Purveyor of Pattern
Melanie Nead BA ’04, founder and creative director of Lonesome Pictopia, strives to make the Pacific Northwest beautiful through wallpaper, murals, and other decorative goods.
What brought you to Lewis & Clark?
I grew up in Santa Cruz, California. I had a vague sense of Portland being romantic and cool and—mainly—not in California. I found Lewis & Clark on the “baby internet” (this was in 1998), and it was the only college I applied to. My time at L&C remains perhaps the single most important formative experience of my life. I was like a plant finally getting watered, and I soaked up everything I could. I was so incredibly hungry for that kind of academic rigor and engaged thought and dialogue. After taking a leave of absence and working, I leaned all the way in and was able to walk with my graduating class, wringing every drop out of the experience.
After graduating as an English major, you began a 15-year career as a tattoo artist. How did you become interested in this art form?
During my first year of college, a friend and I took the Pio Express to get tattoos that I designed done by Dustin Ranck at Icon Tattoo. After I designed tattoos for a few other people, Dustin offered me a tattoo apprenticeship. When I graduated from Lewis & Clark, I thought that since I liked art and people, it was something I could do for a year before pursuing a PhD in English. But tattooing is such a difficult craft to master––it takes years to become even passable as an artist––and once I was in, I really wanted to become good at it.
What is the origin story of your interiors business, Lonesome Pictopia?
I envisioned the business as a creative collective that provides true artistic autonomy and space for expression, as well as a means to make a living in commercial design while working on projects from design to installation. At Lonesome Pictopia, we manufacture original wallpapers using historical analog printing methods, and we make custom decorative paintings and murals for both residential and commercial properties that are influenced by historical design. We also create custom tiles and can carry out all kinds of interesting finishes, including gilding. I wear many hats, including founder, lead designer, painter, creative director, photographer, and secretary. I now have an amazing crew of four other women working alongside me.
How would you describe the style of your creations?
I really love historical design, decorative arts, and antiquities. I love the cultural story of pattern and what is traditionally seen as “women’s work,” like lace and needlepoint. These are spaces where women historically have been given the freedom to express themselves creatively. At Lonesome Pictopia, I want to create work that is deeply designed and bridges the gap between fine and applied arts. At its best, I love how democratic the applied arts can be–– connecting to pattern and art on walls is one of the most fundamentally human experiences.
What does the future hold for Lonesome Pictopia?
In terms of development, I want to give everyone on my team raises and benefits. I also hope to engage more female and nonbinary artists to create for us. In the long term, I want to make a real difference through our nonprofit partnerships and ensure that our sales are making a positive impact on our community. I want to make the world a bit more beautiful.