We had the good fortune of connecting with Natalie Shipula and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Natalie, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
My hometown is located in Pennsylvania’s Rust Belt. I grew up in Western PA but spent a good amount of time in Eastern Ohio. My family originates from the Cleveland Ohio area so we visited frequently. A lot remains the same there but going back now as an older adult, I see they are trying to get it back to what it once was. Now, I am not old enough to know what it was like when it was good there but from the remains of what’s left, one can only imagine. Plus, the stories I heard growing up helped. My parents, parents were adults during the depression so I think that, and the time and place I grew up in have had a great influence on who I am and how I work. My family wasn’t poor but we didn’t have a lot of extra money so if you wanted something new or trending or nice, you had to work for it. I joke with my friends, the reason I know how to do so much is that if I wanted something I had to figure out how to get it. So I learned how to do my nails, I fixed broken jewelry and restored items like furniture or paintings. This way I could feel like everyone else. I was shopping at thrift stores before it was a thing. Now as an artist, I work in a similar way for three reasons. One, art supplies are expensive. Now I understand the saying, “starving artist.” I didn’t realize this until I went to art school. Two, as a kid, I always loved art, all kinds. I remember when we did take family trips and I would see a street artist I would always want to get something. Most times there was nothing I could afford and my mom wasn’t able to spend money like that on a kid. Third, I hate waste. This is a relatively new thing. Sometime in the early 2000s, I lived in Las Vegas. Driving around I would see plastic bags and plastic containers all over the place. As time went on, I looked at what I was doing and figured I might not be able to change the world or save it for that matter but as an individual, I could reduce my waste. This idea is hard when you don’t have recycling or other means available to you, so I do what I can. College really opened my eyes. Not only is art expensive but it is also wasteful. I studied graphic design and the number of materials I was going through just to create one project was crazy. This didn’t include all my other classes. As I progressed in my career and I started painting, I tried to find sustainable and cost-effective ways to do things. With graphic design, those two traits don’t coexist very often. There are sustainable papers and printing processes but they aren’t always cost-effective for most of my clients. Most times it’s hard for me to use them on my own projects. However, as an artist, I have figured out a way to provide one of kind original paintings for the average person to purchase. I even have paintings that kids can buy or parents will buy for them. I think that had I grown up differently, I wouldn’t be able to do this. Like most people these days, I am sucked into the world of TikTok and I see that there are more people doing similar things but I wonder if it is because they learned it out of necessity or because at the moment it’s trending. Regardless, I will continue to do things in the most cost-effective way while maintaining the highest quality and being as sustainable as possible. Everyone should be able to have original art or quality work provided to them.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I consider most of the things I do as art. However, what I am most known for are my watercolors. I went to Youngstown State University for Fine Art. My background is in graphic design but it isn’t really who I am as an artist. How I started painting watercolors is kind of a funny and sad story. I was working with a client and they wanted a menu for a crab feast party. They wanted a watercolor crab but didn’t want to pay for a stock photo. They wanted a real watercolor. At this point, I had never painted with watercolor but was willing to take on this challenge. So I painted one, and it was to date probably one of my favorite crabs. From there my mother wasn’t doing so well with her cancer and some raccoons had just killed her chickens so to make her happy I began to paint her chickens. I had only just started to paint one when she passed away. She never saw her chickens or even knew that I painted the crab, one of the things I wish I could have been able to tell her before she left. I went on to finish painting all 19 of her chickens and at her memorial, they were hung with the pictures of her. So many people wanted to buy those paintings but how could I sell something that was meant for my mother. I still have them, tucked away in a portfolio in a closet.

A friend of mine said that I should paint more. She knew there was a market for crabs and chickens. From there I started painting more, setting up at markets, and selling. However, selling art isn’t easy or cheap. I had to figure out how to package, cut mats, find paper, and take payments. My first market was a mess. I wanted to have a brand but was so focused on getting paintings made I didn’t have time to figure that out. It’s been almost seven years and I just now accepted that my brand is pink and it can’t be forced. I’m still working some things out but for the most part, it is sustainable, repurposed, recycled, vintage, and pink. I think back to that first market and I’m amazed I sold anything. The reason why is I didn’t know my worth and my value. So I sold a lot because it was cheap. I learned that day to value myself, have a quality product, be nice even when your customer isn’t, and always smile. Today, when I go to a market, I have my nice tent, clean pressed table cloth, organized bags, payment method, clean clothes and hair, and a smile. In that time, I have also learned to fix frames that people have thrown out, cut glass, cut mats, frame properly, and order quality supplies online. Finding an art supply store that isn’t Hobbly Lobby or Michaels can be hard to find for someone like me who needs to touch what they are buying before they buy it. Trusting the online world is hard and I have purchased items that met the price point I was looking for but not the quality.

