Melissa Washburn

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Melissa Washburn, Illustrator, Artist, and Designer

Where are you from?

I grew up in Upstate New York, but have called the Midwest home since 1996, and have lived in Valparaiso, Indiana since 2005.

How did you get started?

I started drawing and painting when I was very young, and my parents encouraged me by enrolling me in art classes at the local YWCA and helping me to find artistic mentors. I earned a BFA in studio art, but didn’t start getting into graphic design until graduate school, when I began working in marketing and exhibition coordination in the museum world. Fast forward a couple of design jobs and fifteen years later, when I began to realize that illustration was the sweet spot that combined everything I loved about design with my own voice as an artist.

Do you have a side hustle or hobbies?

I love to cook and knit, but my biggest hobby is nature. I love to hike, read about natural history, and I plan to get my Indiana Master Naturalist accreditation this fall. This is the hobby that provides the main inspiration for all of my personal work.

What was one of your biggest mistakes and what did you learn from it?

Worrying too much about what other people were making, instead of what I needed to be making. If you ask five industry people for advice on what your portfolio should look like or what you should be doing, you’re going to get five completely contradictory answers, so take it all in but forge your own path. I’m not saying ignore trends or ignore client needs, but your best work is going to come from what you know and love and the sooner you dive into that wholeheartedly, the faster you’re going to find your footing.

What are the top tools you need to do your job?

Coffee. My sketchbook, Staedler fineliner pens, good watercolors and brushes. My iMac and Photoshop, and increasingly my iPad Pro and Apple pencil. I know, that’s a lot of things, but I switch back and forth pretty fluidly between all of them.

Who or what inspires you and why?

See above… the natural world. There’s just an endless amount to learn, so much beauty, and some really profoundly weird stuff.

What do you love about Northwest Indiana?

The fact that the Indiana Dunes is our backyard, with Lake Michigan and lots of hiking and wild areas, but it’s a location that also allows you to be in downtown Chicago in less than 90 minutes.

What resources are you finding to educate yourself?

Conferences (the ICON Illustration conference has been a HUGE thing for me), online groups/classes, and my illustration collective (

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your industry?

Network network network. Be patient, with others, but also with yourself.

What’s next for you?

“Leveling up” in terms of illustration projects/clients. I want to get into licensing (surface pattern illustration/greeting cards), and hopefully some bigger editorial and advertising projects in 2019.

Where can we find you? and I’m very active on Instagram: @mwashburnart