Artist Spotlight: Melissa Payne Baker

Artist Melissa Payne Baker in her studio

As part of our Exclusive Artist Program, we’re collaborating with a handful of independent artists whose work can only be found in galleries to bring their creative vision to our customers. They create artwork exclusively for us — you won’t find these pieces anywhere else — and you get to enjoy the next best thing to original art at an affordable price.

One of our newest Exclusive Artists is Melissa Payne Baker, whose collection appears under the name Sasha Art. Awarded Best Atlanta Artist by Jezebel and Atlanta magazines as well as hailed as the Atlanta art scene’s “new belle” by Modern Luxury Interiors Atlanta magazine, Melissa has become the darling of the city’s best interior designers. Her paintings, featuring thick swirls and swipes of color in rich hues, are the perfect punctuation to complete any room.    

Melissa was kind enough to invite us to her home’s basement studio, where she creates her popular works of art. What we learned right off the bat was this: even if she didn’t start her career as an artist, she was certainly bound to become one. It’s in her DNA. Both of her paternal grandparents were painters. Her grandfather was also a woodworker. Her mother is a painter. Both her father and brother are metal sculptors. She says she had always dabbled in art growing up, and even attended art classes with her grandfather when she was eight. “I was always painting and creating things,”she said. “It’s always been in me.”

Melissa Payne Baker's home featuring Ballard Designs Amiel Mirror

We were delighted to find that Melissa loves our furniture as much as we love her art. This is our Amiel Arched Mirror.

Her three-and-a-half year old son, Payne, is already a better artist than most of us. The artist proudly showed off her son’s wall gallery in her basement hallway. And we were pleasantly surprised to find we had a mutual respect for one another: Melissa’s home is filled with many Ballard gems. Read on to find out more about Melissa and see photos from her home.

Ballard Designs: Tell us a little bit about yourself — how did you end up in Atlanta?

Melissa Payne Baker: I went to Ole Miss and was a marketing major and came to Atlanta through friends that lived here. I got a job with an interior design firm in Buckhead and worked in interior design for 10 years and loved it.

Artist Melissa Payne Baker in the studio in her home

Melissa loves to fuse her two passions: interior decorating and painting. “You can decorate around a piece of art you love, or you can find art that anchors the whole room and completes it.”

BD: How did you make the transition to becoming an artist?

MPB: When I moved here, my girlfriends and I had what we called art night together, and they would always tell me that I should sell my work, but I just never knew how to get it out there. Then my best friend who was part of art night passed away in a car accident, and soon after I was asked to donate a painting to a charity auction in Atlanta. There was a bidding war that night, and I got a call the next day for a commission. It snowballed from there — and that was 10 years ago. I continued working in interior design while also getting in at Ann Irwin here in Atlanta. Then Trinity School picked me up and I sold 20 pieces at that first show. Finally, I got in at Huff Harrington Fine Art gallery where I’ve been for eight years, and that’s when I started doing it full time. I also show my art in galleries across the southeast, from Dallas to Nashville. 

Artist Melissa Payne Baker's studio

BD: How would you describe your art?

MPB: I mostly do abstract acrylic on canvas, and I like to use pops of color and thick textures. I try to convey a feeling  to the viewer. I want to draw the viewer in. Some people say, “I see a sailboat” or “I see an angel.” It’s really nice to have people at my shows stop in front of my art and say, “Wow, that’s so calming.” It just pulls people in and I love that.

Melissa Payne Baker's dining room

The artist confesses to keeping a few of her favorites for her own walls. “I just connected with them, so I had to keep them. But I always say I would never let anything leave my studio if I wouldn’t put it on my own wall.”

BD: Your work is distinctive in that you have these thick, bold strokes. How do you achieve that?

MPB: I play with different mediums. I’ll use wall putty and thicker paints. I apply the texture first and then I add layer upon layer of color. I use a palette knife, and if I want to soften edges I go in with a brush. I’ll use my hands, a paper towel, anything to get the texture I want.

Artist Melissa Payne Baker's bedroom

Melissa’s love of interior design shows in her gorgeous bedroom, which features our Giselle Bed, bedding, and our Olivia Side Table. The former interior designer prefers to stick to neutrals in her own home and bring in pops of color through art.

BD: What inspires your work?

