Artist Interview with Shawna N.M. Barnes

Hi everyone and welcome back to the Chrissie Murphy Designs Blog.  This is my one and only blog post this month – my Artist Interview with Shawna N.M. Barnes.  You guys are in for a treat, because Shawna’s work is so unique, her story is incredible and she has so much to share.  Shawna is the first sculptor I’ve featured on the blog and I’m so excited about this!

Artist Interview with Shawna N.M.Barnes

You know my heart is to showcase creativity in all its wonderfully different forms, the Creator is limitless in His creativity, and so are we, because we’re made in His image.  Sharing the stories of artists who are working in different fields is paramount to me, as I want to convey a message that demonstrates that creativity is limitless.

So… I’m super pumped to be able to feature Shawna and her amazing talent with you all.  She is powering on in the sculpting world.  Go and get yourself a cuppa, get comfy and let’s get into Shawna’s Artist Interview.  You’re going to be inspired, I just know it!

Artist Shawna N.M. BarnesLet’s get into my Artist Interview with Shawna N.M. Barnes

Welcome Shawna, tell me a bit about your background and how you got into this style of art?

I am a differently abled US Army Veteran.  In July 2011 I was medically retired out.  This is important, because it was in October 2011, after my discharge when I was feeling lost and utterly useless, when I took my first pottery class.  My journey into clay started with that first pottery class where I learned to “throw on the wheel”.  The moment my hands touched clay I was hooked.

As my  health continued to decline (I have an alphabet soup of acronyms and diagnosis’ at this point), I could no longer sit and throw pottery at the wheel.  This is when my husband encouraged me to pursue sculpting and hand building.  I started with hand building, where I would create small trinkets, jewelry, ornaments, et al, from slabs of clay. After more prodding and encouragement from my husband (he was just the boyfriend at this point in my clay journey), I began sculpting.

”Clay Play” as therapy

The first year I sculpted I really focused on using my “clay play” as therapy.  I sculpted the things I wasn’t ready to talk about.  It was truly a cathartic and healing experience. Once I got out what needed to be gotten out, and I realized that my people SUCKED… I began working on sculpting animals. I discovered I had a true gift for sculpting animals. I’ve been doing it ever since.

I am also a teaching artist and am starting to speak professionally about the healing benefits of utilizing a creative outlet in both treatment and self-care regimens.  In 2017 I began to teach/lead art classes at the Travis Mills Foundation (TMF).

Artist Shawna N.M.Barnes

TMF is a retreat founded by SSG (ret) Travis Mills – a quadruple amputee.  The facility is completely accessible and hosts “recalibrated warriors” and their families.  The week long retreats allow these families to enjoy a vacation without having to worry about gawkers, accessibility issues, and they get introduced to some amazing outlets; adaptive sports, art, equine therapy, etc.

To be able to share my love of clay and how much having this creative outlet has helped ME, is a true passion of mine. Starting in 2018, I’ve begun broadening my scope and have been taking these teachings out into my community so that I can help as many people as I can.

Where are you located and what sorts of things in your area inspire your art?

I live in a rural community in midcoast Maine.  I live 15 minutes from the Atlantic ocean, 5 minutes from an Amish community, and all my neighbors are farmers and I LOVE it.  Seeing all the animals on our 40 acre property, my own two dogs and cat, and just the nature around us is incredibly inspiring.

Shawna N.M.Barnes

Maine has the highest percentage of Veterans in our population than any other state.  And while my work does not speak specifically to the military/Veteran experience (I want it to resonate to people from ALL walks of life), the high percentage of military Veterans in my community has definitely been a big push for me to develop my “art as therapy” curriculum.

Artist Shawna N.M. Barnes

You have developed a unique style to your work, what would you say is your favourite piece?

Currently, my favorite piece to date is “Big Wook the Pigeon Carrier”.

“Big Wook the Pigeon Carrier” by Shawna N.M.Barnes

“Animals of War” is the series I am presently working on.  It includes ALL kinds of animals – including mythological beasts – from a variety of eras. Big Wook is an Airedale terrier and is based off of actual WWI pigeon carrier dogs. It took me nearly 60 hours to sculpt and paint because each tuft of fur was individually sculpted.  I am a sucker for details and this piece definitely showcases that; all the way down to the pigeon in the carrier on his back.

Sculpting by Shawna N.M.Barnes

My work is considered anthropomorphic in nature – meaning I imbue human characteristics and emotions to my animals.  Think Scooby Doo – you can tell he is a great dane, but he has very human like characteristics. It gives the animals a sense of personality that I really love bringing out.

What are your favourite and least favourite tools for creating?

My favorite tool for creating…is tied between my Zebra Tool V carver and my set of dental picks!  The dental tools are small and come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. They are perfect for sculpting the way I do.  The V carver is great for creating the overall fur texture in many of my sculptures.

Artist Shawna N.M. Barnes

What has been your greatest triumph as an artist?

My greatest triumph has been beating the odds and the stigmas. I overcome my health issues and disabilities on a daily basis just so I can create.  Sometimes my disability wins…. temporarily. When it does, it just gives me more fuel to find and create new adaptive tools to use in my studio practice.

As I find these new ways to overcome obstacles, I do my best to share them with others so that they can see that their disability does not have to define them. We can do everything everyone else can do….we just have to do it differently.  To give you an idea of the hurdles…this is just a small portion of my list of disabilities: myasthenia gravis (a neuromuscular autoimmune disease), seizure disorder, hypermobility joint syndrome, PTSD, peripheral neuropathy…

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learnt as an artist?

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that there is plenty of room for all of us at the top. And what I mean by that, is that we don’t have to cut one another down to feel like we have an edge over other artists in our field. As the saying goes “a rising tide raises all ships”. Freely share your knowledge, mentor those coming through the ranks behind you, and be genuinely proud and happy for them if they surpass you.  After all, they learned the ropes from you. I choose community over competition every day.

