By Melissa Whitaker

Archive for the ‘Independence’ Category

Under the Influence

Last week’s post I wrote about inspiration and where it comes from. This week is all about influence.

The words inspire and influence are often thought to be interchangeable, but they are really 2 different things.

Inspiration is something that creates an emotional response and often sparks a self-confidence that we can do what we set out to do. It does not have intent, it just is. Inspiration makes the brain start thinking creatively.

Influence affects change. It can change behavior and opinions in others. It can be a person, the weather, an event, or a culture that produces a change in a person. People often ask, “Who inspires you?” Perhaps what they should be asking is, “What are your influences?”

Inspiration is great, it’s what keeps the soul alive, but it’s the influences that encourage action to be taken. For me, it has been the influences that have had the biggest impact on my work and it has usually been events and not people who effect a change. 

I majored in Art and Psychology in college in the hopes of becoming an art therapist, but life had another plan for me. People and events came into my life that I let lead me away from my artistic endeavors. I emphasize let because when I look back on it, it was a choice that I made based on the influences that were occurring at the time. I dedicated my love and time to my family and did a few creative things, but I did not indulge in creating ART for a long time. It took 17 years and several encounters with people and events for me to find my way back. As the years went by several artists were introduced into my life and with each encounter, I felt a persistent urge in my subconscious saying, “Remember me? I’m still here.” Then the strongest influences happened.

My mother-in-law was diagnosed with a glioblastoma brain tumor that was terminal, then 3 months later my husband had a tragic accident that would cause him chronic pain for the rest of his life. 6 weeks later his mother passed away from the brain tumor. One month after that, my father was in an accident and broke his back and passed away 2 weeks later. All of this caused me to re-examine my life and search for who I was; because I didn’t know anymore. I went to the store and bought a canvas, brushes and acrylic paint. I was terrified of that white canvas and I held my breath and put a slash of red through the middle of it. That slash opened up a part of me that had been buried for 17 years. The painting wasn’t very good, but it felt WONDERFUL and I had found myself.

I started painting my emotions and experiences and I was drawing from the influences in my life and putting it all on canvas. The next several years became an emotional roller coaster and painting let me express what I could not express in words but needed to put somewhere.

The events of that time were influenced by people and events from the past. A roller coaster ride that continued in what seemed like a never-ending circle and it all came crashing down in 2012 like a psychological nightmare. I lost hope and started questioning everything that was going on around me. It was putting a puzzle together with way too many missing pieces. These events eventually led me to be on the governing board of the regional counseling center, where I now give art lessons to people who are trying to find out who they are and where they want to go. It has become one of the most inspirational positions in my life and it came from a horrible influence.

After feeling like everything was lost, the pieces started falling back together again in the spring of 2013. Influence appeared and it moved me away from the easel and back to an earlier love of ink. This time hope started showing up in my work and people began to notice. They started asking what or who was inspiring me. It wasn’t an inspiration. It was an influence and a journey back to my roots. Back to my love of India ink and fashion illustration to a place where I felt safe.

I stayed with the ink for a few years until the next big influencer showed up in 2016. Politics. Not just the Presidential election of 2016 but politics in general. According to the Oxford dictionary definition;

Politics:  1. the activities involved in getting and using power in public life, and being able to influence decisions that affect a country or a society   2. matters concerned with getting or using power within a particular group or organization

I had entered the life of the Board of Directors for two non-profits. Everywhere I turned politics were influencing my life and I needed to find a balance. To take control of the anxiety and chaos. I pulled out the canvas again and began expressing politics in abstract form.

  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together .
  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together .
  • Brightly colored swirled abstract with red, oranges, yellows and blues and a figure that resembles a man being washed down a drain.
  • Multi-colored abstract painting of colors swirled together on a horizontal field of white.

The experience of applying and manipulating the paint had a calming, therapeutic aspect to it. The thought, preparation, and application was my attempt at controlling chaos. You can’t fully control chaos, but you can work on it not controlling you.

Inspiration and influence will come from many places. Some good and some not so good. It’s what you do with it that makes the difference. If you let the influences break you or stop you from doing what you love then you risk losing a bit of yourself.

Finding Inspiration

The herringbone brick walkway that is lined with cypress trees at Rowan Oak.  The home of William Faulkner.
The front walkway of Rowan Oak Photo by Melissa Whitaker

“Wonder. Go on and wonder.”

