By Melissa Whitaker

It’s All a Masquerade

Illustration of woman with Mask over her eyes.
“Masquerade” Digital Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Mardi Gras. A time of living it up before you have to live it down. My first visit to the Big Easy was this past weekend and I was taken in by the extravagance that was displayed. The people of Louisiana do not do things in small quantities and that includes dressing up or down, whatever the case may be. On Saturday, I attended my first Mardi Gras parade, the Krewe of Iris, which is considered the oldest and largest all-female Krewe in New Orleans. Iris members always wear white gloves and masks, as proper ladies are suppose to do according to traditional southern customs, and they did not disappoint.

As I watched the parade march down the street and the people reaching out for beads, doubloons, and other paraphernalia I was handed a mask to disguise myself with. It was as if the act of putting a mask on would make me a different person. A person that was accepted for their anonymity. This made me think about the masks we wear everyday in the attempts to fit it to society and what is expected of us.

When I was a child I attempted to be just like the others in order to be accepted in to a group. My sister, who was captain of the cheer leading squad, appeared to be popular to me, so I tried out for the cheer leading squad every year in the hopes of belonging. Never made it, I was too much of a klutz. I auditioned to be a baton twirler, because of the cute boots they wore, only to be hit on the head with the baton. (You would think that would have knocked some sense into me). Nothing I did seemed to work. I was destined to be a loner on the sideline.

“I think art comes from some sense of discomfort with the world, some sense of not quite fitting with it.” ~ Yann Martel

The only place that I ever felt I truly fit was in the art room. That was my safe place and the one place I felt accepted for who I was. I could enter into my own little world that I created. The only place I could honestly be me. I still joined clubs, made a few friends here and there, all in the vain hopes of belonging somewhere, only to realize that life is often better on the fringes of society.

The truth is we are all chameleons, we adapt to what is around us. We put on masks everyday to disguise our true selves, because when the masks come off, our biggest fear is we may be rejected for who we are Not. “I am not pretty enough. I am not skinny enough. I am not witty enough. My clothes are not the correct brand. I’m not popular enough. I’m not as good as they are. I’m not worthy.” A constant cadence under the mask.

What I have come to realize is there are some of us who do better standing on the fringes of society because we are NOT part of the krewe. We are the ones who take a different path. We are not afraid of the unknown, because we live there in our heads everyday. We are the ones who often set the trends that the others follow. We are the ones who see what needs to be changed and make the difference.


“I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don’t want to fit in. And now people are buying into that.” ~ Alexander McQueen

Everyone has a desire to “fit in” at some point in their lives. The desire comes and it goes, but we all have to take our masks off at some point and accept who we are and not be afraid of who we are not. We all have idiosyncrasies, that’s what makes us unique and interesting. I for one am a klutz and must endure a lot of bruising, but it has made me learn to laugh at myself. I am cute, curvaceous, a smart ass with several different sizes of clothes in her closet. I have a wide range of friends who I can count on to be there for me when needed and I am very much worthy of this life.

Now take your mask off. I double dog dare you.

Between Two Elephants

“Heebie Jeebies” Digital art by Melissa Whitaker

The above artwork is strange and bizarre, but an anxiety attack can be just as strange and bizarre. For as long as I can remember this particular vision would pop up out of nowhere. I say vision because it would happen while fully awake. I would be quietly sitting in math class and then, without any warning, I would be stuck between two elephants boxing. My heart would race and my head would throb with every punch that was thrown. As a child, I had no idea what was happening but I knew the elephants were not real, so I kept quiet about it. It was not real, so I did not have to address it.

The elephants would enter the arena with their satin robes draped over their massive shoulders. The crowd would start cheering and the first punch would be thrown POW!! The crowd would roar with excitement as I would cringe in fear of being trampled. WHAM!! my head would pound with the resonance of a timpani drum. BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. My heart would march along to the rhythmic tempo and accelerate as the cheering would get louder. Meanwhile, those sitting around me casually went on with the math lesson not knowing of the battle going inside of me.

These attacks would strike at some of the oddest moments. I could never be sure when the elephants would appear, but the one place they never appeared was when I was drawing, so the art room became my sanctuary and comfort.

