Apr 13, 2023
Charlton Fine Art
I certainly do not know much about fine art, but I am a creative type, so I do know when I’m gazing upon something truly special. And, while all kinds of art speak to me on some level in some way, there are those moments when you view, read, watch, or listen to something that transcends awareness, then reaches right into the core of your being and snags hold of your soul. That is when you know something inside of you has met its counterpart in something else, and I met a piece of mine in the artwork of Melanie Charlton, owner of Charlton Fine Art.
A few weeks ago, I opened Facebook and right there waiting in my feed was a gorgeous portrait of a Boston Terrier that took my breath away. See, I have a soft spot for Bosties because I have one. While my brain knew I was looking at a painting, my heart and eyeballs swore differently. The image was so lifelike and full of such heartfelt personality that I had to know more about the artist who painted it.
Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Melanie Charlton is an absurdly gifted and completely self-taught contemporary artist with a heavily rooted focus on imaginative realism/surrealism. Painting since 2007, her work reflects her genuine love and passion for animals and nature. She’s 100% a perfectionist, and each of her pieces reflect that. From dogs and elephants to farmhouses, winter streams, and dreamscapes, Charlton’s paintings are certainly worthy of lighted displays and glass cases.
What makes her unique as a contemporary artist aren’t her subjects, though; it’s her … who she is. Melanie is kind and authentic, very gentle and deeply empathetic—a genuinely sweet soul, and those qualities are what come through most in her art. Her intentional, delicate touches of surrealism interweave with her style of realism and organically work together to capture not just the individuality of each subject but also each subject’s essence. Charlton’s images are captivating in the tiniest details, but don’t just take my word for it; see for yourself. This is Mickey, guys. Check out the fine detail and really spend some time looking into this sweet pup’s eyes, see what you notice. Then, check out my conversation with Melanie about her influences, her processes, and her love for dogs.
MaM: Melanie, thank you so much for taking some time away from your studio to chat with us and introduce yourself to our world. How were you introduced to art and by whom?
MC: Memories of my mom painting at her easel still float around in my head. When I was very little, I was not allowed to touch her oil paints and things because she used [supplies] like turpentine but was totally exposed to her creative process. By the time I was in kindergarten, one of my favorite places was in the sun-filled corner of the classroom at the little easel. I can still smell the paint pucks!
MaM: What impact did that have on you as a child?
MC: My first experiences were out in Alberta, and those memories of my mother, mixed with my very vivid dreams (which always included animals and birds), impacted me deeply. I used to get teased by my family for not being able to distinguish my dreams from reality. [They used to say], ‘Oh look, she’s having a Melory again.’ A Melory is one of my memories that didn’t happen but is what [my family] called it. (laughs)
My art has allowed me to think about things, and it allows me to create a space for my mind to work things out at my own pace [while] afford[ing] myself the peace and patience away from the rest of the world. My art has definitely helped me discover what I truly value in life.
MaM: What specifically about art spoke to you? What drew you in (no pun intended)?
MC: Ha ha, I’ve always been drawn to anything that creates an emotional response! The ability to capture a specific feeling or dream-like atmosphere always inspires me. It’s like looking for that little spark that stirs your inner soul when you see it. To create art that can be experienced is so satisfying.
MaM: Yes! That’s exactly what you do: create art that isn’t just seen, it’s also experienced on a deeply emotional level. What do you love most about imaginative realism/surrealism, and how do you convey that in your work?
MC: Imaginative realism/surrealism has a lack of logic and an intensity that dives right into people’s personal thoughts and feelings. It’s honest and isn’t required to make sense. I think we all have a creative streak in us; however, our world teaches us to be practical and ignore our impulsive urges. If I think about how I convey this in my work, I laugh. The thought of a grown woman sitting down to paint a picture of someone’s dog, or a dream, is not practical, [nor is it] a serious line of work by today’s standards. Sometimes, I receive a funny response when I tell people I paint pet portraits but then sometimes, I meet people who love their animals so dearly—those are my people. The love and refuge we exchange with the soul of a pet is pure.
MaM: Completely pure and unconditional. It’s so beautiful, and it’s very different than the love and refuge we exchange with other people, I think. Tell us about the four-legged babies in your life and what led you to paint them.
MC: I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that had a dog named Joey. He was a big mixed breed with two dots for eyebrows. Very loving and very scared of thunderstorms. His death was the only time I saw my father cry, even though he tried to hide it from us. After Joey, we were lucky enough to get a dog breed my father had always wanted as a child: a Boston Terrier.
