Some people are just born creative and their creativity always finds an outlet, be it problem solving, cooking or in Melanie O’Keefe’s case, the arts. O’Keefe has two great loves, ballet and painting. Growing up, she showed great drawing ability. In fact, in elementary school she taught other kids how to draw. She also took ballet and ultimately became a principal dancer in a small ballet company. She concentrated on her dancing until she went to college. Art was discouraged as “you have to be able to support yourself”. O’Keefe went for a degree in finance because her brother and sister were doing well with their finance degrees. O’Keefe was miserable but still managed to graduate. After marrying, she wanted to go back to school. By this time art was a thing of the past and she decided to get a degree in Interior Design. Back then there was little or no graphic design on computers so everything was drafted by hand. O’Keefe was able to intern and then went to work for an international design firm where she mostly focused on renderings. Working on the renderings stirred up the desire to do art again. She credits her current ability to see spatially and to internalize measurements to those early years of drafting. Years later O’Keefe volunteered to do murals in two large halls of a church’s nursery. Not once did it occur to her that she couldn’t do it. She created the scenes and invented all the characters. To this day she still receives compliments on her work there. It was this project that spurred her on to try painting on canvas. Well this turned out to be the beginning of an eventual career.
Not having any formal training O’Keefe just assumed that the more
real a painting looked the better the art. She was so very naive. It
would take her a month to do just one painting but it was so
realistic that you would have thought it was a photograph. She
even did a portrait of her two sons, although technically it was
quite good, her use of color needed some work.
O’Keefe didn’t understand how to use color properly and the importance of values, but many years later the portrait still hangs in the master bedroom. Painting was put on pause as her sons becameteenagers, as she will tell you “they were a handful”. Once hersons left home in 2013 is when O’Keefe, without hesitation,plunged into art full time.
O’Keefe was absolutely clueless about the art world and how to sell her art. But she is a very determined and passionate person and once she makes up her mind nothing will stop her. A friend suggested she enter a local juried art show and join the local art association. She began to meet other artists and all their different styles, uses of color and techniques. She took some classes and workshops. But most of all her dedication to her art – working most waking hours, 7 days a week – helped her develop her style and continuously improve. She started painting with acrylics but eventually moved to oils. O’Keefe has a motto “when you don’t know something you always go to the best in the field for answers”. She gives a lot of credit to her two mentors for keeping her going (she can be very hard on herself) and for teaching her the ropes. One has been her painting mentor, with whom she now shares a studio. The other is more of a business mentor, recommending which shows were good or bad, how to
apply on Zapp, the equipment needed, etc.
O’Keefe paints nature/landscapes and it never occurred to her to paint anything else. She believes there is nothing more beautiful than Mother Nature. She has had the opportunity to travel and see some wonders of the world. But to her even a small pond with sun reflecting off the water can not only be beautiful but also have an emotional connection – a place of quiet and reflection. Her goal in her paintings is to paint places of calm and make the viewer feel as if they could walk into the painting and relax. As it turns out many people who have commented or bought her art say it makes them feel calm and relaxed. There may be some exceptions but that is her main goal. Part of this connection is very personal for her, as
growing up was very stressful and she would go to places such as a creek, up on a mountain or in the woods to find quiet and peace.
O’Keefe is grateful for the amazing doors that have opened and the attention to her art in these few short years. She currently belongs to the National Oil and Painter’s Society and Oil Painters of America. She has been published in the nationally distributed Southwest Art Magazine twice. In 2017 she was one of the winners of the NOAPS “Best of America Exhibit” award. She has had solo exhibits at Lowe Mill Arts Center and the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. She has been featured in local magazines and interviewed on television by a local station. She currently travels the
country doing juried art shows, teaches art classes and does commission work. One of her repeat clients has been a retired senator from the country of Panama. She has now moved into a beautiful new studio/gallery/teaching studio with her mentor.
If you were to ask O’Keefe what her mission is she would say “To always grow as an artist and get better at having her potential and current clients connect to her paintings because they love the art and connect to the painting on an emotional basis.”