Melissa Mitchell On Finding Her Purpose As A Painter And Being A Master Manifestor: “I Kept Praying For My Why And God Gave Me Art”
You don’t have to know anything about who Melissa Mitchell is or the brand she’s built for her to catch your eye. Consistently dressed in bright fabrics from head to toe, the colorful mosaic patterns displayed on the headwraps, kimonos, leggings, and now facemasks she never leaves home without are truly wearable art — her art that she creates under the brand Abeille Creations.
“I am a person who dreams really really big and once I get something in my head it has to happen,” Mitchell told me sitting in her home with a painting that reads “This is the house art built” hovering above us. “If God showed it to me it has to be a reason so I’m going to make it happen.”
The revelation that art would open up an entirely new world for Mitchell came during a bout of boredom in the midst of a snowstorm in 2014 when she picked up a paintbrush for the very first time.
“It was leading up to Valentine’s Day, and I was like, another Valentine’s Day no bae, you know coming home from my full-time government job at the time and I was like, this can’t be it. Work, sleep, home; home, sleep work. So I started doodling on pieces of paper and putting it on Instagram like, look what I can do,” Mitchell explained laughing. “Someone was like, ‘Bruh, that matches my living room. I’ll pay for that.’ I was like, ‘On a sheet of paper?’ And he said ‘yeah when the snow melts ship it out.’ I was like, OK, I guess I’ll ship it. That happened about five or six times and I said let me get some real art supplies, so I started trying to figure out how to get the right brushes, how to paint on the right wood and it became a hobby that turned into a mini career and then it just took off from there.”
Took off is a mild way to put it. Since that snowy day in 2014, Mitchell’s designs have been seen on virtually every canvas possible from shoes commissioned by Ford during Essence Fest and her Limited Edition ABEILLE X SPANX Bra-llelujah!® Illuminate-Her™ Collection, to the headwraps famously worn by Lupita Nyong’o and seen in Vogue magazine. Nike and Pepsi have also commissioned work from her, which is quite a big deal for someone who “had never painted or drew anything” as a child.
The initial decision to create headwraps was more for herself than a product she intended to sell, Mitchell shared. “In 2016 I was growing my hair out and every time I would get called for an event I would always have my conditioner on my hair and I was like, I’m not going to come, my hair is tied up, I can’t leave. So I was like I need to find a way to get headwraps with my art on them so I can rep my company.” Mitchell started researching how to get her designs on the right material and officially launched her headwraps in the fall of 2016 after establishing another lofty goal.
“I was like, man you know when I start doing my headwraps I would love for Lupita to wear my wraps one day, just throwing it out there. So I reached out to her stylist on DM, like ‘Hey I don’t know if you’ll ever read this but I would love for Lupita to wear my stuff. She’s perfect and my dream person to wear my headwrap’ and he reached out the next day because it was London time and was like, ‘Actually I think she would love this. You should mail it out.’ So, I mail it out, he said she loves it, and I’m thinking nothing of it. By July of 2017, she shows up in Vogue magazine in my headwrap. So it went from me coming up with a little solution for my natural hair to empowering women all over the world not to comb their hair, to wrap it up, and then it turned into a whole momentum with everyone falling in love with it.”
That momentum is part of what makes Mitchell, who has murals all across Atlanta, from churches to elementary schools, bars and lounges, and art studios, the master manifestor she’s deemed herself. “I write down my goals and my dreams every day, 22 times a day,” the Miami native who currently resides in Georgia told me. “I chose a house that was furthest from all my friends; I chose a side of town away from my family because I want the energy to be so strong here that it forces me to create and retreat. It’s purposely done and I’m very intentional, so for me manifesting really means concentrating solely on the goals that God gave me. I’ve heard this a couple of times about how courage is what really activates your faith. Courage will show up as faith hidden. So I’m courageous, but I’m really, really faith-filled. Not saying I’m not afraid because half of the stuff, I’m like I don’t know if this is going to work out, but let me be courageous, let me get beyond that and that’s how I’m able to manifest. I just let my faith be bigger than my fears; that’s 99 percent of the time.”
