sketchbook stories :: michele melcher


Michele and I first met and became friends in college as we were working away in the wee hours of the night, finishing up our illustration assignments that were do the next day, in the art studio. We always managed to have a good time in that studio, and the later it got the more fun there was to be had. A lot has changed since then, but what hasn’t is Michlele’s amazing ability to capture the likeness and expression of anyone she paints, with a little something extra. Michele has worked on everything from window clings for American Express, posters for roller derby teams and, most recently, a graphic children’s novel of Elvis Presley for Capstone Press.

The series that Michele is sharing with us today was originally intended for a Philadelphia printing company as part of a four-artist advertising poster campaign with the revolutionary tag line “Long Live Print!”. The campaign was designed to showcase the company’s revolutionary new way of printing using biodegradable inks, recycled papers, and giving back to the community by donating a portion of customer purchases to charity.


Here is Michele’s Sketchbook Story :: 

MM: Each artist was supposed to design a poster that would be sent out quarterly to clients and printed in industry magazines as a promotion. Unfortunately, due to lack of funds, the company was only able to do the first quarter of the year and ultimately ended up killing the project. Because I was due to be the artist representing the second quarter poster, I had already presented my concept sketches before the project was killed. A drag, yes, but I knew I had some great poster sketches and that it would have been a shame not to move forward with them in some capacity – especially the Ben Franklin sketch.

MM: I’ve always been interested in vintage posters from the early 1900′s. Some of the advertising, travel and war-era posters have fantastic illustration and hand lettering.


MM: I thought that the whole idea of Philadelphia and Ben Franklin as a revolutionary, founding father of the country and modern print was fantastic. In my research, I came across this War era “Books Wanted” poster. I loved both the contrast of the color against the dark background and the hand drawn lettering. I emulated the type in my Long Live Print poster, as you can see.

MM: How I work, Two words: Old school. I like to draw. I’m not a great designer, and I can fumble my way through CS3 but my real strength lies in my hand drawing skills. First I do thumbnails and sketches in the sketchbook. When I get something I like, I scan it in, adjust it in Photoshop and print it out. Then comes the tracing paper where I trace and retrace until the sketch is where I want it to be. Sometimes, this process is repeated several times. I showed the Ben Franklin sketch to several Art Director friends, who agreed that I had hit the nail on the head had the job been kept live. I really lucked out to be able to have Philly agency, PRIMER, art direct it for me. I ended up with a strong promotional piece that showcases my ability to capture a likeness with pen, ink and watercolor.


MM: Next, I print out the sketch to the full size and then graphite the back so that I can trace and transfer it onto the watercolor paper.


MM: After the drawing is transferred to the paper, I tighten it up in pencil. Then I go over it again lightly with a Micron pen. Finally I may or may not staple the paper to stretches. At this point, I tape off the edges of the illustration and add liquid mask where needed. Then I begin laying out the color.


MM: I keep adding color in layers, building depth a little at a time. The secret to great control with watercolor? Use a hair dryer. There’s a lot of painting, drying, painting and drying going on while I work. When the painting part is finally finished, I go back into the illustration with the Micron pens and tighten up the line work. Sometimes, I may use a thin pin striping brush and ink, depending on the drawing.


MM: I remove the tape, cut the painting off of the stretchers and scan into the computer where I will color correct the image and fix small things that I would otherwise have to go back and re-draw. (the miracle of Photoshop!) This whole experience just goes to show that sometimes, the best work that an illustrator produces is not the paid work. I can’t express enough how important it is to have consistently good strong promotional pieces, so any chance that you have to go the extra mile and make something great, do it!


And here’s where you can find Michele:




       twitter: @MicheleMelcher


if you are an artist or would like to recommend an artist or designer to be featured in Sketchbook Stories please feel free to drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you :-)

  1. Dearest Cindy, you have such a beautiful inspiring space here…so glad i came by. :)
    I'm from BYW group. :) Loving your sketchbook stories column….very inspiring and it's always wonderful to get to know a new artist! Have a lovely merry happy day and love to yoU!

  2. Great post and wonderful illustration. I love to see how other artists work! :-)

  3. Jutta

    Fantastic illustration! It's so interesting reading about other illustrators / artists and their creative process. Thanks for the interview!

  4. Philip Spark

    Would a lightbox be a preferable way to transfer from sketch to watercolour paper

  5. Michele Melcher Illustration

    Thanks all!
    About the image transfer with a light box. I have one that I use from time to time, but it is not not very effective with most of the thick paper stock that I use ( 90-140#). I cannot see clearly enough through it and when I'm working from an approved sketch, or, especially a likeness, there's not much room for error. Sometimes I will sketch on tracing paper and transfer right from there. It's all old school- until
    I find an easier way that works for me!

  6. Blu Penny by Cindy Ann


    Thanks so much for going into more detail in about your process. I totally love that you rock it OLD SKOOL!! :-)

Share your thoughts