Art had long been a part of Shelly Lipscomb’s life, but for a few years, it took a backseat to career and family. Then, on maternity leave with her second child, her preschool-aged daughter wanted to play with watercolors.
“Why don’t I paint?” thought Shelly. Not long after, a co-worker offered her space in her in-home gallery, and art made its official return to Shelly’s life.
Shelly is Homeland Center’s first featured artist of 2019, with works hanging in the Florida Room gallery. The rotating exhibit appears courtesy of the Art Association of Harrisburg, which recruits local artists to display original works in unexpected settings region-wide. Homeland is the only nursing facility showing works through the program.
Shelly’s work attesting to her love of nature and her unique perspective on the many colors of the sky also appeared at the Elizabethtown Library, WITF Public Media Center, and doctors’ offices. Her love of art first blossomed in middle school, under a teacher who recognized her talent.
“Any time a teacher can encourage a student who has a passion for something, you go for it,” she says today.
She majored in studio art at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but after graduation, she returned home to Harrisburg to work in the Pennsylvania Capitol. In December 2016, she took early retirement, and art took center stage.
About a year before retiring, Shelly connected with college friend and children’s book author Bena Hartman. Bena wanted a true collaboration with an illustrator – a departure from publishing industry practice that usually assigns illustrators who have little contact with authors. In August 2016, Masthof Press published their first book, “My Elephant-Sized Dream,” about a girl inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to lasso shooting stars.
The process introduced Shelly to the back-and-forth of collaborating. It also taught her the difference between fine art and illustration, as she learned how to accommodate page edges and bindings, and how to turn ideas into images.
“It gave me a great sense of accomplishment – and my daughters think it’s cool,’’ Shelly says with a smile. “I like being able to show them to have goals and dreams.”
Both of Shelly’s daughters, ages 12 and 15, are artistically inclined. Shelly encourages them while also offering the practical advice she got from her father: “Study whatever you want in college but make sure you know how to type.”
Her older daughter combines her artistic talent with technology, studying biomedical engineering at Dauphin County Technical School. She likes drawing renderings of robots that she and her Robotics Club classmates dream up.
In college, Shelly dabbled in student teaching but couldn’t see herself managing roomfuls of children. Today, however, you’ll find her teaching students of all ages, in a variety of settings, from Michaels craft store to Girl Scout meetings.
Shelly believes anyone can draw.
“I can’t draw a straight line, either,” she tells people. “I use a ruler. It can just be you expressing herself.”
Even life’s trials can inspire art, as she knows from the bald self-portrait she produced in 2011 while preparing for her WITF show and simultaneously undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
A favorite memory is a day at a lakeside cottage with her godmother, who insisted she couldn’t paint. Shelly sat to create a watercolor of the pretty lake, “and she did a painting with me, and she liked it. I said, ‘See. You can paint. Don’t say you can’t.’”
In Shelly’s eyes, the sky is “not always blue. It’s not always sunny or cloudy. It’s many different things, just like we are many different people.”
That perspective shows in six miniatures hanging in the Homeland exhibit. Most show a sky, perhaps with a sole bird fluttering through or a sun setting over a beach, with each depicted in different tones, streaked with blue, purple, yellow, or gray.
Her illustrations for “My Elephant-Sized Dream” are on exhibit at Harrisburg City Government Center, and other works will hang at a local reiki spa (on Facebook at Lipscomb Arts).
The Homeland gallery “is wonderful,” Shelly says. When she was hanging her pieces, with help from her husband, Ciro Echeverria, curious residents stopped to enjoy the works and ask questions about her techniques.
Homeland’s rotating exhibits, including photography and mixed media works, give residents something to look forward to, she says.
“Even when you can’t change the scenery outside,’’ Shelly says, “you can change the scenery inside.”