Smear joy: Artist seeks unique through merging of colors


Shelley Weltman, a featured guest artist at Gallery 14 during the month of October, says she enjoys sharing her knowledge of the craft whenever she can.

“I love to have friends come over and paint, and I’ve done that many times. It is just fun to introduce people to paints; there are so many different paints and mediums and varnishes,” says Weltman. She believes that it can be confusing for beginners, as it was when she first began painting in 2010.

Weltman began her artistic endeavors with no prior knowledge of the craft, or of her talents, for that matter.

“I was a paralegal for over 30 years,” says Weltman. After she and husband Bob bought a house together, they wanted to put something of their own into it to offset the work of the contractors.

“So we decided to take art lessons and thought we could paint together. The first class I took, I sat at the back of the room and could barely put paint on the brush, let alone paint anything. It was ‘analysis paralysis,’” Weltman explains, noting that Bob picked it up right away.

Once back home, Weltman thought it might be fun to load different paint colors into an eyedropper and see how it would slide across the canvas.

“Once that happened, I just fell in love with painting. I just love the colors merging and blending,” says Weltman, adding that large canvases allow her to make sweeping strokes with her arm.

“I love that. I really think painting is very emotional; it helps me pick the colors I choose to paint with. Painting is a way for me to put my emotions onto a canvas,” she explains.

To determine whether one of her paintings is any good, she says that if she is still looking at it, and liking it, six months later, she knows she has done a good job.

“I keep looking at my paintings, and I will always see something different that I hadn’t seen before, and I think, oh, wow.”

In the beginning, Weltman’s husband, a doctor, researched the various mediums and paint types, and their home in Cincinnati, Ohio, where they are both from, had a nice big basement to work in.

“My husband has a more scientific mind than I do. A lot of experimentation took place in our basement before we really understood what paints go with what mediums.”

A nearby coffee shop welcomed artists to display their work on the walls, so she put up some of her paintings.

“And I got a call at work one day from the coffee shop, that someone wanted to buy one of my paintings. I had no idea what price to ask. The coffee shop owner said he would ask $1,000 and see what happened. The painting sold for $900, and I was blown away.”

Weltman and her husband moved to Vero Beach in 2013, job-related for him, and when they sold their Cincinnati house, the buyers purchased five of her paintings that they “had to have.”

“We had always wanted to move to Florida, so when the opportunity came up, we just moved.”

Six months after meeting one of the Gallery 14 artists at a temple meeting, she and Bob were invited to be guest artists, at a show that was successful for both of them. Six months later, she was asked to join the gallery as a partner.

“I joined, and it was an exciting time of my life. It was eye-opening to learn about the marketing of art. My abstract paintings sold well, which is difficult in Florida,” says Weltman, who feels people here were drawn to more representational art, such as oceans and pelicans, landscapes and wildlife.

In 2015, wanting to be closer to their children, they moved to Madison, Wis., and returned to Vero in 2020, just in time for the pandemic.

Fortunately, the place they moved into had a big loft, so they were able to paint when everything was shut down. Their current home’s garage has now been turned into an air-conditioned studio.

Although many artists spend years and years studying and may still never reach the point where she is now, Weltman believes that her lack of instruction and training has enabled her to paint completely freely, oblivious to any particular discipline or what she ‘should be doing.’
“I guess I’m just fortunate,” says Weltman.

At one of the few classes she did take, most of the students were painting representational art and she thought, “I can’t do that. I can’t paint a bird or a flower, so I just continued to do my own thing.” Weltman, recalls with a chuckle that her classmates wondered what she was doing.

“Each painting is unique. I’ll think, I want to do a smear painting [or a watercolor] using tropical colors, or whatever colors come to me, and then my mind just takes off and I go from there.”

Or, she says, she might look at a finished painting and think, “Wouldn’t it be cool if a line went through it? Things just pop onto my head. It is very spontaneous.”

She rarely takes time to prime a canvas, except with a smear painting, when she uses an acrylic base, actually a house paint, “because it’s cheap and quick and easy.”

Then, on top of that, she uses oil paint, blending and merging the colors with some medium – “Old Holland has a clear medium I love,” before squeezing a gel from a tube, “so it’s all runny” on the canvas.

“I use this wonderful tool I have with a rubber backing, and I smear it on the canvas, sideways, forward, backwards, diagonal, to form different patterns,” explains Weltman, who then adds color after color.

Occasionally, she doesn’t like the result, “so out comes the turpentine.”

“Mistakes are wonderful things, to be honest. I’ll put the turpentine on and rub it around with a cloth, and then realize it is looking pretty cool. I love ‘mistakes.’ In abstract art there are no mistakes.”

She has been known to take a fuzzy roller to get texture, or beat the canvas with the fuzzy roller, or use rags to splatter and merge the paint. Her smearing tools are discovered by going up and down the aisles of Home Depot, looking for anything that could be used to spread paint around a canvas, or texturize it.

“Anything that’s available, I’ll use. Do I sound crazy? I love the tactile texture,” says Weltman, who uses a Gamvar sealer/topcoat so viewers can feel the texture.

“When my friends come over, they bring a canvas, I supply the paint, and I tell them, ‘OK, here’s what we’re going to do. Let’s just throw some paint on the canvas – let’s just have fun.’ I get such joy out of watching other people have fun. Painting not only makes other people smile, it makes me smile.”

For a different kind of fun, Weltman and her husband sail.

“We charter sailboats. We’re flying to Grenada, pick up the boat, and sail, just the two of us.

The colors I see, especially in the Grenadines, the gorgeous turquoises and blues, the waves, it really sticks in my head, and I come home and want to paint in those colors.”

At Gallery 14, Weltman’s abstract art can be viewed for the month of October, including Purple Haze; at 7 feet wide by 5 feet high, it’s the largest canvas she has ever painted on.

Photos by Joshua Kodis

Leave a Comment