MM: Who are you and what medium do you work with? MLS: My name is MaryLou Shipman. I work mostly with watercolor and gouache.
MM: When did you begin creating art? MLS: I remember as far back as the age of 5 having a great urge to draw and paint. I was very inspired by my mother who is an artist. She was always painting and worked mostly in oils at that time.
MM: Were you trained in any sense or are you self-taught? MLS: I always had a natural ability to draw. I was fortunate enough to go to art school. I have a BFA in illustration from Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia.
MM: How would you describe your artistic style? MLS: My artistic style is realism. People often mistake my work for photographs although that is never my intention. I find the layering effect of watercolor to be fascinating, at the same time, I become so focused when I paint that I tend to get carried away with the details. The end result is very tight and realistic-looking.
MM: What inspired your business name? MLS: As an illustrator and fine artist, I thought I would just keep things simple and use my own name.
MM: Where do you draw most of your inspiration from? MLS: I find great inspiration in my hometown of Ocean Grove, N.J. I am so fortunate to live in this historic, seaside town. I usually incorporate elements of the gardens, seashore, and Victorian architecture within the compositions of my paintings.
MM: What are some important lessons learned by you that you can hand down to artists just beginning? MLS: I would tell them to be open to the fact that they may have to find employment outside of the fine arts to supplement their income. For example, since graduating from art school I worked as a graphic designer and then as a technical writer for many years. All the while I kept my standing as a freelance artist. At one point in my career, I spent approximately 10 years cleaning houses, while freelancing and painting murals.
MM: What tools are an absolute must in your creative process? MLS: I have found that whether I am working with watercolor or pastel, the best quality papers are the most important. Of course, my paints and brushes are crucial as well, however, I can use a great variety of high to low-quality brands. The surface I am working on makes all the difference in the final result of my work. For example, I started to enjoy the process of creating pastel pet portraits much more since discovering Wallis sanded paper. The pastels do not get muddy and the colors remain vibrant. What a joy!
MM: What is the most surprising thing we would find in your studio? MLS: Well, aside from a large collection of CDs and a CD player (which people rarely use anymore), I have a 4 foot long, hand-made, wooden mermaid hanging on the wall. She was made by a local artist in my town who works wonders with a jig-saw to create these charming, whimsical sea creatures. It is the only piece of art in my studio that is not my own creation.
MM: Are there any consistent themes that you stick to in your artistic process? MLS: Animals, particularly cats and dogs, are the main focal point in a majority of my paintings of late.
MM: Do you have a hidden talent outside of your art? MLS: I am somewhat obsessed with interior decorating. I am constantly changing things up in my home. I also love to re-purpose curb-side furniture finds and yard sale gems with chalk paint.
MM: How has COVID affected your business? Or has it affected it at all? MLS: Since 2005, I worked full-time as a technical writer/illustrator for an aerospace company. COVID hit the airline industry hard and I was let go, along with 100 or more of my co-workers. For the past year, I have been able to spend much more time on my paintings and creative work, however, the search for another day job continues.
MM: What are three things you love about the city you live in, Ocean Grove, N.J.? MLS: There is always something beautiful to see. I take photographs of the Victorian cottages, gardens, and mostly the cats and dogs that I see along the way. These photos are then used as references for my paintings.
MM: What is/are your guilty pleasure or pleasure(s)? One of my guilty pleasures is tattoos. The man who created my hummingbird tattoo is a perfect example of someone who is extremely successful at doing what he loves and he certainly is brilliant at it!
MM: Who or what has been your greatest professional influence? MLS: I have always been influenced by anyone who has had success in doing what they love whether that be in the fine arts, music, sports, or spiritual work. My love of shamanism and the spiritual messages of Abraham/Hicks have been essential to me in my personal and professional life.
MM: What is a mistake that happened in your life either personally or professionally that you learned the most from and what was the lesson learned? MLS: Several times throughout my career I gained a sense of security in the jobs I was hired to do. I’ve always been a hard worker and well-liked by my employers. I learned, many times over that no matter how good I was at my job or how confident I felt in my position, the job could be gone in an instant. The biggest lesson learned was to save for a rainy day and to be as debt-free as possible.
MM: Do you have a favorite mix of music that you prefer while you create? What are some of your favorite bands/singers to listen to while you create art? MLS: I have an eclectic taste in music and whatever I listen to while I paint totally depends on my mood of the day. One day I might listen to Aimee Mann or Elliot Smith. Another day it could be early Elton John, or the strange sounds of the old Tyrannosaurus Rex. If I really want to go back in time I’ll listen to Glenn Miller. When I want to be in a meditative state I will listen to shamanic or Indian music. I also take advantage of the time to gain motivation by listening to Abraham/Hicks’s seminars.
MM: Of the great Artists, who inspires you the most? MLS: This is a tough question because there are so many, but I would have to say, Andrew Wyeth. At the start of my art school experience, I took a trip to the Brandywine River Museum of Art located outside of Philadelphia. The museum showcases the work of Andrew Wyeth and his family. His drawings are mind-blowing enough let alone his paintings. I think his “Helga” series is my absolute favorite. Talk about a realist, wow. This is probably why his work resonates with me so deeply.
MM: Is there another local artist around your area that inspires you either professionally or personally? MLS: I live in an area where there are many flea markets and craft fair events to take advantage of during the warm weather seasons. There are two different jewelry artists that I support for rings and earrings. I also support the artist that I referred to earlier who makes wooden mermaids. They are beautifully designed and hand-painted with so much charm and character. I have several that hang throughout my home, and I only wish I had room for more!
MM: Has social media enhanced or hindered your reach? If so, what platform is your favorite? MLS: Social media has definitely enhanced my reach. I enjoy Facebook to the extent that I can display my work to a vast number of people that I have known for many years and those that I hardly know at all. My town has a Facebook dialog page where I actually developed a following. Many local residents have purchased my custom-designed chalk-painted items and illustrated note cards that I sell in the local bookstore.
MM: What is your biggest artistic accomplishment so far? MLS: I have managed to create a series of more than 20 watercolors of the cats and dogs that live within my town. I have exhibited many of these paintings throughout New Jersey and even won a few awards including “Best in Show”. I am proud to be an elected member of the N.J. Watercolor Society and to have exhibited with the Audubon Society of New York.
MM: Is there a style of art or technique or materials that you would love to work with? MLS: I would love to work with oils in the future and perhaps try to develop a more impressionistic style with it. As an illustrator, I’m pretty much set in my ways when working with watercolor. I think attempting a media such as oils would help me to think outside of the box.
MM: What is your dream project? MLS: I would love to see my “Ocean Grove Cats and Dogs” book published one day. This project continues to grow as I come across a different cat or dog here and there on my daily walks. Cats are a more common theme in the book because they seem to outnumber the dogs in this town. Often times I get the typical feline cold-shoulder, however, if a local dog should come along with its owner, a head-pat is always welcome. I am never without my camera and always ready for a great photo-op!
MM: Do you have any exciting projects upcoming that you would like to share? MLS: I started to film some of my D.I.Y. projects for a potential YouTube channel. My niece, Angela, is a video editor and she has been giving me some guidance along the way. This project is in the “trial and error” stage; however, I am excited to see how far it goes.
" I find the layering effect of watercolor to be fascinating . " -MaryLou Shipman
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