This week my focus has been painting hundreds of seashells. I’m not gonna lie – this is the tedious part of the installation journey. The novelty has worn off, and it’s a physical and mental challenge to power through and just get the job of painting and glazing 2,511 shells done. The upside of mindless repetitive work is that my brain wanders off and thinks about other projects. As a result, I’ve decided to add new objectives to my favorite ongoing project, art4theppl.

art4theppl is a project I founded in 2014. The project provides access to art supplies, art experiences, and arts education to children and adults in need. art4theppl isn’t a non-profit organization. I sell my art and donate a portion of my profit to financially support the project. I’ve also made and sold handmade items, collected unused art and craft supplies for repurposing, and my amazing friend hosts a huge craft party annually to raise funds for art4theppl.

I originally created art4theppl to provide arts education to the ACK Madeleine School in Bungoma, Kenya (which I have done successfully since 2014). Most of the students at ACK are orphans, many of them having lost their parents to AIDS. For these children, the school is their only source of food and medical care, and students walk long distances to attend school. The primary objective of art4theppl is to implement and continue a curriculum that includes arts education and utilizes art supplies in hands-on projects across multiple subjects to improve student participation and success. Before any resources are dedicated to this endeavor, we must first ensure that all of the basic needs are met for each student and teacher. Fortunately, Orphan Outreach fundraises to provide food, clothing, shoes, clean water, teacher salaries, and medical care which allows me to supply funds for art supplies. Helping these kids gives me great joy, and I’m so grateful I’ve been able to bring the arts to ACK.

This week, while covered in paint and swimming in a pile of shells, I decided to add new projects to art4theppl that support people here in my local Florida community. I’ve begun researching potential groups in need, including kids and adults, and I’m building my network of people who can connect me with supplies for use in new art projects. I still have a ways to go with shell painting, so I have plenty of time to formulate new ideas. Here is the latest shell countdown:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s glimpse into my artist brain. If you’d like to see items I’ve created for art4theppl, have a look at fromSteph.



2,511 Shells Fight Back

I am a super positive person. I absolutely love what I do. But I want to be honest and share all sides of the installation journey, and it’s not always sunshine and beaches. Building this shell installation is hard. Specifically, it’s physically challenging for me. I live with multiple chronic illnesses, some of which cause chronic pain. Shockingly, stooping over 2,000 times to pick up shells on the beach totally pissed off my muscles and joints. I’ve explained to my crazy hip pain that I’m done collecting shells and have moved on to painting, but my hip is still holding a grudge. Since I’m unable to tolerate pain medications (another pesky chronic illness makes me allergic to them) I have to find creative solutions to endure and push through. Currently that list includes ice packs, stretches, ginger candy, a heating pad, wiener dog snuggles, meditation, decaf lattes, mantras, hugs, good posture, and sheer determination (AKA I’m totally stubborn when it comes to overcoming this bull@#$%).

I enjoyed a beautiful sunset on the last official shell hunt for this installation. I did not so much care for the cold water spilling into my boots when a giant rogue wave caught me off guard.

Repetitive motions are especially challenging for me, so of course I’ve chosen a project that requires over 15,000 of them. Have I mentioned I love a challenge? Painting becomes painful after about 20 shells, so I’m tricking my brain and my body by changing positions and switching sides as I paint. And it’s working. I can paint over 200 shells in a day and not wanna die afterwards. That’s a massive success in my world.

My bin system has proved invaluable for keeping all the completed shells organized. When it’s time to start attaching shells to lines, I’ll be all set.

I get really happy every time I add more shells to a bin. It’s so exciting to progress through phases of this project and keep moving forward to the final goal!

Here is the official countdown as of today:

And finally, to anyone overcoming chronic illness and accomplishing your goals, you are a total rockstar. As we say in my house, “I’m gonna big fat do it anyway.”


Statistics Get Real

It’s no secret that I’m collecting 2,511 lucine shells to create an art installation at Creative Pinellas in May. But why 2,511? Yeah, um, that’s a secret. What I can tell you is that 2,511 represents a statistic involving water quality in the state of Florida. I’m using seashells to bring a statistic to life by creating a physical experience for you, the viewer. The installation can be viewed from all sides, and you’ll actually be able to walk in and through the number 2,511. As for the secret statistic, all will be revealed when the show opens.

Great news! Shell collecting has been a massive success, and I’m almost to my goal! This is the last week I’ll be featuring a collection countdown. The new focus going forward is getting all 2,511 shells painted. One countdown ends, and another begins.


