Written by Elise Olmstead


As a child I dreamt of landscapes made of quilts and cushions, a dream inspired by children’s books that I often read and my need to escape to a cozy place. The art by Melissa Leigh, or “Sweet Melis,” is a peek into swirling forests, soft-patterned hills and cartoon clouds, all reminiscent of my imaginary land. The world she creates is warmly familiar, yet bright and intriguing, a glimpse into the visions in her head. Her inspirations are many, though the themes of plants and rolling hills prevail. She paints live, creates album art and tour posters, and recently took up intaglio printmaking. The simplicity and joy contained on the canvas resonates with all who view her work, whether an art enthusiast or a passerby.

Elise Olmstead (EO):  Where are you from?   How do you think where you grew up affected how you turned out as an adult?
Melissa Leigh (ML):  Steamboat Springs, Colorado, a little ski town in the Rocky Mountains.  It greatly shaped the person I am and definitely has an impact on the work I’m creating.  Growing up my imagination could run wild, outside every day, all day, winter and summer.  My appreciation for nature has been engrained in me and will always be a part of what I see as important and beautiful.


EO:  Where do you live now?
ML:  Fort Collins, Colorado, where I went to school and earned my Graphic Design degree from Colorado State University

Ohio to Colorado

EO:  Were you always artistic or did something bring on the desire to create?
ML:  Always and forever. It’s what I live for.  I feel I could never possibly run out of ideas or things I want to do with my art.  My only worry would ever be running out of time!  My parents have supported, encouraged, and been by my side every step of the way.  From private art classes when I was younger to telling their 10 year old, “yes, you can paint or draw anything on any of your bedroom walls, go for it!” I always said I want to be an artist when I grow up and they always said “I know you can do it.” Never once did they show me anything but the utmost confidence.  They gave me the freedom to be a dreamer and grow as an artist.  Plus they are hands down the coolest people I’ve ever met.


EO:  Tell me about your creative process.
ML:  I’m a night owl.  My main creative time and large majority of studio sessions is working into the wee hours of the morning, usually seeing the sun rise before bed.  My mind never stops in thought so the night brings a still and calming feeling, less distractions, which then tends to fill me with creative energy.  Art is my high in life, creating is when I feel most awake and closest to my true self, and that feeling is what sends me working right on through the night.


EO:  Why do you think art or creativity is necessary to society?
ML:  Art brings emotion and color to the world.  Without it, everything would be dull and grey. I believe art creates beauty and beauty affects the mind positively.  I will always feel blessed to be a person who brings color and light into peoples’ lives.

Full Moon Blessings


EO:  What’s your favorite band and why?  What music gets you going creatively?
ML:  Oh, don’t do that to me!  All I can really say is it all started when my Dad gave me some Grateful Dead albums when I was 10 or 11.  However, constantly listening to a large variety of music is what keeps the creative energy flowing in my studio space.  I have an appreciation for almost all music and different types, for my creative process and for life in general.


EO:  What was your first show?
ML:  A String Cheese outdoor concert in Steamboat, in 2001.


EO:  Tell us about your live painting experience.
ML:  I love to live paint at shows and festivals!  It’s combining my two favorite things – art and live music.  I remember the first time I did, I felt like I was in a dream… I kept thinking is this real?  I’m standing in a music venue enjoying a show and at the same time I get to have all my paints here and be working on my art, really?  It’s been such a blessing in my life and I will always be incredibly thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had to do so.


EO:  What shows/events can we catch you at in the future?
ML:  With it being winter things are still up in the air but I will be posting a schedule of my summer plans as far as festivals, posters, and live painting in a few more months on my website. (www.sweetmelis.com)


EO:  What is your favorite piece you’ve done to date and why is it your favorite?
ML:  My favorite piece right now is one of my newest ‘Rock Garden’ intaglio prints with watercolor.  Most of the time I like what I’m currently working on more than anything else, if not it usually doesn’t get finished.  One painting that will always be dear to me and the original has never been for sale is one I did in 2009 called “Living in the Present.” (attached) I choose to keep that as my own personal reminder of the importance of living in the moment and cherishing it.  Nothing in life is a guarantee and it’s nice to have a reminder to stop and resonate on the journey.  It truly is all about this beautiful journey.


Rock Garden

EO:  Who/what is your inspiration, where do you find inspiration?
ML:  Surrealism, Art Nouveau, retro design,  Asian aesthetic, psychedelia, fantasy… nature, the moon, trees, succulents, fungi, poppies, all plant life really…. music, conversation, collaboration, love, success, chasing dreams, achieving a vision… distorted views, organic shape, intricate patterns, smoothness, color…  the 60’s, the 70’s, music festivals, poster art, readings, writings, poetry, fashion, antique and vintage… Van Gogh, Dali, Mucca, Klimt, Jerry, Dylan, family and friends… smoke, space, the earth, the sky, the clouds…. everything!


EO:  Who do you look up to within the art or craft world?
ML:  Mars 1, Meredith Dittmar, Amanda Sage, David Choe, Drew Millward… and the list goes on.  I am inspired by the inspired.


EO:  What are you working on currently, what are your plans for the future?
ML:  I am finishing up an Independent Study printmaking class at Colorado State, and am hoping to do an Artist in Residence printmaking program in Steamboat Springs in the coming months.  In additions to a ton of printmaking images, you’ll also see a pin design I did for SCI’s New Year’s in Colorado, some album art, and a few upcoming posters.


 EO:  What are some challenges in your craft that you have experienced?
ML:  For me the emotional aspect of creating art can be difficult.  I sometimes compare it to feeling like a sponge: while I love soaking up the world around me and being loaded with visions in my head, feeling full and truly seeing endless possibilities, it can just be hard to be “wrung out” sometimes.

Living in the Present


EO:  What do you do for fun besides create?
ML:  Skiing, hiking, live music/festivals, being with friends and family.  Honestly though, art is a dream I’m chasing that consumes almost of my time.  I’m beyond determined to reach the level I want to be at, but not in the way of money or status.  I want my art itself to reach its highest potential possible.


EO:  What is your view on life?  In other words, what is the meaning you see behind it?
ML:  I am full of gratitude to be living my dream.  I believe in kindness and my empathy runs deep.  I want to continually become a better person and continually better the world around me.  I believe I was put on this earth to create, and that in itself is such a gift because I know my life’s calling and purpose, which so many people are still trying to find. I want to use my gift to make this world a more beautiful place.


EO:  If you could teach or tell the new generation of artists, what would it be?
ML:  Trust your instinct, trust your eye. Get an education and pursue knowledge but always stay true to yourself in the process. If you have a vision in your head, it’s there for a reason. When you create, it’s right.

Light Side of the Moon


You can order Sweet Melis creations here:



e-mail sweetmelis72@yahoo.com

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