Speaking about the Spanx opportunity, Mitchell shared at first she wasn’t going to apply for the competition which resulted in her landing her own collection because she felt her designs were too bright and she had too much going on, “but that was a manifestation,” she explained. “I said I wanted a global deal. I didn’t know that was going to mean Spanx, I just wanted something global to catapult my artistry. It was a true Cinderella story and one of the best experiences of my life. Once that happened it was like an avalanche with Ford and Essence. I’ve been in Essence like seven or eight times so it’s like the opportunities begin to flow in because I relinquished how it was going to happen. I just said, ‘Lord, I would love for this to happen.'”
Despite the Disney analogy, Mitchell is clear all of her dreams didn’t simply come true at the stroke of midnight one day. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years,” she explained. When I asked if she ever thinks about giving up, she told me very honestly that that’s a constant thought, as with every project she feels her time gets stretched more and more. But despite the hurdles she’s overcome, like spending $2,000 on inventory and packing up her paintings and driving them from Atlanta to New Orleans for Essence Fest a few years back and not selling a single item, Mitchell said, “I never gave up on what [my dream] was going to look like.”
Still, balancing a 9-5 with a commanding second career is challenging. “This is the first year I’m entertaining, should I take a leap of faith (and quit my job) but it’s also like, today may be a rough day but the rest of the week, I’d be bored just doing art. I don’t want my art to become a burden. I want it to still be a joy and an outlet.”
I asked how she does that considering her inboxes are flooded with commission requests, and she explained, “I guess because my life is so full, art is like my secret place that I happen to do out loud. I do a really good job separating the energies, like ok I’m not the IT professional now I’m the artist. My favorite thing is finding a blank canvas like, what are we going to do today? So I get excited by the process every time.”
Growing up, Mitchell’s dreams for her life didn’t extend much further than being a wife and a mother. “I knew that my life was going to be big because my parents are pastors so in my mind I was just going to be a pastor’s wife. My dream was to buy a BMW, work for Coca-Cola, move to Atlanta, have 2.5 kids, and maybe a dog.”
But even before she picked up a paintbrush and launched Abeille Creations, Mitchell’s perspective began to shift when her father passed away 10 years ago. “In 2010 I ended up being at home every day with my dad and I was the one who got the call from him when he was passing away. He fell onto his Bluetooth so I actually heard him as he was transitioning and didn’t know it. It happened on February 26 and then he died on March 12.
“February is a very tough month because I start the year in so much reflection like life is so precious, every moment counts, don’t take for granted people in your life, and what that means. For me, I think my why was amplified, like if I only live to be 53 I don’t have that much time so from that moment on I was dealing with grief but also knew I can’t afford to squander these moments I have. So I kept praying for my why and God gave me art.”
After manifesting so much in her life already — including a free $60,000 fully loaded Ford Explorer after winning the motor company’s Driving Her Dreams Contest in 2018 — I asked Mitchell what she dreams about now and she gave a very selfless reply. “I dream about being in every area of art. It keeps me up at night. I am breaking into areas that have not been seen. You’ve never heard about a Black girl designing art on anything that I have to this magnitude. To be a Black woman with a brush and a platform I’ve got to be a whole Harriet out here for the art world because it’s like now that I have everybody looking at me, here’s the rest of my sisters. So I feel like I’m opening the doors for people who have given up on their dreams.”
Of course, Mitchell makes sure she lets God in on her dreams as well. “It’s sad that life has beaten people up so much that they can’t even dream. Some people are so timid with their prayers. You end up getting what you settle for. If I don’t dream big, how is God going to go beyond that? When I get down, I literally go back and say, ‘He did it for Ruth, He did it for David…it’s all about being intentional, having a good heart, and just being very, very open and honest with God about your relationship and not worrying if what you’re asking for is too much.”
To learn more about Melissa Mitchell and her journey, pick up her new book, “Color and Manifest: Using the power of coloring to manifest your wildest dreams.”