‘When my brother passed, I just kept making art to cope.’
“My oldest brother, Marc, was 41. He was a surfer. He’d surf all the time, through the winter and the storms. He was really healthy. He was surfing one day. Two days, later, he thought he had a cold. It was right at the beginning of COVID. He went to a walk-in, and it turned out to be stage four cancer. It was really aggressive. Within a week, he was paralyzed and then hospitalized. Less than two months later, he passed.
“My husband was working as a Critical Care RN at that time, treating COVID patients. It was wild. I think my brain went into survival mode and I just started drawing. I would FaceTime Marc when he was in the hospital, we listened to music and I drew a portrait of my husband in full PPE. That portrait led me back to creating art, really as a coping skill. I didn’t realize it would become something so great from there to now.
“When my brother passed, I just kept making art to cope. We were at the beach a lot. We were doing paddle-outs and memorials. I’ve always been a beach girl. I’ve never walked past a good shell. I was making memory jars for everyone with sand and shells.
“A few months later, it was my friend’s birthday, and I got her a necklace. I was opening the package, and it landed in a shell on my counter. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I can make her a dish to put her necklace in.’
“After that, someone asked if they could order one as a gift. So I painted the shell and was able to create this process that I’ve perfected over the years.
“I go where my brother surfed in Long Beach and Rockaway and Tobay/Gilgo and I get the shells. I feel really connected to him at the beach. He has 100 percent sent me these shells. I’m not a big sign person, but you can’t deny it. How am I a full-time shell painter? I don’t buy shells; I only get them here on Long Island. My brother did all of this for me.
“About two years ago, I got worried that I would run out of shells because it’s completely out of my control. Sometimes I’ll go, and there will be so many shells the size of my head. I have to leave bags on my path and walk back and grab them. I’ve brought backpacks and wagons. Other times, I just find garbage and clean the beach.”
Interviewed by Tracey Cheek