Jason Thurston is a Northport artist, using his drawing skills to draw Midcoast scenery on shells.
The idea to create art on shells came a few years ago when Thurston’s wife, Hana, was in the process of making Christmas wreathes to generate some additional holiday income.
“We had some clam shells sitting around, and she said, ‘Hey, draw something on those shells. They'd make nice ornaments.’ I think I drew a random lighthouse, the Mount Battie Tower and a lobster boat,” recalled Thurston. “I shared them on The Midcoast Message Board Facebook group, and they gained immediate interest.”
By the next day, 40 orders had been placed with more than 70 orders placed by the weekend, a move Thurston classified as a nice surprise.
Realizing the “Shell Ink” — as his business is called — creations were becoming highly coveted by the local community, Thurston figured tourists and those from all around would likely be intrigued,as well.
His assumption was correct, and just last year he shipped orders to North Carolina, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Michigan, as well as a few other places. He also has spots in retail shops across Maine and Massachusetts.
Pieces destined for wholesale distribution tend to be created in less than 10 minutes, with his process down pat, while custom drawn creations for an individual can take an hour or more.
“I have about a dozen designs I have drawn many, many times, so the speed can make it feasible for me to sell them at a lower cost,” he commented.
The process for creating a shell of a masterpiece begins when he finds the perfect shells — after much hunting, Thurston has found the perfect spot that he never intends on revealing.
Once the shells are acquired, he cleans them, drills them and seals them prior to the drawing process. The entire process is complete once a clear coat has been placed upon the shell, though Thurston usually needs a few days to recuperate from hand cramps in the days following his drawing sessions.
“I have always been a creative person, and I always feel the need to create,” Thurston said. “This can come in many forms, whether it be artistically created, written or constructed. Each shell is a little piece of creativity for me, and the subject matter often means a lot to the customers who order custom pieces.”
As holiday shopping is tackled this month, Thurston strongly encourages all to shop local and especially see what local shops are selling from entrepreneurs and Mainers, considering the pandemic has impacted his sales and the sales of numerous area artists and entrepreneurs.
“Something made locally, or by an artist, may seem expensive, but much more goes into it than the factory-made ‘cheapos’ sitting on the shelves,” he said. “They are often made with creative passion and pride in our State.”
For artists, such as Thurston, who rely on wholesale distribution as the bulk of their sales, the pandemic nearly wiped out the entire wholesale model.
“Unfortunately, almost all shops do most of their purchasing of stock around April,” he noted. “This year, with the ‘unknowings’ of the pandemic, many shops didn't order anything, or were not open at all. That basically made my business non-existent as well.”
It is particularly important, Thurston noted, to support entrepreneurs amid the pandemic since you never know how your support can positively impact them.
Thurston, for example, is a Type 1 diabetic, a high-risk individual for COVID-19 susceptibility.
“Honestly, I am not even comfortable waiting in line at a post office to ship my products,” he said. “Yes, the risk is low, but if you can avoid increasing the risk of any exposure, it is worth it to me and my family. Spending more time at home certainly gives more time to thinking of new ways to gain income in these stressful times.”
As a way to support fellow artists, himself, Thurston recently launched LighthouseDrawings.com, a place to find art featuring lighthouses from a variety of artists.
“At first, I was going to sell only prints of my own work, but I noticed countless talented artists and photographers online with lighthouses as their main subject,” Thurston said. “My goal is to include as many artists’ works on my site as possible with them receiving royalties if prints of their work sell.”