Mid-Century Modern

Mid-Century Modern looks a bit like the Jetsons, to me.  Or the wonderful hard-edged advertising that made its way into our sub-conscious in the 50s, 60s and early 70s.  I never really thought of it in terms of my own paintings.

But about a decade ago I was invited to be part of a Mid-Century Modern exhibition in California, and it dawned on me that the casual observations to that connection were more applicable than I had credited them to be.

It’s not outrageous, really.  I am mid-century modern myself, born 4 days before the year 1950, and growing up with all of those images in my mind’s eye.  Even the brief period in which I worked in advertising was in the very early 70s, when the colorful, hard-edged, style ruled.

So, now I am told that “Mid-Century Modern is coming back.”  Along with “the 80s,” a “style” that was lacking even when it was new.  But Mid-Century Modern was never lacking.  It always had appeal.  I just think it’s funny. Ironic funny, not haha funny.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been wondering when people would stop decorating with old dentist signs and horse collars, and start hanging real art again.  I’m sure it’s been wonderful for Chip and Joanna Gaines and Magnolia, and it’s surely been fantastic for all the “pickers” and “upcyclers” out there, but really, a barrel hoop as a focal point is simply not art.  It’s not even decor (a term used derisively by artists).  It’s just a barrel hoop.

Convincing people they can decorate with ANYTHING, is very freeing, and I’m sure it’s been wonderful for many men and women who were scared to do anything outside the box.  But to hear that we are going from rusty highway signs back to Mid-Century Modern is downright thrilling.

It means actual color may come back.  Actual paintings may come back.  Even framed things.   I know it’s empowering to realize that the potato stencils you learned in middle school can be framed and hung in your dining room, but what do they bring?


I’m so obsessed with the value of my work that a sign hangs in my studio that asks me “why should I care? What does it add to anything? where is the value?”  Those are the questions I put to a piece of my own work before it is ready for YOU to see.  Because I believe art adds value to everything around it. Or at least it should.

And that just can’t be said about a rusty barrel hoop.

So, “Mid-Century Modern is the new trend”?? Bring it on!  The sooner the better!

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what do you hang on your walls? what is on your shelves?

What do you collect?

Is there some ONE thing, which every time you see it – at a show, online, in a catalog, in a store — makes you stop, and wonder, “should I get that?”

Is it turtles, or owls?  Lots of people collect anything and everything which includes their favorite critters.

For some people its color.  Or a place or team.  Boats and cars.  Glass.  Ceramics.  Fine wood. Landscapes or sculpture.

What do you have on your walls?  Specifically.  I really do want to know.  I’m developing a theory about DIY shows, and I need the input.  But I’m also a 2D artist, so I really need to know.  As a painter, it’s always been a challenge to actually make a living, because paintings are so subjective.  Husbands and wives don’t even always like the same paintings.  These days there are a hundred other options for everything, and that includes art.  From what you want to how you get it.

When I spoke with collectors and walkins in my public studio daily, I lived in a young, hip urban area.  It was fun to adapt my work to the minimalist modernism of young professionals, many of them in the technology industry.  Many times design was just a 72″ TV and a great sofa from IKEA.  They liked my abstracts, because they were “mid-century modern.”

A lot of young professionals everywhere these days are designing with online communities, where a look they identify with is easily available through websites and TV shows.

There’s another group of collectors who say they have everything they need, and are giving stuff away.  But if an exquisite little gem of glass appears in front of them, resistance is futile.

There is another group which says we all have too many things already, so they collect nothing, but I’d rather not talk about them.

So where are you?  Are your living room walls filled with large canvas repros of your own travel shots?  Is your dining room a collection of small original paintings in a grouping?  (Small groupings rule in our house, because as an artist myself, it has been the way I could afford to collect other artists I love!)  Is there an antique bakery sign in the kitchen?

And how do you find the things you put in your house? Magnolia?  Wayfair? Actual stores?  Catalogs?  Enquiring minds want to know.

But, most importantly, what is that one thing (not person!) that would make your knees weak …..

Below are some of my little eclectic collections of other artists work.  The top two are in my kitchen.  I’ve always surrounded myself with images that made me feel good.  Even when I lived in little ships cabins, I stuck art postcards in the mirror and above my bed.

Art ads value to everything around it.  Even the clock and the cookbooks!

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What do you want from me?

I’ve asked this question a dozen different ways over the years, but it remains an important question — because painting is how I make my living. My collectors and friends have always given me good input.

