People

Flow Like an Artist

I’m lying here in a sensory deprivation tank floating in a dark pool of salty water. There is no light or sound. I’m only mildly aware of my body. The one thing I am aware of at this moment, somewhere between being awake and dreaming, is my mind. And right now my mind is wondering, “What in the hell am I doing here?”

And then I remember. Oh right, Mel.

My friend Melanie Biehle is a Seattle-based artist, photographer, and writer. She’s one of those multi-talented women you want to be like. She’s artistic, genuine, and has a killer sense of humor. Plus, she rocks a Marc Jacobs Boom Boom lip like nobody’s business.

I met Melanie about four years ago at a blogging conference. Each of us had inadvertently entered a toilet paper contest. It’s the type of predicament only a blogger can find themselves in—like taking too many pictures of their “cute” shoes against a backdrop of patterned floors. It was mostly a popularity contest, although we didn’t know it at the time. Whoever won got to interview a famous interior designer. Melanie knew the designer. I didn’t. In the end neither of us was popular enough, but a friendship was formed.

I’m a couple minutes into my float now—float is the New-Agey term for spending time in a sensory deprivation tank—and my mind is racing. Melanie warned me that would happen. She said letting my mind relax would take time but the benefits would be lasting. “I float about once a month and it makes the world slow down. Or maybe it’s that the world is busy around me, but I don’t feel busy.” When she said that, with just the tiniest hint of a Southern accent, I thought, “Yes, I totally need to try it.”

I’d probably try anything that Melanie suggested. She has a fierceness I strive to imitate.

When I make art, I can be completely present.

Growing up in a small rural town in Louisiana, Melanie fell in love with art at an early age. She created art installations in her room, hanging Diet Coke cans from the ceiling and covering the wall in Esprit ads and a provocative poster of Prince. Her mom had her take down the Prince poster. The rest stayed. Her parents were supportive but encouraged her to pursue something that would support her, like teaching. A career in art never entered the picture.

But still she loved type, design, color. Art inspired her, but didn’t help her fit in. “My joke was that my real parents were driving through in their VW bus on their way cross country and the babies got switched.”

Melanie-Biehle-Abstract-Pastel-Drawing-Pink-Gray-WEB

At 19, Melanie found her tribe when she fell in with a small crowd of art-loving kids. They’d trade thoughts on music and talk about artists they loved. She says, in a sense “they rescued me.” They all had big dreams and eyes set beyond the horizon. Melanie had her sights set all the way on the West Coast. At 20, she and a friend made a pact to move to Seattle because “that’s where everything was happening.”

After college she moved around from Seattle to Atlanta to Los Angeles to Seattle again. Each city marked a new chapter in her life. “I’ve spent a lot of time between living in big cities and the middle of nowhere.”

As I lie in the dark feeling weightless I think about the chapters in our lives. Where does one end and the next begin? A divorce. A death. A layoff. How does anyone recover? It takes a bold move to get out of bed and believe in the next day.

Boldness and color are Melanie’s trademarks. She wears them well. Her hair is dark; her lips bright fuchsia. When I ask about her art, she smiles and says, “I love putting different color combinations together. It’s not an intellectual thing, it’s more about what attracts me visually.” There’s an easiness about her as she says it. It just flows right out of her.



We set a date to talk about our plans for the future. We’re both in transition. We’re flowing from one thing to another. So much of life is like that. While she’s continuing to make fine art, she’s also starting to license her work. So many of her prints and patterns lend themselves to it. I tell her I can see them on fabric. She can too.

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I share my plans and fears with her. Melanie listens and tells me about her own experiences with rejection. Coming from someone who is so accomplished and so talented, it makes me feel lighter.

Neither of us knows for certain what the future holds, but for Melanie it always comes back to this, “When I make art, I can be completely present. It’s one of those flow moments.” And I see it in her work. The colors and shapes feel right.

The tank’s filtration system has kicked on signaling the end of my floating session. I emerge from the darkness and take a moment. I can’t tell if the world has slowed down any, but I do know this—I know exactly what I’m doing here.

Thank you, Mel.