Studio Sixty Six

Interview with Shelby Dawn Smith for Different Every Time (Mar. 11 - Apr. 9 2016) What is your earliest memory of art? I’ve...

Posted on March 21, 2016

Interview with Shelby Dawn Smith for Different Every Time (Mar. 11 - Apr. 9 2016)

What is your earliest memory of art?

I’ve always been artistic, and I also always have loved cats. I used to draw and paint lots of things involving cats, including comics and watercolour portraits. My favourite drawing that I ever did and possibly the earliest that I remember is a pencil drawing on a piece of scrap paper on which I wrote “cat tree” and made a line drawing of a tree that had cat-faces in the place of leaves. It is now framed and displayed in my living room.

How did this memory inspire you?

I found the cat tree drawing a couple of years ago when I was visiting my family during a winter break from university. At the time, I was struggling to find my own particular artistic style or approach. Finding the drawing helped me to embrace the freedom of a childlike state of mind when creating art, something that is still greatly influential in the art that I make to this day. In my practice, I always try to approach making art like playing a game.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I probably always wanted to be an artist, though I never really thought of it as a viable career path. When I was younger, I used to think I wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian, then late in high school I thought about how I could make a practical career out of art, like medical illustration or art therapy. When it came time to decide on University, I had applied for Biology, Bio Med, and Fine Arts programs, and finally chose art. That was the moment when I finally really knew that I wanted to be an artist. This was cemented in one of my fourth year class where one my professors, Andrew Wright, insisted that we start calling ourselves “artists” — to say simply “I am an artist” when someone asks what you do.

Your greatest influence(s) (non-art)?

This is difficult for me to answer because I am the type of person who sees nearly everything as a type of art. I like crafts, knick-knacks, and all things kitsch — the things that are often considered “low” art if they are described as art at all. I sometimes like to include non-art materials into my artwork. Music is a great influence, and I am particularly found of punk, hardcore, emo, and indie music. The different moods that certain songs can put me in can significantly impact the art that I produce, so that is something with which I experiment. The rhythms can also influence speed and type of mark-making.

Your greatest influence(s) (art)?

To name a few: Cy Twombly, Fiona Rae, Mike Kelley, and Jennifer Lefort.

Cy Twombly is influential because of his strong use of line and the juvenile, free approach he brings to art. He embraced the scribble and made it art, and that is something that was immensely important for a number of artists after him, myself included.

Fiona Rae has excellent compositions, and I am enamoured with her wide vocabulary of mark-making. She likes to combine various contrasting marks and shapes, and creates these absolutely dreamlike paintings, inspiring some of my work with visual “binaries.”

Mike Kelley’s art is just over the top with kitsch and pop culture. He brought low-art to the high-art stage, and made some truly fun and interesting pieces. I, too, am enamoured with kitsch and low-art, and like to show this by incorporating pop colours and non-traditional mediums and objects into my work.

Jennifer Lefort, whom I have actually never met despite her teaching at the University of Ottawa and being from the area, is another artist whom I admire. She explores dualities and binaries in her work, and blurring of the boundaries between them — something that I also attempt to work with in my practice. I love how her paintings are successful across the great variety of scales in which she works. Her paintings are also just very fun to look at.

What all of these artist have in common is a sense of playfulness, and perhaps even rebellion, that runs directly though their art.

What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

My drop sheet and large box of clean rags, as I am extremely messy when I paint. It is not uncommon for me to be mopping up paint puddles, or hopping into the shower because I have covered myself near head-to-toe in paint.

SplatteredShelby-Studio-1How do you start a painting?

Every painting is different. Sometimes I mix some acrylic with water in a cup and spill it onto the canvas, other times I draw a circle. Still other times I take some spray paint and just start going at it. Always changing things up is very important to me. I do my best to keep art something that is fresh, fun, and innovative so I don’t bore myself.

How do you know when a painting is “finished"?

It’s hard to explain, but I somehow just know. There are a number of minor factors that influence a general feeling that a work is complete. It is when my eye moves all over the piece, rather than settling in just one place. It is when I feel that I have reached enough variety in the piece. It is simply when I feel that I don’t want to touch it anymore. Once I feel at peace, then I know. And even then, sometimes I change my mind and revisit the painting later.

If not yourself, which artist would you be and why (living or dead)?

I think it would probably be fun to be one of those hugely successful artists like Damien Hirst or Mike Kelley for a few days, but I am not sure if I would want to permanently switch places with anyone.

Do you collect anything?

I collect clothing tags — this started in high school when I had started to collection intending to use them for a mosaic style art piece, though I have yet to ever do that. I also collect beer bottle caps, which I started collecting in university, and had a similar idea in mind that I have yet to follow through with. I am planning on trying to do somemore collage and mixed media works soon, so maybe some of these collections might make their way into those.


My favourite collection though is a collection of strange, quirky, and sometimes ugly figurines, toys, and other objects, either handmade or mass-produced. Some of these items include a hand-made glass bottle-stop shaped like a clown head, a couple of trolldolls, a matinee clown puppet, a broken figurine of a small girl wearing a “Miss March” sash, two very creepy happy and sad pig figurines, and a poorly-thought-out children’s toy that opens its mouth to sing notes in a scale when you press its belly, then after a few minutes of being left alone says “good night” in an extremely creepy voice. I like to keep some of them around my studio for inspiration.

What is art to you?

Simply put, art is everything.

What are your plans for your future artistic practice?

I plan to keep trying new things and exploring new possibilities, all while still having fun. I have a few larger canvases that I would like to try to tackle soon. I also want to dive a bit further into mixed media and do some collages with some of the items that I have collected over the years. I plan to keep working on my photography project “Tint Patterns” and figure out how I would like to display those pieces. For those who are unfamiliar with the project, “Tint Patterns” is a series of photographs of serendipitous patterns that have formed as a result of dispensing tint, or colourant, into a can of paint. I will definitely continue to share my process along the way.

Thanks, Shelby! Here are some of Shelby’s “Tint Patterns”: green-tint-1rose-white-black-tint-2reddish-tintCatch Shelby’s exhibition DIFFERENT EVERY TIME at Studio Sixty Six from March 11 - April 9, 2016

Shelby’s website is:


Studio Sixty Six is an emerging artist gallery located at 858 Bank Street, Suite 101, in the Glebe. This is our official blog, where we share what's happening at the gallery, as well as in the broader fine art and design communities of Ottawa.

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