[TRAVERSE CITY, MI] We first saw Shelly Drews's Bay Fish in shops around Traverse City and Fell. In. Love.
Have you ever seen carved wood with such character? Such personality? Such engaging charm? We had to find out more.
We tracked down Shelly online and emailed. She emailed back. We emailed some more. Soon we were sharing stories of daughters and trips. It was like we were friends before we even met--pen pals, so to speak. And we learned that Shelly is one cool person. Not long before we met her, she was staying in a hostel in Santa Fe with her daughter Kirstie, who is in her early 20s. Shelly might be a mom and stepmom to several grownups and a teen, but she has a youthful, adventurous spirit.
We finally met Shelly this January at her home in Traverse City, which also serves as her studio, plus a gallery for beautiful, colorful paintings by son Calvin and daughter Kirstie; a showcase for Calvin's incredible furniture made of reclaimed wood; an office for her graphic designer husband, Jeff; and a sewing station for her teenaged son Evin, who felt moved to tailor vintage clothing after viewing "The True Cost" (a movie we can't recommend enough) and realizing the impact that cheap fashion has on the environment and workers in other countries. (Son Jacob in Rochester Hills is an artist of a different sort--an engineer. And stepson Jaden, a pilot, helps provide the means for their interesting travel.) The house practically glows with creativity.
And there, on the coffee table that Calvin made, was a happy school of Bay Fish.
We had to know more about how Shelly creates these marvelous little guys. So we asked:
"I'm self-taught. I like to push my tools to see what I can make them do for me. I've had a band saw forever, and I've been experimenting for years. I used to do a lot of craft shows in the 90s. I spend a lot of time doodling, drawing, and I think of the band saw as a way of drawing in 3-D.
Local Universe will donate 10 percent of profits from the sale of Bay Fish to TART Trails in Traverse City.
"I cut and carve freehand. I rarely use a pattern or draw a line with a pencil unless I have to match something up. I like to eyeball things and guess. If I do use a pattern I always make it myself.
"I've been making fish for a few years now. A while back, I heard of a gallery in Sutton's Bay where they sold fish made by a local artist. He apparently quit making them. I mentioned this to Calvin, and one day he came home from work with a bunch of wooden fish he made. I painted them up, Jeff took them to the gallery, and they started selling very well. Calvin moved away for a while, and I took over the whole process. When he can, he carves some of the fish, which adds variety.
"I usually start with a primed fish and a few colors that I think will work together. I just dive in and start painting and see what develops. If I don't like it, I repaint until I get it right. (I'm a bit of a perfectionist.) I'm always learning. I like to experiment with all kinds of painting techniques/styles. I get a lot of fishspiration from looking at old fish decoys.
"It takes a LONG time to make a fish! I pour in a lifetime of accumulated skills. (She adds a laugh here, but we think it's absolutely true.)
"I usually spend a whole day cutting several bodies and sanding. Then there's finning, eyeballing, priming and prepping. Then I paint them one at a time. And then I often repaint them. And then I add 'bling' like hair or tentacles, rusty nails, wire, sometimes even jingle bells...and then they need stands and rods cut...so much time!"
Much of what Shelly uses to create her Bay Fish is recycled and reclaimed--beads from old jewelry for the eyes, used nails, scrap wood for the stands... Listen in as she describes how she makes the fins from material found at ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity home improvement store:
It all goes with the slightly crunchy, green, quirky vibe of Traverse City. In fact, we're donating 10 percent of profits from the sales of our Bay Fish to TART Trails, the network of biking trails that runs through the region. In certain spots along the trails, you'll find herbs and other edible plants sown by good souls and there for the sharing. We love biking the TART so much that we want to share back.
We're totally hooked on Shelly's Bay Fish. In fact we adore their zany appeal so much that we adopted one. Meet Walter, the wacky walleye. He goes swimmingly with the local art we've collected from the area and serves as our Traverse City mascot.
Which one of Shelly's cheerful, colorful creations will you give a home?