Your Woolbeasts are really adorable and at times slightly disturbing, but they’ve evolved over the years. Can you tell us about their evolution?

The Woolbeasts get their name from the way they were first created, back around 2005. Originally, they were all crocheted from repurposed wool yarns I collected. I was intrigued by conceptual, fine fiber arts. Highbrow stuff. The way the first creatures were made was slow and meditative; at that time my focus was more about the structural process and working with intention, rather than the final product. Incidentally, what developed from these experiments was weird and cute and people really responded to it! So, I left the highbrow stuff to the side and started stitching together strange monsters. 

I continued with wool yarn and felt, dabbling in gallery shows and the collector / designer toy world, until about 2019 – and then switched to clay sculpting and watercolor. I’ve become less interested in collectable objects and more delighted by the stories of the creatures. I needed better ways to explore their world, and the materials I use now allow for a clearer narrative. 

The book that collects them will (hopefully!) be done in the coming months. Writing has been a fantastic challenge for the Woolbeasts’ final evolution.

You’re a multi-talented artist that creates drawings, paintings, crocheted- and clay-based sculptures. Do you have a preferred medium?

I don’t! I just want more time to do all of them. When I’m sculpting, I miss painting. When I’m painting, I miss knitting. Sketchbooks are everywhere, and drawing is constant. The studio is chaotic with supplies and projects. I love it all.

What does a typical day of art creation look like for you?

In this chaos, I do try to keep organized and scheduled. Mornings, early in the week, I have a part-time project management job that I work until about noon. My artsy-brain isn’t a morning person, so that suits me.

After lunch and my Wordles, I work on Woolbeast things all afternoon. Painting or sculpting or catching up on printing/business/writing stuff: it’s focused time for creatures and their world. My husband, Max, also works from home as an illustrator and designer, so we’re in the studio together every day and that’s a lot of fun.

There’s a break for dinner – Max and I like to cook – and we walk the dog and do any house-puttering stuff. 

In the evenings, we work until probably 11 p.m. I try to keep my evening work away from the glowing screen, so that’s when I’ve been doing more sketching and writing and thumbnails, that sort of stuff. Or if I’m sculpting or painting creatures, we’ll put on a movie or two. That’s probably my favorite. We’re going through Keanu Reeves movies these days. 

Fridays and the weekends are the same, except I don’t have the part-time gig to work in the morning. I tend to use these three full days for non-Woolbeast stuff – like working on my oracle deck, Baba Yaga book, or going to the art museum. In the summer, I try to plein-air on some Fridays.

Who or what are some of your artistic influences?

That’s tricky because sometimes it’s difficult to shake out between what work you love (everything!) and what’s actually influencing what you’re making (way more focused). 

My earliest is probably Wendy and Richard Pini. You can still see some of Wendy’s influence in my figurative sketches, and that’s from those ten thousand hours of copying her illustrations of Khavi when I was a teenager. I say both Wendy and Richard, however, because I remember being wildly inspired by what they were doing: making their own story on their own terms. Working for themselves. That really got stuck in my noodle. 

I love Ingres for his colors and design and complete disregard of skeletal systems.  

Ray Johnson, lately, as I’m slowly thinking about work differently and what I want from it. He’s been on my mind a lot.

I have a ‘mood board’ of work done by friends and folks in the illustration community right now – and I change it all the time. I’m excited about what everyone is doing, and I also really try to maintain a clear head on my own work. I think, for me, the strongest influences from the community aren’t necessarily in style or technique, but rather in confidence, sensibility, and enjoyment of the craft.

Do you have any current or upcoming projects or events you’d like to tell us about?

I’m working on the Woolbeast Wayguide all year, so there will be lots of new paintings and stories. I’m also doing a short comic story about Baba Yaga’s Chicken-legged Hut, and pairing that with a zine about the Cicada explosion we’re about to have here in Illinois. Meanwhile, my Treehouse Oracle deck will probably take another five years, ha. 

In any case, work from all my projects will be with me at the 2024 Gen Con Art Show, and at Illuxcon in October 2024!


About Melissa

Melissa Sue Stanley is an illustrator and sculptor from northern Illinois. The lush green and blue landscapes of Midwestern summers are the heart of what inspires her work. Melissa’s watercolors explore open fields and deep forests, looking for the small moments of magic and mystery hidden in these environments. Her storytelling project, Grisella’s Woolbeast Wayguide, discovers the denizens of these worlds. She has been sculpting and illustrating the Woolbeasts for 15 years; they are collected in homes all over the world and have been shown in galleries across the United States.

In addition to her personal work, Melissa works with her husband, Max Bare, on unique illustrative projects for local breweries such as Revolution Brewing. Melissa’s other select clients include private portrait commissions, illustrations for Hit Point Press, and some really weird stuff for Dead Meat Productions.


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