We sat down with marine biologist, angler, and artist Shelly Marshall. Shelly is a Florida native now living in Juneau, Alaska with her husband Dave and their dog Arctos (Arky). Passionate about conservation work, marine biology, and art, Shelly uses her scientific expertise and artistic skill to foster education about Alaska’s fish species and promote conservation efforts. Read more about Shelly and her scientific illustrations, stickers, mugs, clothing, and commissioned pieces below!
When did your passions for science and art begin?
My mom went to school for microbiology and cell science. She homeschooled me, and growing up I often went into the field after our class studies. Some of my favorite days were when my mom would bring the microscope to the beach and we would analyze the zooplankton and phytoplankton in the water. Part of my homework was drawing what they looked like in my field notebook. My mom encouraged me to draw and record much of my observations in my notebook, which may have sparked the beginning of my love for scientific illustration. I fell in love with Marine biology, and I ended up going to school for it. Along the way, my favorite part of my studies was keeping field notes and illustrating the species that we would find.
When did you begin expanding your artwork?
When I graduated from college, I couldn’t find a job in my field right away. I was working in a billing office in Florida and missed getting to work on things related to biology. To get through that portion of my life, I started painting fish and began a little business called ShellART.
What conservation projects did you work on in Florida?
I worked in the habitat restoration field in Florida for several years, specifically after the BP oil spill. We would do sea grass and oyster restoration projects. It was some really awesome work and it spurred on my passion for conservation as well. After that I always tried to be involved in local conservation projects, whether something simple like a beach cleanup or something bigger, like invasive species removal and scuba diving for nets. I have always had a big hand in conservation and restoration work and it has been a passion of mine throughout my life.
What brought you to Alaska?
My husband is a Black Hawk pilot, and there weren’t any postings available in Florida, so we moved. I told him we could go anywhere as long as there were marine waters, and we ended up in Alaska. We have been here for about three years—we spent a little bit of time in Anchorage, and most of our time in Juneau. Since moving, I have fallen in love with the biology and ecology of the salmon species here.
How have you continued your work since moving?
As I have lived here, I have been trying to get involved in more conservation work. I have worked in fish hatcheries for the past three years and have grown my knowledge and love for the salmon biology and conservation work they do here.
When we moved, my art business fell to the sidelines for a while. Soon after, though, I wanted to start it up again. I rebranded everything for Alaska by learning about the fish species and working in hatcheries. Now my business is doing well, which is exciting. I do scientific illustrations and projects for local anglers, as well as commission pieces that capture people’s favorite catches.
How did you discover the world of scientific illustration?
I accidentally stumbled into it. When I moved to Alaska and started working at the salmon hatcheries, I couldn’t find a poster specifically tailored to Alaska’s five salmon species in all their color variations (male spawning, female spawning, and ocean colorations). I was working for Alaska Fish and Game at the time, and I asked my boss if it would be helpful for me to illustrate posters of the fish they raised at the hatchery, and she said yes.
Fish and Game struggles with finding decent photos of the salmon because, whenever hatchery workers collect a sample fish, its colors start to fade right away and the lighting impacts the look. Illustrations help hatchery workers more than photos, but Fish and Game didn’t have a lot of illustrated resources. I started illustrating individual salmon for them, but then decided to make a poster of all five species and their color variations.
The first poster took the longest. I wanted to represent all five salmon species in all their color variations, and include both their scientific and common names. Because that can easily look busy, I chose a white background. I tried to make the poster as simple and clean as possible so people can easily interpret it.
My boss has a masters in salmon biology, so I asked her to scrutinize the poster to make sure the drawings were scientifically accurate. She did, and sent the poster to other biologists in the Fish and Game Department to get their comments. After that, more biologists and researchers contacted me about illustrations to support their projects.
I have fallen in love with the whole scientific illustration process and it has been a dream come true to illustrate for Alaska Fish and Game.
How does your scientific background influence your artistic style?
My art is heavily influenced by my love for science. I love anything that comprehensively presents the types of species that live in a certain area. Through my art, my goal is to teach people about the natural habitats they live in and to have them fall in love with local marine life. I want people to be visually drawn in, and then notice details like the names of species once they look closer. I also try to get my illustrations into classrooms and educational centers.
What role does art play in conservation work?
I think art and conservation can be hugely related and hugely intertwined. For example, in Florida the Lion Fish is an invasive species that damages reef communities. I helped design a t-shirt for a conservation campaign called “Be the Predator.” The campaign hoped to get local fishermen to catch Lion Fish and sell them in the seafood market. The goal was for local fishermen to create a demand for Lion Fish, motivate more people to catch them, and remove them from the reef communities they damage.
In my business, I provide opportunities for people to support conservation efforts through my art. I create and sell stickers to raise money for the Tongass National Forest in Juneau, where there are protection and restoration projects for salmon habitat. By buying art, people are donating money to restoration and conservation projects. Between raising awareness and raising money, art can have a really important role in conservation.
What is next for you and for ShellART?
I have a marine mammal poster in the works, and I am always trying to find new ways to help conservation groups. If any conservation organizations are interested in working with me, I am always happy to listen.
I learned how to fly fish last year, so my latest fishing goals are to land every Alaskan salmon species on the fly and to catch an Arctic Grayling up in Fairbanks.