Shannon Palmer is an artist based in Queensland, Australia, currently focusing on pencil sketches using paper or timber (with the occasional skateboard thrown in). She’s been drawing since her dad taught her how to turn a square into a cube and here she talks with us about the amazing way that surfers interact with the environment, art as a renewable resource, what it’s like to be a grom mom and the art scene on the sunshine coast.
Aside from the beach and the sunshine coast, where do you turn for artistic inspiration?
I grew up living near the rainforest in Nth Queensland and was snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef when I was two years old so my first artworks were inspired by the vibrancy of my surroundings. These days, my environment has changed but I am still inspired by the amazing colour and light around me. I love the culture of surfing. I find surfers fascinating to sketch. So many things we do during our day impacts on nature. Pollutes it, changes it. A surfer however, paddles onto a wave and merely rides its face as it rolls to the beach. We can’t change its size or direction. I find the very idea of this awesome. The works of legendary photographers like Albe Falzon, John Witzig, Frank Pithers and Dick Hoole are really inspirational in their simplicity and representation of old school surf culture.
How did you get into drawing? Are you self-taught or professionally trained?
My dad taught me how to draw a cube using perspective when I was five. From then on, I was hooked on making something look “real.” I could never indulge myself in the stick figure style, actually, I was really bad at stick figures! After high school I completed a Visual arts degree majoring in illustration and design and lived like an artistic hippy for three years just painting and drawing. I very quickly realized that I preferred creating art by hand rather than on a computer. Even today, whilst I use my computer a lot and see it as a priceless tool to have as an artist, I still prefer my final work to be drawn/painted by hand.
Describe your artistic style in 4 words. Is that a fair request?
Fair but difficult! Ok: IMPATIENT, SIMPLE, MEDITATIONAL, um, nice?
In the time lapse video on your website, are you freestyling that drawing? Looks like you did it in one day – how long did it take to complete?
I always sketch a quick, faint outline first, especially when dealing with the human form – too many sketches have ended up looking REALLY wrong when I didn’t do this. Then I just sketch until it is finished. I usually finish a piece or two in a day (beer and coffee helps this process) The skateboard in the time lapse vid took about 5 hrs… I used to paint very large acrylic canvases which took upwards of three weeks to finish. That’s a long time to have to “stay in love” with an artwork. The instant gratification of sketching is something that really suits the impatient artist in me.
Does it bum you out to think that after all that work on the skateboard, your drawing might be destroyed once a kid rides it? Do you work on a lot of projects like this?
No way! Art is meant to be enjoyed and if it can be enjoyed in ways other than just viewing it, all the better! My art is a renewable resource – plenty more where it came from! The skatey in the time lapse was actually donated by Mudjimba Cruisers to a little girl named Holly who has cerebral Palsy. Holly can’t walk and drags herself around the house like a little mermaid (hence the inspiration for the sketch). I don’t think there’s much risk of rail scrapes or gutter scratches on her board any time soon! Anyway, I get a kick out of seeing my work look scruffy and a little worn because some grom has been enjoying it! I hope to be sketching on a couple of alaia surfboards soon which is pretty exciting.
At the bottom of your website, it says “No animals were harmed in the making.” Is that in reference to your art or your website? Is it meant to be ironic, or is there a secret underground ring of web developers who do data testing on sea otters or something?
Yeah there is and I refuse to be associated with that mob! 🙂 Art is so experimental – whether it’s in terms of medium, subject matter, composition, technique, colour, target market or tools and I just wanted to make it known that my experimentation includes animal friendly practices.
You mentioned you’re a mom of two groms. Tell us about a day in the life of a grom mom. Should we be watching for your kids on the next world tour?
Ha – I wish! I would love to have to escort them around the world! My kids surf because they love it and their mates love it but competition doesn’t really interest them… My day basically starts and finishes at the beach with the kids surfing. In between we do the school thing, I prepare sketches and sketch. I’m also a primary school relief teacher so I’ll often squeeze that in as well. My art setup is pretty simple and portable these days, all I need is a piece of paper or timber and a pencil with an eraser on the end and I’m good to go. So I’ll often take my gear to the beach and sketch.
What is the art scene like in Queensland? Was it difficult to figure out where you fit in?
I personally have never concerned myself with whether or not I fit in and luckily, most of the other artists I have been involved with have been really inspiring, encouraging and cruisy people. I battle more with myself – I’m my own biggest critic. The art scene is very varied in Queensland. When it comes to creativity, its everywhere you look. I put that down to our environment. Our vast skies, clear water and lots and lots of outdoor living. There are creative, inspirational people doing amazing things everywhere. Whether it be fine art, fashion design, surf board design, photography or music, creative expression is everywhere. I think having a lifestyle that revolves around the beach helps me personally. Staring out at the brilliant blue sea and sky each day watching surfers dance on the waves makes me very present in the moment and aware of what surrounds me – how could I not want to capture that?