ESPP Artist Interview: Melissa Washburn

Artist Melissa Washburn's studio

Artist and bird enthusiast Melissa Washburn created Endangered Species Print Project's very first woodcut print - a Hine's emerald dragonfly and she hand-colored the emerald eyes on each and every one of her prints!

Melissa Washburn is an artist, illustrator, and graphic designer based in Northwest Indiana. She grew up in upstate New York, but has lived in the Midwest since 1996. Her work encompasses watercolor, mixed media, collage, printmaking, and digital work, and her favorite subjects are things that run, fly, or grow. Melissa is also co-founder of CSA Valpo, a unique local art buying program.

And... she designs trilobite fabric patterns so we know you will love her!

Molly: Melissa, you chose the Hine’s emerald dragonfly for your ESPP print. What drew you to this species?

Melissa: The initial conversations I had with ESPP were about some of my recent insect art, so as I started to research endangered insects I wanted to choose something that people would respond positively to AND that I was excited about portraying. Dragonflies are beautiful, have complex anatomy, and are incredibly beneficial in terms of controlling pests such as mosquitoes. This particular species also lives in the Midwest, which is where I live too.

Molly: What was your process for creating your print?

Melissa: I started out by reading a bit about the species and looking at LOTS of reference photos. Many dragonfly species look very similar, so I had to figure out how to add something to make this piece truly represent the Hine’s Emerald Dragonfly. The most striking feature of this insect is the bright green color on its eyes and sides. Hand-coloring a black and white print seemed to be a good solution. My printmaking process involves lots of drawings, often piecing them together either physically, collage-style, or in Photoshop, to arrive at a final composition. Once I am happy with the drawing, I transfer it to the wood block and begin cutting. Next comes the process of test printing, refining the image by cutting away more/adding detail where needed, and then printing the full edition of the final image.

Molly: Have you had any exciting animal encounters recently?

Melissa: Yes! In addition to insects, I get very excited about birds, and I live in an area along the south shore of Lake Michigan that is visited by hundreds of species of migratory birds annually. I was able to go to a couple of events during the recent Indiana Dunes Birding Festival including a birdwatching hike where I saw about 10 new (to me) species including some beautiful warblers and a yellow-headed blackbird, quite rare for this area.
Molly: Neat! When I lived in Chicago I was amazed by how many migratory birds can be seen in the region. I've seen 3 different species of owls along the lakefront! 
Besides birding what have you been working on lately? 
Melissa: I’m participating again this year in Elle Luna’s 100 Day Project on Instagram, and have been sharing daily pen portraits of people whose work and/or life I admire. You can find me on Instagram at @mwashburnart and search the #100daysproject to see some of the fantastic projects other artists are sharing.

Queen of Clubs from Melissa's animal playing cards project

Molly: Yes I've been enjoying seeing your daily portraits! It's fun to see who you select to draw. 100 days is a lot of work- my 100 day project has temporarily fizzled due to my own project overload. So well done and keep up the good work!
Ok, I like asking everyone this: If money and accessibility were no object and you could go on a nature exploration anywhere in the world- where would you go?

Melissa: The Galapagos Islands, and Colombia. I had the opportunity to spend a week in Medellin, Colombia, last summer for a wedding, and just scratched the surface of this beautiful country. It boasts more bird species than any other country on earth, and a birding tour there would be absolutely amazing.

Molly: As an ESPP artist you obviously are passionate about conservation. What drives you to care about conserving the natural world, why is it important to you personally?

Melissa: I grew up in the foothills of the Adirondacks in upstate New York, and camping and hiking trips with my family were an early point of exposure and learning about nature. I’ve just always been fascinated with/curious about plants and animals, being able to identify them, and of course enjoying their formal qualities as an artist. Living near Lake Michigan as an adult has been amazing because it is an area of incredible biodiversity and also has a long history of push and pull between environmental concerns and industrial ones. The natural world connects us to something larger than ourselves and preserving it is critical to not just our enjoyment, but our quality of life and our own survival as a species.

A work in progress from Melissa's studio
Thanks so much to Melissa for creating such a great piece for Endangered Species Print Project! We only have 50 of Melissa's hand-colored woodcut dragonfly prints on masa rice paper available. 50% of the sale of each print is donated to The Wetlands Initiative. You can get yours here.

Melissa's Hine's Emerald dragonfly for Endangered Species Print Project


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