When I first started painting, I didn’t know what I wanted, much less what my future collectors would want.  I painted very colorful abstracts for awhile.  Then I painted wildlife for a (long) while (and still do), and then I started adding structure to my abstracts.  When I’d put in my 10,000 hours (5 years of 40 hour weeks, honest), my signature style emerged and people really responded. Really responded.

The “geometrix” (now tradmarked) style earned me a lot of collectors, all over the country and the world.  It evolved into painting nearly 100 cities, which earned me more collectors, and the cities still sell regularly in print formats.

When we moved back to the Lowcountry, I was surrounded by natural beauty; there were no cities in sight.  Having painted multiple cities a year, for many years, I decided to paint one or two a year either by request or if I am doing an event in a new area — because it’s just silly to mess with a good thing, right?  I still promote the cities, because people still love them – thankfully!

But I also wanted to paint the sort of marsh life that surrounded me here; the things that still make me go “oh!” when I see them.  Like dolphins strandfeeding in Whale Branch when I cross over to the islands.  The little clatch of tall white birds that turned out to be storks.  And the bigger group of pink birds that were spoonbills.  The first time a painted bunting landed on my feeder, I went “oh!” and scared him away.  (He still comes back, with his little green “wife.”) After Matthew, there were a couple maccaws in our southern pine, but after a few hours (resting?) they’d moved on.

So I paint these guys.  And people love them.  All of them seem to find homes.

What, you ask, is the dilemma?  Well, part of the dilemma is looking like a dilettante (after 17 years) because I have several distinctly different bodies of work. Every business of being an artist guide there is says “pick one.”  Otherwise you don’t look serious.  Well, 100 cities is pretty serious. A hundred abstracts is pretty serious.  A hundred or more wildlife paintings and mixed media pieces are pretty serious, but it’s always a matter of perception.

The other part of the dilemma is which to promote, because that is what I need to do now.  I need to decide which of these to share with the world in a big way.  I have to decide whether to become the queen of the cityscapes, or the lady of the landscapes.

I’m at the point in my career that I am pulling back the stops.  It’s a good thing.

It’s exciting to live your life always building.  When I discovered painting, and the joy of creating and sharing my creations, the passion was strong to just keep painting, every day.  I’ve done that and the results have been enormously rewarding on so many levels.

But I’m cutting back on live shows in the field, and concentrating on online sales, and that requires a finer focus.

So, I need to choose.  Cities?


Lowcountry landscapes?neighborhood watch sm (2)




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it’s humbling

Artists work largely solo.  Ever since I started painting (almost 17 years ago), I knew I’d never not paint.  I knew it was something I would do for the rest of my life, because it is such a pleasant endeavor.
I didn’t expect people to ask to buy my paintings.  But once they did, it made me take different elements into consideration.  I knew I wanted them to be pleasing to the eye; nothing jarring or disconcerting.  I leave that to the young people from art school.  That’s their job.  My paintings had to be something I wanted to look at every day without being bored by them, too. If people were giving me hard earned money, they deserved something special.
Once I realized that people collecting my work meant that I could paint every day, that’s what I did, and I’ve been painting full time since 2007.
I can honestly say that I’ve never had a “block,” a lack of ideas for paintings.  Though, I will also admit that there have been many bad ones!  The “unsuccessful” pieces just get painted over, though, and very often those “remixes” became some of the most successful!  (NC Wyeth once encouraged his son Andrew Wyeth to “paint over” paintings, just because the underpainting did bring something je ne sais qua  to the second one.)
But you never know if a painting is a complete, successful piece until other people see it.  And when other people are affected by something I’ve created, it’s thrilling.  And humbling.
I have an incredible group of collectors who have multiple pieces of my work in their homes.  That is really humbling.
Think about it.  I am working on faith, with  inspiration from God, the skills He gave me, which I have honed, and I am creating images out of the ether that other people want to hang in their homes.  That’s pretty amazing.
So when I have collectors who share pictures with me of their “Carol Joy Shannon wall,” I am blown away.
I always want to create a way of looking at places that will make some synapses twinkle. It’s important that if you give me money, I give you something of real value, which will add to your life in some small way, every day, and in some big ways some days.  Art adds value to everything around it.  That’s my goal, anyway.
I have a big sign in my studio that says “why should I care?” which may sound callous, but it references the paintings.  The paintings coming out of my studio need to make you stop and look.  They need to evoke something.  They need to speak to something in you.  They should be “pretty” but they should also be interesting enough to get your attention.  Otherwise they are “décor” and you can buy them for $25 at Pier One.
In my living room is a 36 x 36″ beauty that I just love.  It’s more than a year old.  Usually, after a year on the circuit of shows and galleries, if a large painting like that hasn’t spoken to someone enough to take it to their home, I will give it the “remix” treatment.  But this one is still speaking to me.  It is telling me it needs to bring me pleasure for awhile.  And it does.  So when I am humbled by realizing others like my work enough to fill walls throughout their homes with it, I can sit back and forget the business of art, and remember the enjoyment my paintings brought me, when I first started doing this.
A little “slap up the side a the head” for myself. 
This is a photo I received.  These guys like to travel and have collected reproductions on canvas of their favorite cities.  I’ve painted 100 cities.  We added a special original to their collection recently, which was painted with much love, because I know them now.  They are part of a sort of family of mine.  The one piece of this endeavor I didn’t anticipate was how people really need art.  And what joy it brings them.
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a hurricane that wasn’t, a show I didn’t do, and a weekend of changing everything

