From Drawing, to Oil Painting, to Mixed Media Art

Throughout childhood and well into adulthood, drawing was my method of choice when creating art. I used pencils, pastels, makers, pens, etc., basically anything that was considered a tool for drawing or writing. I did a few acrylic paintings in high school and in my early 20’s, but that was the extent of my painting experience. I always felt intimidated by paint for some reason, especially oil paint.

It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I finally tackled my first oil painting, “Knightmare.” The painting ended up being 48” x 60”, the largest piece of art I’ve done to date. It took me 4 months to finish, and during that time I fell in love with oils. Doing that piece gave me the confidence to continue doing more oil paintings and challenging myself to render different textures like stone, metal, skin, etc. That painting spawned a new era for me as an artist. In fact, "Knightmare" could even be considered one of my first mixed media pieces because although the horse was done in oil paint, I used hot glue that I painted in silver acrylic for the lightning and a textured acrylic medium for the cobble stones.

"Knightmare" is Shireen Renee's first oil painting. The painting depicts a rearing horse with the head of a chess piece.

During this oil painting phase, I started traveling a lot more. I went to places like New York, London, Paris, Spain, Greece, and Italy. And while visiting these cities and countries with such rich history and amazing art, I made a point to go to as many museums as possible. It became somewhat of a hands-on lesson in art history and opened my eyes to new mediums, techniques, and genres of art.

About a year ago, I moved to the South Bay in SoCal a few miles from the ocean, which was the catalyst for this newest artistic era of mixed media. It started with me just laying out in the sand and noticing all the little coquina seashells surrounding me. I would put the ones within reach into small piles just to pass the time, but then I started to take them home with me. I didn’t know what I would use them for, but I’d hold onto them until I figured it out.

As the weather got colder, I would take more walks along the shore and started noticing a larger variety of shells. Collecting them felt almost like meditation- like I was being transported back to childhood, and for that hour or two, I didn’t think about any of my problems. I was completely fixated on treasure hunting. Every day was a different experience depending on how low or high the tide was and what the weather had washed ashore. It became an obsession for me to see what new things I could find.

After a few months of doing this, I began experimenting with the coquina shells because I had thousands of them, and they were the most consistent in size and shape. I would make a variety of patterns and adhere them to small 8”x8” canvases with an acrylic molding paste. Sometimes I would paint over them, but for the most part I left the natural colors exposed because it seemed like a shame to paint over the natural beauty.

Seashell art by Shireen Renee made from small scallop shells adhered to canvas.

While I was experimenting with these small shells, I started collecting a lot of mussel shells because I was seeing so many of them at the beach. I started to think about ways to incorporate my oil painting skills with the shells, and that gave me the idea for my first larger mixed media piece called “True Colors.”

The idea to use the mussel shells as dragon scales came to me from one of the smaller experiments I did with the scallop shells (see above photo). Once I get an idea about something that excites me, I dive right into it without thinking about it too much. I’ve noticed that when I overthink something, it tends to paralyze my process, so it’s better for me to just figure things out as I go.

I started the piece by painting a large reptile eye in oil paint on the canvas. Before I adhered the mussel shells, I loosely placed them around the eye just to visualize how the pattern would look before I stuck them on permanently. Then, I mixed black acrylic paint with a white acrylic molding paste that pretty much dries like concrete, and I smeared it all over the canvas and around the eye. I placed the shells around the eye and let the paste dry for a few days before applying several layers of glossy varnish to the shells to give them the appearance of being wet.

It's always rewarding to see something I envisioned in my mind be brought to life exactly how I imagined it. This piece was the first of many other mixed media art pieces I’ve created since and will discuss the process in later posts. You can see a video of how I made “True Colors” by visiting my Instagram page or my YouTube channel. If you are interested in purchasing this original piece, please click here or contact me for more information.

"True Colors" mixed media art made from seashells, acrylic and oil paint by emerging Los Angeles artist Shireen Renee.


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