05 Jul 2021
Shelby LeBlanc paints pop-art inspired Lowcountry landscapes
By Liesel Schmidt
Standing in her home studio, Shelby LeBlanc lifts her brush from the canvas and pauses, taking a moment to assess the piece in front of her, eyes scanning to find points that need just a little more color—a little more something.
It’s a puzzle that needs to be solved, the pieces coming together as she works, her brain fitting all the parts in place to complete the picture in a way that satisfies her. In the background, the drone of a podcast can be heard, filling the void of an otherwise silent room.
What happens in that space of her studio is magic. A self-taught artist who left a career path headed toward nursing when several bouts of illness impeded her studies, LeBlanc has been following her passion for the past five years on a full-time basis.
A self-described contemporary impressionist, LeBlanc’s vibrant paintings often incorporate pop art or illustrative elements—making her a perfect choice for painting murals. She is on a constant quest for the element of surprise.
Looking back, there was a string of events that brought LeBlanc to her new life—serendipity that shaped a future beyond what she could have imagined for herself.
“After I left the Midlands Tech Nursing Program, I started working at River Rat Brewery in Columbia. Then I considered a job with a wine distribution company, and the man interviewing me happened to be familiar with my artwork because it was displayed in a restaurant in Columbia,” she recalls, explaining how her “side business” became a primary focus.
“He asked me why I didn't just do that,” she said. “Luckily, I didn't get the job, so I just put everything I had into making a living with my art in 2016.”
She started showing her work at Spencer's Art Gallery in Charleston in late 2016 and then got more art shows, painted murals and an illustrated book soon followed.
“I just kept at it,” she said. “In 2018, I got a call from one of the owners of Frothy Beard Brewing, who I knew from my time with River Rat, and he asked me to come down to Charleston and paint a room for them. I was there for a month; and while I was working—literally dirty and covered in paint, up on a ladder—I met the man I'm going to marry. It's funny how everything turned out and how my artwork has impacted so much of my life.”
As someone who had been interested art since childhood, LeBlanc found that focusing her energy on creating came naturally. And she didn’t just play at it—she excelled.
Favoring acrylic as her medium of choice, LeBlanc’s paintings, while often of conventional subjects like the Charleston landscapes of marshes and coastlines as well as portraiture, are unexpected in their delivery.
Incorporating old book pages, maps, magazines, and tissue paper into her pieces, she gives them dimension and visual interest that keeps the viewer engaged. Regardless of the subject matter, her work is always recognizable, and her range is something that has kept her base of clientele varied.
“I think what has made people gravitate toward my paintings is the versatility of my work and the scope of my subjects and style,” she says. “It gives more people an interest, because they don’t know what they’re going to see next from me. Really, if I had to define my style, I’d say that I’m kind of contemporary impressionist; but I have more hard, defined lines than the traditional impressionists. My work has a pop art or illustrative feel mixed in; and as I’ve developed, my colors have become brighter and more vibrant.”
Though the Columbia native now calls Charleston home, having moved to pursue her career and begin a new life with her fiancé, LeBlanc, is inspired by more than just the beauty of her new surroundings. A lover of travel, she has spent time on trips across the Unites States as well as the Caribbean, Africa, Canada, Europe, Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand, and French Polynesia—all of which have influenced her work.
As she establishes more of a presence in the art community, she takes pride in the accomplishments she has already made as a published illustrator, papier-mâché sculptor, three-dimensional artist and muralist. Locally, her work can be seen at Frothy Beard Brewing as well as at Simple Tree Framing in Mt. Pleasant.
“I love that painting is like a puzzle,” she says. “I really enjoy the way it makes my brain tick and the process that it takes to get it to look the way it does in my head. I like the trial and error and the whole process of seeing a blank canvas become something beautiful.”
For more of Shelby LeBlanc’s work online, visit dresstheroom.com and affordableartofcharleston.com.