Watercolorist Melissa Hyatt draws inspiration for her paintings and prints from the salty air and coastal charm of the North Fork. There is a softness to her calming seascapes that reflects both life on the water and the fluidity of the medium. Her Southold home and studio are close to the beach, where she often walks her golden retriever, April, collecting sea glass and other talismans of nature that inspire her pastel-colored artwork.
“There is a lot of coastal flair to my work,” Hyatt said. “It is my personal taste and living on the North Fork has definitely influenced that aspect of my work. I wanted to make the world a more beautiful place.”
Both Hyatt’s grandmothers were painters, igniting her interest in art from an early age. She holds a degree in surface pattern design from Syracuse University, specializing in wallpapers, greeting cards and other forms of decorative design. She worked as design director for noted décor company Waverly Fabrics in Manhattan 15 years before to moving to the North Fork with her husband in 1999. She had quit her full-time job, but maintained freelance design clients in the city while raising her two children. After divorcing in 2010, Hyatt was ready for a different outlook. She coincidentally discovered a different artistic outlet around the same time.
“There was something I felt that was missing so I took a watercolor class at the Southold library; that opened up a whole new world,” she said. “I decided that this is what I loved to do and that I was going to find a way to keep doing it to make a living and take care of my kids here.”
Hyatt began showing her watercolors at local restaurants and galleries. She created a website and participated in the North Fork Designer Showcase in 2016, which inspired her to start printing her own fabrics as well.
“I didn’t want to use someone else’s pattern when I was designing for the showcase,” she said. “I already knew how to design my own and it pushed me to start doing it myself.”
The modest studio above Hyatt’s garage is 100 percent device-free. It is naturally bright, with hand-painted floors and piles of notebooks containing detailed sketches. Not so much as an iPhone crosses into this space. Hyatt hand-paints all her art, including the patterns for her fabrics. She mixes the watercolors on an enamel butcher tray to get the color right before pressing the brush to paper. The painting is later scanned (in her home outside the studio) and printed onto fabric that will be made into pillows, table linens and other décor items.
“A lot of surface pattern designers do their work on the computer,” said 55-year-old Hyatt. “I have been told that my artist identity is very distinctive because I hand-paint everything. It has taken me to this point in my design career to really feel like I found my style.”
In 2015, Hyatt officially launched her own eponymous brand. A large part of her business involves licensing her patterns to be reproduced by larger corporations. Her designs have appeared on bedding and dinnerware for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, bedding by WestPoint Home, greeting cards from Calypso Cards and home décor at Pier One Imports, among other notable companies.
But Hyatt still likes to keep it local.
She designed the lighthearted “Annie the Lobster” logo for local apparel company Northforkin’. Annie, so recognizable for the company and its customer base, has a designated section on the Northforkin’ website.
“A lot of work went into the design,” said co-owner Stacey Wickham Martin, who runs Northforkin’ with her sister Elizabeth Doroski. “I saw a rendition of a lobster she did and I knew we had to have something like it. We wanted it to embody summer on the North Fork and Melissa just translated that on the page.”
Hyatt said she is thankful to have launched a new career on the North Fork over the last four years, and wants to share her joy of painting with others. About a year and a half ago, she started teaching watercolor workshops at local restaurants.
“If I can expose somebody to watercolor and they discover something they love to do, then I am successful,” she said. “I know what joy it brings to me and I wanted to share that with the community.”
Themes for Hyatt’s paint nights are diverse, but are often tied to a special menu prepared for the event. Hyatt chooses ingredients from the dishes, such as herbs and vegetables, to paint and coaches participants on the best ways to mix colors and add realistic details.
Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck was among the first to host Hyatt’s paint classes, which are tailored to accommodate all skill levels.
“We are always looking for something fun to do with the space at Love Lane, so when Melissa brought up the workshop, it was another positive way for us to share our space with the community,” said restaurant owner Carolyn Iannone. “The first one was a hit and we’ve done several more. Melissa is so good at instructing that before you know it, you’ve created something beautiful.”