My workspace is covered in paint, pearly glaze, and of course seashells. Organization is key when you’re making 193 shells in each of 13 colors across 2,511 objects. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of completed shells, and I’ve taken over my husband’s office with bins for each color. When it comes to a large scale installation, my OCD really comes in handy.

I have to admit, I’m a little sad to reach my collection goal. Obviously I’m thrilled to have all the shells I need for this installation (and with lots of time left for painting and building), but I love the shell hunt! Once I reach my collection goal for this project, I’ll jump right in to collecting for future installations. I’ve got two projects already in progress, and two more hanging out in my sketchbook. The hunt goes on!


Beach Better Have My Shells

Progress on the seashell installation took a huge leap forward this week. At a meeting with Danny Olda in the gallery at Creative Pinellas, we determined where I would be installing my 2,511 shells. Once the location was decided, I was able to design an installation based on the architecture and size of the space. This means I can officially say I know the dimensions of the final installed piece, and that’s a major milestone in the installation journey!

After my gallery visit, I was super excited to meet with my mentor, Don. We discussed my installation plans, including all the little (but important!) details regarding heights, weights, plus look and feel of support materials. As usual Don was a wealth of information and I’m so grateful for his input and assistance throughout this journey.

Processing thousands of shells has resulted in a constant mess in my space, but my OCD self doesn’t mind this type of mess. I prefer to think of it as organized chaos. There are shells waiting to be cleaned, waiting to be dry, waiting to be painted, waiting to be glazed, waiting to be stamped, and finally waiting to be glued. A quick look around my place and it’s pretty clear I’m fully immersed in this seashell installation.

These buttercup lucines are hanging out on my bathroom counter waiting to dry:

Let’s not forget the fundamental step in all of this – finding the shells! Some days I hit a beach and after an hour of walking I come away with around 10 shells. Other days that same beach could yield over 100 shells. Trips to the beach to hunt shells are always a surprise, and I’m always happy to be outside in the sand and surf (as long as it’s least 55 degrees out).

There were some impressive waves at Sand Key this week:

This morning was the best surprise yet – the beach was absolutely covered with buttercup lucine shells. I worked a small section of beach for about 45 minutes and managed to grab over 350 shells!! Here’s where I should share that I deal with chronic pain issues, and stooping over that many times put me at my limit. No worries, I’ll go back later with my husband and he can help me grab more. I’ve officially made it to triple digits on the countdown!



Chasing A Number

The pressure is on to find and collect 2,511 seashells for my installation at Creative Pinellas in May. This week I decided to up my game and visited numerous beaches in search of shells. I searched high and low, as in Honeymoon Island all the way down to Fort De Soto. As luck would have it, Pennsylvania lucines just aren’t prevalent right now (this time last year there were tons). I previously mentioned there would be challenges along the way as I build this installation, and this is a biggie. The clock is ticking and I have to get these shells collected, cleaned, painted, glazed, stamped, glued, and hung. Um, that comes out to just over 15,000 steps between me and a completed installation. Yes, I’m a bit frustrated, but the view from my “office” lately is pretty fabulous:

Not to worry, because all of that beach exploring throughout Pinellas county yielded a solution: buttercup lucines! Every beach I visited featured these lovely cousins of my highly sought after Pennsylvania lucines, and visually they are pretty similar. The buttercups come with a bonus – they tend to be a larger shell, which means that much more area to occupy space in the installation. Buttercups are officially in! Decision made, challenge overcome, on to the next! Here is shot of the two types of shells next to one another:

Of course I was dying to get back out to collect my new buttercup shell friends, and then the big bad cold front arrived. I’m super dedicated to this project, but shelling in 38 degree weather is not for me. Fortunately we live in a beautiful, magical place where cold weather doesn’t last, and I was back at it in no time. I strolled out onto the sand this morning, excited to gather all those buttercup shells I had seen a few days back, and wouldn’t you know it – they’re gone! It’s as though a big cold front came through, kicked up some waves, and completely changed the beach landscape. Again, not to worry, because do you know what I found all over the freaking beach?… Pennsylvania lucines! LOL! Obviously I’m completely at the mercy of the ocean and I’m trusting in the journey and the process, and I seriously laughed out loud, alone on the beach, as I picked up close to 150 pristine Pennsylvania lucine shells in the span of about 30 minutes. Thanks, universe!

As of today, here is the current shell scoreboard:

Weather and ocean permitting, I intend to make a significant dent in that number between now and next week. I’ll take all the good vibes, good luck, and good juju you care to send my way!