Art to me is extremely therapeutic. There is a zen-like quality to immersing oneself into a creative state of mind. Allowing the emotion to ebb through and come out on to the canvas, paper, tablet, or the pixels of digital art, is a release of the anxiety that can get bottled up within. When my life gets chaotic or stressful and I don’t make time for my creativity to flow, that is when the elephants make their appearance and can stampede through my mind. Exercising the inner muse is my way of calming the herd of judgment and self-doubt that can accompany the anxiety.

I have a friend who is always scolding me for putting others before myself. He sees the destruction that happens to my soul and ultimately my art when I neglect myself. The anxiety builds up to the point where I feel trapped between two boxing elephants. That is the time to stop, take a moment, breathe, and realize that I am in control and not the elephants. I have the choice of crouching in fear or standing up and proclaiming myself as the champion in the ring.

I choose.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18-54 have anxiety disorders. 54% woman and 46% of men experience anxiety in some form. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) sites that 7.1% of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety.

Inspire Your Heart

Today is Inspire Your Heart with Art day. It happens every year on January 31st. It has become my new favorite HOLIDAY.

“Tangled” Digital Drawing by Melissa Whitaker

Take a moment today and feel some art. What kind of emotions does it evoke? Art surrounds us even when we do not realize it. It is the music we listen to, the packaging on the products we buy, the painting hanging in the museum, the car driving too slow in front of you, the book or the article you just read, the icicle hanging from the gutter. Today is the day to examine that artwork and think about what it makes you feel.

An owl woven out of cords and ropes using the art of macrame


I’m one of those people who sings to the songs in my car while driving down the road. You may even spot me doing some crazy arm gestures while dancing in the driver’s seat. No worries, I am not having a seizure, I am just feeling the music. I find it relaxing and liberating. It is my time to be “ME.” Too often the stress of everyday life can make me feel like a macrame owl, a little bit wise but entirely made up of knots, and art helps untie those knots. Today on your way home crank up the music and dance. Instead of yelling at the guy in front of you going too slow, look at his car and the design of it. Those brake lights may actually impress you with the engineering of them. For dinner tonight, play with your food, you might create a forest out of that broccoli.

Art is made to inspire and make you feel. It can transport you to other worlds and take you back in time with memories and the playfulness of childhood. It can help you understand other cultures and see other perspectives on life. Art can transform people, places, and things.

Today is Inspire Your Heart With ART Day, it could transform you.

The Art of Disappointment

“Disappointment”

Digital Media Illustration by Melissa Whitaker

Ahhhhhh.  Disappointment, the gum on the shoe of every artist.  Difficult to remove and a constant reminder of a step once taken.  It clings to your soul and gives you a feeling of inadequacy.  A nagging persistence that your art or even you are not good enough.  It is a struggle that everyone must deal with from time to time.  It has become a constant companion that is stuck to my shoe and I have learned to incorporate it into my walk.  Every now and then it gets a little sticky, but most of the time it’s just an imbalance that needs to be corrected.

The artistic way of life is really quite masochistic.  The muse inspires one to create, but the creation seldom measures up to what the mind has envisioned.  Leaving an artist feeling disappointed, discouraged, disillusioned, and dejected.  Then that artwork is put on display for all the world to judge.   If the piece is accepted the brain is flooded with endorphins that will give the artist a temporary high.  A high that is desperately sought after, to the point that rejection is the price that is willing to be paid in order to achieve a personal validation.

This week I received another email that will be added to the collection of rejection letters in my file cabinet.  (I keep thinking that someday I will make a collage of all of them). It felt like I had just stepped on a tarantula size wad of gum.  No matter how much I tried to shake it off,  it would not let loose.  This was not the same as entering a juried art show where the judging was based on your work and whether or not it would fit in with the rest of the show.  This felt personal.  A judgment of me and who I am.  No matter how many times I told myself, “It’s nothing personal.”  It stuck to my soul as a constant reminder that I was not worthy.  I would be happily preparing Thanksgiving dinner and then BAM!  it would remind me and I would start crying.  (The blessing was, I could blame the crying on cutting onions).  It took a few days and a few bottles of wine to accept the fact that it wasn’t personal.  It’s not that I wasn’t worthy, it’s simply that I wasn’t ready YET.

