Melissa west
Melissa West is a longtime participant of the Open Studios Art Tour. Photo courtesy of Melissa West

We spoke with Melissa West, printmaker and visual artist, about Watsonville’s arts ecosystem, what inspires her to create, and where you can see her work in the coming weeks.

What do you love about Watsonville’s arts community and being an artist living and working here?

A lot is happening in Watsonville. Art is interwoven into the community in concrete ways. Though Watsonville has a larger population than Santa Cruz, it has a small-town feel. It’s a friendly place. People, even those who don’t know one another, say hello. My studio is in our garage. When I work with the garage door open, sometimes people walk up when they notice me working. I’ve made good connections in the neighborhood this way. The community is also diverse. People with differing viewpoints come together to share space and enrich the brew. I love the fields and the real, essential work that happens there. 

Where can people see your work?

I have five pieces in Pajaro Valley’s Arts’ “A Visual Journey” exhibit at the Porter Building. The show features artwork documenting artists’ paths taken through their medium, art style, and/or community. My interpretation is literal. My pieces are about my 2006 trip to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago. The prints are part of a 20-piece series. The ones in this exhibit are recollections from spots and events along the way. I was a painter at the time. Initially I was documenting my journey through painting, but it didn’t have the right feel. I wanted them to be black and white and kind of antique looking. That was when I became a printmaker. 

I enjoy being a part of Pajaro Valley Arts. Their calls for entry are compelling. I like the openness of their curation. It’s broad and all-encompassing.

What brought you to Watsonville and printmaking?

I’m originally from the East Coast. I moved to California 26 years ago. I’ve been in Santa Cruz County since 2008, after my wife and I got married on the first day it was legal in California. Watsonville and Santa Cruz feel like home. I was an art major in college focused on painting. I always thought I’d have a “serious” job and only do art on weekends and after work. Along the way, I did all sorts of things including being a graphic designer and an assistant pastry chef. Looking back, I see a lot of overlap between those jobs and printmaking like attention to materials, detail and process. Lately, I’ve been adding more color to my work, but I love working in black and white. The only place that life is black and white is printmaking. 

Do your prints focus on a particular subject?

No, the subject matter is all over the place. I don’t specialize. My work can be very opinionated and political. If I were to put my subject matter in categories, they would be political, travel, literature and crazy cat ladies. My work is always evolving because I pay attention to the world, so who knows what will come next? Starting to paint again is also gnawing at me. 

Anything else coming up that we should know about?

I’ll be in the 2023 Open Studios Art Tour in October. It’ll be my 14th year. I love Open Studios because it’s a great way for people to come see me and to talk and ask questions. It’s fun to hear what people think when they see my work. It may be very different than what I had in mind. They’re not wrong, just different interpretations. I like the chance to talk about my work. I’m still deciding what to demo during Open Studios. I have an etching press and may demo my new small Woodzilla press. To have something new to offer, I’m also working on some notebooks. This fall, I’ll also be at the Kings Mountain Fair in Woodside and Roadworks Steamroller Printing Festival in San Francisco. 

Learn more about Melissa West at

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