You know how you meet people and they’re just so happy that it’s infectious? That would describe Edmonton-area artist Shelby Willis. I had the joy of chatting with her recently while she escaped the loving rigors of caring for her newborn daughter.
Shelby has a distinct, colorful style that can turn anyone into an animal lover.
By the time our 20-minute chat ended, I could hear her daughter crying out in the background and I could hear Shelby’s heart wanting to go to her. So, we said our farewells and I hope her daughter will learn as she grows up how lucky she will be to have Shelby’s art available to inspire her.
[Featured Artwork: “Aztec Bear” by Shelby Willis.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
I think my answer is rock because I’m really inspired by nature. I like the feeling of a good rock in my hand. I like hunting for rocks whether it’s in a gravel driveway or along the ocean.
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I have Bachelor of Science degree specializing in ecology. I work in environmental sustainability. That’s my full-time job.
B. I’m on maternity leave right now. I had my first daughter, Iris, in February of this year.
C. When I got married, I legally took my husband’s name but I kept my maiden name for my art and for my business. I wanted to keep that piece of me. It took some researching for me to see if it was possible to do but I think it’s cool to share for other female artists.
03. What is the main medium you use in your art?
Acrylic. That’s my go-to.
04. What inspires your art?
First off, nature — especially all the cool, fuzzy creatures we have in Alberta like bears, wolves, and foxes. I’ve always been intrigued by animal’s eyes; I’m most excited to paint their eyes. And then, just playing with color, experimenting with color. I never really know which colors I’m going to use in my paintings. I just experiment until they sing together. When they sing, they just glow.
05. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
It used to be the morning. I loved to get up and have my tea. At this current phase (of life), it’s night time. I can sometimes squeeze in some painting after I get my daughter to bed, if I’m not too tired.
06. What is the most unique thing about the city you live in? (Edmonton, AB)
That’s hard. *laughs* I think in Edmonton one of my favorite things is Folk Fest.
07. Is art your career or a hobby? Something else?
I’d say something else. I work fulltime and I do art on the side. For me, I think it’s a good balance because art is kind of my therapy, my meditation. It helps me let go of stresses at the end of the day. It’s a good outlet and provides a good balance.
And even on maternity leave it works that way because it’s almost more stressful than my job. So, to have art at the end of the day is really nice.
08. What kind of training do you have?
I have the guidance of my parents when I was younger. My mom is a painter herself and my dad has always been kind of artsy too. I’m grateful for that. And they always made sure we had a crafts room for my sister and I to experiment in. After high school, I don’t have any formal training, just dabbling in courses here and there, and experimenting.
09. The art is one thing, but what’s your secret to generating interest and ultimately selling your art?
I think it’s about sharing the process and story that goes along with it. I think helping people feel connected to not just the final piece but to the inspiration behind it — the experiments, the mistakes, the exciting revelations — sharing the whole story.
10. Where did your passion for art start?
Going back to having the chance to experiment and play when I was younger: Being bored, having the space to be bored and have some down time when I was kid. I think it really gave me the time to start experimenting and enjoying art rather than being so busy I wouldn’t have had the time to lean into the creative side of myself.
11. What would be the most annoying thing about having yourself as a roommate?
I think my husband would say I’m not always the most organized in the way I do things. One of his number one pet peeves is the way I open new boxes. I often get excited and just rip the tab right off. I don’t check which side it right way up for things like granola bars. We can never close the boxes after. *laughs*
12. What is your go-to band or singer?
I really like folk music, hence why I like Folk Fest. I like Passenger, Vance Joy. I’m not very good with artists’ names, I just put on folk playlists on Spotify.
13. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
I think one day I’d like to write a book. I really like writing as well. I do a lot of writing in my day job in environment. I’m not quite sure what I’d want to write about yet, maybe about my process of growing as an artist or maybe even a children’s book. We’ll see.
14. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
I kind of want to say none of them. *laughs* I used to put off household chores as much as possible so I could make time to paint. But if I had to choose one, I would choose washing the sheets because there’s nothing like getting into bed when you have fresh sheets.
15. What app do you use most often?
Instagram. I think it’s a go-to for artists with the good visuals on it.
16. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
Creativity doesn’t come to you in perfect moments. You don’t just show up at the easel when you’re feeling your best and always easily paint. Sometimes I’m the most creative when I’m the most stressed out or exhausted. I show up anyways and sometimes it becomes my best work.
17. What is your favorite drink?
Tea. Specifically, Remedy Chai Latte (from Remedy On Whyte).
18. What do you hope people get out of your art?
I hope that people get an outside-of-the-box appreciation for nature. And a feeling of freedom and inspired creativity with all the colors and some of the bigger impressionist style brush strokes.
I have always found joy in her paintings and some of her animals actually speak out to the audience. It’s their eyes that hold you to her animals. The colourful backgrounds spring happiness. A true arrest spreading fun with her amazing talent!