Shelby DeGarmo: Compassion, Nostalgia and The Painting Pixie

Every Shelby DeGarmo painting radiates feelings of warm childhood nostalgia with a soft touch of grief and longing for people and memories gone by. Soft-hued pinks and lilacs compliment vivid greens and sunshine yellows creating a perfect balance between the natural world and an enchanted fairytale. Animals and people blend together in harmony within their work to create a fantastical cottagecore world that has its roots firmly set within the natural world.

DeGarmo’s work makes you feel at peace. They help to reassure you that everything will be okay in time. Even during the darkest and most grief-stricken moments, one can look to a DeGarmo piece to find a sense of peace and comfort while being reminded of the beauties of the natural world.

Shelby DeGarmo is a self-proclaimed “painting pixie” and their work truly resonates with this title. DeGarmo is an independent artist who specialises in oil painting with a primary focus on pop-surreal impressionism. Their heavily textured oil paintings offer viewers a glimpse into their all-in-one painting process. DeGarmo’s work can easily be identified with their signature style of using bright colours paired with subjects such as animals, nature, and women. Currently, DeGarmo works out of their home studio in North Carolina working tirelessly to not only create their paintings but market, sell and ship them to their supporters.

I want folks to know that they’re wanted and deserve to want love for themselves and their lives. If I can cultivate a space where they can feel that positivity and joy, then I’m more than happy to do everything I can do provide it.

Interview with Shelby DeGarmo

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and the art that you create?

Absolutely – my name is Shelby DeGarmo, and I’m a maker of rainbows! I’m currently 23 years old, and I make art in my home studio in North Carolina. I’m a traditional oil painter, and use my work as a means of exploring the delicate nature of life and relationships.

One of your TikTok videos features snippets of your artistic progress over the years showcasing how your style, colour palette, and subject matters have changed quite dramatically. Would it be possible to expand more on your artistic journey and how you’ve evolved as an artist? 

Much of my earlier work I’ve featured publicly comes from when I was around 17-20. I was much younger and much more jaded (I think) than I am now. Retrospectively, I feel that much of my older work was exploring identity. I went back and forth with realistic and abstract imagery. So much of my color palette and use of contrast was dark, and at times harsh and busy. I often used mixed mediums at the time, coupling paints with pen, ink, charcoal, sewn fabrics, and collage. When I look back at my older works I see a young person looking to find where they felt seen in their work. Over the past few years, along with growing up, my life has had so many dramatic changes that I feel I’ve grown quite dramatically myself. In recent years, I started shifting my focus in 2D mediums to painting, primarily oil painting. I began thinking about the ways I could transform memories and emotional experiences into scenes that were accessible as a space where others could find space for themselves.

Do you have any particular artists who inspire you? 

So many! Recently, I’ve been finding my studio walls to be quite full – I’ve been trying my best to slowly fill it with prints and works from other creatives. Recently I’ve really been inspired by Autumnalwood and GoatPierrot – both artists can respectively be found on their social media and websites. Each of the artists have a unique body of work, but I find myself equally drawn to their use of color, texture and whimsy. I truly admire the individual ability that creatives have to express life and stories.

Autumnalwood has a beautiful sense of conveying nostalgia-dipped narrative work, and I’m very drawn to the line-work and illustrative elements of Goatpierrot’s work. I’ve also recently been re-exploring my love for 3D works, and while I have little sculptural skill, I’m incredibly inspired by the ability to make art an immersive experience. I truly admire Yayoi Kusama, and the ways through which she explores anxiety and trauma through her work. I’ve also been reading more about the works and life of Félix González-Torres. I feel like it’s almost stereotypical as a painter to say I love the works of Monet (big sigh), but I’m so enamored with the ways his work looks like someone painted life, rather than painted an image. And I think that’s the perfect cliche to leave that on haha! 

I think nature and animals are approachable for most folks, it’s the place where we all come from and will return to.

Your work features themes surrounding nature and animals, are these subjects that you feel a particular connection to?

Definitely, many of the subjects and environments I include are heavy in sentimentality. I grew up largely surrounded by my grandmother and her garden. Her house was really a place I felt a deep sense of “home” in, and I loved her dearly. I’ve always had animals around, and I definitely have a problem with how many stray and feral animals I try to feed ahh…

Early in 2020, my grandmother passed away and it was a big shift in the way I thought about most things in my life. I felt very lost for a while but started to shift my focus into ways where I could process grief and find a sense of “peace” if we want to call it that. That event really changed the way I perceived death, and in turn, life. In a lot of ways, life is a beautiful and frustrating ephemeral experience. I like to believe in some ways that energy and experiences never fully disappear at the end of a person’s life – and I definitely don’t count out the concepts of reincarnation, or reintegration of energy.

