Oil painting of a man playing a cello in a park
Shelby Keefe, “Solista del Sol,” 24 x 30 in., oil on canvas, 2019
Candid photograph of a female artist
Caught in the act of plein air painting at the Door County Plein Air Festival, 2021

How did you get started and then develop your career?

Shelby Keefe: I always knew I was an artist, even as a young child. I came from a family of artists and crafters in rural Wisconsin and was always encouraged to draw and paint. As I grew up, I realized an artist has to make a living, so, after earning a BFA in Milwaukee, I landed a career in graphic design. Moving to the big city opened a whole new world for me, and I became enamored with the urban landscape.

Though most of my time was spent as a graphic designer and mother of two boys, I made the time to pursue my passion. By doing group exhibitions and commission work (mostly painting Milwaukee cityscapes), I gradually gained the attention of enough collectors and was able to leave graphic design and work full-time as a fine artist. I matured as a painter by participating in plein air painting competitions, teaching workshops and painting for national shows like Oil Painters of America and American Impressionist Society.

Making a living as a fine artist takes a lot of hard work, patience with the process, and faith in one’s self and a higher power! But it all comes down to the support I get from my collectors, students and my family because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to grow and develop as an independent artist.

How do you describe success?

Happiness (for the most part) = Success.

How do you find inspiration?

My inspiration is driven by light. I am constantly drawn to scenes that are dramatically lit, presenting me with the ultimate challenge of creating the illusion of glowing, sparkling, reflecting and emanating light merely by putting light values next to dark values. I am attracted to how sunlight hits the sides of buildings, how trees can cast long shadows that create patterns and stark contrasts. I love painting night scenes where the light emanates from headlights, stoplights, interior shop lights and colorful neon lights. There’s just something magical and addicting about painting a backlit subject as well. For me, it’s all about the light, the glow, the reflection and a fleeting moment in time.

What is the best thing about being an artist?

The best thing about being an artist is creating something from nothing. That “something” becomes a treasure for someone to enjoy, bringing beauty and peace to their environment. To help people find the “extra” in the “ordinary” is a privilege that brings me a sense of purpose to my passion. The other best thing about being an artist is freedom from a desk job!

Who do you collect?

I have a small collection of paintings from wonderful group of artists with whom I’ve had the pleasure of painting with. My favorites are Jill Carver, Ann Templeton, Marc Hanson, James Richards, Joshua Been, Frank Gardner and Michael Hernandez. Of course, I have a large collection of my grandmother’s work and several pieces by my painting teacher and mentor from college, Sr. Thomasita Fessler.

Oil painting of a city street at night
Shelby Keefe, “Twilight Drive,” 12 x 16 in., oil on linen, 2021
Oil painting of a bride on a carriage greeting a friend
Shelby Keefe, “Maltese Princess,” 24 x 20 in., oil on canvas, 2021
Oil painting of golden fall trees lining a city sidewalk
Shelby Keefe, “Gold Rush,” 20 x 16 in., oil on linen, 2021
Oil painting of a young boy on a sidewalk with a building behind him
Shelby Keefe, “Caught in Old Havana,” 24 x 36 in., oil on canvas, 2017

To see more of Shelby’s work, visit: www.studioshelby.com


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