Artist Q&A: Shelby Napier

Editor’s note: From time to time, the Brown County Democrat features a local artist in a Q&A on the arts and entertainment page. If you wish to be featured, send an email to

Shelby Napier

Residence: Trafalgar

Primary medium: Mixed media

Q: Are you a full-time artist?

A: I consider visual art to be more of an enjoyable pastime. I am also a writer. Right now, I just work part-time at various jobs to support my art.

Q: What got you started?

A: I think it’s safe to say I was born an artist. I won my first contest held by a phone book company when I was 5. I started doing commissions of original characters for fellow online art geeks in my mid-teens, and then when I was about 20 or so I really embraced my gift.

Shelby Napier
Shelby Napier

Q: How did you choose your medium?

A: I grew up doing only graphite drawings. In my teen years I was really involved in online art communities and I would browse through thousands of pieces of art a day. The ink and watercolors always stood out to me. I couldn’t afford supplies, but a friend gifted me with a set of chalk pastels. I realized you could use them like watercolors, so I started teaching myself. Then I started adding ink and discovered the really amazing things water will do with cheap ink.

Q: How did you learn your art?

A: I remember learning the basics in grade school — colors, shading, those sorts of things. Other than that, I taught myself everything I know, which is why I think it took me awhile to gain some confidence in my skills. Now I’m a little more open-minded and I read a lot of books on art technique and it’s helped me grow tremendously. I never had money for high-quality supplies, so I pretty much learned off of cheap pens and mechanical pencils. I drew off of copy paper for the longest time.

Q: What inspires you?

A: I am a very vivid dreamer. Dreams also inspire a lot of my writing. Secondly is music. I always wished I was a musician. The lyrics are what I connect most with, but it’s different than just poetry. Hearing someone’s soul behind it as they sing is inspiring. I take the words and the emotions they give me and I try to paint a picture of them. As strange as it sounds, I’m also often inspired by my book characters. I’m constantly wanting to draw and paint them so people can see these characters that only I can see. Lastly, spirituality is a major inspiration. It’s light and it’s darkness, it’s complicated relationships with deities and heavenly beings. It’s sort of this contradicting world of realistic fantasy and it can never really be fully understood, so the mystery of it, and of God, inspires me.

Q: What do you hope people take away from your work?

A: On a more public level I hope people are triggered in some way, whether they hate it or love it. Maybe they don’t understand it. I just want them to feel something. I’m the same way in my writing. I just want people to feel, to stop for a second in a world that can be very monotonous and numbing, and to see and feel something they don’t get to every day. Art is beyond a typical beauty to me. Sometimes it can be ugly (conceptually) and jarring. Sometimes it’s beautiful and angelic. That’s kind of like people. I want my art to reflect the reality of the human soul, both its good and its bad sides. On a personal level, I just want people to see what I feel. I’m not always great at communicating my personal feelings. I’m pretty shut off and private, but I don’t always want to be. If people feel like they don’t know me or how I feel, I show them my paintings, and I say, “Hey, this is me. Try and figure it out.”

Q: Who is your favorite artist?

A: Hand me five new artists to look at every day and every day my favorite will change. I love Glen Cooper Henshaw, who is actually a Brown County historical artist. Two musicians who have inspired me most are Andy Biersack and Kevin Max. Both their music and personal characters stir my little muse.

Q: What’s the best thing about being an artist?

A: The best thing I think is having the gift of seeing the entire world and everything in it in a completely different way — not necessarily better or worse, but just different. I’m also so thankful that I can somehow contribute to adding beauty to the world. I compare art to prayer. It doesn’t seem like something that would be necessary to your survival until you’re in the middle of it. I feel blessed to always have a prayer in my heart.

— By Suzannah Couch