Artist of the Month: Melissa Cordes

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
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Apr 03, 2018 / 0 comments

Wandering the Artist Alley at Grand Rapids Comic Con, we were stunned with the talent everywhere we glanced. Like everyone in the hall, we looked and marveled, and then the next booth came, and we did the same, ad infinitem. When we discovered artist Melissa Cordes, though, we actually stopped (never an easy feat at a busy comic con) and talked. So impressed with her talent, beautiful art, wide variety of styles, and joy in creating, we knew we had to share her art with our wandering educators. 

Mel Cordes At #indycomiccon booth
Mel Cordes At #indycomiccon booth

Rey. Artist Melissa Cordes

Melissa Cordes is an illustrator, animator, comic artist who fell in love with graphic novels as a child and never looked back. While juggling retail and dance education jobs to pay the bills, she is working on art for conventions and online comic projects.

wendy. Artist Melissa Cordes

How long have you been an artist?
That always seems like an odd question to me because there's two answers. There's the one where I've been given crayons and markers and paper since I could hold a crayon. So forever. Then there's the answer where I decided I wanted to make graphic novels in 6th grade and strove to make art ever since. From that answer it's about 14 years, but basically I've always been one.

space danny. Artist Melissa Cordes
Space Danny

Garret Wang. Artist Melissa Cordes
Garret Wang

Is your art your full-time career?
Not yet, I'm working on building a following and attending conventions. I have comics I want to make and a possible pattern setup to go after. For right now however I spend most of March till November attending or prepping for convention artist alleys! Hopefully between commissions and conventions, I might be able to do art full time.

voltron buttons. Artist Melissa Cordes
Voltron buttons

Clint. Artist Melissa Cordes

Where do you work?  How long have you been there?
I worked in retail for 6 years until very recently. I worked seasonally for a warehouse this winter. I'm trying to find a good fit job-wise that allows me the freedom to attend the conventions I participate in. On the side, I'm also a dance instructor with the YMCA. I took dance classes since I was 5 until I was 16 and had been teaching color guard with some local high schools. I really love the lessons I learn from teaching kids. It's also cathartic being able to give them a space where they don't have to perform perfectly. I've been teaching different forms of dance for about 6 years now.

sailor moon. Artist Melissa Cordes
Sailor Moon

Do you have favorite places you like to create?
I like bright, warm, comfy, spaces. My desk setup in my room near my plant table is perfect. I also love coffee shops for a good place to sit down and force yourself to work. The beauty of digital artwork, however, is being able to take it with you to a variety of places! I love when my friends I met in college who also make art get together and we just hang out and create. I also love streaming when I work. Although it's not technically a place, it allows my friends and myself to all hangout in a way while I work on things. An added bonus is that I feel pressure to work on the pieces I need to get done, since there are people watching me solely to see that. It's become a really nice way to work on art.

Prince guarding roughs. Artist Melissa Cordes
Prince guarding roughs

What does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
My days used to look like getting up early and working for 8 hours. Afterwords I would come home and relax for an hour or two eat some dinner and then hop on a streaming site and draw for the rest of the night while running some goofy anime or Star Trek in the background. On Mondays, there's a meet up at a local brewery where artists from the area come and eat dinner and work on projects or just chat. But, no I guess there isn't a typical day, just an attempt to make art or work on conventions stuff with some consistency.

okay then. Artist Melissa Cordes
okay then

demon Raein. Artist Melissa Cordes
demon Raein

What materials do you prefer?
I've started to prefer digital more and more. It's so relieving to know you have unlimited attempts to fix something in the drawing without the paper falling apart. I also love having access to a full spectrum of color without having to spend a fortune for every paint, marker, or pencil. I find I'm most free to be creative and messy on the computer. I was trained in and feel very comfortable in photoshop, but with the recent switch to a paid subscription, I purchased Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint Pro and that was a pretty easy shift. Both have their pros and cons, but for anyone on a budget I highly recommend Clip Studio Paint.

