Hello! I’m Melanie Loon and I am the Executive Assistant to Sarah Dubbeldam, our CEO & Editor-in-Chief at Darling Media. As the Personas’ artist-in-residence for Darling Issue No. 21, I thought I might give a little back story to the ladies you’ll see in the Balance issue.
I’ve always loved drawing and did it constantly throughout grade school, but I sort of put it down while I focused on design and communication in college. During my senior year I took a life drawing class that really pushed my courage and tested my confidence in something that I’d been doing for as long as I’d had a bedtime to neglect for more pieces of paper.
This May I’d pushed myself to just pitch one art display at a new coffee shop in Darling’s neighborhood. I hadn’t made some sort of solid effort in about a year to do that, so it was time. The response was “Yes!” and so, for the month of June, I had four pieces of digital art on display there.
My Darling family was extremely supportive of the art display in the summer, starting with our Photo Editor Rebekah, who said from the get-go we HAD to celebrate once everything was up.
Celebrate we did. We had lunch as a team at the cafe and I felt like the luckiest. Later at the cafe, during a meeting of mine and Sarah’s, she looked at one of my pieces that employed some portraiture. It’s a digital work called “Modelesque” that grew from my first pencil experiment to check on any extra skill that life drawing class gave me. It’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever done (and there are about eight versions living on my old computer).
“Do you want to do the Personas? You should do the Personas! Alright, it’s settled, I have my artist for fall,” Sarah said.
I’ve gotten to do so much and grow so much at Darling, in ways I never imagined, that I had forgotten this was actually a dream of mine. So, another “YES.”
The Personas are one of the most unique aspects of Darling. Most times we like to describe them — The Dreamer, The Achiever, The Hostess, The Intellectual, The Beautician The Confidant, The Stylist and The Explorer — as the many hats women wear, often at the same time. I like to interject usually at the same time.
If they seem to be archetypes separate from each other, they really are not, and this was important to me to convey in my rendering of them. In my process I start with a feeling, draw a portrait in pencil on paper and then bring it into Adobe Illustrator to tweak and shape with color and abstract forms.
I didn’t start or finish these in the order they appear in the actual magazine, so here they are!
I’ll start with sharing about this one since it’s a portrait of my best friend, which I kept a secret for about three months until we received the first physical copies of the issue in the office. Rachel moved away in August to pursue her Ph.D in Romance Linguistics at Berkeley. She asked and asked about how the drafts were going of her favorite Personas, the Achiever and the Intellectual, and it was a lot easier to skirt the questions over text while she was getting oriented at Cal.
Another of my best friends, Hayley, convinced me this one had to be Rach and I think she embodies a joy in learning.
The Dreamer is the first persona I finished and set the tone for the style of all eight pieces. Other pieces seemed to have garnered more favor, but I do say “the first cut is the deepest…” To be a Dreamer, you have to be brave. Embracing your dreams shouldn’t be something looked at as easy or silly. It takes courage to step into all the growth of the beauty you can be and give.
This is a bit of an homage to how long I’ve loved print magazines. My first magazine subscription was probably “Highlights for Kids.” I also received Disney Adventures and Teen Vogue, which I still keep alongside Nancy Drew hardbacks on my bookshelf. So much inspiration for drawing!
I modeled the Stylist after a photo in a Teen Vogue hair story about big, fancy ponytails but rather liked the slicked back look with curls gelled onto the model’s temples. The ponytail was a great mass of curly-cues I didn’t feel the need to include…and I also ran out of room at the border of my sketchbook.
I met MJ on a camping trip in Big Sur, my first time camping and it was glorious. MJ is a fellow illustrator and fellow Melanie, and I love her confidence and kindness. She’s also got mad skills accentuating her eyes with sharp, clean cat eye liner. She works it. We’re not quite of the same ethnic background (she’s Korean and I’m Chinese) but we have some similarities in the shape of our noses.
Growing up, I was self conscious about how my nose didn’t seem to narrow or point the same way as most celebrated characters or people. It’s funny that sometimes we are critical about traits in ourselves we would never think awry in another person we care about.
In that life drawing class, I really learned to illustrate what I see and fight what my brain tries to fill in the blanks with. While I don’t have the same insecurities about my nose now, honing your craft as an artist really can be an exercise in self-love and acceptance.
She doesn’t look very much like her now, but The Confidant was inspired by Solange, especially a bit of art I saw promoting her tour for “A Seat at the Table.” I loved the sort of reverence there was about how confident and at peace she looked, something I think resides in every confidant we trust to listen to and guide us. It’s definitely what I hope to grow in as someone others can lean on.
This one has the most versions out of all eight! I actually haven’t told the person who inspired this piece that it’s her… hoping she likes it, haha! It was important, especially to Sarah, that the Hostess have a look and feel of open arms, and isn’t that how any space feels when a Hostess has done her magic there?
Since the Balance issue is a discussion on the energies of masculine and feminine, I wanted to keep away from my natural love for flowing mermaid hair. I gave a little more abstraction in the color and shape her hair take here. Our former intern Joscie is a really artistic writer and I always like her style.
I liked the hopeful look she had in the photo I drew from, a perspective I think we should have in considering the health of our own inner and outer beauty.
It was important to me that The Achiever be joyful and be anything but hard or aloof. We can certainly all agree that success is more than what we rack up on our resumés or how good our elevator speech is. The Achiever leads with a sense of generosity and loves crossing something off her list because something that was previously impossible has been proved otherwise.
She loves to reach new heights, conquer goals and relishes a community that encourages and leaves others believing in more. I hope you find this very encouragement throughout Darling Issue No. 21! Thanks for following along!
Don’t forget! If you’re not already, become a subscriber here to see all of these illustrations up close in Issue 21.
Illustrations via Melanie Loon