Just Beachy

Installing 2,511 seashells in a gallery space is proving to be quite the challenge. And I’m absolutely loving it.

The biggest obstacle is actually getting my hands on 2,511 Pennsylvania lucine shells before the show in May. So far I’ve collected about 600… only 1,911 to go! *insert panic face emoji* Seriously though, I’m at the mercy of time and the ocean, neither of which I can control in the slightest. Not to worry, social media has been a huge help. I’ve connected with shellers all over Florida who are helping me locate the best beaches for this particular shell. They’ve also offered to collect shells for me and are willing to donate their finds to this project. Community possesses a special kind of magic, and I’m totally feeling the love.

Here’s a peek into my lucine shell box:

Next on the to do list is color selection. Last week I had a pretty good idea of where I was going, but this week I dialed everything in. That process involved painting shells in various shades of my selected colors until I found just the right hues. I started with 20 potential colors, and 13 made the cut. *Side note: 13 is my favorite number, so I took this as a sign of good luck. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a total weirdo.* After seeing my 13 shells painted in just the right colors, I still wasn’t happy with how they looked. Great colors, but the shells looked unfinished somehow. Time to experiment with finishes.

Paint tubes are taking over my studio work table:

Painting shells is not difficult. Painting shells and ending up with a work of contemporary art versus a big craft project is a whole different story. I considered a shiny high gloss finish, but it didn’t have the right feel. Matte was definitely too basic for this application. After experimenting with various glazing techniques (and multiple internet searches and numerous trips to the art supply store) I found a winner: Pearly iridescence. I can’t stop looking at these little seashell gems. That’s how I know they’re done and right and good.

There were other adventures in seashell art this week, too. My notebook is full of smeary (I’m a lefty) pencil sketches of possible installation designs. There’s smoke pouring out of my calculator from figuring out dimensions, weights, and various divisions of the number 2,511. Fishing line experiments proved successful. Trial runs of stamping with ink were a total mess, but finally yielded a workable solution. And of course I’ve been hitting the beach to hunt for more shells. Have I mentioned I’m absolutely in love with this project? Because I totally am.


Oh Shell Yeah

I had the pleasure of meeting my mentor this weekend, Donald Gialanella. First, I should mention that I’m a huge fan of his work. Now that I’ve met him, I’m also a huge fan of him as a human being. Creative Pinellas did an amazing job pairing me with my mentor. We are a fabulous match and I am so excited for what’s to come in the next few months!

Donald and I discussed the work I have in mind for the Creative Pinellas show in May. My goal is to complete a large scale art installation and a series of paintings. I certainly have a great deal of hard work ahead of me!  To be honest I had modified my installation plan to ensure it would be finished on time, but I’m so glad Donald encouraged me to push harder and execute my original idea for the piece. Will the installation be done for the show in May? Heck yes. Do I know what the finished piece will look like? Ummmm, nope.  : )

Here’s what I do know about the installation so far. It will be made with 2,511 seashells collected from our local beaches. The piece will illustrate a statistic involving keeping our water and beaches clean. I’ve chosen blues, teals, greens, and grays for the color palette. Currently the shell of choice is the Pennsylvania Lucine, chosen for its durability (they are super thick shells).

And so the installation journey begins! I will share updates along the way, including all the wonderful surprises and inevitable challenges that will crop up as I prepare for the show in May. I’ll also pop in with sneak peeks of paintings that are underway. For the next 5 months I’ll be covered in paint or sand, and that makes me ridiculously happy.


Off The Wall

This week I’d like to share what’s currently on my studio table. It’s a giant crab.

No, really. My husband Jason enjoys nature photography, so we spend lots of time outdoors hunting for critters here in Pinellas county. We hike nature trails, walk on beaches, and explore mangroves and swamps. I am the wildlife spotter. I am totally awesome at this job.

One of our favorite spots is the Safety Harbor marina. If you follow the trail to the boardwalks, you’ll find yourself in mangroves, and that’s where my favorite little critters hide in plain sight – the fiddler crabs. At first glance, you won’t see anything at all, just little holes in the sand. But if you wave your hand, suddenly the ground jumps to life and hundreds of little crabs scamper around. The male crabs are all sporting one ridiculously huge claw, which they use to fight the other males for the best little holes in the sand. I find all of this hilarious. I am easily amused.

