In our Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy’s talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story.
Last spring, like so many of us, Miami-based creative Melissa Koby of M. Koby Art found herself searching for a way to process what was happening in the world. So she did what she’s done all her life, and turned to art to make sense of it all. Her resulting illustrations captured women alone at home, meditating, drinking wine, and savoring slivers of normalcy amidst the uncertainty. Melissa dubbed the prints “the Quarantine series,” and they instantly struck a chord with her global customer base. “I made these images to connect with people, to try and make them feel seen during a difficult time,” Melissa says. “I wanted to invoke a mood of peace, warmth, and safety.”
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Today, every fierce, frame-worthy piece in Melissa’s shop reaffirms the central themes of her work and her life—women pressing on and supporting one another through times of sorrow and moments of triumph—and her inspiring collection serves as a welcome reminder that beauty and courage can be found even in challenging times. “In my work, I want to let the world know that we’re going to stand together and stand strong,” says Melissa. “I’m a big believer in being hopeful.”
Read on to find out how Melissa makes art as a form of self-care and discover the print that went viral overnight—then shop the M. Koby Art collection.
How did you get your start painting and illustrating?
I’ve always considered myself a creative person. I’ve been painting since I was a child and started doing digital illustrations last January. When we went into lockdown, the only thing I had to do was draw. It kept me sane. So I started sharing my Quarantine series on Instagram, and added it to my Etsy shop when someone asked if they could buy a print. A few months later, I felt the need to address politics and social injustice through my art. The catalyst was my illustration “Change is Coming,” which went viral on Instagram.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I err on the side of minimal, and I’m very intentional in my color choices. I use a very warm color palette of beige-y, pinky colors that I find myself drawn to, and I like to play with texture and work with negative space. I always keep my subjects faceless, because in addition to normalizing seeing women of color in illustrations, I want to leave expression open to interpretation. The viewer can decide what emotion they want to get from my work.
Tell us about some of your most popular prints.
My best-selling print is “Built on Pride,” and “Together” is a close second. Before I drew “Built on Pride,” all of my work had a little bit of pain behind it. But then I had a powerful personal experience where all my friends came together to rally behind me. I didn’t ask for help—people just showed up. I felt so supported, and I was overwhelmed with love for my friends. Our relationship is built on pride. I created that image because I wanted people to share that feeling of love and support.
What’s your creative process like?
Everything I create is based on my mood and emotions at the time. I’m able to translate what I feel to imagery, and there’s real intention and meaning behind every drawing. When I created “Coffee Date,” for example, I was stuck at home for weeks, and the one thing I really wanted to do was call my friends and go grab coffee. So I put a little bit of all of them into that illustration, showing us sitting on a wall, just having coffee together. It’s something I wanted but couldn’t have in the moment.
Can you tell us how nature inspires your work?
I’m a plant mama, and I’ve been doing a lot of landscapes with mountains lately. I love drawing broad, open spaces that represent complete freedom. I want whoever looks at my landscapes to feel complete serenity and peace, and above all else, remain hopeful. That’s why I always have a little moon or sun of hope in my work. The sun is my signature, and it means a lot to me. It’s the final thing that I add, and I won’t ever put it in until I’m sure I’m done with the image.
How did women and girls come to be a dominant theme in your work?
Women are underrepresented in art, especially women of color. We’re strong, beautiful, and so much more powerful than the media gives us credit for. It’s my duty to represent us exactly as I see us, and amplify that as much as possible. This is who I am, and who I want to represent. I believe that when women win, we all win.
Speaking of representation in art, what do you hope your customers feel when they look at your pieces?
When I see something beautiful, I want to own it, and I want people to feel that about my work, and the work of other Black artists, especially Black female artists, because we’re a minority in the industry. I don’t want someone to blink an eye when they purchase one of my prints just because it may represent a different culture—even if it doesn’t look like you, it doesn’t mean you can’t identify with it. I like taking the time to educate people about having diverse art in their homes.
So, what’s next for M. Koby Art?
These days, my illustrations are focused around peace, because what I’m working through right now. My personal goal is to find peace—to remain hopeful, remain mindful, but protect your peace. I feel very fortunate to be able to connect with people at this time in history. I started this because I wanted to reach people, and I felt alone. Having people flood in to answer my cry for connection is surreal. I’m humbled by it, and I never take it for granted. It creates an invisible bond between me and my customers.
Follow M. Koby Art on Instagram.
Photography by Ashlee Hamon unless otherwise noted.
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