We’ve been in the crosshairs before, and lost trees and power to Matthew and Irma, so we were prepped and ready for Florence.

I was supposed to do a show in Augusta GA this weekend, a hundred miles up a narrow 2 lane through the Savannah River Nuclear Site, most of which has no cell service whatsoever.  I waffled and analyzed and waffled some more, and finally, when it appeared that the storm would be swinging in over us AND Augusta, I cancelled my hotel and took the “no penalty but no refund” option with the show.

That was Thursday night.

On Friday morning, it was so beautiful here that I took a picture of our back deck, with the sunshine, the sago palms and our adoptive cat.  By Friday afternoon, it was blowing pretty good, so I took in the rest of the seed feeders and hummingbird feeders and made a nest for the cat on a chair out of the rain, and was glad I made the decision to stay home.

Saturday was rainy and windy all day, but it was also clear that we weren’t going to get much of any of the storm itself.  Thankfully.  But Saturday was spent getting in touch with all the members of my husband’s family who were in the storm.  Everyone lost power except us.  Everyone had tons of rain.  Most of eastern NC had far too much.  It was hard to watch.  These are our old stomping grounds after all.  We kept our boat in a stack in Morehead City for years, and all the places getting mashed up were familiar to us.  We could picture the wild horses on Shackleford, and wonder.  We watched docks we’ve tied up to splinter.

We knew we couldn’t help anyone; our family are all adults, and we’re 4 hours away with flooded Interstates in between us.  We know how a simple trip can become a challenge, after the fall floods of 2015 closed miles of I-95.  In that event, coming back from Raleigh, we were rerouted through some of the roads that themselves became flooded and washed away.  And during an early spring hurricane in 2016, I had to ford several roads between 95 and Hilton Head to rescue my work from a belatedly cancelled show, when 4 exits of I-95 were completely flooded.

When I worked on cruise ships, our fear wasn’t sinking, it was fire.  Living in the Lowcountry, the thing you rarely consider is flooding.  We are always surrounded by water.  There is a boat landing 4 miles from our house that will take you to the sea, even though it is over 20 miles away.  The tidal rivers come in past SR 17.  The blackwater swamps come in from the Combahee all around our road to Beaufort.  But generally, all this water means we never flood.  We are built to flood and drain, flood and drain.  But the tidal rivers in eastern North Carolina showed what can happen when all the wrong elements come together at once and there is nowhere for the water to go.

18 trillion gallons of water is a ridiculous number to try to process!  That is what has fallen on eastern North Carolina!  It will be years…..

So, in the midst of the low-barometric pressure headache (always happens) and the cabin fever from 3 dark days with nothing to do, wondering if I made the wrong or right decision about an art show, and a trip home among toppling trees —

I notice that something has deducted almost $400 from a bank account I keep almost nothing in.

Then I find out it’s the website people. They have charged me for a year, of everything, and no, there is no way to have just a website anymore.  I have to have the specialized one with all the bells and whistles.  Very nicely explained, but still….

I have been pondering how to streamline all my social media and generate more sales.   I’ve been trying to figure out how to work smart and not be all over a number of different platforms to keep up with.

So I told them to just cancel it all.  As long as I had my domain name (which I’ve had for a decade or more) I’d wing it.

So, as Forrest Gump said, “just like that, it all changed.”

So now, I am back in the ether, untethered, getting ready to recreate everything, with an eye to spending more time here, with you.  And less time burning up the highways in my Ford Econoline van, hoping this show is better than the last one, and that middle America is ready to buy art again.  The hurricane and big tech forced me out of my comfort zone.  So you’ll be hearing a lot more of my rants and raves and random observations.  You’ll be seeing more individual works of art in a different setting for more convenient acquisition, and who knows what else will evolve?!  I’m planting my flag in this space and building a new camp around it.

