Michelle Locklear: A Bright, Bold Balancing Act
Updated: Jan 18
By Connie Isbell
Michelle Locklear is a member of Monmouth Arts and the latest subject of our Studio Spotlight series. The series started in 2019, featuring studio visits around Monmouth County with artists of all mediums. During the quarantine period caused by COVID-19 in 2020, we're continuing to visit artists' studios remotely to check in on how local artists are coping and creating.
In addition to being a painter of colorful and often abstract pieces, Michelle Locklear is a freelance graphic designer and surface pattern designer. Painting became her passion in 1999 after studying and working in graphic design in Baltimore where she grew up. Today, she balances her freelance design work -- she started her studio, Chelle’s Creations, in 2014 -- with her painting.
Like her cheerful pieces, Michelle’s positive approach to life is reflected in her contemporary, upbeat works. As with many artists, she’s making the most of her time during COVID-19. “All I do is create,” Michelle says. “I basically live in my studio.” Though it’s easy to lose track of hours and days (Michelle admits to working until 5:00am on occasion!), the artist is disciplined about staying focused on her freelance work during regular “office hours,” before she switches over to her paintings.
Why do you make art?
Art is in my blood, it calms me. It’s soothing and it puts me in my happy place. My late father was an artist, and so were a few other family members on his side of the family. In my early childhood I was always doodling using the cartoon section of the Sunday newspaper as a reference. I can’t envision not having art be a part of my life.
Where do you find or look for inspiration?
My inspiration comes from a memory, something I feel strongly about, a dream, something I enjoy. Honestly, inspiration is all around us.
What three words would you use to describe your studio?
What do you wear to the studio?
I’m usually in a t-shirt and sweats. I love to be comfortable.
Do you work in silence or with music or the radio on?
Well, depending on my mood, I alternate between my music playlists, which consist of R&B, jazz, hip hop, funk, rock, pop, alternative, and some country. Or I’ll have on a movie that I’ve seen already just for background noise.
Has your art changed during this time of physical distancing?
The only thing that has changed is that I’m creating more art and being freer and looser with my abstract paintings.
Do you have an object or reference that you keep around to inspire you?
My inspiration usually comes when I’m outside running errands, when I’m gathering ideas for a freelance gig, or I’ll get inspired by paintings I’ve already done.
What have you been thinking about/obsessing over recently?
Since being laid off from my job, I have been obsessed with creating more large-scale paintings in sizes 36x36 and 48x48. When the pandemic hit I became completely obsessed with getting my paintings professionally photographed and scanned so I can have hi-res images for commercial use on product, fashion, and affordable digital prints. [Note: Michelle relies on one of Monmouth Arts’ member businesses, WHITEPOINT, for this.]
What is your quirkiest studio habit?
This may not be quirky, but after I’m done working in the studio everything has to be cleaned up and put back. I just can’t walk out and leave things as is, even though I know I’m coming right back to it.
Is there a piece you’ve made that you’ll never get rid of or sell?
There is a painting I did in 2008 of poppies that was painted in oils, which was my second time using the medium, the first was a portrait of Denzel Washington in 2000. But I wanted to keep the poppies for myself, and it’s hanging in my living room.
You can find Michelle Locklear’s art on her website, through Instagram, and in the ArtSpace 105 virtual and physical gallery at Monmouth Arts, through January 2021. You can also find her series of notebooks and coloring books online at Amazon.com.