After three years of procrastinating, Melissa Ritchie finally made good on her promise last January to paint a portrait of her co-worker’s daughter.
Now, she can’t put the paint brush down.
Nerves prevented the artist from painting the portrait, which she says is a difficult task because it’s somebody’s loved one.
‘‘To paint somebody’s face is extremely individual and if anything’s out of line it can look quite odd and unappealing,’’ she says.
When it came time to paint portraits of her family – husband, Jay and two sons, Beau and Jack – she wanted to create something unique.
That’s when her ‘‘popster’’ style was born.
‘‘I create a 1.5-inch border in a neutral colour, so I can have everything pop out in the picture,’’ she says.
‘‘I tried to keep to a colour palette of red, blue and white, and a bit of yellow.’’
Melissa went on to paint family and friends after receiving positive feedback for the family portraits.
There was one particular picture that became very special to the family, she says.
“The portrait is of my husband’s grandfather, his name is Raymond Large,” she says.
“I’ve painted the five monarch butterflies into the painting. I chose the monarch butterfly because it’s a similar-sounding word to matriarch.
“They represent his four daughters and wife.
‘‘Behind him is a cloud with a sun bursting, a ray breaking through, and his name is Ray, and then there are a group of butterflies flying off into the distance and they represent the extended family...they are his legacy.”
A friend then advised the artist to branch out and paint faces more recognisable to a wider audience.
“So I contacted Glen Saville, who is the darling son of Wollongong, and he agreed and loved the idea,” she says.
“Wendell Sailor was equally excited about it, and I thought he was such a great person because he’s such a big character.
“Then I did the Lord Mayor, Gordon Bradbery.”
Symbols feature heavily in her work, with lots of hidden meanings or less obvious metaphors.
“I tend to think of the personality of the person...if I know they’ve got some meaning behind their name, or a special interest, or their birthday, I’ll try and put that in.”
Melissa’s self-portrait depicts her juggling apples in a circus, with a bumble bee at the bottom and a bite taken out of one of the apples.
The bee represents her name, which she says means honey or bumble bee, and the apple symbolises her work as a graphic designer and the popularity of Apple technology in the industry.
The American-born artist moved to Australia as a two-year-old and she remembers growing up drawing, painting and enjoying craft work.
At high school she took a three unit art subject and her work made it to ArtExpress, which exhibits outstanding student artworks developed for the HSC.
What are her dreams now?
“My main goal is to enter and be a finalist in the Archibald Prize. Winning is another thing. I would just like to be a finalist.
‘‘It takes a lot of artists many, many times to even become a finalist, if they ever do.”
Audiences can view her works at an upcoming exhibition at Wollongong’s Art Arena Gallery starting November 26, with an official opening night on November 29 at 6pm.
The name of the exhibition, Popsters, is an amalgamation of the words pop art and poster.
The 60 by 90 centimetres popster portraits cost $1250 each.