The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner

According to Oxford Dictionary: inspiration(to do something)inspiration(for something) the process that takes place when someone sees or hears something that causes them to have exciting new ideas or makes them want to create something, especially in art, music, or literature

Most artists at one time or another are asked; where do you get your inspiration? Where does this piece of artwork come from? How do you get inspired?


Life. Life is where inspiration comes from. It is not something that can be grabbed off the shelf at the local convenience store. Inspiration often happens spontaneously when we least expect it and it is the recognizing and applying that inspiration that makes it come to life. Sometimes it’s standing in the shower and watching a water drop slide down the wall, a phrase in a book being read, a song being played on Spotify, or a painting hanging in a museum. Too often we are so preoccupied with our lives that we fail to see what truly inspires us, but it is in the small things that help innovate and create something new.

Personally, I find inspiration in almost everything from interactions with other people to taking a hike in the woods. Observing my environment or the events occurring in my life is what helps the creative process. Every now and then, I get caught up in the stress of things that I have no control over and I fail to see what is happening around me and this is when I must go look for inspiration. I find it is the inspiration that calms my soul.

The past few months have been highly stressful with many life-altering changes happening, so this past weekend I took a road trip. Road trips have a way of wiping off the stress of everyday life. I turn the music up and head on down the highway singing at the top of my lungs. It is a 4+ hour concert that would have most music critics cringing for their earplugs. This trip I went to New Orleans, Louisiana. I filled up on Louisiana cooking and people watching in the French Quarter. It was adventurous and fun, but still lacking in inspiration, so on the way home I took a detour to Oxford, Mississippi. I was on a quest to find my inspiration and what better place than Rowan Oak, the home of William Faulkner, one of America’s greatest authors.

The front of the house at Rowan Oak.
Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi. Photo by Melissa Whitaker
Magnolia branch reaching to the ground.
Magnolia Tree. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

I could feel the excitement stirring inside of me as I walked up to the home. The uneven paths of bricks, covered in the moss from ages ago, were laid out in concentric circles around the magnolia trees. Whose branches swept the ground and created its own treehouse that invoked my childhood memories of chasing fairies. I sat down in the crevice of the roots in the tree and watched the sun’s rays piercing through the leaves and I thought, “This is it. I found it.” I was anxious to explore more and to soak up all the inspiration that I could. I ventured into the house to discover a bit of the life of Faulkner. What inspired him? What made this creative soul tick?

One of the first things I noticed was the number of books that he had. Not just the books that he wrote, but the books by authors he admired. Inspiration often comes from studying the work of others.

William Faulkners' bookshelf with Charles Dickens's Works in the center.
William Faulkners’ library shelf. Photo by Melissa Whitaker

The house was filled with things to inspire. The litany of phone numbers written on the wall tells a story of friends, family, and acquaintances in the Faulkners’ home. The outline of A Fable written on William Faulkners’ office wall shows an impulse to make that moment of inspiration permanent so that he does not lose sight of it.

Then I took a walk around the property and noticed the shadows making paintings on the walls and ground.

This is just a part of where inspiration comes from. It is all around us even when you may lose sight of it. Road trips are nice, but they are not for everyone. Take the time to get lost in a book. Take a stroll down to the local art gallery and see what the local artists are doing. Go to the grocery store and pick up that unusual looking fruit that you were afraid to try because it’s different. Sit down at a coffee shop and watch the other people or simply take a look at the swirling cream in your latte. Take a bubble bath and observe the swirling colors in the bubbles.

Inspiration is a lot like the elusive fairies that I hunted for when I was a child. It hides in the crevices of the mind and it is when the mind is quiet that it can be recognized.

I Did WHAT?!!

Written Down April 7, 2018

I did it. I am out of Real Estate and kind of freaking out because now it’s more of a “What did I just do?” kind of moment. Art has been who I am all my life. It may not have always been front and center, but it was always there beckoning me to “Come to the Creative Side. We have FUN.”

In April 2018 I attended a seminar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was conducted by The Art Business Institute and The Clark-Hulings Fund. I have attended multiple seminars in my life. They were all pretty much the same enthusiastic marketing gurus playing the same Space Jam music and the only solution they typically had for you was to buy their product. Cha-Ching, “that will be $25,000 for our marketing plan and the rest is up to you. No guarantees.” This seminar was different. I actually learned something and they weren’t selling anything. They were genuinely there to help and to guide you are some of the important steps of being a working artist.