It’s time to spend more time in the Lowcountry, on the sofa with my laptop, chatting with my peeps, and getting up now and then to paint something gorgeous for someone I haven’t even met yet! I like the freedom change brings, don’t you?


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I’ve been in the same place all along!

Well, not really, but it occurred to me this morning how much Beaufort resembles a clone of Key West and Charleston.  There’s a good reason for that, of course: all were built and settled by sea captains and their families, during roughly the same time period.

Beaufort grew up around Port Royal, which was established by the Spanish in 1566, fought over with the French, and eventually settled by Scottish and French farmers and traders, who interacted with the local natives in the interim before the plantation culture emerged in the early 1700s.

Key West was “discovered” by Ponce de Leon in 1521 and a salvage and fishing port grew up around its deep harbor.  It was loosely claimed by the Spanish until Matthew Perry planted the US flag there in 1822.  In the interim, it was an important trading stop in the all-important southern trade routes, up and down the southern coastal US, around the Caribbean, and up to the ports of the Gulf, like New Orleans and Mobile.

Charleston was established in 1663 by English proprietors, given the land by King Charles II.  It was somewhat “planned”, and because of its wonderful harbor, succeeded to grow into the jewel of the southern colonies.  Which meant those Spanish and French ships that were running up and down the coast were trying to grab it.

The common element among the three is the sea captains.  Whether they were running sugar, rum, cotton or indigo, they were sailing among these harbors, and many of them settled in one or the other.  If they were ordinary seamen, or salvors,  they built simple, solid wooden houses, and you can still see them today on the back streets of all three cities.  They angled them to catch the wind, and built broad porches for shade. I lived in one of these on Thomas Street in Key West in the 1980s.  It still had cook house in the backyard, and a (now-covered) cistern, which had collected rainwater in the early days.  Probably built in 1800s, it had a number of handglazed windows, remarkably unbroken in 100+ years of hurricanes and life in general.

The rich captains built elegant two story mansions, with porches on both.  If you were really rich, the porch went around two, or even three, sides, providing shade for the rooms behind it.  These homes often had multiple outbuildings, and in Charleston they had lovely gardens, to provide even more shade.  These days these compounds have become some of the most desirable real estate in the world.

There is a smaller group of both types of homes in Beaufort, with a little more land around them than in either Charleston or Key West.  But, if I put you on a block of Duke Street in Beaufort and asked you where you were, you might very well guess Key West.  And if you did the same on some of the streets north of Calhoun in Charleston, in the old days before they were all fluffed and puffed and gentrified, you might have guessed the same.

Of course they aren’t alike in most of the other ways besides architecture.

The tight little streets of gingerbread houses in Key West neighborhoods have the sounds and smells of the Caribbean.  In my neighborhood roosters crowed all day, and chickens roosted at night in my Spanish lime tree, the only place I’ve ever seen chickens actually “fly.”  The Bahamas Village neighborhood on two sides was colorful and ebullient, and resembled nothing in Charleston, or Beaufort.

There is no place in Beaufort or Key West like my French Quarter neighborhood in Charleston, either; everything around us built of brick, with little alleys that skirt the tourist filled sidewalks, live oaks pushing those sidewalks out into the street, hidden gardens with wisteria vines bigger around than my whole body.  My Church Street neighborhood rang with the bells of a half dozen churches within a couple blocks.

I don’t live in Beaufort.  My husband likes privacy and space, so my usual city lifestyle is now gone.  But I enjoy our acre in the swamp near the Combahee River, not too far from the Sheldon Church ruins.  It’s nice to interact with real wildlife, not just Saturday night drunks lost and reeling.  It’s probably going to stay “country” for a good while, too.  It will be some time before the Beaufort growth reaches us.

But I get to walk around Beaufort and drive up and down the streets when I go to the gallery where my work is shown.  In avoiding the usual tourist traffic (not in the NYC, Atlanta category, but “traffic”) I discovered the “Key West streets.”

So, from 1986, when I lived in Key West, on to the 5 years in the 90s when I lived in Charleston, I have now come to live near a delightful little town that seems to me to combine the nicest qualities of both — without the tourist mobs.  But, they are surely not far behind.  Every place I’ve ever lived has been “discovered” while I was there!

I lived in Las Vegas when it was a “town” of 400,000.  Now look at it!  When I lived in Seattle, my little town of Woodinville was considered “country.”  Now it’s a suburb.  When my son and I lived in the little house in Key West, the Conch Republic was just beginning to make the transition from somewhat-seedy fishermen’s and drug-runner’s haven to the gingerbread Margaritaville  it is today.

