Shelli Walters arrived early for her interview, sitting in a cheerful northeast Bend coffee shop on a recent morning as spring attempted to push winter out of the month of March. Her artistry and innate creativity were evident by the sketchbook sitting on the table next to her coffee: the cover was embellished with a colorful collage of a wolf howling at the moon. Torn bits of paper featuring organic patterns and snippets of text harmonize with painted brushstrokes to create an abstract rendering of a wild form.
Art has been a prominent part of her life since childhood, and Shelli has always considered herself an artist. As an independent young girl, she turned to drawing, painting and other creative pursuits to entertain herself, before embarking on a long and successful career in graphic design. About ten years ago, Shelli returned to painting and mixed media collage. Beginning as a pastime, her work and unique style evolved as she found herself devoting more and more time to her art.
Describing her creative process as “loose” and “intuitive,” she has learned to listen to the canvas, to allow the composition to evolve of its own accord. By opening herself to this process, she says the universe has taught her to be patient. The conversation between the creator and the creation is the best way for the final piece to be revealed.
This year, Shelli was invited to be the signature artist for Ripples, the annual auction that supports Deschutes Children’s Foundation. The inspiration for her signature piece, entitled Coming Home, came from her sister’s property on the John Day River, where her brother-in-law planted a border of sunflowers along a field fence line. Set against the umber cliffs and mesas of the John Day River basin, this burst of yellow flowers created shelter, security and food for local birdlife. Shelli remembers watching the birds flying into and out of the safety of the flowers while contemplating the meaning of home. For Shelli, home is a place of love, respite, security and joy. “My inspiration in creating this composition for Ripples was the role Deschutes Children’s Foundation plays in our community,” she shared. “The organization helps local nonprofits to strengthen homes for children and families, something so many of us can easily take for granted.”
The final composition shows a bird in flight, returning to roost in the safety and familiarity of a warm, welcoming sunflower. Shelli has recently taken flight, both trusting her wings and embracing her roots as a lifelong artist. After working with a local advertising agency for twenty-four years while developing her artwork in her spare time, last year she left her agency career to branch out as a fulltime artist and freelance graphic designer.
Describing this new chapter in her life as a beautiful balance, Shelli details the serendipitous moments that led her to blend her passions for art and design seamlessly together. Her agency career introduced her to fun projects and wonderful people, but she felt a pull to move on, to test her wings and ultimately launch Shelli Walters Studio. She shares that the additional time and energy to devote to her craft has tremendously improved her painting while also renewing her passion for design.
On this chilly morning, Shelli describes herself as a “summer girl,” and speaks with anticipation about getting her kayak on a blue alpine lake, or exploring mountain hiking trails. Over the past ten years, as she steadily devoted more time to painting, images of nature and animals have featured prominently in her artwork. While contemplating the transition from the security of her stable career in graphic design to working independently, Shelli spent significant time soul searching while exploring the outdoors. This process is reflected in the simple continuous line drawing that graces her new business cards of a dog walking through the mountains, guided by a bird in flight. The image is essentially a visual representation of her creative mission statement: one simple true path, guided by nature.
It’s no surprise that bears, wolves and sometimes dogs frequently appear in her work. Shelli is a dog lover, and has raised several malamutes, including a very bearlike dog named Lexa who passed away a few years ago. Her 14-year-old malamute, Timber, still keeps her company and often nudges her outside for a walk after she’s spent a busy morning on design work.
Shelli has found a true community and a feeling of belonging through her partnership with the local artists collaborative, Tumalo Art Company. She describes her fellow artists as family and loves the diversity of artistic visions represented at the gallery. Her most recent work celebrates her increased confidence and trust in her creative work after taking the leap into freelance design and full time artistry. “I learned to trust my wings,” she confides with a smile.
This May, Shelli will exhibit a solo show at Tumalo Art Company, celebrating her first successful year as a freelance graphic designer and accomplished artist. The past twelve months have been highly productive, as she has reveled in the freedom and autonomy to explore her creative pursuits in an organic way. The exhibition features birds in flight and is appropriately titled Wings.
Shelli’s work can be viewed at Tumalo Art Company in Bend’s Old Mill District or online.