MPB: Interior design. I love going through home design magazines and collecting tears for inspiration. It’s a great way to see what colors are trending. I also love going to designer showhouses. I started out in high school wallpapering with my mom’s friend, and we would go into these gorgeous homes. I saw all these great fabrics and wallpapers — I think that’s where I got my love for home decor and rich colors and textures.

Artist Melissa Payne Baker's studio

The artist’s work table is covered with unfinished works, including representational flowers over abstract. The quince is modeled after a plant her dad transplanted in her yard from her grandparents’ home where they lived for 60 years.

BD: Can you describe a typical day? Do you start on one piece and work on it until it’s finished?

MPB: No, most of these pieces aren’t finished. I usually work on 10 to 15 pieces at a time during a typical week. I really like to paint in the mornings and the evening, because that’s when I have the least distractions. And then I just go for it. I don’t draw anything out. I just start putting layers and colors on the canvas until it evolves into what I feel is a finished piece. I always say, as an artist, you have to know when to stop, because it can get muddy.

BD: So how do you know?

MPB: It’s just something inside of me where I think, “You know what? I love that.” I always have to walk away from it and come back and study it.

Inspiring quotes on a whiteboard in Melissa Payne Baker's studio

For inspiration, Melissa writes her favorite quotes from artists, including Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and even Bob Ross on her message board.

BD: What are the challenges of being an artist?

MPB: Being inspired. Sometimes I have gotten into an artist’s block and I just cannot get out of it. That’s when I have to take a break and go out and find inspiration. I’ll take walks, read interior design magazines, go to museums and galleries. Sometimes I just love to go to a coffee shop after I drop my son off at school and decompress. I can’t paint when I’m stressed or there’s a lot going on. But other times I can come down and this is my relaxation and I can just let go and paint.

Artist Melissa Payne Baker's living room

Melissa used two of our Leyland Slipper Chairs and a pair of Aurora Mirrors on either side of her fireplace

BD: Why did you want to work with Ballard?

MPB: I am so excited to work with Ballard. I’ve been a big fan for a long time. The first time I went into Ballard, I probably bought a truckload! Also, I wanted to print my work so that people who can’t afford $4,000 original art can still get fine art. The quality is truly great, so I really wanted to do this.

Melissa Payne Baker's artist studio

Melissa uses pieces of cardboard to mix her paint colors. We loved this bin of discarded palettes.

BD: Your collection of exclusive art for Ballard is called Sasha Art. Can you explain the name?

MPB: My niece is 11 and she has called me Sasha since she was nine months old. I signed this collection Sasha, because I knew I wanted to do something a little more light hearted and different than my usual work.  These pieces are more fun and wispy looking, yet still elegant enough to go into the beautiful rooms in your catalog.

Melissa Payne Baker's artist studio

Melissa works on an unfinished abstract. “My mom used to get mad at me, because I colored outside the lines!”

BD: In the production process, we add texture to the print to make it resemble the original as much as possible. How do you feel about the quality of the print versus the original?

MPB: I was so pleased! I got them out of the box from California and I had a hard time for a minute trying to figure out which was which. The quality is amazing. The texture is spot on.

Artist Melissa Payne Baker's living room, featuring Ballard Designs chairs, mirrors, and ottoman

Melissa’s living room includes several Ballard Designs pieces, two Leyland Slipper Chairs, an Aurora Mirror, and a Hayes Ottoman.

BD: How do you envision people using Sasha Art in their homes?

MPB: I want them to use it to anchor the room. Just like the room in the catalog, those colors anchor the pillows on the sofa and the chairs. Art just pulls a room together and completes it.

Inspirational tears in Melissa Payne Baker's studio

The artist collects tears from home decor magazines for inspiration. Notice anything? That’s our Burlap Message Board!

BD: What can we look forward to with your new collection?

MPB: I’m not exactly sure yet. This is kind of new, so we’re going to see where this goes. I might come up with an even more fun line for spring and incorporate some fresh colors, like corals and yellows. I always look at what Ballard is doing with their fabrics and furniture, so my pieces are easy to work in.

You’ve got us excited. Thanks, Melissa!

Browse all of Melissa’s artwork, or see more interviews with our Exclusive Artists.

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Caroline McDonald

Caroline lives for pairing together patterns, mixing furniture styles, and oogling over our newest furniture pieces. As you can imagine, her little 1920's craftsman is in a constant state of flux. Here on How to Decorate, it's her goal to help you turn your home into your own little slice of paradise.