Member Spotlight: Melody Cassen


Member Spotlight - Melody Cassen

[ September 29th, 2009 ]   From an early age, Melody Cassen pursued a multitude of art forms, including painting, drawing, weaving, ceramics, and even cooking, always experimenting with what worked best for her ideas. At the age of 8 she created a winning advertisement for a local store. Her talents naturally led her to pursue a career in art. After completing a degree in graphic design at East Carolina University she headed to New York City, where she designed book covers for publishing houses Random House and Simon & Schuster, among many others.

After ten years of working in publishing both as a designer and art director, Melody turned her attention to creating images that embody her own style and personal point of view. She left her staff job to freelance as a photo illustrator, maintaining many of her publishing ties as she pursued editorial and corporate clients. Her work has appeared in The Utne Reader and Time Out New York and has been represented in the Graphis Photo Annual.

What do you mean by photo illustration?
In my case, it means a style that's a hybrid of photography combined with other visual elements, such as graphics and textures, to create something beyond a simple photograph, akin to a digital photo collage.

How would you describe your style?
I have always been attracted to things a tiny step away from reality. Not as far away as complete fantasy, but taking a subject to a new level, like Alice in Wonderland, the theatrical productions of Julie Taymor, or Mark Romanek videos, for example. People have described my style as having dreamy or sensual qualities. What I especially like to do is create a mood. I like to use themes of beauty and femininity that incorporate elements derived from Nature.

How did your style evolve?
That has been a work in progress. Growing up, I was always painting and drawing, but my problem was that I would have several ideas I wanted to explore while still working on one image. It wasn't until college that I saw the possibilities of photography. Even then I was mostly interested in the alternative processes like gum prints, polaroid transfers, inter-splicing negatives and multiple exposures.Those were the days before Photoshop. For me, photo illustration is a marriage of painting and drawing with photographic processes. It gives my imagination free rein to rapidly explore and play with new ideas.

How do you work?
Mainly, I work in one of two ways. For my personal work, I begin by casting and shooting models in the studio, then adding various elements in post to complete my concept. For my clients, I use available stock imagery that I combine with other visual elements to develop a series of comps that show more than one direction for my client's concept. The advantage to working this way is that I can be a lot more flexible in exploring directions for an idea, especially when stock is the only option for a client's budget. Finally, some of my client's simply hire me to do retouching.

What have your experiences as an art director, graphic designer and freelancer taught you?
As an art director I learned how to think conceptually within a budget and on time while working with a team of people to take a job to completion. My design background has been extremely helpful in understanding pre-press and what is required to provide the technically best file, based on it's usage. As a freelancer I learned how to quickly solve problems and be flexible regarding my client's needs.

Where do you seek inspiration?
Both my parents were teachers who were able to travel during the summer when school was in recess, so more often than not I found myself on a trip somewhere. Traveling exposed me, at an early age, to new ways of looking at things and a greater appreciation of diversity. Consequently, I became inspired by Nature, history, and different cultures, all of which is manifested in my work, as, for example, a grecian hairstyle, the demur look of a geisha, a beautiful western sky, the spiritual practices of Native Americans, or the symbolism of the East. I'm also a museum and gallery junkie, and draw inspiration from the collections in such venues. I love to see new art and the ideas behind it.

Name some artists whose work you most admire?
New artists, photographers, film makers, writers, architects, old master painters and musicians continually inspire me, and these figures are always changing. However, there are some that have been a continued source of inspiration. They are, in no particular order, Pablo Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Henri Rousseau, Botticelli,The Pre-Raphaelites, Gregory Crewdson, Sheila Metzner, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Sarah Moon, Cindy Sherman, Jill Greenberg, Amy Guip, Maggie Taylor, Kwaku Alston, Lewis Caroll, Pablo Neruda and many, many others.

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