There were 2 BIG take-aways from this seminar that have impacted my life. The first was something that the instructor, Daniel DeGriz, said regarding Goals. It is not a straight line from point A to point B, adjustments will need to be made along the way, so just START. If you don’t start you’ll never get there. The second was learning how to set a goal. Out of all the seminars that I have attended for Real Estate and the importance of setting goals, no one taught HOW to set goals. I was at the point that I needed to make a goal to learn how to set a goal and then actually carry through with it. Daniel DeGriz, Elizabeth Hulings, and Carolyn Edlund took the group step by step on goal setting. It was right there Goal #1 Be done with real estate and become a full time artist by January 1, 2020.

It’s January 1, 2020.

On December 23, 2019 I changed the status of my real estate license to INACTIVE. Goal #1 accomplished. Time to FREAK OUT!! ūüė≥

The truth is, in the past several years I have had too many jobs. How can a person be successful at any particular career when their focus is scattered all over the place? Art is my life.

“Your life is not the anchor for your art. Your art is the anchor for your life.”

Stephen King, Author of many terrifying suspense novels about life.

I by no means have everything figured out for this adventure of mine. I’ll make adjustments a long the way, but I’m starting. While it may be terrifying to change careers half way through life, it is also very liberating. I will miss the people I worked with in the real estate business, but I am still available for lunch any time.

My new office. It’s not much, but it’s mine. At least until we have guests arrive. If you like the bedspread you can get it at my shop on Society6

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.

American Triage

For the past several days I¬†have tried¬†to write a blog post, but as soon as I wrote something I would quickly¬†cut¬†it because it may have offended someone.¬† Who it would offend, I don’t know, but it really didn’t matter.¬† Offensiveness seems¬†to be¬†the new normal and I do not want¬†to be¬†“normal.”¬†

I¬†live¬†in a small town just outside of Cape¬†Girardeau, MO.¬† Today the town¬†is being visited¬†by the 45th President, Donald J. Trump, Sean¬†Hannity, and Cape¬†Girardeau’s¬†home boy Rush Limbaugh.¬† There is an electricity in the air as a storm is brewing in the West, (seriously, the weatherman is calling for tornadoes this evening) the tension mounts on my social media pages, and I sit here wondering, whatever happened to civility?¬† I scroll through my¬†Facebook¬†feed and see one accusatory comment after another.¬† It does not matter which side a person is on, the accusations are coming from the Red and the Blue. How can we merge the two and make a lovely, vibrant purple?

When did this become an Us vs. Them country?¬† To borrow from one of the greatest authors of all time, Harper Lee, “I think that there is just one kind of¬†folks.¬†Folks.”¬† Scout Finch had a good role model in Atticus Finch and I think we could all use a reminder of Atticus’ advice today,¬†¬†“if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of¬†folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”¬† People develop their beliefs based on their life experiences, not another persons background.¬† We can learn from other¬†people’s¬†experiences, but it is one’s¬†own life that develops their beliefs and foundations.

The one thing I have learned during this tumultuous time is, you are not going to change anything by being accusatory and mean to people who think differently.¬† It only makes the divide deeper and wider.¬† Saying that all Republicans/Conservatives are deplorable or all Democrats/Liberals are the Devil’s spawn is not going to heal this divide.¬† It only causes more discord. If you must believe in an Us vs. Them scenario then think of it this way; the more divisiveness and discord ther is,¬†the more ground “THEY” gain.¬† Don’t ask me who “They” are, because I do not know.¬† That one I will leave to the conspiracy theorist to decide.¬† As for me today…. I’m going to go pass out daisies and breath mints, because if a person is going to yell at me, then they better have fresh breath while they are doing it.¬†¬†

American Triage-

American Triage

False Truth

‚ÄúEach person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We‚Äôre all limited by our perspective.‚ÄĚ ~ Siri Hustvedt

The last few years has had me examining the question, ‚ÄúWhat is true?‚ÄĚ 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, ‚ÄúThe truth is not the truth,‚ÄĚ it is becoming more and more difficult to correct the distortion.

‚ÄúPerception‚ÄĚ 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

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