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Rising Stars: Meet Shelley Hanna

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shelley Hanna.

Hi Shelley, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start, maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
I see myself as a book with many chapters. There have been many twists and turns, but I’m still in the middle of my story, and – fingers crossed – I hope it keeps getting better and better.

I won awards and got quite a bit of recognition when I was a teenager for some portrait work. This was a little bizarre as I was a timid and introverted kid. Like many artists, I knew I had a talent for art from a young age and received encouragement.

When I went to university for instruction, it was all about abstract expressionism and modern art rather than realistic art. Realism was out of favor at the time, so painting classes were a “free for all” format. This was discouraging as I wasn’t learning what I had hoped, and I saw no way forward to make a living with my art. I switched majors many times and finally got a BFA in graphic design.

I started my career as an art director at an advertising agency and had great success with that. Ultimately, I ended up head of a fabulously talented creative team. It paid the bills and was an exciting and innovative business. It was – and still is – an ever-changing industry that keeps you on your toes. I loved working with other creative minds and learned a lot about the art of storytelling in seven seconds or less (usually less).

Even though I enjoyed a fulfilling career, in the back of my mind, I always knew I’d end up focusing on fine art one day. I always had an art side project while working full time. As soon as websites were a thing, I built a website to showcase my work and uploaded work periodically.

I added a blog to my website several years later. I love to learn, and teaching is one of the best ways to learn. So the focus of my blog posts was to document and teach what I was learning, and that continues to be the inspiration for the content I create today.

Currently, I’m doing commission work and making passive income off my website. I could ramp up the content creation to increase revenue but don’t need to do so now.

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road? Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’m not sure what a smooth road is. Early in my advertising career, I forced myself to say yes to opportunities I felt uncomfortable with. I knew being shy and introverted wasn’t going to get me very far, so I had to adopt an alternate personality to feel brave enough to interact with clients and coworkers. Because of that, it felt very stressful. However, my love of learning new things often moved me through my fear.

While I was still doing art off and on throughout my professional career, I felt pretty lost in regards to developing a style. I explored different genres, including abstract work, impressionism, fauvism, etc., but none of them felt like me. Realism was my happy place.

By 2019 I was doing consulting work, and then the world changed. Unfortunately, I had to deal with the illness and loss of my mother late in 2020. I had also lost several friends and both of my dogs. They don’t teach you how to deal with grief in school. It’s different for everyone. I just needed to take a break from everything for a long while.

In 2021 I decided to leave my consulting work, focusing on fine art and developing content for my website. I’m still figuring out exactly where I want to go with it, but for now, I’m having fun learning from other artists and exploring new painting techniques. Advertising was all about hustle culture. I’m doing the opposite of hustle culture right now. I’m taking my time and enjoying the discovery process of being an artist again.

The great thing about returning to my artistic roots now is the ability to share work with a much wider audience directly rather than going through a gallery system. However, in addition to creating art, I’ve had to learn more about producing and editing content for my website and other social media channels, including YouTube.

Art is supposed to be fun, right? Figuring out how to combine art and content creation has been a little paralyzing. The content production felt so much like my former work life that I didn’t want to do any of it. However, over the last few months, I’ve started to lay out a plan. My focus now is on building up a library of content so that by later this year, I can start publishing articles and videos again. This takes the pressure off of always producing a painting because I “have to” rather than because I want to.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
The work I do the most now is portrait painting in oil. I started painting landscapes in oil when I was 12, but was constantly getting headaches, so I switched to acrylics and started painting portraits. A few years ago, I decided to go back to oils using odorless mineral spirits and found they don’t bother me as much.

I’ve always been fascinated by painting or drawing someone’s likeness, whether they be human or animal. It feels like magic when the personality comes to life on my canvas. Every time I sit down to paint, I am scared that the magic won’t happen, and it freaks me out. But painting is a practice; the more you practice, the more likely the magic will happen.

With my work, I always strive to make the subject feel present and capture their essence. I know I’ve succeeded when I see them looking back at me and feeling like someone else in the room. I now have a painting on my easel of a dog, and out of nowhere, my dog Ralphie started barking and growling. He was looking at the painting and thought another dog was in the room. I want to think that was a little bit of magic happening.

So maybe we end by discussing what matters most to you and why?
Curiosity has forever been a driving force in my life. I am learning something new. There are many benefits to learning new things, but for me, it just makes me happy.

I am always trying a slightly new technique, new surface, and new mediums. This includes exploring digital art. I used to think it was taboo to consider the use of digital technologies in fine art. However, I use it to practice and work out colors and compositions.

Painting digitally is more convenient, but it’s not easier. I would say in many instances, it is quite a bit harder. Learning the programs and keeping up with them is another skill set. People who create digital art for a living are masters at their craft. I will generally just stick to painting on my iPad the same way I use my traditional art supplies. I only use a couple of brushes and a pretty limited color palette. I also tend to work in only one layer.

As I mentioned earlier, teaching is one of the best ways to learn. This is why I am documenting my work and building a library so I can eventually share it on my platform. This library will include paintings on many subjects. While portraits will always be a favorite, there is also magic in painting the sun glistening off an ocean wave and capturing a glimpse of a persimmon’s reflection in a silver teapot. There is always more to learn in the world of art. Lucky me.

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Image Credits
Shelley Hanna

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