When it comes to my favorite traditional media, it's definitely pencils and markers. I usually pencil something, ink it with microns, and then color them with copics. Inktober has been a fun challenge the past two years to just make something every night. I love the range and style I get with copics - and the more you create the more you learn.

life is strange. Artist Melissa Cordes
life is strange

kyte annie. Artist Melissa Cordes
kyte annie

Where/how are you inspired?
I get inspired everywhere. I've been really excited by landscapes and interiors. I end up paying attention to the way light and colors look in spaces that interest me. People out and about in their daily lives can inspire a character or a scene. I live for all the art that my friends and other artists post. I've always been avid in my consumption of other people's art. I fall in love with the way they line something, or draw a character, or use color. The world and the content out there are all so vibrant, I can't help but be inspired by everything around me.

When it comes to my stories I find spacing out while doing a task and daydreaming the easiest way to make a scene. The monotonous work of retail and other minimum wage jobs is sometimes perfect for daydreaming out a scene or plot lines. I also find that I'll think up story lines as I'm drawing and run away with myself. Suddenly I'll have figured out two plot lines that link up now, a new scene, and how they get through a rough patch. 

kirk at the ball. Artist Melissa Cordes
Kirk at the ball

How do you know when your piece is done?
I never really know. There's a point where I'm just tired of working on the piece and don't have enough energy to redraw. It's like a weird balance of, I could keep trying to make this perfect but I really don't want to redraw that hand then re-recolor it and anything on it. Happily I'm having more and more pieces where even though I know not everything is perfect I still like everything in it. It's been really liberating to just allow myself to be done and start working on a new piece. I recommend having a "good enough" attitude with your art, especially for fun personal pieces.

kate. Artist Melissa Cordes

insomnia. Artist Melissa Cordes

Do you work on one or more pieces at a time?
Try four or five pieces at a time. I have about four illustrations I'm working through at the moment. Two comic rough outlines of at least 10 pages that I need to line. Two commissions. I also need to start making some new button designs and planning out a ceramic pin line. I'm always wanting to do a million things at once, so I always have multiple things I'm working on at the same time.

food truck BDAY. Artist Melissa Cordes
food truck BDAY

If you were not an artist, what would you do?
I have always loved science and plants so I wonder if I wouldn't have been some form of biologist or environmental scientist. I truly have no clue how I would have gotten through life without my art. It's hard to consider what else I might do.

first kiss. Artist Melissa Cordes
first kiss

How can our readers find and purchase your art?
I try and snag up anything with the username Grumpycakes. If that account doesn't have art on it try adding an S to the end and that should be me. I have an instagram, twitter, and twitch all under grumpycakess. I also have a storenvy which yes is I sell my prints, pins, charms, and stickers on there. The easiest way to get my art is at the conventions I go to as well. That's where I do the most sales anyway. Anyone wanting commission information can email me at grumpytribble[at]

inktober2017 day 1. Artist Melissa Cordes
inktober2017 day 1

Would you like to share anything else with us?
I find I'm an oddity for loving to look at my older pieces. I have a lot of friends, colleagues, and role models who hate to look at their old art. I'll gleefully send you to my old art and laugh at all the mistakes. I find it really reassuring to look at my past pieces. It just helps to remind me of my progress. It's also really nice to look at older pieces and see the good in them. See something that was good then that I've kept, or be reminded of a process that looks good. Redrawing art for my college portfolio was such a fun assignment because I just got to make something old and decent into something new and great. So I guess don't shy away from your old pieces. Instead of hating the more inexperienced you and things you created, maybe you should love it for how hard they were trying, and how good it was with what you had to offer. There's no shame in not being perfect. Imperfections make things more interesting and unique.

tron. Artist Melissa Cordes

Artist Melissa Cordes

Find Melissa online:

All photos courtesy and copyright Melissa Cordes