A Birds Perspective with Nicky Shelton

A Birds Perspective with Nicky Shelton

January 09, 2018

Nicky Shelton is a Western Australian Artist. She embraced the journey of fine art after retiring from a corporate career in 2012. Australian birdlife is what ignites her passion to paint in oils capturing the unique charisma and personality of each of her feathered subjects she gets to know.

Artist, Nicky Shelton, Australian Birdlife Artist 

Nicky’s artworks have been jury selected as Best in Show and finalist in international and Australian art awards including Camelback Galleries USA, Asia Pacific Clifton’s Art Prize, Holmes Art Prize for excellence in realistic Australian Birdlife and the Midwest Art Prize.

Nicky is an exhibiting member of the Wildlife Art Society of Australasia. She is also an advocate for conservation and supports Birdlife Australia by making a donation from each bird painting she sells. Her works are commissioned and collected by birdlife and fine art enthusiasts worldwide.

"Rudy's Reflection", Nicky Shelton, Oil on Canvas, 2017

What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?

For as long as I can remember I have always had an interest in art and a love for drawing and painting.  After finishing High School I intended to follow a career in Fine Arts but found myself in a corporate career in sales and recruitment.  When I retired in 2012 my childhood dream of being an artist was reignited.  I swapped a desk for an easel and attended a series of art classes, and have since lovingly dedicating every spare moment to developing my artistic skills.

How would you describe your own personal style?

I am a realistic birdlife artist who dabbles in Plein Air. Through my art I try to capture the beauty, unique personality and magnificence of each of my chosen subjects.  I love spending hours working on detail and interpreting each bird’s characteristics.

What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?

My love for birdlife.  I spent a year studying portraiture and considered being a portrait painter.  This gave me skills in structure, line and balance, but as the year progressed I kept being drawn back to painting birdlife.  I believe it is better to paint what I feel passionate about - which is birds.  I am in awe of their beauty, freedom, agility and unique personalities. I want to capture these characteristics in my paintings and be proud of the work I produce. My aim is to become internationally recognised as a realistic birdlife artist.

What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel? 

I love the whole creative process from start to finish. Some of my paintings take months, even years to create. The satisfaction of creating a high quality painting to the best of my ability is a true driving force. I want to be proud of my creations.

Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, may be even other artists?

The encouragement I receive is overwhelming. I receive support from my family, friends and birdlife admirers/photographers who graciously give me reference photos.   But two people are distinctly important to my career as an artist, my devoted husband and an amazing art teacher who has become a good friend and mentor. 

"Peek A BooBook Owl", Nicky Shelton, Oil on Canvas, 60cm x 40cm, 2017


When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?

I paint in oils. I have tried other mediums but keep reverting back to oils. This medium takes longer to dry but I love the end product. I have lots of fun using my fingers and big brushes to block in and/or create the background and tone the canvas before I concentrate on refining detail. My preferred brushes are Rosemary & Co and Neef synthetic flats - usually numbers 10, 8, 4 and lots of thin Rigger brushes for fine feather detail.

When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

I am totally besotted with birds.  I am in love with their uniqueness, beauty, personalities, and sense of freedom, fragility and survival techniques.  I am constantly on the hunt for reference material and spend hours looking for an image that grabs my attention. This could be the beauty of the bird, an image showing individual or group personalities or depicting specific survival habits.

Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?

My process initially involves hours of research seeking reference material of birds that I am attracted to.  I then contact the photographer to obtain written permission to use an image. The photo is then ratio sized to determine the correct size canvas. I then draw the image in charcoal, and then under paint and tone the canvas in Raw Umber. When dry I block in the colours. I then pick up my size 4 flats and tiny thin Rigger brushes and go to work on the detail. This is the most time consuming part of the painting process. 

"Sugar and Spice", Nicky Shelton, Oil on Canvas Board, 40cm x 50cm, 2017


I let the painting tell me when it is finished. When it is finished I leave it to dry for a week and then spray the canvas with retouching varnish to protect the surface before framing. I like to frame all my works. 

Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work? 

Mornings are for exercise, research, reviewing promotional ideas and personal reflection; I like to paint from 1pm to 5pm Monday to Friday. I paint in natural light and find less glare at this time of the day. Time devoted to drawing and/or painting can vary depending on deadlines.

When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time? 

I generally work on 2 paintings at a time - both at different stages of progression. Sometimes I have a drawing happening too.

How has your art evolved to be where it is today?

Over the past 5 years my work has progressed in leaps and bounds. With the assistance of a good teacher, D’hange Yammanee, an established Australian artist, I have learnt advanced techniques and been encouraged to develop my own style. This has built my confidence to not only create quality artworks but also be fearless about what I choose to paint. 

Which of your artworks are you most proud off?

"Nelly" the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. She has consistently made me proud.  I have watched people gasp when they look at her.  Her competition accolades have also lifted my recognition as a birdlife artist.

"Nelly Cockatoo", Nicky Shelton, Oil on Canvas, 91cm x 61cm, 2017


Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?

I admire the talents of many artists for a number of reasons, style, interpretation, skill, and success. 

If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?

Being an Australian Artist I am particularly drawn to the Heidelberg School of Australian Art movement of the late 19th century described as Australian Impressionism. This was a time when painters worked together in artist camps drawing on naturalist and impressionist ideas in order to capture Australian life, the bush and harsh sunlight that typify the country.  The works of these artists are notable not only for their merits as compositions, but as a part of Australia’s cultural heritage and folklore.  Some of the paintings created by the painters involved in this movement have become icons of Australian art.

What challenges do you feel the 21st century artist has to overcome?

Earning a living as an artist, and the need to be both artist and businessperson – having to learn how to market your product, attract attention, stand out from the crowd, and find your niche market in a period where technology changes so rapidly.  

What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Learn technique. Paint what you are passionate about.  Don't be afraid to promote yourself.  Learn how to market yourself and your product.  


"Dillon - Little Black Cormorant", Nicky Shelton, Oil on Canvas Board, 45cm x 60cm, 2016


Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is there another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why?

Plein Air - I love the freedom of painting in the great outdoors and having to think on my feet to quickly interpret a scene and capture the natural light.  This is a lovely alternative from spending hours focussing on the detail involved with creating a realistic painting.

We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?

I have some pieces that I have lost interest in and then return to again and again. Some have been on the go for years.  The painting will tell me when we are finished.

Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature? 

As a realistic birdlife artist I am extremely concerned about the future of the world’s birdlife population.  I believe it is my duty to be an activist in support of our feathered friends. I am an active member of Birdlife Australia – the nation’s largest (and affiliated to the world’s) largest bird conservation organisation.  A portion of every original bird painting I sell is donated to this organisation.

What are you working on at the moment?

The silhouette of a Magpie for a major Western Australian competition - and a painting of three retailed black cockatoos for a Realistic Wildlife competition in London.

Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?

Yes I have been a member of an artistic group of painters for years.  I love the sharing of techniques, ideas, support, critique and friendships that have evolved from this group.  My artwork has definitely benefited from being associated with these amazingly talented people.    

When is your next exhibition? Is it a solo or group exhibition? Could you tell us a little about the exhibition, when and where it is?

I am currently the Resident Birdlife Artist at the Village Art Gallery – Whiteman Park, Western Australia. This is one of our State’s premier wildlife tourist destinations and is just 30 minutes from the capital city of Perth. Here you can view my artworks (both originals and prints) and also see me working on new pieces. In Australia my works are also represented by Jahroc Galleries - a prominent art gallery located in Margaret River, a major tourism destination and premium wine-growing region in the South West of Western Australia.

Finally, one last word, if you are interested in supporting or finding out more about Australian Birdlife please click this linkSupport Australian Birdlife

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