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12 Questions: Mel Kolstad


Mel Kolstad is an artist and an instructor working throughout the state of Wisconsin.  She has been an active member in the Wisconsin art scene since 2007, and has shown around the country and abroad since 2009.  She is also the curator of the Langdon Divers Gallery, located inside the Fond du Lac Public Library.  Mel enjoys working in mixed media, as there are so many wonderful techniques to be explored.  She will never stop learning. She makes her home in Fond du Lac with her husband Brian.

1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life?  

When I was 10, I got The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein for Christmas. At that point I was reading at a high school level, and was rather insulted when my mom and dad gave me a picture book. Of course, I couldn't really grasp the beauty and poignancy of that book then, but it's now one of my most treasured possessions.  My copy will be turning 40 (!) this Christmas, which blows my mind.

Even though I could read well, I didn't enjoy reading growing up because I equated it with work. But I loved Fifteen by Beverly Cleary! It was my mom's copy, and I must've read it 5 times as a teen. It's one of those wonderfully innocent books that still somehow captures the weirdness of puberty. I can picture that 1950s cover in my head as I type. :)

About 10 years ago, my mom (I'm sensing a theme here!) gave me her copy of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It sat on my shelf for a long time, because I didn't bother to read the back of the book to see what it was about (my mom was hugely into British mysteries and because of the title I just assumed it was another one). I'm so glad I gave it a shot, because it turned out to be my favorite novel of all time (up to this point, anyway). It made me really look at how we view gender in our culture, but this epic also delves into the history of Detroit and also what can happen when family secrets are kept secret for too long (or forever). It's a long one, but SO worth it.

2. What are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a series of monoprints for my upcoming show at Lakeshore Art Supplies in Sheboygan - it hangs on April 3, so I have to keep plugging away!  I'm creating them all with just fingerpainting and some additive/reductive techniques.

3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?

I wouldn't call it a "failure", but it was most certainly a major disappointment; last year, after a successful papermaking class as a teambuilding exercise for a large Wisconsin corporation, I volunteered to take the class's works and make another piece for that particular client. I don't normally do commissions, but I was feeling the love and decided to give it a go. Well, the client hated the piece I did and wrote me an email telling me so. When I profusely apologized and tried to make reparations for it, I never heard back. That was a blow to the ol' ego, for sure. But after about a month, I bounced back, vowing to never do another commission...until my in-laws asked me to do something for their new living room. Even though they're family, it was still nerve-wracking, but my mom in-law loved the pieces so much she got choked up. So that cured me - but I still don't do commissions. :)

4. What is your most unusual habit?

This is a hard one!  Okay, this is weird - so I love different body washes and shampoos, and have quite a collection in my shower.  I have this "rule" where I match the color of the shampoo/body wash bottle to whatever I'm wearing that day. I do this with my perfumes, too - if I'm wearing orange, I'll use my orange-bottled perfume.  It's about the only "orderly" thing I do!

5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?

This is probably super unoriginal, but I'd love to see how Picasso would've seen me!  It would've been so fun to delve into the explanation of why my two eyes were on both sides of my head, or how my right arm could bend that way. :D

6. What is the most indispensible item in your studio/workspace/office?

My presses!  I currently have four. (Yes, it's an illness.) I have a letterpress, an etching press, and two portable presses that I use for my classes. They completely changed my art!

7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?

I love the woods, so I will take walks on our many trails. I will also watch YouTube videos of various techniques I'm interested in learning, which is usually catalyst enough for me to snap out of it.  I did have a nearly year-long block, though, back in 2013 - but hindsight is 20-20 and I now realize it was because I was ready to move on to new ideas in my art. Not coincidentally, it was the same year I bought my first press.

8. What is the most life-changing thing you have bought for under 100 dollars in the last year?

My Rock n' Rolla multi-use cart!!  I got it for under $50 on Amazon but that thing hauls my art and my tents everywhere!  I just started doing the night market circuit last year so it's been invaluable.  Before that, when I'd deliver work it would be just me, hauling it.  Why it took me so long to work smart, and not hard, is beyond me.

9. Do you collect anything?

It would probably be easier to list the things I DON'T collect! Since I am a collagist, I collect all manner of collage fodder - lots of vintage stuff like tickets, labels, magazines, newspapers, invoices, telegrams....but I also collect decorative papers from around the world. For a while I collected fountain pens, but I wasn't using them so it seemed like a waste.  I still collect stamps, too, which was my earliest collection (begun when I was 7). Also - see question #4.  :D

10. What words of advice would you give to your younger self?

STOP WORRYING. Everything has a way of working out. (I could give this advice to myself currently, too.)

11.  In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?

This may seem like a "duh" to many readers, but since in late 2016 I started getting really serious about treating my art like a real business.  I don't know why it clicked then, because I've been a full-time artist since January of 2010, but I'm so glad it did. I now keep detailed records of every transaction and reconcile my income and expenses. It's one of those practices that takes some time - actually, quite a bit of time and diligence - but a bonus effect is that it has made me a more serious artist. I also spend way less on supplies now and try to figure out how I can create with less, which has made me think more creatively.

12. Share an inspiring image.

​Here is my niece Mia at the Paralympics in Peongchang a week ago.  She is only 18, has only been skiing for three years, and still made the Nordic Ski Team, competing for the US.  She was diagnosed with Stargardt's Disease (juvenile macular degeneration) when she was 12, and had to give up the cello and figure skating, two things she loved.  But instead of giving up completely, she used her adversity and with the encouragement of my sister, brother in-law and other amazing niece (shown here - sorry for two images!), along with her CXC group in Madison, she's now totally killing it on the world stage.  I'm so inspired by her!!


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