I moved to Charleston a year and a half after Hurricane Hugo, when the insurance money was just beginning to turn peninsular Charleston from “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash” to the historic jewel that became the #1 destination in the world, for awhile.  It’s current condition as a theme-park version of itself has been a result of all that attention.  And, thanks to that fantastic harbor that made it so desirable in the 1600s, it is now one of the biggest exporters in the country, shipping cars built by Mercedes, Volvo and BMW, as well as Continental and Michelin tires.

When I moved to Raleigh in 2000 to work with the Habitat for Humanity regional center, Raleigh was a pretty uninspiring little city of less than half a million.  But the Research Triangle Park, built back in the 1950s by people who were deemed idiots for doing so, finally earned its keep.  RTP filled up with tech and medical business, and pharma research teams, providing almost unlimited employment all during the recession.  So, when Raleigh tore out its pedestrian main street and allowed cars back in, it was on the forefront of the urban renaissance initiated by young professionals all over the country, who decided they liked the convenience and intimacy of “downtowns.”

Raleigh became the #1 place for professionals, young entrepreneurs, retired people, you name it.  A vibrant downtown, a job-machine at RTP, a city devoted to art (with a .5% budget contribution), world-class art museum, music scene, and equidistant from mountains to seashore — what was not to like?  My sleepy little city became too big to navigate.

So here we are in the Lowcountry, and I’m pondering the similarities between the three cities I loved to live in on this coast, and I’ve decided I am just where I am supposed to be: in the best of three worlds!



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what did you think would make you happy?

Continuing on the idea of reflection — I have a 26 mile drive into town, so…

I thought about what I might have wished for when I was 18, diving into the world.  I don’t remember what I wished for.  Probably something shallow, like glamour and riches.

Some of my friends in high school knew exactly what they wanted to do, and be, and went right about making it happen.  One of my junior high school friends knew she wanted to be a lawyer in 6th grade.  That wasn’t really big for girls in the early 60s.  She ultimately became the first woman lawyer for a major national equipment manufacturer.  I hope it was everything she wished for.

I was never that driven.  I didn’t find anything to be “driven” about until I started painting when I was 50.  That was the first thing that I thought about day and night and was consumed with — other than the random dramatic love affair back in the day, of course.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t mature enough at 18 to simply wish to “be happy” or I wouldn’t have had so many bad boyfriends.

The new age concept of envisioning the life you wish to have and pulling it in had not really evolved then, but it was evolving, and I’m sure I bought into some elements of that.  I was enough of a hippy to believe in karma, and I still do. We do reap what we so.  But it wasn’t until much later that I learned to do directed dreaming.  So, at 18 it was largely “daydreams.”

What were yours?

Did you have a “thank the Academy” speech? A magazine cover?

I read recently that young people are taking vacations based on their Instagram value.  It’s probably why they’re falling off cliffs.

I am snarky about young people whose highest aspirations are to be famous, no matter how.  But I suppose when you are young, there is always going to be a little of that.  We all think we’re pretty cool when we’re young — in between bouts of crippling uncertainty!

You have to have a few mistakes under your belt, overcome them and move on, before you develop real confidence. Otherwise it’s not confidence, it’s posturing. Mistakes are the university of life.  I had a boss once who was a real piece of work and he told me one day that he had never failed at anything he’d done.  My first thought was “rubbish! You’re lying.”  But my second thought was, “if you really think that, it explains why you are such a miserable human being.”  Keeping up a façade of perfection is bad enough, but if you’ve never reached out of your comfort zone far enough to fail — at anything — you’ve never tested your own mettle.

So, since we know that life is really just a matter of surviving with the tools we’ve been given, learning as much as we can, accepting ourselves warts and all, and trying to find the happiest pieces — does it have anything at all to do with what we thought life would be like?

My daughter just posted a sarcastic little thought about all this — about thinking high schoolers were cool when you were younger, then that college kids were cooler, and so on, and getting to adulthood only to find out that we’re all out here floundering around day to day, figuring it out as we go.  We all wish we knew “the answer,” but none of us do.  And being a “grown-up” just gives you the freedom to make bigger mistakes!

When my son was in his twenties he was very disappointed to discover that being an adult was pretty much just putting one foot in front of the other. Every day.  The exciting “peaks” are very, very much outnumbered by massive flat valleys of simple work-a-day stuff.  That can be a tough realization too.

So, what did YOU want to be when you grew up?  Did you become it?  Is it what you wanted?  What did you learn along the way? And did it bring you happiness?

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