We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Knight and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Melissa, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I began my journey working as a full-time artist in 2010. My son was 10 months old and I wanted to stay home with him while he was a young child. I had always made art and discovered batik art in my early twenties and over the years, had continued to work and play with this medium in my spare time. I loved the wax-resist dye process, always marveling at the layers of colors that emerged during the process. After almost 30 years working with batik, I am still enthralled! My husband Ethan Azarian, also an artist, encouraged me to pursue a career as an artist while staying home with our son Francis. I had a lot of trepidation going into full-time art. I had saved enough money to help me through the first year and I was pretty sure I would be returning to a more stable, “regular’ job after that first year. But, somehow, we made it work! During these early years, my husband and I shared the work week, each working 3 days/week and sharing the role of parenting our son. So, basically the thought process behind starting my own business was initially so that I could spend more time at home with my family. The process of starting my business was quite simple at first, I spent most of my time making art and building my website and Etsy store. We hosted art shows in our home in Austin, Texas, twice a year, transforming our home into the “In House Gallery” during the East Austin Studio Tour and for our annual holiday show. In 2015 we had the Blue Cow Studio built in our backyard, which gave some much needed separation for our home and work life. Having the Blue Cow Studio has really helped my art business which has grown and developed in different directions. I have found that I have a passion for community-based art projects and receive support for these projects from the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Division as well as my fiscal sponsor Austin Creative Alliance. My community-based art work involves collaboration with other artists, organizations and community members. Community and social practice art has become integral to my art.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
In the early years, I mostly created collage artworks, but over the years, my art has expanded. Newer works explore color, light and shadow and the interplay between these elements. The illumination of color and light/shadow become the central focus of the art and each of these elements informs the other. I really enjoy this process and how the artworks are often guided by the colors that emerge during the batik wax-dye process. I enjoy collaborating with other artists and I am excited to be collaborating on a global community art project with weaving artist Maryann Talia Pau, who created The One Million Stars to End Violence Project in Australia in 2012. The project has recently grown into One Billion Stars. I am also looking forward to collaborating with Batik Artist Rakhee Jain Desai on a public art project for Art in Public Places for the Pharr Tennis Center in Patterson Park this year. In addition to making art, I am proud that I kept going through the many challenges. Something I have learned about myself is that I have a quiet resolve and I work hard. Many of the projects I have worked on have had their own set of unique challenges, whether it be the elements (for outdoor events), funding shortfalls, city requirements or something that we are all dealing with at the moment, the pandemic. I learned pretty quickly once I started working on community art projects, that I would need to have persistence to be able to continue to do this work. I strongly believe in the value of the work I am doing and am committed to doing what it takes to make it work. For the Community “Quilt” Mosaic project I worked on with Ryah Christensen, we had limited funding and we launched a Kickstarter campaign that was SO much more challenging than I had anticipated, yet, we worked hard and reached our fundraising goal! Additionally, there were some logistical requirements for us to be able to install the community mosaic at the neighborhood center. We successfully fulfilled these requirements and now there is a beautiful, permanent 7ft x 7ft (community) mosaic at the entrance of Rosewood Zaragosa Neighborhood Center. It is pretty awesome! Visit my website for photos of the mosaic. I am currently facilitating One Million Stars Texas – weaving stars for violence free communities. We launched the project in November, 2020. Due to the pandemic, the project has been online. It has been challenging at times to facilitate online workshops. Firstly, technical difficulties are not very fun for anyone and secondly, the online format is very different from showing, sharing and connecting with community members in person. Yet, despite the challenges we are growing our star weaving community and we are problem solving and coming up with strategies for making the workshops more connecting and engaging. So far we have had people from all over Texas, Mexico, California and Canada participate in the project! (this is a benefit of the online format). I am constantly learning and growing and the main thing that I have learned along the way is to keep going and don’t give up!

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Some of my favorite places to take friends and family include the natural wonders of Barton Springs, Deep Eddy, Town Lake, the Greenbelt and Boggy Creek Trail. Pre-pandemic times, some of my favorite eating and drinking spots include Farmers Market, Enoteca, Contigo, El Dorado, Elizabeth Street Cafe, Micklethwait, Dai Due, Uchi and Uchiko (a favorite Birthday treat), Komé, Hotel San José courtyard and SO many more. For live music, Cactus Cafe and Continental Club are great venues. During the pandemic we have continued to enjoy safe curbside pick up from many of these locations. Austin has so many wonderful restaurants, cafes and bars, too numerous to name all the favorites and so many yet undiscovered. I can’t wait until we can safely dine and see live music again.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Around the time that I began working as an artist full-time, we were staying with my husband’s family (many of whom are also artists) and I found a book on the shelf called Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I picked it up and started reading and one of the first things I read was that art starts with your family and friends. It is so true! My family and friends have been my greatest supporters over the years. I could not have done it without their love, support and encouragement. My husband and I have a Patreon page for our shared art space, Blue Cow Studio. Our patrons (most of whom are friends and family) support us and our artistic endeavors on a monthly basis. This helps us so much! In 2016, I was connected with program staff from my local neighborhood/community center, Rosewood Zaragosa Neighborhood Center (RZNC), which is part of Austin Public Health. I worked with then Program Director Angel Zambrano to develop community-based art projects for the center. I am grateful to Angel and all the staff at RZNC. Finally, I am very grateful to all the artists I have had the fortune to collaborate with. Special thanks to Mosaic Artist Ryah Christensen who said yes to collaborating on a community mosaic project for RZNC and I am looking forward to collaborating with Batik Artist Rakhee Jain Desai this year on the Pharr Tennis Center Austin Art in Public Places project.

Website: www.batikbydesign.com

Instagram: @batikbydesign & @onemillionstarstexas

Facebook: www.facebook.com/batikbydesign

Other: www.facebook.com/onemillionstarstexas https://www.facebook.com/unmillondeestrellastexas

Image Credits
Brian David Johnson (privacy screen photo), Leon Alesi (Art board photo with Frost Tower in background), Personal Photo: Ish Kundawala

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