Shanahan Fine Art is growing! This week I've been working with Joe Dager of Business901 (check him out at business901.com and his podcast of the same name) to work on a marketing strategy. Joe interviewed me for his podcast about my process, the new limited edition print series, High Noon, and my upcoming appearance at American Artisan Festival in Nashville, TN. Read the interview below and if you're in the Nashville area next weekend, come by booth 16 and say hello!
Note: This is a transcription of an interview. It has not gone through a professional editing process and may contain grammatical errors or incorrect formatting.
Transcription of Interview
Joe Dager: Welcome everyone, this is Joe Dager, the host of the Business901 Podcast. With me today is Elizabeth Shanahan. She is a painter living and working in Lewisville, North Carolina. Shanahan’s work focuses on the visual relationship between emotion and our natural surroundings. She has exhibited work at the Looking Glass, Smith, and Nth Degree Galleries in Boone, at Delurk Gallery in Winston Salem, at the LaGrange Art Museum in Georgia, and the Louvre Museum in Paris.
She will be exhibiting at several events in the upcoming months, one that I will be attending, the American Artisan Festival in Nashville, TN. Elizabeth, thanks for joining me.
Elizabeth Shanahan: Thank you for having me.
Joe: Could you start out and just introduce your work to us. I introduced you as an artist, could you add a little granularity.
Elizabeth: Absolutely, I'm a mix-media painter, and that means that I use a lot of different materials instead of specializing in just one. I work in the abstract and as you said my work is all about the relationship between human emotion and nature. It’s very much a contemporary version of what many of the impressionists did back in the 19th century. I use nature and color and form to explore the human experience.
Joe: Do you use a lot of different items to make the painting?
Elizabeth: I use things that I find, things that pop up in my life. I'm like “oh my Gosh, that's kind of cool.” It might have an interesting texture, or something like that. I use feathers, discarded pieces of metal, broken glass, seashell, snakes skin, just a few of the things I've worked with in the past.
Joe: How do you decide or is it something that you wake up that morning and a thought came up?
Elizabeth: It's a little of both. Somedays I find something really cool as you say, and I decide I want to use it that day. Sometimes, I have something that I set aside that I know I can use at some point, but I don’t necessarily have a plan for it. For example, I'm working on a collection of originals that I'm going to release in the fall. It’s all about home and your roots. I'm using a lot of embroidery floss, stitching things together, and tying knots that kind of thing. That's kind of a natural connection between the material and the interpretation of the work.
Joe: Why did you gravitate towards that style? Is it just something that you felt more natural with or you found more interesting to you?
Elizabeth: I started College as a realistic painter. I was really interested in the human form, but one day during a class we had to make an abstract piece. I was like, “I don’t want to do this, this is stupid.” I was really struggling with it, and then I picked up a palette knife. It just kind of came to me and it felt very natural, and I've been really happy with it.
Since I started working in that way, first of all, it’s fun, you’re not stuck with trying to make sure that things look right, you can just experiment with color and form and see what looks cool rather than what looks correct. What I really enjoy is what different people see in the same piece; the different meanings and feelings. It makes them feel different things, and for me, that's the big part of the fun as well.
Joe: Now you went to Appalachian State for school, is that known in North Carolina for art?
Elizabeth: It’s not like one of the big art schools like SCAD or something like that, but within the North Carolina University system I do believe that it has the best studio art program. We've got some great professors over there, Mike Grady who was my personal mentor, and Gary Nemcosky. It’s just a really good well-rounded program where you get a very comprehensive education in studio art instead of kind of hyper-focusing on one thing.
Joe: You traveled to France and Italy, was that a summer program?
Elizabeth: I wanted to study abroad when I went to school. I'm good with languages and figured I could learn one easily through immersion. I wanted to learn something new instead of going someplace where I already spoke the language. That’s how I ended up in Italy. I did a semester there in spring of 2014, and I did an internship at the Duomo which is a Cathedral. Most of the people I was working with didn’t speak English really at all. So, I was kind of forced to learn Italian which was great; it was really mind-broadening experience.
I would definitely say, and it’s a cliché, but it’s really true that living abroad changes the way you see the world. It reinforces the view that no matter where you are people are people. They are pretty much the same, and the world is simultaneously a bigger place than you realized. And so when I came home, I didn’t really feel done, I wanted to do more. I started looking into artist residency programs, and I ended up taking a month the summer before my last semester to do a program in France. I met some great people, and I saw some really beautiful places. It has been an ongoing beautiful experience for me. I still keep in touch with the people there. While I don’t have pieces that are specifically about my time abroad, I definitely think that it has expanded who I am as a person and certainly as an artist.
Joe: I guess I would ask how it influenced your work. I mean did it shift any after doing that?