It is extremely tempting to give up and not submit oneself to rejection over and over again, but then there would never be that ultimate high of validation.  That wondrous ecstasy of achievement that I strive for.  If we let the disappointments fester an accumulate we become stuck and never move forward.  Disappointments can fool you and stretch to make you feel like you are moving forward, but they will inevitably pull you back to where you were.  I will scrape the gum from my shoe and leave a bit of the residue to harden, to remind me that life has its disappointments, it’s what we do with them that makes the difference.  The important thing is to keep moving forward, that is the only way to arrive at where you are going.

Now then, please excuse me while I go to the store to purchase a pack of gum.  I seem to have dropped mine.

False Truth

“Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” ~ Siri Hustvedt

The last few years has had me examining the question, “What is true?” That question has taken over my life in the last month. Not just in the political atmosphere, but in business and personal as well. When long held beliefs turn out to be false there is a foundational shift that occurs. An earthquake of the conscience that makes one re-examine everything that they have been taught. What we perceive as truth is based on what we have been taught to believe. Our perception of the world is based on our life experiences, what we consume in media, and who we socialize with. Each one of these will bend the truth to fit into what we perceive to be accurate, if it does not fit in to our preconceived notions, then it is often ruled to be false.

I am not a degreed scholar, and I do not sit around and drink coffee with philosophical individuals (although that would be nice). I am an artist who examines everything from different perspectives. I have learned to examine things and life from all angles, because I will always notice something that I did not see before. Recently I discovered that my perception had been a bit skewed by folks who I believe meant well, but ultimately caused a tilt shift in my view.

Let me explain.

When photographing architecture with a wide angle lens a distortion will appear in the photo. Straight lines will look curved and there may even be some vignetting at the corners due to light bending on the lens. With an adjustment in Photoshop or Lightroom this can be corrected, or a person can invest in a tilt shift lens that adjusts enough to obtain the correct perspective when the image is captured. Much like the distortion that happens from a camera lens, what one learns from another person has been distorted by their preconceived notions. On closer examination and independent research I discovered that a serious correction was needed in what I thought was the truth. I had to look at things from all angles. Some may call this overthinking, but I prefer to call it getting the right perspective.

In this crazy, mixed up world we live in where we are told that everything is FAKE news and that, “The truth is not the truth,” it is becoming more and more difficult to correct the distortion.

“Perception” by Melissa Whitaker

The Curse of Being Nice

I am often accused of being too sweet, too pleasant, too accommodating,  too quiet, and too nice.  That last one, too nice, that’s the twisted knife.  It appears that in today’s world in order for a woman to achieve success the label “Too Nice” is the hemlock in her cup of caffeine each morning.  Do you have to go for the jugular in order to succeed in life?  Being nice and accommodating is how I was raised.

Oxford dictionary defines accommodating as: fitting in with one’s wishes or demands in a helpful way.

The question then becomes, is being accommodating a good thing?  Who is it benefiting?  I watched my grandmother spend all day cooking a meal and then serve it at the table for the family.  She never sat down with the family, she just hovered over the shoulder or sat in the kitchen waiting to serve in case anyone needed anything.  I did not think much about this growing up possibly because I watched my mother do it.   My mother would sit at the table with us, but she was always ready to get up to retrieve something.  My mother tried to teach me to do this and some of it took and some of it didn’t.

What I learned was to be accommodating and to put others needs before mine.  This accommodation can be beneficial, but it can be even more detrimental to my own personal well-being.  I no longer look at it as being accommodating or nice and sweet.  It’s enabling.  I am an enabler.  By bending to others wishes or demands I am enabling them to continue controlling MY life and MY wishes.  That control is a powerful thing and breaking free from it is extremely difficult, but in order to achieve success in my life,  I have to be in control of it.  Do I have to go for the jugular?  I don’t think so, because ultimately it is my own neck that I am sticking out and I am kind of attached to it.

It has not been easy taking control of my life and telling people “No.  I’m not doing that anymore.”  They are stunned and even a little angry but they will get over it.  I only have one shot at this life and it’s time to make it my own.

