Story by Lauren Jackson
Photos by Joshua Berry
Ever since she was a little girl, Jenna Salvetti has always enjoyed drawing and been obsessed with all things “nerd.” An engineer by trade, Salvetti created Melly Luna Designs to combine two passions and to channel her creativity.
Almost all of Salvetti’s works feature characters from what she fondly calls the “nerd culture.” From Disney Princesses to superheroes and mashups of both, Salvetti’s work has a unique style. “The obvious is the no faces. I think that is what people notice first,” she said. The technique aims to provide “that ability for people to imagine themselves as that person. I would like to think there is a delicate balance between simplicity and detail that I try to get right. The perfectionist side of me totally come out with that. I am pretty regimented about my lines, which I guess is what makes it look like stained glass.”
Strength is another central theme in each design. Salvetti said her son and daughter have a huge impact on what she creates. Although she naturally enjoys depicting strong female characters, her son has helped remind her of the need for images of strong boys, too.
“I do think there is a push in society for a strong independent woman, which I think is extremely important. I just like balancing that with men too,” she said. “Having a daughter, I think it is important to instill in her that she can do whatever she wants as long as she works for it and basically doesn’t take any crap. I grew up taking a lot of crap because I didn’t know how powerful I could be, and I have been very lucky in my career because I have worked with people that have lifted me up, where it could have been very different. I know other women in their fields where they don’t feel like that – they don’t feel like they have a voice.
“I have always felt like I have a big voice at work, and I didn’t really feel like I had a big voice in my personal life,” Salvetti added. “I have been really lucky that I don’t have the same experiences that other women do in their fields, but I am all about girl power – although my son is absolutely right that I need to do boys too; we need boys that feel powerful too.”
One of Salvetti’s favorite pieces features Star Wars women. She said she likes the simple strength the women display in the films. “I love how they portray these women … I love how they got it done,” Salvetti said. She also likes the piece because the women are all dubbed rebels. “I am all about that, too: be exactly who you are, and don’t apologize for it,” Salvetti said. “Don’t be a jerk, but be who you are, and people will either accept you for who you are, or they won’t.
“I think a lot of that comes with age,” she added. “You just get to a point where you just are like, ‘I am not going to continue to change myself to please everyone else.’”
Salvetti said she has almost always had a love for nerd culture. “I really like Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, all that stuff. I don’t really know how that happened; I think it was my dad because he really likes Star Trek,” she said. “I remember in high school, I had this really small TV in my room, and I would stay up until midnight watching all the really old episodes of Next Generation,” Salvetti said.
Now an accomplished self-taught artist with her own side business, Salvetti said her work allows her to take the stories she loves and make them into something entirely new. She said she has always enjoyed fan art. “I love how people can just take something and make it into something totally different,” Salvetti said.
Most of her work is driven by the shows or movies she watches and how they impact her. She said most of the time, inspiration strikes quickly, and she tries to follow it. “I have a list of probably a hundred things that people have asked me to do. I try to whittle those off, but sometimes it just depends on which movie I watch that day or something I saw scrolling through Facebook,” she said. “For instance, I did a Handmaid’s print after watching that because I wanted to do something dramatic, and it was really poignant at that time. I knew probably not many people would maybe like it or associate with it, but it was something I was really very deeply involved in, watching that show.”
Salvetti said in her job she sometimes overthinks or over-questions, “but when I do my art, I get an image in my head, and I really try to get to that paper as fast as I can, even if it is just pulling a receipt out of my purse and just kind of sketching it out. Typically, it doesn’t deviate from that. It is nice to have one of those areas that I am very confident in.”
Being a self-taught artist, much of her skills have been built through trial and error and hours of dedicated practice. Although she has been creative since she was a child, Salvetti said she only really got back into her art as an adult, when she needed a way to channel more of her creative side.
“The first place that accepted me into their shop was called the ARTery. It was a couple of people in the community that saw a need, and it was really sort of a mini Lowe Mill – like a very, very teeny Lowe Mill,” she said. “They gave me my first start into the community. Then I started doing shows and setting up at Lowe Mill. It’s a very weird thing when you take your very personal art, and you are just waiting for people to disregard you. Sitting there with your table is a very humbling experience. I think the first time someone said to me, ‘This is really good,’ it was very hard to believe, but I just tried to accept it.”
Salvetti said she struggled with doubts before starting her business, but it has impacted her life in a big way. “Melly Luna was a huge fear for me; it took probably three months to just decide to start an Etsy shop or try to put my art out there anywhere … I was just so fearful people would not like it.” However, “it has probably been one of the most fulfilling things besides my children.”
Salvetti’s work can be found at University Pickers and on her Etsy shop online.