I think nature and animals are approachable for most folks, it’s the place where we all come from and will return to. It’s gentle, scary, delicate and vibrant. I think focusing on nature, and less human or personally attributed subjects allows for more people to find their own place, or meaning in a work. Everything in nature is trying its best to survive, grow, and often love. It’s inevitable that it can’t last forever, but long after I’m gone, there will still be children picking flowers, and fawns chasing their mothers through the woods.  If someone wants my art to just be a happy picture of kittens and flowers, I am more than ecstatic for it to be a source of joy and comfort for them. If someone else finds themselves drawn to elements of solitude, or grief, it is a place for them as well. At the end of the day, I just want my work to be a place where everyone knows they’re welcome, wanted and loved. Right now, I think these subjects are the best way I understand how to convey that compassion. 

What are your staple painting materials? 

Galkyd, Gamsol, and cheap brushes! I’m a notoriously messy painter, and as such I don’t usually splurge on expensive brushes because I don’t trust myself to clean them well ahaha. I generally paint alla prima, so I need a lot of my paints to be movable and not too thick. I also go through a massive amount of titanium white paint. 

Colors hold so much emotion in them and I try to surround myself with as many of them as I can in my living space. There’s nothing that really compares with the way the sky looks and the air feels during a particularly enchanting sunset. 

What attracts you to pastel colours?

I think I mostly find them to be peaceful and almost magical. There’s something that feels whimsical about the colors of a sunrise, or a field of wildflowers. Colors hold so much emotion in them and I try to surround myself with as many of them as I can in my living space. There’s nothing that really compares with the way the sky looks and the air feels during a particularly enchanting sunset. 

I think it’d also be remiss of me to not share my love for animation and comics. I have a special place in my heart for the nostalgia I have for series like Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. I have quite a collection of knickknacks and books from magical girl series and other fantasy series. They’re so sweet and candy-colored and I love them equally now as I did as a child!

Can you tell me about your painting process and how you shape an idea into a finished piece?

I typically go through 2-3 sketch phases before a piece makes it to its final canvas. I keep a journal, and a drawer of loose paper because I often forget the journal, where I have written and illustrated ideas for work. Sometimes ideas start as phrases or thoughts I want to explore, and other times it’s an image that comes before the integrated message. I’ll start off with a sketch, and move it to my computer to do color concepts or collage work. My camera roll on my phone is full of awkward reference photos I take of myself, my garden or animals. I’ll refine my sketch and do a charcoal transfer to take the image from paper to canvas. From there I don’t really hold myself to set decisions or a guide, but I have a general space of how I want to express the painting. The sketch and collaging is kind of like shaping the thought bubble and it gives me a safety net to float in and explore! If things get lost along the way, or feel like they need a change, I try to just let myself go with it. 

Your paintings are so textured and full of life, what kind of painting techniques do you use?

Thank you!! I generally paint alla prima, or “all in one” direct painting. I don’t wait for my oil paints to dry before I layer them. I use the Galkyd and Gamsol mediums I referenced earlier to make them more viscous and moveable, and it helps me to use large amounts of oils without them becoming too thick at once. I really want (in my work) for paint to look like paint – I love the expressiveness of brush strokes, drips, and bountiful texture. I let go of old notions I held of wanting to capture hyper-realistic imagery and wanted to express the life of a subject. Trying to “see” something, not just look upon it. 

The phrase “I’m growing at my own pace” is featured on Frog Cake and your various social media pages feature positive words of self-love. Do you like to use your paintings to help spread and encourage these messages? 

Absolutely! If I were to name that little cake, I think it’d be “Sweet Affirmation”. I don’t typically attribute names to my pieces on my shop or social media, just because I want them to be easier to access. I think it’s easier for folks to search for visual clues than names they may not recognize. I think the only piece with a name publicly is The Innocent One, since that one was dedicated to my grandmother!

I absolutely want my work to be a space of self-compassion and positivity. I’m kind of known in my personal life to be a notorious pessimistic person, ahh. I know what it’s like to have struggles with mental and physical health, to deal with trauma and pain. I want folks to know that they’re wanted and deserve to want love for themselves and their lives. If I can cultivate a space where they can feel that positivity and joy, then I’m more than happy to do everything I can to provide it. Like I said earlier, even if my art is just a simple place of joy, then I feel like I’ve done my job. 

