After amazing success with our first two charity collaborations; raising money for Surfers Against Sewers and The British Beekeepers Association; we are thrilled to announce our third charity partnership.
Earlier this year we were contacted by inspiring creative designer Melanie Selstrom, who shared her design work and story with us. Melanie’s art is inspired by nature and the British countryside in memory of her son Oakley who sadly passed away at birth. Her beautiful watercolour designs depicting nature are simply stunning, and her moving story really touched us.
She has transformed her designs into a fabulous print for our bestselling medium Beeswax Wrap Pack, from which we will be donating 10% of all sales to Sands. Sands is a stillbirth and neonatal death charity providing invaluable support to families around the country and we are proud to support them in Oakley’s memory.
We spoke to Melanie about her wonderful designs and to find out more about her story.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Melanie and I’m the woman behind Paintings for Oakley. Everything I create is dreamt up in a small town in-between Staffordshire and Cheshire. I work in the Stoke-on-Trent ceramic sector, I’m married to a synthesizer addict, I’m mother to a sassy one-year-old girl, stepmum to a 6-year-old boy and cat mum of four. Being outdoors with my family, watching them all be weird and wonderful together is one of my favourite things. I eat a lot of chocolate, play a bit of guitar. I’m also involved with animal activism, protesting fox hunts and patrolling in badger cull zones.
Essentially, a part of me that is never obvious to the outside world, is the fact that I have a son, Oakley, who I carry in my heart.
We lost Oakley due to ‘intrauterine fetal demise’. In other words, he was stillborn. He would be approaching 3-years-old now. He’d probably have dark hair and olive skin like his daddy. He’d probably have a long list of nicknames stemming from funny anecdotes and incidents, none of which I could tell you now. Oakley didn’t get to live the life he was given, but he is in my thoughts every single day and his legacy lives on. Some may consider it strange or taboo to talk about a stillborn child, but I am still proud of him. He deserves to be remembered. He is a part of me I could never disown or ignore. I talk about him because I love him and I always will.
How and why did you get into design?
I always loved art as a young person, but since I started reading History of Art at University and then entering the workplace, I didn’t really pick up a paintbrush again. That was until March 2017, two months after we lost Oakley.
I suppose it was a sliding doors moment. In those very dark days, getting out of the house and into the normal world again was really tough. I just walked around in a bubble, soulless, numb, on autopilot. Get up. Get dressed. Drink coffee. Stare into the log burner. I really didn’t know what to do with myself. Television and radio were too jolly. I couldn’t concentrate on a book.
One of my first outings was to Hanley’s cultural quarter where my husband took me to my favourite vegan café. We also popped into The Art Department, a small independent shop, just for a browse, but I saw a Winsor and Newton paint palette on offer and it came home with me. What else was I going to do on maternity leave with no baby to look after?
That afternoon I did my first painting. It wasn’t a masterpiece I’ll admit but it was the start of a healing journey and something I now really enjoy. There is something very therapeutic about using watercolours. Diluting the paint, washing the brushes, flooding the page- it is all very methodical and soothing. Painting has provided a way for me to be reflective, creative and calm. It encourages me to use my imagination and can bring peace to a storm raging within.
After several months of sharing my work online, I began to get requests for watercolours and unintentionally I found myself making tributes for babies. Wreaths, symbols, special wording and flowers all became prominent features in each request.
What places does your inspiration for design come from?
I’d love to say it comes from all the exotic holidays and adventures I go on (fake news)! In truth, inspiration can come from the very mundane: a flick through a magazine, a walk in the woods, a stroll through the wallpaper section in B&Q, a scroll on Pinterest.
The design for the Beeswax Wrap Company came from a number of places; my love of oak leaves and acorns – icons of Paintings for Oakley. The bluebells and berries came from a fascination with Folk Art, and the bees just had to be added as a nod to those busy workers who provide the gorgeous beeswax.
What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I love the satisfaction in looking back and seeing your own progression and improvement. This can be applied to most hobbies. The great reward comes in practicing and seeing results. Anyone can do it- you don’t need hours, just dedicate 10 minutes every day to doing something you love. We’re seeing more and more the importance of self-care or mindfulness.
Can you tell us why you chose Sands as your charity?
Everyone deals with loss differently, but finding a community of families through a support group; Staffordshire Sands; who had also lost babies, really helped me.
I was that person who thought ‘it would never happen to me’. But now I know nobody is immune from the unfair and indiscriminate devastation of baby loss. It happens so much more than I ever realised.
Sands is a stillbirth and neonatal death charity which exists to help us in two ways. They work to reduce the number of babies dying and to better understand the cause of baby deaths. They also ensure that anyone affected by the death of a baby receives the best possible care and support for as long as they need it, wherever they are in the UK.
Sands works with governments and other organisations to drive change and raise awareness of the issues relating to baby loss, and to provide bereavement support services at both a local and national level. These include the Sands freephone helpline, a mobile app, family support packs, memory boxes and over 100 regional support groups run by trained befrienders.
What else do you design? Where can we find out more about you?
In the run-up to Christmas I am most busy painting house portraits as Christmas presents which I absolutely love. I’ve also designed a map of my village which is available to purchase on tea towels. I’m really hoping to expand my homeware and gifts available.
You can discover a bit more about Paintings for Oakley at www.paintingsforoakley.com but for all the daily ramblings and behind-the-scenes snippets, Instagram is the place to be @paintingsforoakley.
I’m delighted to have created a design for the Beeswax Wrap Company – a company with a genuine care for the earth and the people and animals on it.
“Dear baby, they say you were stillborn because you didn’t cry. But I did and I do and I’ll make sure the whole world hears about you.”