I was so inspired by these feisty little critters with their ginormous comical claws that I decided to paint one. Big. Really big. And now there’s a 36″x36″ canvas on my studio table that features one giant fiddler crab, complete with his hugemongous left claw. Here’s a sneak peak of the painting in progress:

Now that all the color is laid in, it’s time for textures. I’ll be busting out my trusty Posca paint pens and some tiny brushes for little details. For the record, I have no idea what this painting will look like once completed. I’m just enjoying the fiddler crab creative journey and I’m excited to see where it takes me. Also this crab needs a name. Feel free to drop me a comment at fromSteph and leave me some suggestions. 🙂


Chipboard for the Win

As an environmental artist, I’m always looking for eco friendly materials to include in my art making process. Eco felt allows me to sew and create textures and it’s made from 100% post consumer plastic bottles. Items found in nature, such as seashells and trimmed tree limbs, have also found their way into my work. I’m most happy when I’ve saved material from the landfill and can turn it into paintings, sculptures, or installations. Examples include bottle caps rescued from bars and restaurants, old power cords and electrical cables collected from offices, plastic shopping bags gathered from friends and family, and my absolute favorite material – chipboard. Cereal boxes, cracker boxes, packs of soda – all chipboard, all fabulous.

Why is chipboard my top pick? Versatility. Visually, I can paint it, draw on it, stamp on it, or cover it in paper or fabric. I even developed a technique that allows me to transfer printed text and graphics onto it. Chipboard is lightweight, which means hanging it in installations or adding it to canvas is a piece of cake, and it can be cut with die cut machines. Chipboard also has a magical way of remembering the way it is bent, making it great for sculpting.

Good news! Chipboard is everywhere. And it’s free! I save my own boxes, and I’ve been known to have multiple families saving their boxes for me as well. Yes, I collect trash from people. My largest project to date required over 900 boxes and took about 6 months to complete.

Speaking of projects, here’s a look at some of the work I’ve completed using chipboard.

Thoughts on America, 60″ x 60″ Mixed Media Painting. This piece uses the technique I mentioned to apply text and graphics to pieces of painted chipboard.

Leaves, 10′ x 10′ Mixed Media Installation. I hand cut 648 leaf shapes and covered them in paper, paint, and felt. Each leaf represents one acre of rainforest lost to deforestation every minute.

Bird in Flight, 24″ x 48″, Mixed Media Sculpture. This is a perfect example of how chipboard can be bent into shape. Each chipboard feather shape was ‘fluffed’ to create more texture.

Empty, 60′ x 45′, Mixed Media Installation. I die cut 1,894 chipboard frame shapes and hung them on fishing line to create a walk through experience. Each empty frame represents 100 empty stomachs for the 1,894,000 hungry children in the state of Texas. Since the statistic is food related, I left the chipboard unaltered to showcase the food products.

As you can see, chipboard is an integral part of my work. I’m still finding new ways to utilize chipboard in installations as well as paintings. Not to spoil anything, but there’s a 100% chance I’ll be asking for chipboard donations in the next few months. 🙂



Mandala anyone?

It’s no secret that I suffer from anxiety. When it comes to panic attacks, I’m a total professional. The good news is that I’ve come to discover numerous coping mechanisms, one of which is drawing mandalas. Don’t get me wrong, meditation, exercise, and healthy habits are key in reducing my anxiety. But finding my happy place sometimes just requires a pen and a sketchbook.

Before I go any further, I should mention that there have been actual medical studies done on the process of drawing mandalas. The process is shown to relieve stress, reduce pain, improve depression, give the immune system a boost,  lower blood pressure, and promote better sleep. Not bad for a fun little drawing project.

I’m officially inviting you to try your hand at mandalas.  Yes I’m an artist and I make mine super intricate and crazy, but anyone can learn to draw beautiful mandalas. Besides, it’s the process we’re after, not the resulting drawing (that’s a bonus). This is my favorite online tutorial for drawing mandalas. It’s quick and easy to follow. I promise.

When the drawing is done, there’s a whole other super fun thing to do… coloring! As I’ve shared before, I’m obsessed with bright colors, and mandalas are no exception. Breaking out my ginormous collection of pens and markers makes my heart happy.

Since I learned the art of mandala, these magical kaleidoscopes have been sneaking their way into my paintings. This is a 24″ x 24″ acrylic painting I did after drawing a large mandala on canvas. Fun fact: I had to purchase the world’s largest compass to pull this off.

I’m also working on a 36″ x 36″ mixed media painting that’s based on one of my mandala drawings. The mandala is pieced together with chipboard shapes covered in fabric and paint.

So I think it’s safe to say I’m totally hooked on mandala. I hope I’ve inspired you to find your zen in an amazing little drawing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find mine.

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