Suzy Mellott doesn’t take things at face value, especially not when it has to do with her art. To have her artwork tell a tale, the artist likes to get to know her subjects before putting paint to canvas.
“I like to know their personality, because I’m trying to capture it on canvas, whether it’s a dog or a person. I’m trying to tell a story, but mostly I just want to celebrate beauty and joy,” says Mellott, who wields her paintbrush in a flurry of color and beautiful brush strokes.
“A lot of times I’ll paint something that we’ve all done. That’s what’s compelling to me. It may be a family on the beach or a girl riding a bike,” she says. “I want to paint portraits that are more atmospheric. I’m hoping to find a niche and tell more of a story by shying away from the traditional posed portrait and instead, painting people doing what they love.”
Given the dedicated fan base and stream of portrait commissions she has underway, the approach is working.
Mellott’s family began vacationing in Vero Beach when she was 10 years old and later she and husband John, former publisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continued the tradition with their own family. They purchased a home in Vero 10 years ago, after he retired, and began splitting their time between the two states. The couple recently moved into a new home at Palm Island Plantation.
Mellott initially met Palm House Gallery & Studio owner Emily Tremml while out walking her dog, and fate brought them together again at a class Tremml taught at Quail Valley. The gallery had recently opened and Tremml invited her to join the studio’s other artists.
Having dabbled in various mediums over the years – first watercolors and then pastels – she eventually decided her strength lay in oil paints, explaining, “I find it the most difficult but the most rewarding. I think I’m better at pastel, but I’m determined.”
Her favorite subjects are people and animals, preferably dogs.
“I’m freer when I do an animal. I don’t get as uptight,” says Mellott, admitting that it is sometimes difficult to get the animals to sit still. They all seem to sense that she is nuts about them and want to sit on her lap, which of course makes painting them slightly more difficult.
She admits finding landscapes more challenging, explaining, “I feel extremely overwhelmed. I have a hard time looking out at all that green and knowing what to paint. I need an anchor, and that’s what flowers, people and animals are for me.”
Several years ago Mellott was approached by and joined Painting for Good Causes, a nationwide nonprofit based out of Tampa. It’s member artists paint portraits of foster children seeking homes, deployed servicemen and women, and children diagnosed with cancer, that are then gifted to the families.
“It’s a great organization and I wanted to get more portrait experience, so it was such a win-win,” says Mellott, who has contributed roughly 20 paintings. The difficulty, she says, is that their emotional stories sometimes make it difficult to depict the children as they should be – happy and loved.
Mellott says her artistic tendencies began at an early age, attributing the interest to her mother.
“My mom always liked art; she was pivotal in exposing us to art. She took us to the Toledo Museum of Art and I took classes there.”
After two years as an art major at the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she changed her major to business, ironically because she was tired of watching her friends have fun while she worked on art projects – now exactly what she most desires to do.
Although she went on to work as a CPA in a large accounting firm, Mellott always had some creative project underway to fill the artistic void. She says she doesn’t regret her foray into the business world, noting, “I might not like art as much if it had been my job. I might have seen it as more of a chore.”
She eventually left the firm to raise their three daughters, all of whom have or are pursuing art-centric careers. One daughter is an art history professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, another a graphic arts student attending the same college, and the third is an elementary school teacher.
Her advice to budding artists comes from a book she once read that suggested, “Challenge yourself to do 100 paintings from life and expect them to be bad.”
Putting it into context she adds, “you have to make mistakes to get better at art. It’s a requirement. I’ve realized there is so much to know. I used to have the attitude that a lot of art was just a happy mistake. I’ve come to realize it’s probably not.”
Mellott is drawn to post-impressionists such as Vincent van Gogh, whose use of color and brush stroke techniques she admires. “There are so many things to think of: composition, values, color and light.”
As with many artists, she continually has to remind herself not to overthink her work.
“You want to be loose, but you want the drawing to be accurate.” If she begins to feel the analytical left side of her brain is overpowering the artistic right side, she’ll set aside the project and start something else.
“It’s better to paint a few things at once,” says Mellott, pointing to several of her current projects.
Included in the mix are several canvases which will eventually be used for a children’s ABC book of animals, and another painting that is 90 percent done.
“The magic is going to happen in the last 10 percent,” she promises.
Mellott will be the featured artist in November at the Center for Spiritual Care, with an exhibit entitled “Bloom.” As the name implies, the exhibit will focus on flowers, to celebrate God’s creativity and embrace the center’s mission of fostering spiritual and holistic growth.