Ernie was the runt of the litter but ruler of the household! I don’t think I experienced all the highs of love and the lows of loss until Ernie. Maybe I learned you can’t have one without the other and that I am fine with that and even respect it. Years later, after Ernie, I moved out and, of course, decided to get my own Boston Terrier, Maggie. She was with me 11 years and was the epitome of the world’s sweetest girl. She broke our hearts when she passed. Words don’t convey the love or the loss [I felt for her], and she was my first portrait. Time doesn’t heal, and I actually haven’t finished her main portrait, yet. I think it keeps her closer and that chapter open. The decision to get another Boston was made as my husband and I found ourselves chasing other Boston owners down on the street to meet their dogs. … Now, we’re the proud parents of our 10-year-old boy Toby, who is literally treated like royalty, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
MaM: Oh, I completely get that. My Bostie is, for sure, the Queen Elizabeth of our lives. Do you have a favorite painting of your own? If so, what is it and why? What does it represent for you?
MC: After all [my] years of painting, I actually don’t have a favorite piece. I just see the personalities and can’t choose. I do like one of my work-in-progress pictures of my previous Boston Terrier, Maggie. It’s just her, and I feel her eternal connection.
MaM: You hit the nail on the head. Eternal connection … that is exactly what your portraits provide. Those are the two words epitomizing your work. Do you ever do any live paintings?
MC: Live paintings? Ahhhh! I cringe at the idea, as most of the time I [am] painting in my pajamas. (laughter) I can barely stand my own family coming into my art room until I’m happy with what I create. Maybe one day. I wish I could be more open, but I think sometimes it takes more than one attempt at working things out. I hold dear the time, space, and patience to focus on who [and what] I’m painting.
MaM: How do you capture a pup’s (or animal’s) personality? And seriously, how do you get your paintings to look so life-like? Because viewing your work is like looking at live images. Your talent is truly breathtaking.
MC: Making them look real has taken years of experimenting with color, and I honestly feel like I am just starting to learn. One of my favorite books is ‘Oil Painting Secrets from a Master’ by Linda Cateura. Her book on David A. Leffel is superb on how to see light and color … painting the light and how it bounces off things and painting what you really see. For instance, when you look outside and see the snow, it’s white, right? Well, no. It’s pink, purple, blue, and everything in between. It is the same with white fur … and the same with the eyes. I love their eyes. I see the colors in them and know exactly how I want them.
MaM: What do you get commissioned to do most?
MC: Mostly, I get commissioned for Boston Terrier portraits. I was lucky enough that the breeder we got our Toby from was connected to a few Boston Terrier groups on Facebook and invited me in. Here and there, I received commissions of other breeds and honestly, I just feel very honored when asked. It’s such a personal request from a stranger, sometimes on the other side of the world! Love is always stronger, so I think it’s a good thing to be putting out in the world, and I really hope people feel that when they see my work.
MaM: Of all the things to be putting out there in the world, love is where it’s at, for sure. We feel such tender love in your work. So, would you take us through your process when an idea strikes?
MC: It is not very often that I draw my initial ideas on canvas or board to begin. Usually, I sketch out my concepts on paper first, refine them to exactly what I want, and then transfer them to the canvas or board using transfer paper.
This avoids excessive erasing marks or muddying the paint, especially light colors with lead/charcoal. [It also avoids] creating a lovely sagging canvas.
MaM: I sense some sarcasm there, ha ha. What are you currently working on, sans sagging canvas? (laughs)
MC: Right now … I am actually working on the largest piece to date, which will be a wildlife Elk painting, 48 inches by 60 inches on a gallery-wrapped canvas, completed in oils.
MaM: Wow. Nice. Are oils your preferred medium?
MC: Oil paints are my favorite, as I find the layering can be infinite (good for correcting things), and they, of course, take longer to dry. I am really aiming for the Elk piece I’m working on right now to land between the real feeling[s] of being out in nature and in a dream, with deep vibrant color.
Initially, I tried to paint with acrylics; however, they really limit the time you have with a piece because of drying times, and you really only get about three layers before they start destroying the piece.
MaM: We’re sure your Elk piece will be stunning, and we can’t wait to see it! Your work embodies such warmth. It just embraces you as the viewer. We thank you so much for speaking with us. Before we go, we want to know: What are you currently watching?
MC: I have to say, it has been a pleasure to answer your questions, and I also have to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the kind words about my work.
MaM: Aw, well we mean every word! We’re glad you’re out there in the world sharing your gift with the rest of us.
MC: For streaming things right now, we’ve been watching ‘Yellowstone.’ … I do like the unapologetic nature; however, I am huge fan of sci-fi and, of course, romance.
Click here to see more of Melanie's work, or to have a piece commissioned, visit her online at www.CharltonFineArt.com. Then, connect with her on social media from her home page and show her some love!
*images taken from artist website
Questions or comments? Email Keeley at email@example.com.