You’re probably wondering how I can sell original paintings. Easy, I paint a lot of the same things so I don’t focus on the details. My paintings aren’t about what the object is, it’s about what you see. Sure it’s a crab but the paint dried in a way that looks like a sun setting on a fall day or the cow looks like a mountain landscape. My more abstract paintings are how I see the sun setting over the ocean or field back home. Maybe it was a cold crisp winter morning in PA and the sky, snow, and trees are 20 shades of pink. I paint for the viewer. I want them to see something they want to look at for the rest of their lives. I don’t want them to look at something I like. I paint the unusual and weird. I paint flowers and landscapes, farm animals, and bugs. I paint what I think might be a challenge. My bugs, teeth, and cars are some of my favorite things to paint and are usually the ones I spend the most time on. However, this doesn’t answer how I can paint so much to have enough to sell at markets. Well, it’s because I had to figure out a way to maximize my workflow to keep costs down and supply up. I buy paper in bulk, I buy from suppliers, not third parties, I learned how to do things myself, I use every scrap of paper for something and I use up old supplies. I don’t buy new boxes to mail things when I can make a box from leftover cardboard. When I buy frames from thrift stores, I reuse the mat if it’s good. I figure out what frame I want to make a painting for not paint something then try to find a frame. I work from my photography so I don’t use online photos. When I need to replenish my supply for the market, I work in steps. Find the frames, pick the photos, cut the paper, draw out the shape of the painting, paint, paint, paint, then select the mat and cut, fix frame if needed and frame. I don’t sell as much now as I did when I lived in Maryland so I don’t have to paint as much.

My challenge now is finding where the art people are in Texas. I will say that from the few markets I have sold at I have received more commissioned pieces from new customers, not friends. This is something new for me and its exciting to know that random strangers find my art interesting enough that they want a commission more than purchasing something I have already painted.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Since I am fairly new to Texas and Houston, I haven’t been able to get out and find all those places. If my friend were to show up today, it would be an adventure for both of us. However, my time in the military allowed me to experience things that now when I go to a new place I look for. My itinerary would include some basics that everyone should do that are kind of once in a life time things. So for Houston, it would be the Space Center, Galveston as a whole, and The Museum of Fine Art, Houston. Now for food, my favorite thing to do is Google and then just pick whatever sounds interesting. Although, my friends and I love walking around and letting fate take hold. The best adventures always seem to be the ones not planned. With what I have looked up so far here, there is a lot of diversity when it comes to food and I can’t wait to explore.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The passion for what I do probably comes from my grandmother on my mother’s side and my mother. They were the two most talented women I have ever known. My grandmother was a seamstress, cook, ethnic craft maker, gardener, musical, and devoted woman. At Christmas, her house was decorated with handmade ornaments and towers of cookies. At Easter, she waxed eggs using an Eastern European method. She made rugs from scraps of material she found in the trash. These rugs were made on a loom or crocheted. She would take clothes that were too big for her and size them down. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do, except drive, she never learned.

My mother had a different set of skills but was equally as amazing. She could make you the most amazing meals with just the scraps in the fridge. I might not have liked all the meals she made growing up but I can’t say that any of them were bad. I thought because she made everything from scratch was a bad thing. As a kid, all I wanted was Little Debbies, McDonald’s, and canned soda. I thought that was what I needed to be cool. As an adult, I see now that what I had a lot of people never had, a good meal. My mother taught me silently, she didn’t let a kid tell her what was best for them. She showed me the value of hard work, homemade meals, saving for what is important, and if you really want something – there is always a way to get it.

These two women played a big part in who I am today but there is a group of people that pushes me to keep doing the things I do today. Those people are the bullies from my childhood, the men that said I couldn’t do something because I am a woman, insecure women, the haters, the naysayers, and non-believers. I have encountered these people throughout my life so much that there have been times I didn’t want to wake up in the morning. There have been times when I was so tired of defending who I was that I would rather die than be around those people for even a second. Proving to those people that I can do it, will do it, and can do it without failure is what keeps me going and where most people wouldn’t give them an ounce of credit, I am. Without them, I don’t think I would be as strong of a person today.

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