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.


Art from Steph

Hi there! I’m Steph Hargrove. I create mixed media acrylic paintings and large scale art installations that illustrate statistics for social and environmental issues. I’m incredibly excited to start my journey as a Creative Pinellas emerging artist!

This week I’m focused on preparing for the first meeting with my assigned mentor. At any given time, I have 3 to 5 art collections in progress. Since I often use large quantities of collected items, such as seashells or cereal boxes, it’s never too early to get started on a project. After I meet my mentor, I’ll know which art collection will come to life at Creative Pinellas this spring. For now, I’ll share some elements commonly used in my work.

These are a few of my favorite things:

Bright, bold, saturated colors are prevalent in all of my work. I’m especially attracted to the blues and teals found when looking at the ocean. Hot pink is another favorite. Ooh and I love electric lime green! Basically my work looks like a box of crayons exploded. Or a unicorn was in charge of color selection.

Graphics and Text
In college, I started out in a graphic design program. I quickly realized I was meant for fine arts, but I brought my love of typography and icons along with me. I am that weirdo who sees a sign, points, and yells, “Helvetica!” I am also that weirdo who believes Comic Sans is an abomination. My beloved font collection is featured regularly in many of my paintings and installations, as well as on T-shirts and mugs in my online shop.

Turn it up to eleven. I use black and white, dark and light, complementary colors, crazy bold patterns, and confident lines to create contrast in everything I make. Subtlety is not my thing. When it comes to making it pop, or making a statement, I do it loud and proud.

I can’t wait to share images with you! As soon as I meet my mentor and have a plan for the next few months, I’ll be back with plenty of progress pics for your eyeballs. Until then, I’m off to collect more shells and cereal boxes. Yep. Total weirdo.

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