Updated: Jun 8
Shelby uses dramatic shadows and vivid colors to bring to life the small, sweet moments in our daily existence..
Every piece is a reminder to breathe in the moment.
Let's talk to her a little bit.
Shelby, can you talk a little bit about your background? How did you get started painting?
I've been painting and drawing for long as I can remember. I've always had a natural tendency towards creative things. Growing up kids knew me as the artistic, creative kid. Elementary school kids are so impressed if you can draw something. My grandfather is an artist, so I grew up with his paintings on our walls. I've been exposed to art a lot over the years, and I think I also inherited some artistic inclinations and desires.
Did you ever think of turning it into a business?
I never knew what I would do for a job - I'm not a planner. I don't like to think too far ahead. I tend to not think about the future, because I don't know what to do with it. In middle school I took art more seriously. I took some serious art classes and enjoyed them. I thought I might be a soccer player, but I didn't plan for what I wanted my future to look like.
Did you go to art school?
My parents own a custom drapery business, and I grew up in the home furnishing occupation - I never thought about art as an option. Instead I went to school for home furnishings and accessories. I didn't want to do interior design, it's too intense. I'm not an intense person. I won't let anything steal sleep from me - unless it's a puppy.
My college required us to do a marketing minor, and I decided to take some art classes. I loved every single second of every art class. I could finally do what came natural to me. I really enjoyed my minor. When I started taking art classes, I noticed artists on Instagram like Lulie Wallace, Teil Duncan, and Raven Roxanne who were making art, selling it, and making it a business. I did a report on Lulie in my art classes. I knew that in an ideal world it sounded awesome, but I wasn't giving myself permission to pursue that.
How did you get into art?
I graduated in 2017 and didn't know what I was going to do. The year after that was a struggle. I put so much pressure on myself to have a 9-5 job. Out of college, I was working 4 part time jobs as a kitchen designer, nanny, an employee at Anthropologie, and taking commissions.
That started the 2-3 years of commissions - mostly portraits. I was trying to interview for but I kept getting nos and was really confused. I quit the nanny job and kitchen job and was down to Anthropologie and commissions. At some point I quit Anthropologie.
But when I was doing commissions, I felt like I was drowning. Like I was trying to come up for air, but something just kept pulling my feet down. This force was keeping me underwater. Commissions were pulling the life out of me. I was making money and making people happy with these paintings that were so special to them, but meanwhile I was really suffering artistically. I felt in my heart that I need to explore.
What did you do next?
Almost a year ago, I emailed Lulie and asked: How do you tell some people no and some yes without sounding like a brat?
She would only open for commissions for one week, and it was less like a swinging door and more like an interview process.
She emailed back asking for my phone number. She called me that afternoon (I was fangirling) and looked at my IG and said I should just do a project for her: paint 5-6 different subjects and paint 10 of each. This was the task she gave me.
At the end of 3 months, I'll critique all of them for you. She gave me this permission I hadn't given myself to explore my voice.
I haven't taken any commissions for 8 months or so. Instead I started painting what I had in me to paint, and I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.
What are you working on right now?
Since January I've done releases of some series, but it's hard figuring out the balance between the business side of things and the creation side.
I'm ready for a break from the marketing so I can dive a little deeper into the subject matter. My hands are in a bunch of different series right now.
I'm letting the tangents take me this summer to see where I want to go. I recently took up tennis, and and love all the aesthetics of it - tennis courts and shadows. I bought some neon paint which I've wanted for a long time. I've also been working with still lifes - stainless steel percolators, towels, coffee mugs. I have neon orange paint that I want to experiment with.
I'm also working on these little series are often inspired by a photo I come across or take or a screenshot from IG. I just want to do something with it so I save it. One is a beach house with shadows of palm trees, oranges and grapefruit, citrusy things... I want to explore all these different subjects in different ways.
This summer's a good time to take a break and really explore those tangents.
“This summer's a good time to take a break and really explore those tangents.”
What draws you to still lifes?
I wonder why I see such ordinary things and think: I want to paint that.
I've painted a laundry basket and the light, candid moments of the day, the way it's placed strikes me. It's hard to notice those little things, but I think being an artist is paying attention to the world around us and what we encounter in our everyday lives that most people would never notice.
My studio is in my parents' house, and I take a break mentally by going downstairs and making a cup of coffee. They almost always have coffee made in a percolator and recently I've found comfort in that.
I stumble upon these little moments. Painting is how I process that sweet thing that I don't have time to appreciate unless I'm sitting down painting it.
Where do you get your color inspiration?
The same way that a still life comes to me, so does color. My camera roll is so weird. I'll take pictures of a bucket on the back of this truck, because I like the baby blue with orangey red.
It's like I'm collecting these color combinations in my head. I see them everywhere and feel like it happens by accident most of the time.
Colors is so relative. It blows my mind that there's an infinite amount of colors, and I can spend my whole life painting and mixing these colors. I recommend this book to a lot of people: Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green by Michael Wilcox.
I mix all my colors from two kinds of blue, yellow, and red. I don't really plan out my color palettes, it changes throughout each piece. If I get too finicky, I won't like it. It's half technical and half going with it.
What's next for you?
I really want to work bigger, but it's a small studio. We're also in the middle of working on a barn studio in my parents' backyard, but these projects take a long time. I'm trying to be patient and not let that be a barrier to working bigger.
I'll be represented by an online gallery in the fall, and I have a show in Memphis in September and October, so I'm starting to prepare for that.
I need this summer to collect some inventory. What's hard is I get excited about a painting and I want to show people immediately. I would like to quiet the voices around me. If I don't share, what's old to me will be new to someone when I post it. I can hold onto something and live with it and process it before I share it with the world. It takes some trust to hold onto something.
“It takes some trust to hold onto something.
Do you have any other recommendations for us?
I recommend this book to everyone: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. That book has been so helpful for me to understand how I view myself as an artist and creativity as a whole. I quote it all the time.
Shelby Monteverde is a still life artist based in Memphis, Tennessee. You can see more of her work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @shelbymonte_art