Artist Biography

Shelley Mitchell worked as an architectural draftsperson before returning to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in painting and art history. Since then she has shown professionally in both group and solo exhibitions in the Maritime provinces, Ontario, and Maine. Her work is represented in the Canadiana Fund State Art Collection in Ottawa, as well as many private and corporate collections in Canada, the United States, and Europe.


From Land and Sea

Nova Scotia’s Contemporary Landscape Artists

From Land and Sea - Nova Scotia's Contemporary Landscape ArtistsShelley was featured in “From Land and Sea: Nova Scotia’s Contemporary Landscape Artists” by Dee Appleby.

“The physical presence of Atlantic Canada, with its ever-changing atmosphere and diversity of land and sea and shore, moves me to paint continuously. Each part of the day and every change in the weather give me inspiration. I have painted all my life and will continue because I want to share the serenity and peace that I find in these places. I try to express that moment of tranquility or excitement in each painting so that it becomes part of the viewer’s experience. Sometimes the key to the idea is not in the overall composition, but in a detail of the work. For example, a particular boat is not important, but the surface of the water upon which it rests is critical. Which tree is chosen does not matter, but the quality of the air around it does. I discovered as a child the wonderful fluid medium of oil paint and have never found a more satisfying material to use, although I enjoy working with oil pastels on occasion and the immediacy of watercolour is useful for sketching. I feel grateful every day to be a part of the continuing dialogue of art.” – Shelley Mitchell

Why I Paint Boats by Shelley Mitchell                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Boats are exotic symbols of freedom, adventure and pleasure and are often  objects of great aesthetic beauty in themselves. I find this to be  particularly true of tenders and other small boats which are very often  hand made with care, craftsmanship and the best materials. The  woods and brasses weather to a richness and harmony over time.  The shabby, worn finish of the working boat and the jewel­like  perfection of a yacht tender tell intriguing stories of the life of the craft  and by extension that of its owners. Each wooden tender is totally unique and individual in its design  and its relationship to the water and the way it lays on it and in it. A  boat reflects itself imperfectly or more astonishingly, perfectly in the  water, creating a compelling symphony of colors, lines and textures.  The way paint clings to the body of the craft and the graceful spread  of the paint colors’ reflection over the water’s surface is reminiscent of  the intricate folds of rich fabrics. The quality of the light and how it  attaches to a boat gives the sense of place and time that determines  the mood of the viewer.    Whether I find these boats abandoned, working, idle or imagined  the extraordinary personality and loveliness of each one moves me to  paint them much as artists have always painted the human figure; as  a deeply meaningful object.

How to Paint Boats by Shelley Mitchell
I go to great lengths to find lovely hand crafted boats to paint because of their elegance of design. As well as being constantly on the lookout while sailing in Nova Scotia and Maine in the summers, I take at least one trip down the New England coast each year and either drive or boat to remote (and not so remote) harbors looking for small boatyards and marinas. In among the inflatable tenders you will often find an old beauty tied up and waiting. That’s when my husband Charlie springs into action and unties and re positions the boat so I can get exactly the position I need, sometimes hanging by one hand from a pier or lying on a float with my elbows in the water! The 3 elements I want are 1. a boat with good lines, 2. interesting water with color and/or textures and 3. great light. I often need to get these 3 things separately and combine them on the canvas. Usually I wait for the light (sometimes for a day or 2) and then move the boat onto the good water. It can be tricky and time consuming. We spend a lot of time revisiting boats in different light and weather conditions often at dawn and sunset. Charlie will take someone’s rowboat out for a row without permission and we’ve been questioned by many security people and locals. Usually people are very understanding and we always tie every boat back up exactly as we found it. Except for the time we put the oars back in the wrong boat and made our getaway as the owner was scratching his head wondering what was going on! Charlie has boundless energy and a good eye for finding and working with boats and I’d never get what I needed without his help and encouragement. What I want from a painting is a moment in time that shares my experience of that day surrounded by water, light and magic, a gift to myself and others.