works digitally but also enjoys illustrating with watercolor, markers, colored pencils, acrylic paint, and sometimes a pinch of glitter too! Always a joy to collaborate with, her cheerful personality translates through her charming, playful illustration style.
Since joining Bright in 2017, Melanie has enjoyed working on a wide variety of children’s publishing projects, recently landing a dream job of illustrating The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary, publishing September 29, 2020 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It was an absolute delight to catch up with Melanie about this exciting project as well as her journey to becoming an illustrator.
We’d love to know more about your path to becoming an artist! Did you know from a young age that art was something that would be very important to you?
Absolutely! I’ve basically been drawing since I could hold a crayon in my hand. As a little girl, I spent countless summer days covering my parent’s driveway in colorful chalk doodles. I’m very fortunate because creativity was a constant part of my childhood. I had wonderful art programs at the schools I attended. During the summers, I went to a sleep-away camp with this fantastic arts and crafts room where I spent time painting, working with clay, tie-dying shirts, and making jewelry as well as candles! My creativity was supported and encouraged at home, even when I made a mess.
I love to share my path to becoming a professional artist because everyone’s journey is so unique and personal. I attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan where I earned my BFA in Illustration in 2013. From there, I spent a few years trying on different hats in the design world; I did some editorial illustration then went into apparel design. After that I worked retail at a craft store as I continued building up my portfolio. Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles where I worked as a designer in animation for a little while before joining Bright.
I used to feel very self-conscious and anxious about my journey because I struggled for years to find what felt like the right fit for me. But looking back, even though I wasn’t always sure where my path would lead, the things I learned along the way were certainly preparing me for what was ahead. I keep a note to myself taped to my desktop monitor that says “comparison is the thief of joy” to remind myself to honor my own pace and direction.
How has joining Bright in 2017 shaped your journey as an illustrator?
Becoming a Bright artist has changed everything for me. The first time I walked into a bookstore and picked up a book I illustrated off the shelf I went from “well, I’m figuring it out” to “wow, I’m actually doing it!” (It was A Place for Pluto, written by Stef Wade and published by Capstone.) It’s a very humbling experience when your childhood wish becomes a reality. I’m incredibly grateful that because of Bright, I get to work for awesome clients and on dream projects while supporting myself financially with my artwork.
Interior artwork from A PLACE FOR PLUTO, published by Capstone
As an illustrator, I love variety and enjoy that children’s books cover so many different subjects! I often get to tweak my style to adapt to the needs of a specific project which is challenging but also really fun. It’s a special thing when you get to enjoy what you do for a living. Working with Bright has made me feel confident, comfortable, and proud on a personal level too. I feel incredibly supported creatively, respected and valued professionally, and I enjoy feeling connected to a wonderful team even though I work remotely. That has motivated me to push myself creatively and dream up even more goals!
How would you describe your style, and do you have any favorite subjects to illustrate or dream projects/characters?
That’s always been a tricky question for me! I think my style is playful and colorful with a hint of texture! I like to strike a balance of crispness and softness, though I’m partial to round, friendly shapes especially when designing characters! I absolutely love drawing animals. My favorite personal day activity is going to the zoo to sketch loose gestures. Animals can be such fun shapes! Come to think of it, I also really enjoy doodling funky cars and vehicles as well, but animals are my #1 go to.
In terms of dream characters or projects… I think it would be a blast to illustrate a book about dinosaurs and maybe something ridiculously hairy, like bigfoot or an overly fluffy raccoon. I’d also love to write and illustrate a published children’s book someday!
You have an exciting new picture book, The Office: A Day at Dunder Mifflin Elementary, debuting September 29th! As a fan of the show, what was your reaction when you learned about the project? Has this been a bit of a dream project for you?
Oh my gosh, I was ecstatic to even be considered for the project. I got to sketching character designs right away! (Well, after I ran around my apartment and hugged my very bewildered cat of course.) It’s very much been a dream project for me, one I didn’t realize would ever exist and that I’m still pinching myself over!
The iconic NBC TV series, The Office, will celebrate it’s 15th anniversary in time with the debut of THE OFFICE: A DAY AT DUNDER MIFFLIN ELEMENTARY
What was your experience while adapting the adult characters to their picture book counterparts? Was there an element of research (a necessary binge watch of all 9 seasons, perhaps?) that went into the creative process, and were there any challenges you faced?
Adapting adult characters was a bit tricky because they are just that, characters! It’s not drawing a particular actor as they were as a child, it’s reimagining the adult characters as little versions of the cast we fans know and love. Because the characters are so iconic, it wasn’t too hard to come up with outfits, props, and poses that captured their personalities. I spent the most time working on their faces and hairstyles to ensure each character was very recognizable but also charming.
THE OFFICE: A DAY AT DUNDER MIFFLIN ELEMENTARY, publishes September 29, 2020 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I primarily used image searches to gather reference photos of the cast and locations during the initial design process. It was immensely helpful to be a fan of the show because I knew what I was looking for inspiration and reference wise. I think the most challenging aspect was adapting the vibe of the physical office space and building into something that would be classic but also new, colorful, and welcoming. The details were so important for me to get correct, the windows had to match the iconic exterior of the building, the front entrance and parking lot needed to look right. After I completed the artwork for the book, I did celebrate by binging The Office yet again!
What is your ideal environment for creating, and how does your studio look nowadays?
I just relocated to Salt Lake City from Los Angeles, and I have a dedicated studio space in my apartment! My desk is large so I can spread out because space is something that helps me get into a relaxed and creative zone. One of my favorite details in my studio is a colorful rug that reminds me of an abstract painting because it makes me feel artist-y and really ties the space together. My space also has lots of bins, folders, and drawers for my supplies to ensure I stay organized and things are easy to find! Clutter really hinders my creativity.
Melanie’s home workspace and studio assistant, Pepper
My studio assistant (my cat, Pepper,) likes to get in on the action by laying across whatever I’m working on so that keeps things interesting! She recently was given her own “office” in my bookcase to supervise from. I primarily work on Cintiq but I’ve been getting into doing more work on my iPad pro this past year. As much as I love color and painting (digitally and traditionally) nothing beats the feeling of a pencil on a sketchbook for me so that’s where most of my projects start. It’s not always easy to feel creative or productive at home, so taking walks and getting outside often keep me feeling inspired. In the future, I’m looking forward to joining a coworking space so I can make art alongside other creative individuals a few days a week.
View Melanie’s full portfolio here.