Artist Shawna N.M.Barnes

What can we look forward to from you in the future?

I am in the process of raising the capital to build a handicap accessible studio that will be attached to our home here in Maine.  My studio will be called “Beyond the Clay Art Studio”. When this space is created, it will allow me to teach classes, host community events to help strengthen bonds across generations, AND it will provide me the space to further my outreach for healing arts.

Beyond the Clay

I am striving towards a goal of becoming a subject matter expert in the utilization of cold finishes (using something OTHER THAN glazes on my ceramic sculptures) so that I can create a reference bank for other artists to find the data I’ve had to dig for the last 3 years. I was awarded a small grant by the Maine Arts Commission this year to further this research – be on the look out for additional information and reports about this project in 2019.

Lots of Teaching…

And I am a teaching artist leader for the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative. As part of this, I am creating online and in person workshops to help educators think outside the box when it comes to creative adaptive solutions for their classrooms/studios. Along with this, I am also presenting at the Brain Injury Association of America’s Maine state conference in October 2018 about the healing benefits of having a creative outlet.  As you can see, this topic is very near and dear to me and is one that I will be pursuing in earnest. In the future, I hope to continue to speak about these topics.

In the very near future, I will be starting a podcast titled “Because of Clay” where I’ll discuss all the amazing people I’ve met, opportunities I’ve encountered, and things I’ve learned since my journey in clay began 7 years ago.

And lastly, tell us all the places where we can find you online…

Artist Shawna N.M. Barnes

That’s a wrap on my Artist Interview with Shawna N.M. Barnes

Well my friends, there you have it.  What an incredibly creative journey, I’m blown away by the obstacles Shawna defeats day in day out to create.  You are amazing Shawna!  I love how Shawna has so much happening and she’s drawing everything she can out of her creative gift to grow others.  I’m amazed by what she’s doing, and inspired to dig deeper myself as an artist.

There’s something that Shawna shared in her interview that I’d like to focus on though – Shawna’s comment about there being “plenty of room for all of us at the top” – Thank you Shawna!!  I’m so glad someone has finally said this, because it needs to be brought up and talked about big time!

Artist Shawna N.M. Barnes

As you know I have spent a lot of time in Facebook Groups, particularly art groups and these have been a real birthing ground for me.  Many new relationships with other artists have been formed here.  I have developed significantly as an artist through them, as the opportunity to learn from others is everywhere.  But there’s a downside…. and its exactly what Shawna’s expressing above.

The Mindset Factor

I have found that Facebook groups are the place where I encounter artists who have a scarcity mindset instead of a mindset that’s orientated towards abundance.  A scarcity mindset is one that’s focused on unfulfilled needs vs an abundance mindset that’s focused on fulfilling needs.  This is from a graph by Penny Tremblay at  It explains the differences between a Scarcity Mindset and an Abundance Mindset.

Scarcity Mentality

  1. Victory means success at the expense of someone else.
  2. Difficulty showing happiness for the success of others including family, friends and business associates.
  3. There’s difficulty sharing credit, recognition, power and profit.
  4. Difficulty being a team player because differences in opinion are perceived as disloyalty.

Abundance Mentality

  1. Victory means success that brings mutually beneficial results to all involved.
  2. Recognizes unlimited opportunities for positive growth and development.
  3. Realizes that there are three ways to do things, my way, your way and a better way.
  4. Appreciates the uniqueness of others.

Those artists who have come to believe there isn’t room for everyone at the top, have a scarcity mentality because they find it difficult to show happiness for the success of others and they find it difficult to share credit with others…. they just aren’t team players.  And because of that they believe there isn’t room at the top for everyone.  It’s about fighting to get to the top at all costs, and that is just so sad!

Here’s the thing though, in a group scenario, these people stand out.  Think about it, a group really is just a big team.  Everyone’s working together to achieve common goals, so when someone isn’t being a team player, they stand out.  And I’m sharing this because I’ve been this person!  I know, I’m so embarrassed, but I have had such a scarcity mindset in the past.  I believed I needed to fight my way, that everything was a competition and that my victory depended upon the failure of someone else.  And looking back on this, I’m truly embarrassed about the person I was, she was awful!  But I have changed!

Shawna’s wedding day

I love the saying Shawna shared, “a rising tide raises all ships” because it’s truth!  It’s the abundance mindset in action.  I needed to come to a place where I was completely humbled, where I was put in my place and knocked down a peg or two, before I realised that there was room at the top for everyone.  The humbling experience was not pleasant, it was actually quite painful spiritually, but I’m so glad I had it and that I am where I am now, sharing the successes of others and building others up.  I take abundance over scarcity any day.

So where are you in this?

So where are you in this?  Are you an artist orientated towards abundance, or an artist orientated towards scarcity?  Shawna offers the best advice, “Freely share your knowledge, mentor those coming through the ranks behind you, and be genuinely proud and happy for them if they surpass you.  After all, they learned the ropes from you.

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Until next time, listen to your heart and sharpen your coloured pencils. A masterpiece awaits!

Bless you my friend

Chrissie xx

2 thoughts on “Artist Interview with Shawna N.M. Barnes

  1. I love this, Shawna you’re a true inspiration and excellent artist! Such noble work you do…I also have had the honor of working with the military as a counselor to those with PTSD AND TBI and found it very rewarding and humbling.

    Christie thank you for sharing such an exceptional artist and human being with us🤗

    1. Chrissie Murphy Designs January 6, 2019 — 7:14 am

      Thank you Cathy, I am in love with Shawna’s honesty and her willingness to lay it all out on the table. I have been so inspired by Shawna and I love her perspective about there being room at the top for all of us.

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