What does an average day look like for you working as an independent artist?

Lots of hats! I’m my own social media manager, content creator, human resources manager, accountant, order fulfillment person, etc. Day to day can vary based on the work I have to do that day, but it’s usually a balance of processing orders, making art, and making content. I typically do emails every morning and check on my social media. I try to talk to as many folks as I can in comments and such! I think community is so precious and important as a creative. From there I’ll usually get a print order set up, and have my printer get prints out while I focus on other work. I’ll paint, either for myself or maybe a commission if I have one to work on. I’ll work on filming, editing or photographing content – maybe I’ll live stream or I’m making stuff for Patreon! Recently when I have to pack orders I’ve been rewatching a lot of the Pokemon series while I sit on my living room floor late at night. Sometimes making things for the shop and packing orders can end up with me being up pretty late at night. 

Of course, I’m also trying to balance work with everything else- keeping my house clean and trying to remember to eat meals that aren’t just big bowls of rice haha. I never really feel like I’m caught up, and honestly, I don’t know if I ever want to feel completely caught up. It can be stressful sometimes, but the fact that there are people out there who are generous enough to give me a reason to do this work, makes every day so bright, and so worth it. I’ve developed some frustrating chronic health conditions as I’ve gotten older, and being able to work from home is so incredibly helpful with managing, I feel very very blessed. 

At the end of the day, I just want my work to be a place where everyone knows they’re welcome, wanted and loved.

When looking at your paintings I feel a sense of childhood nostalgia. Is nostalgia a theme that you consciously incorporate into your art? 

Oh gosh, I know I’ve rambled quite a bit up until now and I’m sure I’ve run on about nostalgia- but yes, yes! I’m a big sap for nostalgia and sentiment, as well as healing the inner child. I think a common theme that I run into in my work, as far as nostalgia is concerned, is the idea of finding the feeling of “home”. When I remember precious moments like playing in the snow with my brother as children and coming in to warm hot chocolate in Campbells soup cups- I want to relish in those innocent and gentle moments and not let them rot away as I age.  

What does your art mean to you?

I think art is a form of communication, from the artist to themselves, from the art to an audience, and the audience back to the artist and the work. I don’t think art can ever really be separated from the artist, and I don’t think it can ever truly exist in a void. May it be a conversation to a past self, or memories and emotions tied to others, even if art isn’t shared it has so many threads tied to it. Right now I’m using my art to explore compassion, in all of the ways I can allow it to lead me.

I’ve talked a lot about meaning as far as grief and joy, but there’s also the real-world application of art, and the platform it can lead to and that’s been a massive recent experience of mine. I’ve been presented with a platform as a result of my work recently, and that ties in largely to the experience of art as communication I mentioned. Especially since I say I focus on “compassion” largely, recently I’ve been trying to understand ways as an artist to use art and artistic platforms for compassionate causes. That may mean just cultivating welcoming and accepting spaces for those who engage in my work, or using the platform as a means to connect to social causes. At a certain point, art stops just being a painting on a gallery wall, and it becomes a reflection of the person who made it, the time they made it, the people that surround it and the effect that artist has on those around them. I definitely use art as a means of self-exploration, navigating nostalgia and grief. But, at this point in my life, I want to work more to step out of my own skin, as anxious as that may be at times, and focus on using the larger concept of art to create compassion and space for those around me. 

When you aren’t making art, what do you like to get up to? 

I play a lot of video games and watch quite a bit of anime! I love collecting figures and memorabilia, and I have some really neat collectibles now that I’ve been doing this since I was a teen. I think it’s neat. It hasn’t been as doable this past year but I really love arcades. I also have quite a lot of plants, and 3 cats to take care of. It feels really nice to take time to care for other things – I’ve even had a few successful tomatoes grow this year!! I’m also trying to get back into playing the piano. I did classical piano all through school (like k-12 agh!) so I’m trying to get back into playing music, but less structured and consequentially. 

What are your plans for the foreseeable future as an artist? Any exciting projects in the works? 

Definitely trying to keep making things work day-to-day. In a more focused sense, I’m working on a few things! I was originally planning on having a solo exhibition in the fall of 2020, which didn’t quite go as planned. Right now I’m in the process of having a spring 2022 exhibition and I’m incredibly excited to have it come together! I’m also in the process of working on a new large-scale painting, which is what I’m most excited for. I’m organizing to be at some local vending events, and I’m so stoked to see folks in person. I can’t wait to be able to give some people prints AND a hug!

Shelby DeGarmo Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | Twitter | TikTok


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