Last February while we were vacationing in beautiful Naples, Florida, I spent a great deal of time combing the beach for seashells. Like I needed any more! I have a storage drawer in my craft room that’s bursting at the seams with hundreds of shells gathered during every beach trip we’ve ever taken (along with vials of beach sand from each place).
I’m afraid that collecting shells is a raging addiction. Every time I stroll a tropical beach, I am mesmerized by these beautiful mini sculptures scattered in the sand for as far as the eye can see. To me they are perfect little pieces of art, crafted by the sea and offered up from her depths to be admired and enjoyed. I absolutely cannot pass by without scooping them up.
So—what to do with all of these pretty shells once I’ve arrived back home and sorted them into yet another storage drawer in my ready-to-explode craft closet?
In the beginning, the simplest solution was to fill large glass vases and place them around the house on coffee tables, countertops, on my desk, even in the powder room. A great decision because each time I pass by them, I’m transported back to places where the sand is creamy, the water is turquoise, and the skies are filled with warm sunshine; my shells are pure joy in a glance.
Of course it wasn’t long before I ran out of places to display shell-filled vases. So once again—what to do with my ever-growing collection?
I decided to use the natural shapes of the shells that I’d collected during my first year in Naples to create a King Neptune-type design that I called The Old Man of The Sea.
To begin, I pencil-sketched a rough outline on plain white canvas, brushed some skin-tone watercolor paint into the face area, then laid out the different shapes where I thought they would fit most naturally. Next I glue-gunned each shell into place (burning the hell out of my fingers in the process!). I also spread glue on any bare canvas around the shells making up his beard and sprinkled the area with beach sand, which helped fill in and add a bit of sparkle to his beard.
After leaving it to set overnight, I glued the finished canvas onto the glass of a plain white picture frame. I found that setting it on top of the glass instead of enclosing it under the glass gave the whole piece added dimension, and I also liked how the strip of glass framed the canvas.
I ended up giving the finished piece to our friends who own the vacation house where we stay in Naples. It’s the perfect home for The Old Man of The Sea; after all, it’s where he came from.
The following year I used more shells to create another design: Mermaid of The Sea. Again, I started with a plain white canvas but this time, I painted the canvas with blue and green watercolour, then sprinkled salt over the wet paint to create an underwater effect. Next, I did a rough sketch of the mermaid’s position, then spray-glued the bottom third of the canvas and sprinkled beach sand over it and around the sketched mermaid’s tail to create a realistic sea floor.
Then I painted the mermaid’s face and arms and glue-gunned the shells I’d chosen into a pattern that formed her body/tail. I also made a little coral reesf in the right and left corners, incorporating a few fish-shaped buttons. To the right of the mermaid, I used tiny glass beads to create a transparent sea creature—I can’t tell you what type of fish it is…let’s just say it’s another one of those undersea mysteries!
A piece of coral I had was shaped a bit like a fish, so I placed it in the top left corner, glued on some shell fins and a glass bead eye, and you’ll notice that there are a couple of button fish swimming behind it.
Last but not least, I used gold yarn to make her hair. The flower adorning her hair is another tiny piece of coral.
I have yet to frame this piece, which I think would look nice in a little girl’s room. I may use the same type of frame I used for The Old Man of The Sea. It’s just one more thing I have to get around to doing.
We plan to visit Naples again in 2015. I’ve already asked my husband to duct-tape me to my lounge chair if I attempt to do any beachcombing. I suppose I should just call a spade a spade and start cleaning out a new spot in my cupboard now.