Elizabeth: Not really, I would definitely say... I mean the obvious since I work with nature and landscape, just being exposed to different kinds of landscape has an obvious influence. I think that it’s also just growing as a person, being exposed to different people and cultures and languages that certainly makes you develop personally. That certainly influences the art as well, but I don’t know that I could say I was going this way and then completely changed course; it just kind of helped me grow up.
Joe: When you finished college were you looking to become an artist? A full-time artist and a professional or were you going to use your art degree in some other capacity working for someone?
Elizabeth: I always planned to be an artist. I was raised, homeschooled and so I was kind of in a non-traditional way of living from a very young age. When I got older, I didn’t really see how I could transition from the way I had grown up which was very free and kind of doing whatever you want, and go and work in a cubical somewhere. That was never something that I thought would work for my personality. Owning my own business, being in charge of my own career, it appealed to me right away, and it was definitely my plan.
Joe: When did you realize you had the talent to be an artist? Was that always something there even at a young age or was it later when you decided what you were going to study in college?
Elizabeth: Certainly I always enjoyed art, but I don’t think I realized I had a particular talent for it. I guess it was sometime in middle school. My friend Sarah, whose mother was the art teacher for my homeschool group, said that her mom had said that she thought I was a good artist. I went home and thought about it. I started drawing more in my free time, and I eventually decided that may be right. It was one of my big interests in high school, but I also had interest in academics and music. It wasn’t until college when you know you must pick a major that I had to make the choice of what I was going to pursue.
Joe: You didn’t go to college with the art degree in mind then?
Elizabeth: I made the decision as I was in the application process. I was into music, I was good at academics, actually went to college on a full academic scholarship, and then decided on an art major. I found that I fit in really well with the culture of artist. Being happy socially is just as important to be a person as being good in your career. I knew I could do okay in any of those three things and so feeling like I fit in with those people was what really made the decision for me. I'm happy to say that it holds true, I feel good about it today.
Joe: I always wonder about an artist if they have a process, they have a way that they walk into the studio, and go about things? Is there a structured way or is it all non-structured?
Elizabeth: It totally depends on the artist. I mean, there are as many ways to be an artist as there are artists. For me, it’s a little bit more like a strike of inspiration. I found if I'm not in the right mindset to paint then the work isn’t going to be good. I wait for the right moment.
I go through seasons where I paint a lot, and then I go through these seasons where I don’t paint too much, and I try not to worry about it too much and just go with the flow and do what I need to do.
Joe: Is there something like writer's block? I mean I write a blog all the time, and I sometimes struggle when I don’t want to write. I have to force myself to write. And you’re saying that you don’t quite do that but being a professional you've got to produce work?
Elizabeth: Yes, that is true, absolutely and I know I have deadlines. I have self-imposed deadlines. I have my line of limited prints; those come out four times a year; March, June, September, December. I have my original collection and those come out in April and September. I know when I have to have those things done but in between I kind of try to let myself come at it organically.
I'm a big believer in passive thinking where your brain is working through problems, where you’re not actually focusing on them consciously. When I'm not just in the right place, and the painting just isn’t coming easily, I try to take breaks. Like I either focus on the business side of my work, researching and applying to show, updating my archives. Or, I just take a full on break and take my daughter to the zoo or go on a hike or something and then come back to it with a fresh head.
Joe: How many different works do you have at one time going on? I mean is there like three or four or five multiple projects or do you zero in on one and finish it?
Elizabeth: It varies, some pieces for me go very quickly. There's no need to have more than one at a time, but some of them take longer. I've got one; it’s been on my easel, two months now. It’s large, and it involves cutting and sewing which is physically demanding and takes a lot of thought to make sure it's still working with the composition. I've been working on other pieces while that one is going on. I mean it varies depending on what I'm working on.
Joe: What have you found to be like the most challenging part of like being a professional artist?
Elizabeth: Well I would say that there's no roadmap to this career. I mean that's kind of true whatever you do in life, but especially for an artist. We come out of school and there's no such thing as an entry-level art job. You are just thrown into the thick of it. You always have to be thinking, what do I want my life to look like a year from now or five years from now or when I retire. You have to very consciously go out and try to build that life because there is no point as an artist can you be coasting, it just doesn’t exist.
Joe: But you need to have a vision because you must have something that motivates you for the long-term? You have to say, 'Gee, I want to be a Rembrandt or someone like that ?”
Elizabeth: I mean yes and no; some people do have those thoughts certainly. I think it’s like any other career where you have an idea of where you want to end up professionally and as a person. For me, I know a big part of my motivation is that I have a daughter, and I want to take care of her and provide for her. So, my career has to be able to support that. I also want to build a practice that's true to who I am. I don’t have to necessarily have to be the next Van Gogh or Rembrandt. It’s all about meeting my own personal goals.
Joe: Is there a community of artist that you hang around with let’s say or…?