What about you?  Have you broken free?

Hey Jude

Acrylic and Graphite on Canvas

I have often felt that the art world does not consider artists who must work a second, third, or fourth job as a serious, professional artist.  I have been a REALTOR since 2002 and an artist all my life, but I still have bills that must be paid and a family to feed, so yes, I have another job.  Matter of fact, I have a LOT of jobs.  Artist, Photographer, Illustrator, Realtor, Property Manager, Landlord, Mother, Wife, and I even sit on a couple of company Boards.  Life is Chaotic, and from that Chaos comes art.

A gallery manager in Santa Fe, New Mexico, asked me, “Why do you paint?” Not “What do you paint?” but Why.  I looked at him with a befuddled face and said, “Too breathe.”  It’s that simple.  I work to pay the bills and to pay for some of the extras in life, (I’m kind of partial to food and never could do the starving artist thing).  But to paint or to draw, that is LIFE itself.  It calms the soul, and helps the mind soar off to other places.  It is an escape.  It is a DRUG.

A friend recently encouraged me to venture into the new territory of digital art.  I now call him my Drug Pusher, because once I finish a picture on my iPad Pro, my skin is crawling for the next project.  I often have to set a timer to remind myself to eat something and to step away and socialize with people (for some reason that is still required these days).  The truly great thing about drawing/painting on the iPad Pro is, you can take it everywhere with you.  I can do my job and do my passion at the same time.  The highest accomplishment of multi-tasking.

Yes, I have another job.  I have several jobs, but foremost I am an artist to the depths of my soul.  I am an artist who has bills to pay.  Now, who wants to buy some Art and if you don’t want to buy art, perhaps I can interest you in a 6 bedroom, 6 bath home, shaped like a riverboat with a salt water in-ground pool for $1,180,000.00.  The Realtor

“I believe in someway that Photoshop is the contemporary darkroom, the creative area that all photographers have available.” ~ Douglas Kirkland

A man who had the privilege of photographing Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot.

It has been almost a year since I wrote a post about photography as Art and I find myself having to argue the point again, except this time it is the Photoshop is art and not photography debate. Is using Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to process photos really any different from the chemical processing in Darkrooms of the past? I don’t think so. It is the evolution of photography in the 21st century.

The basics of taking a photograph have not changed much over the years. It is mostly digital instead of film, but the overall shooting of a picture has stayed the same. A photographer must still set aperture, ISO, and shutter speed in order to capture the vision of what they see. They still have to adjust for lighting, frame the shot and seek out the best composition. That in it self is an art form. Photoshop is only another tool in the photographer/artists toolbox. It has replaced the darkroom.

I missed out on learning how to develop photos in a darkroom. (My basic design instructor in college cornered me in the darkroom during my second lesson and I never went back). However, I did learn the basic instruction and purposes of development of film. With the use of time, chemicals and light exposure a person could manipulate a photo. With the use of a paint brush, airbrush, or pen they could retouch photos to enhance or diminish areas of the picture. Truly not much difference from todays digital processing, just a longer turn over time.

Girl holding thistles.
“Bravery” Digital Photo by Melissa Whitaker © 2019

The photo “Bravery” is one that I took this week of my niece for her Senior pictures. Before I met with her, I went out and picked the thistles specifically for this shot. It was planned out the same way that an artist sets up a model or a still life for a composition. The camera settings were 1/200 sec., f 3.5, ISO 100 on a 85 mm lens with no filter or flash.

I shoot everything in RAW, because once you go RAW there is no going back. A RAW file is basically the digital equivalent of a film negative. It captures all the image data taken by the camera and allows for the photographer to post process the image in order to achieve their vision/interpretation of their view. It also allows for a higher quality image after processing.

Screenshot of "Bravery" Before and After Lightroom/Photoshop processing
“Bravery” Before and After Lightroom/Photoshop Processing

As you can tell from the Before and After image, the RAW file is dull and flat. This is because the camera has not processed the image yet. Shooting in JPEG format compresses the image and the camera processes it for you based on what it has interpreted the captured view to be. I personally do not like objects or people deciding on what I see or think, so I will continue to shoot RAW.

