An Unexpected Journey

I painted this square during a community art project at the 2012 Lakeville Arts Festival, using Basic acrylic paints. Since then, I have upgraded to professional quality paints and landed my first gallery exhibit, titled "Thirty Years of Hope."
I painted this square during a community art project at the 2012 Lakeville Arts Festival, using Basic acrylic paints. Since then, I have upgraded to professional quality paints and landed my first gallery exhibit, titled “Thirty Years of Hope.”

Three days before I spent a weekend with photographers on Lake Superior, I busied myself with something entirely different: Art.

My paintings were selected for a gallery show called “Thirty Years of Hope” benefiting the MN AIDS Project during its 30th Anniversary. The nonprofit agency fights to stop AIDS in Minnesota through prevention, advocacy, awareness and services. The show is directed by Altered Esthetics, a nonprofit organization that supports emerging artists, and it is hosted by Hennepin County Library at the Minneapolis Central branch.

“Thirty Years of Hope” opened on Nov. 1, 2013 in the Cargill Hall Gallery, and it will run through the end of the year. It also happens to coincide with my 30th Birthday, on Dec. 3, so this gallery exhibit will be rewarding in more ways than one.

Like every artist, emerging or established, there is a story behind my art. My studies have always been in journalism, but it wasn’t until 2011 that I discovered this hidden talent.

Meeting the Muse

Three years ago, if you asked me if I was an artist, I would have said no. I was a writer, a decent photographer, and I was mastering the technique of filming and editing videos for maximum marketing impact. I even knew a little bit of graphic design. But when it came to artists, there were so many people around me whose work I admired more than my own, that I never would have used the term to describe myself.

It wasn’t until I put down my pen in April 2011 that I first considered picking up a paintbrush. And it wasn’t my idea. It was an idea from Matt, the man in my life.

One day, Matt got out of bed, brewed us a delicious pot of coffee, and said, “I want to try painting.” At first, I wasn’t sure what to think. The suggestion came out of the blue, during a time of heavy stress for me at home and at work, but there was a warm confidence in his eyes.

I have always believed that life is short and we have to make the best of the time we are given. So I mustered up a little courage, calling on my inner-child, and responded with, “Why not?”

We drove to the nearest craft store and bought up the basics, the sheer minimum we would need to make our way into painting. A paintbrush or two, cheap pigment in primary colors, and a plastic palette. We didn’t even buy canvases right away, instead testing our talents on paper and cardstock.

Instantly, it became a passion. During the months I struggled with confidence for writing, painting was the medium that offered me solace.

Whether I was painting on canvas or practicing on paper, I didn’t have to find the right words. I didn’t have to understand what I was feeling in order to express it. I just poured the paint liberally on the palette, and loaded it onto my new instrument of expression — a medium paintbrush with soft, tapered bristles.

Seeing in Silhouette

I had mixed results painting in full color, though one of my earliest paintings surprised even me. “Birch Trees in Autumn” turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and it still amazes me that the painting originated from my fingers. I tried a number of other scenes, painting a Capitol Building, drawing out flower petals, and even trying to mimic a photograph I found on Tumblr.

None of it held my interest.

In April 2012, however, I found my own brush stroke — and with it, my unique style. I was dealing with a tough personal milestone, and nothing was helping to ease the emotional pain. So I put on some dark progressive rock, picked up a paintbrush and painted a tree standing alone in a storm. The more I painted, the better I felt. I brushed reflections of light onto the water, then lightness onto the dark clouds, and finally, I finished the painting with sun beams shooting hopefully through the sky.

Heartache. Then Hope. Then Healing. The components in that painting are synonymous with the thematic arc of my art over time. Painting has helped me to overcome deep heartache, to find hope for the future, and to begin the healing process.

Titled “Longing for the Darkness” after a very dark time in my life, that painting has launched the series I am currently working on. It is not a formal series yet, but these paintings all involve a colorful sunset or sunrise, typically on the water, bordered by any combination of trees, silhouetted in black.

The inspiration for each painting comes from the interplay of my debilitating grief and the beauty of life. The silhouetted trees occasionally represent people, who stand alone or beside loved ones as they face life’s unpredictable storms. The resulting images depict the radiant colors that can be seen in a storm at twilight, and they fill me with optimism and hope for the future.

An Unexpected Journey

Little did I know that my art would resonate with so many people. Colleagues from my recent job, friends from far and wide, and mere acquaintances have all complimented my art. I am so filled with gratitude!

As an extrovert and an externally motivated person, if it wasn’t for all of the wonderful things all of you have said, I wouldn’t have the courage to keep doing this.

Painting takes an immense amount of energy — personal, intimate energy that comes from deep within a person’s soul. And as I have learned with my first gallery exhibit, there is no shortage of logistics or paperwork in being a professional artist. Artists work hard!

Each exhibition I have applied for, though, has asked me to put prices on my work. So I have. But I have also entered my work into Fine Art America, in order to offer affordable prints of my work. At first, I only planned to share my art in my own social circles, but as my collection expanded, I decided to share the peace and hope I get from these paintings with others.

It seems the universe may have big plans for my art!

If you would like to see the exhibit or support the MN AIDS Project, details are posted on my website under Events. I paint under my maiden name of Melissa F. Kaelin for two reasons: To honor my past as it was before I married the love of my life, and to honor the artistic streak in my father’s family, which spans generations of the Kaelin family line.

See more at

About the Exhibit

“Thirty Years of Hope” celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the MN AIDS Project. Recently I met several people who have been involved in the MN AIDS Project, and I am inspired by their devotion to the organization.

The MN AIDS Project works to stop HIV through prevention, advocacy, awareness and services, as well as providing practical, emotional and social support to more than 7,000 Minnesotans living with HIV. Please visit the MN AIDS Project website and consider supporting them during their 30th Anniversary.


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