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Growing Inspiration with Melissa Eckstrom

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

It's a new year! Have you freshened up your creative space? Busted out a brand new set of colored pencils? Set some lofty creative goals for the new year? Well, if you're looking for some artsy inspiration to ring in 2021, do I have just the thing! It's time to do some studio snooping...

Our first studio "visit" of 2021 takes us to Arizona, where gardener, educator, and artist Melissa Eckstrom carves out her space to create! Originally from Philadelphia, Melissa juggles her love for the outdoors, agriculture, activism, and art- showing us all how to be multi-passionate like a boss.

I first met Melissa in the Caribbean, where she was working as an agriculture and environment educator for the US Peace Corps in Jamaica. With her doodle-skills and her passion for growing things, Melissa infused her international work with her artistic sensibilities to build connections, educate others, and endear herself to everyone she met (including me.) She created fun, educational materials and shared her experiences living and working in Jamaica on her blog, complete with cartoons!

Melissa now lives in Arizona with her partner and all her plants, and continues to spread her love for gardening and the environment as an educator at the local nature center, bringing her own artistic flourish, of course. She shares her garden-inspired artwork via her website, Vermicontent (adapted from "vermicompst." See photo above.) and in her Etsy shop.

Even as a kiddo, Melissa says she was always creative and had a variety of interests.

I was a goofy kid. I was into drawing, writing short stories, reading, and watching cartoons. I distinctly remember obsessively drawing Sailor Moon in MS Paint on a Windows 95 PC!

Photo of artist, Melissa Eckstrom, as a teenager.
Portrait of the Artist as a young girl

Art fell onto the back burner as she grew up, but came to the fore once again as a high school student.

I spent a lot of days cutting high school, going downtown, and reading comics [...] I was a pretty terrible student in high school, but I will say my art class brought me a lot of joy.

When college rolled around, Melissa had the opportunity to study art and design, but instead chose to take classes locally, and discovered her love for gardening and agriculture. Which really just goes to show that there's room for all the things you love in life, when you give them time and space.

"Art will always be a part of my life. Sometimes I get into a daily practice, sometimes I go weeks without so much as a sketch. Sometimes I take classes in my community, sometimes I do my own thing. What doesn’t change is my need to make art. I need that space to retreat to and definitely see it as a form of meditation."

When it comes to her studio, Melissa is a pro at making it work with what she's got.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment with my partner, so I put my art space in the corner where it fits. I’m not too picky and still piecing together what an art space means to me.

Before scoring some finds via Facebook, Melissa says she was working on a mini-folding table. Pretty impressive, if you ask me.

I’m just so grateful that I have a corner that exists to make art. I do love me a draftin’ table, and I have a sentimental T-square that has moved with me for over ten years.

When it comes to tools, Melissa says a scanner is a must-have. Not only does this suit her preference for sketching out comics and finishing them in Photoshop, but it also allows her to save her artwork in a digital form when life gets a bit crazy.

I am definitely messy. Then I reach a tipping point and deep clean the entire space. Then comes another mess…rinse and repeat.

If I’m starting a bigger project, I always clean my desk first. Sometimes it’s a form of procrastination and sometimes it’s a task to do while I consider the project more.

Watercolor and ink are my favorite mediums, so I definitely keep those front and center in my work space.

One thing she doesn't keep in her space? Glitter.

I’ve worked too many summer camps where it has gotten everywhere...forever...

Melissa has no trouble staying inspired and keeping those creative juices flowing. She takes a lot of inspiration from everyday life, and if the beautiful veggies, sumptuous florals, and adorable insects in her work are any indication, she takes inspiration from the garden especially. Melissa surrounds herself with illustrated books and comics, and keeps motivated by listening to podcasts about other artists.

My very favorite thing to do (which is not possible right now in the pandemic) is browse the library!

I also get a lot of ideas while I am riding my bicycle, I suppose because it's entering a mental state where ideas come---much like washing the dishes or taking a shower! Many thanks for letting us have a peek into your creative space, Melissa, (and for being brave enough to show it in it's raw and messy glory!)

If you, like me, dream of spring throughout the winter, you can follow Vermicontent on Instagram and Facebook, where Melissa shares the bounty of the garden- both the artistic and the edible.

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