I post most of my images on Facebook and I continuously have people asking me what kind of camera do I use and why is it that their pictures of the sunset or people do not have the same intensity. It’s not the camera folks. It’s the way the camera is used and the way the image is processed.

Now back to the original argument. Is Photoshop Art and NOT Photography? Photoshop is both. It’s all in how you use it. If a person is using it Photoshop/Lightroom for post processing of images it is photography. It’s the same as developing film in a darkroom (only the room is not dark and there are less hands involved 😏). Retouching blemishes on a beautiful teenagers face in Photoshop, it’s the same as airbrushing a photo in the 1890’s. There is an art to it, but times really haven’t changed that much. Vanity is still alive and thriving. One of the advantages of Photoshop is it does allow for imagination to run wild and creativeness to explode. An artist can take a photograph and manipulate it to create a fantasy world, or to enhance an already existing one. Marketers can use it to manipulate the public to believe in their ideas of beauty. Photoshop is just a tool in an Artists/Photographers toolbox.

As an artist I use photography to help with my artwork. It often inspires me and gets my creative energy flowing. It helps me create my interpretation of the world I see around me.

This illustration is what I had pictured in my mind when I pricked my fingers while picking thistles for the photo.

Curiouser and Curiouser

“Curiouser and curiouser!” Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Inspiration happens every day if you pay attention to it.   It is not something that just magically appears, at least it doesn’t for me.  I have to consciously look for it.  We are often too busy to take the time to find inspiration, some may even consider it a waste of time.  There are things that have to be done, dishes to wash, work to be done and bills to be paid.  Who has time for inspiration?  Inspiration, to me, is what makes life worth living.  To be inspired by something or someone or someplace sets my soul on fire.  To pass a spark of that inspiration on to someone else fans the spark and makes it burn brighter.  That alone is worth the time to go and find the inspiration

Inspiration is all around us the trick is to know it when you see it.  Take a look around and examine things closely.  Inspiration is fed by curiosity, for without curiosity innovation and inspiration would not occur.  Take washing the dishes for example.  It can be a mundane chore that must be done or it can be a FUN experimentation on the formation of bubbles and color.  If you look at the bubbles only as a white foam then you are missing the wonders that lie underneath.  

Curiosity stopped me the other day while I was doing the dishes.  The bubbles from the soap attracted me all of a sudden so I ran to get my camera. 

The bubbles on the left are what is typically seen. The photo on the right is after Lightroom Adjustments that brought out the magical world of Bubbles.

The curiosity sent me down the path to the inspiration. It all started with the, “I wonder.” The next thing I knew I was examining bubbles even closer.

Macro shot of the surface of a soap bubble

The pictures that were captured inspired me even more, so yesterday when I was home due to snow I played around with the photos to see what I could do.

“Don’t Burst the Bubble”. Digital Media (rough draft)

The illustration still needs quite a bit of tweaking, but I like where the bubbles took me. Little did I know that the simple act of doing the dishes would lead me down a rabbit hole full of color and exploration. What a tumble it was.

Please excuse me now while I go and finish up the dishes.

New Year, Now What?

Here we are one week into a new year and I can already hear the clock ticking. Tick, tick, tick, at least that’s the sound that clocks use to make, now it has no sound at all. Time is a complete silence waiting for us to start the race, but if it is not making a sound how are we suppose to know when to start? In 2018 I went to an Art Business Seminar where the wise art guru threw the gauntlet down. He threw physics into an art lecture. 😳. Newton’s first law, “A body in motion tends to stay in motion.” It hit me like a fast moving train, which coincidently is the ending of Newton’s first law, “….unless acted upon by an outside force.” I often wait to start something until I have everything all planned out and ready to go. Problem is, life interferes and the plan never gets finished. It gets put off for another day, so I never get past the starting line.

This is where the physics lesson comes in. Why wait until everything is planned out? Just start. Get moving and make adjustments along the way. At least it is moving forward. It may have taken a train to get me moving, but I slowly started last year and in 2019 I am determined to go the distance. I started this blog in June 2018, and it has been slow going and I have done 9 posts in 6 months. The next 6 months my goal is at least 12. I’m in motion, just keep moving.


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