Melanie Viens (@melaniejviens) is drawing her way across the USA. The 23-year-old East Boston artist is working on a map of America, filling each state with crowd-sourced totems from the minds of locals. The Globe chatted with her about her artistic road trip.
Q. When did you start learning illustration?
A. I started drawing when I was in second grade. In my town where I grew up in New Hampshire, Hampstead, there is a local artist and she taught kids ages second grade to seniors in high school for drawing and painting and stuff like that. She just ran it out of her house, basically. My mom set me up with her when I was in second grade. At some point in my middle school years, there was a time when I almost decided to not [stick with art], but there was a point in time where every project I did, even if I didn’t like doing it, I liked the results of it. Art was something that, for me, I could see myself improving at it.
Q. How did you get into mapmaking?
A. I’m not really sure where I started doing it. I like doodle-y, representative cute stuff that you would hang on a wall or remember where you’re from. When I drew the New Hampshire one, I drew that partially for me because I was not living there anymore, but New Hampshire’s got all this random, quirky stuff that you know about but don’t actively search it out, like Story Land. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t go there, but I miss it. I liked drawing all those little motifs and placing them places and seeing where all that stuff was when I actually lined it up because when you’re a kid, you’re driving two hours up and you don’t know where you’re going in New Hampshire. You’re just like, “I’m going upward toward the place that is fun.”
Q. You’re working on a quilt-like map of the United States. How did that project start?
A. I have this little cutting machine. I’m on all these Facebook pages about it. It’s these groups of people from all over the country. You can post and they’ll help you either troubleshoot or they’ll help you come up with ideas for your next project. The amount of things that I see that are state specific is kinda funny. People will make very specific clothing. I actually posted on one of those pages, and I was like, “Hey, tell me where you’re from and tell me about clichés about your state” and I got the majority of them. There was one state [Indiana] that I could not find a single person from until finally someone I work with had a cousin who lives there.
Q. What has the process been like so far?
A. Doing a map of [the entire country] has helped me learn about states. There were some random things about states I did not know were popular there because I’d either never been there or I just hadn’t thought about it a ton and I knew it was in the Midwest and I had never adventured that far to be specific toward it. For Georgia, I drew peaches and some lady from Georgia was like, “Well, we actually don’t make as many peaches as you think” and made this whole list of other things. There was a point in time where I got to some of the middle states and I’d asked the people online about it and they were like, “We have a lot of corn.” And I was like, “OK, we’re gonna have to get more into this.” I know that they have [more specific identities].Interview was edited and condensed. Jenni Todd can be reached at jenni.todd@globe