InterviewsAug 25, 2023

Meet the Artisan: Shelly Madruga

Written by Wesleigh Byrd
Photographed by William Jess Laird
a conversation with Shelly Madruga…

Tell us about your journey. How did you become a painter?

My journey has been non-linear, but one that has always meandered in the direction of becoming a painter. I took one painting class in college but was a Fine Art major, having always been captivated by shape and color. After working in advertising as a graphic designer for many years and then having children, I turned to painting as a creative outlet as it is something that has always called to me. Graphic design, interior design—I have always loved color theory in all of its forms.

I owned a consignment store for a few years and being able to redesign the space daily with new items and to assign a story to the antique heirlooms, furniture, and paintings that came through the store inspired me to create my own work. In the last couple of years I have been able to express myself in my home studio and have given myself the grace to continue growing as an artist, painter and creator.


What are some things that inspire you daily?

At my consignment store, I have always been fascinated with antiques—any object that has a history that ignites my imagination. I like to keep my house decorated with interesting pieces: a pair of pre-Civil War shoes, a brass obelisk, a vintage oil painting by an unknown artist. I’ve always been intrigued by the questions that those items conjure. Anything that helps illicit creative thought: the lyrics to a favorite song, the resonance of musical notes, the enduring power of a favorite sentence.

Also, being able to travel to France last October to take part in Chateau Orquevaux’s artist residency. The rolling hills and lush landscapes of rural France captivate me. The possibility and wonder of an empty studio at the estate there, and the excitement to be able to go back in April to boundlessly create again.


What makes your work stand out to you?

My balance of tone and color, and the understanding of blending hues to make my own unique shades. I never use color straight out of a tube. I think that the mixing of palettes help create a dreamlike, ethereal quality to my work so that my paintings live on the canvas like a memory.

I try to create dynamic compositions with brushstrokes that are meant to both soothe the viewer’s eye, but also invite them to ask their own questions.


What does a day-in-the-work-life look like for you?

My studio is in the top corner of my house, overlooking San Diego’s harbor and cityscape. Before being able to do anything artistic, I typically clean and get the house in order to help calm my mind. In the time leading up to painting, it’s a lot of thinking, looking and contemplating. Imagining the complexity of color on canvas, the architecture of a piece as a puzzle. Then when I’m in the studio painting, there is no thinking at all. It is simply a graceful quieting of thoughts, being lost in the moment of the present.

In the studio I’m almost always playing the same music to help get in the right head space. Elvis Costello, Everything but the Girl, The War on Drugs, Lloyd Cole.


What is the best advice someone has given you about being an artist?

I’ve been told that I’m an “aggressive painter”—evidenced by my brushstrokes. Almost all of my paintbrushes have angled broken down bristles, those are the ones I always reach for first. I’m always picking bristles out of paintings at the end. The advice I’ve received is to keep my aggressive style because that is what helps distinguish my work. Essentially: Do what you do best and lean into what makes you unique as an artist.


– Favorite place to visit to spark inspiration?


– Favorite color palette?

Neutral tones. The best colors are the ones mixed by the end of the day.

– Item always in your bag?

Saje’s peppermint halo essential oil roller.

– Favorite space in your home?

My dining table with everyone around it.

– A painting that means a lot to you?

I love my portrait Alma, she’s pretty special to me.

Shop Shelly Madruga Art…

Moments II

From $175

Moments IV Framed

from $480

Portrait IV Henry

From $100

Moments V Framed

From $480

Portrait IV Alma

From $100

Be sure to visit the website to learn more about her journey and practice! It will not be time wasted:)

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