Shelby Willis has loved art since she was a child. Both of her parents are artists, but Willis also felt a pull to nature. It wasn’t until after she received her BSc in ecology that she pursued art, combining both of her passions.
“I can’t help but be obsessed with animals that you can find in your own backyard and in the Rocky Mountains here like bears, wolves and foxes,” says Willis. “Those are my go-to because they’re just such strong power animals and all the features are probably my favorite to paint.”
Willis, who is also an environmental project manager for the City of Leduc, uses bright colours to create the subjects of her paintings, which range from owls and tigers to whales and turtles. A single painting takes multiple two or three hour sessions as Willis layers the paint to get her desired finish. Her most recent collection, Where the Wild Things Grow, is inspired by the Rocky Mountains and features wildlife, flowers and naturescapes.
Willis got her start selling her original paintings at the Whyte Avenue Art Walk, but later branched out to also sell prints of her work. It was a way for her to make her art accessible by offering beautiful pieces for a fraction of the price.
“That became exciting for me, working in a cohesive collection where people could see my style and start to collect either original art or art prints,” says Willis. “When I started selling art prints, I think that really opened some doors.”
She wanted to share her passion for art with others beyond selling her work, so she founded Fearless Creativity for the Soul, an art retreat for adults. Over the last few years, Willis hosted eight workshops and a handful of lessons in schools.
“I wanted to share this process with other people who also felt uptight in their work or too afraid to start, and really show them that painting can be really fun and not terrifying,” says Willis. “You can make mistakes, and it’s totally okay, your painting will still turn out beautiful.”
She’s currently working on a collection inspired by motherhood (Willis welcomed her first daughter in February) and folk art. The collection isn’t for sale yet, as Willis continues to work on it throughout her maternity leave.
You can also see Willis’s art around the city, specifically at the Ardrossan Skate Park and Ritchie Community League where Willis painted outdoor wall murals.