Elizabeth: A little bit, the art fair community certainly is a really great group of people, really fun people. When I get the chance, I love to hang out with them. I'm a mom as well and so my days are kind of split between being an artist and being a professional and being a mother to my daughter. I hang out with other mothers just as often as I hang out with artists.
Joe: The Nashville event, the American Artisan Festival is coming up, in fact, its next week I believe. Can you tell me a little bit about that event, your exhibit and if you've exhibited there before and so forth?
Elizabeth: The American Artisan Festival was originally founded by someone named Nancy Saturn and had a great reputation. She, unfortunately, passed away in 2010 and the festival closed. Last year her daughter Samantha Saturn reopened the festival in 2017. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the very first new festival, and it was really cool. I met a lot of people who said they had come to this fair every year and they were sad when it closed. They were really happy that it reopened. I had a great time; it’s a great group of artists, really high-quality work there.
I’m very excited to be returning this year. I'm of course going to bring my original paintings with me; they're always with me. I'm also going to be debuting my new line of limited edition prints with pieces available from eight by ten inches all the way up to thirty by forty. Those will be available only until September 20th; I'm very excited about that as well.
Joe: When you go to an event there like a special order or just cash and carry? Can I walk out of there with a piece of art?
Elizabeth: Yes, absolutely, it's both. I will have pieces with me. I will have my little iPad, and if I don’t have exactly what you need, you can look at everything else that I have available. If you want, you can order it, and I'll have it shipped to you. If you want one of the prints, for example, and I'm sold out of your size, you can order that. It’s a mixture definitely.
Joe: Can I say, “I like that style and everything but this is all in red and purple, and my room is in brown and orange.” Do you ever like take special requests like that?
Elizabeth: Absolutely! The way that it works is you tell me what size you need, and what colors you are interested in. You pay half the cost upfront, I make your painting, and when it’s about half-done, I'll send you pictures you can tell me if you want more orange or brown or whatever it is that you like. When it's finished I get the second half, I ship your painting. I'm happy to do custom work.
Joe: Do you find a lot of your work is it mostly just all for the consumer, you know the B to C world or do you actually do things for the B to B world?
Elizabeth: I haven’t had too much experience with that as of yet, but I'm definitely looking into some partnership with interior designers, and with my limited edition prints I'm looking into some wholesale options. There are things coming on the horizon; I would definitely say keep an eye on website elizabethshanahan.com because that's where I announce my all my news and I definitely think some cool things are going to be happening in the next year or so.
Joe: Is there any advantage of getting on your newsletter list?
Elizabeth: Absolutely! You get the newsletter every two weeks, and you get the first pick of new collections. You get all the news; you know where I'm going to be and when I'm going to be there. And you get 10% off all your purchases online and in person. There's kind of a fun mix, I do have a blog, and every two weeks there's new blog post. A link will be included in the newsletter. You'll get decorating tips, how to change the style of a room, how to mix up the style of the room for various budgets.
As I said, new collections straight to your inbox, my show schedule as well, you also get party invitations. When I release a new collection, I throw a party. There's a lot of fun stuff going on.
Joe: Outside of the art fairs and you're exhibited several other different I think museums, and art stores, are you typically out and about a couple times a month? Do you travel throughout the Southeast, Get to the Midwest or out West at all?
Elizabeth: We're mostly sticking in the Southeast, we go to Atlanta, I was just recently in the DC area. Obviously, I'm going to Nashville next week or so, so we travel around a good bit.
Joe: I think you mentioned in our conversation before that you went to Nashville twice?
Elizabeth: I actually did another show in Nashville last September, I don’t know if I'll be back at that particular show, but I do really enjoy Nashville, it’s a really fun town. The schedule is always on the website.
Joe: You had mentioned your website, is that the best way to get a hold of you?
Elizabeth: Yes, elizabethshanahan.com, real easy, it’s just my name. You can sign up for the newsletter there which will get you all the news as it’s coming in about twice a week, no, sorry, every two weeks. I also have a Facebook page at Shanahan Fine Art and Instagram at Elizabeth.Shanahan.
Joe: Is there anything you'd like to add that maybe I didn’t ask?
Elizabeth: Just that I think this is going to be a really great event at Nashville, at the American Artisan Festival and it’s in a week or so and I'd love to see you all out there.
Joe: I would like to thank you very much Elizabeth. This podcast will be available on Business901 iTunes store and Business 901 website. I would like to thank all the listeners for listening.
Elizabeth Shanahan is the artist owner behind Shanahan Fine Art, sharing the art making process and demystifying the art world. Shanahan lives in North Carolina with her husband and their two year old daughter, a quivering spotted cattle dog, and a chronically disgruntled orange cat.
Ongoing: View my work hanging in Baked Well in Matthews, NC
Coming soon... New collection release! Portami al Duomo will be released sometime in the next month. Stay tuned, or sign up for my mailing list for updates.
Starting November 4th: View my work at Camino Bakery in Downtown Winston Salem. Reception to be announced for early December.