BY EMMA TAYLOR
Shelby Counihan is a Bradenton native. Born in Manatee Memorial Hospital and raised in the historic Ware’s Creek neighborhood—she has been witness to much of the change that our mini metropolis has seen in the last 20+ years.
Counihan became interested in art at a young age. She took lessons as a kid and continued to cultivate her passion as she matriculated through Manatee County public schools. She graduated from Manatee High School in 2011, and has remained in the area ever since.
Eight years ago, she and a friend had the idea to tie-dye baby onesies and sell them at the Cortez Fishing Festival. The endeavor was such a success that she has set up a booth there every year since. The onesies gave way to tote bags and t-shirts, and continued to snowball into a slew of other small projects.
“I try to think about the things that interest me, and what I would want. I always try to keep the public interest in mind. Who doesn’t love wine and charcuterie? Maybe I’ll start printing on cutting boards and picnic baskets,” she mused with a giggle.
And she did just that. “I noticed that people tend to like smaller items. Little things they can purchase to support me and give as gifts or keep for themselves. That’s when I had the idea to start doing greeting cards,” she said.
Counihan’s cards are perhaps the most prolific pieces in her body of work. They showcase prints of her paintings alongside clever puns. Think a card that says ‘Nuts about you’ artfully scripted beneath an original watercolor of a halved coconut. Though she has sunken her hand into many mediums, graphic design is a relatively new avenue for her. When she was approached to do the artwork for this month’s cover, the idea was to make a sort of deconstructed map of the town.
“I had done a wedding invitation for friend a few years back that featured a similar concept with iconic spots on Anna Maria Island. For that project, I worked with a printer and they had more control over placement and imposition of the images that I provided. For this project, I taught myself Photoshop and took control of the composition myself.” The piece is a mixture of Counihan’s original watercolors surrounded by manipulated photos of local points of interest.
Coming from a family that has roots in Bradenton, Counihan is in possession of several city signs and paintings from years past. “It’s crazy to see the evolution of things,” she said. “If you do a painting of a trolley, soon enough, that image becomes a snapshot of vintage Manatee County. Things are always changing here and I’ve been around for a lot of it.”
Manatee County is no longer a Gulf Coast secret. And anyone who has lived here for multiple years can attest to the wonderful growth that our area has been afforded. From the creation of the Riverwalk to the expansion of The Bishop Museum—and so many more!—we’ve grown greatly in size, amenities and recreational activity spaces. Counihan’s cover captures the vitality and movement of our contemporary experience here. It’s a lively representation of daily life in Bradenton in 2022.
Counihan’s professional pursuits are immersed in artistry across the board. In addition to her artwork, she is a full-time hairstylist at West Ave. Salon on 50th Street and Manatee Avenue. “I do both (art and styling) with varying degrees of frequency depending on my mood, but I’m always the go-to person for friends and family whenever they have an idea for a creative project. I like to try new things. Recently I’ve been playing around with resin pours,” she said.
The eclectic approach that Counihan takes to her work is paralleled in her cover piece through both her application of mixed-media and her image choices. Manatee County is a patchwork of defining landmarks that speak to our history and current state— places that are unique to our beautiful corner of the world and entice so many people to want to call this spot home. She captures these spaces with a color and vibrancy as bright as the characters who inhabit them.
Counihan displays her art on her Instagram page, though she admits that the marketing of her work is not where she derives most of her joy. “I’d much rather focus on creating the art than sitting there trying to get a great shot of it with my phone in hand,” she says with the earnestness of a true creative. “It (the art) really
is a full-time job in itself. I’m hoping one day my mom will retire and take over the business side,” she laughs.
Nonetheless, Counihan enthusiastically welcomes commissions and the sharing of her work. “For the last four or five years, I’ve displayed at the annual Orban’s Nursery Poinsettia Festival that takes place the weekend after Thanksgiving. I try to make it to the Downtown Market whenever I can, and I have some pieces up in the salon,” she informs.
From the American Indians to the early settlers, Manatee County has captivated visitors since before it was ‘Manatee County’. It’s clear that there is something
intangibly special about this place. Today, the history and eccentric character of
our neighborhoods and residents are what continue make the town so dear to so
many. To truly attempt to capture such an ethereal and resonating quality, it really does take a great work of art.
“I hope people never think I just target one thing. I love to change my hair and appearance, just as I love to try new things with my art. I paint in watercolor and acrylic. I’ve done corn hole boards, towels, tees and tote bags. I really just love anything and everything creative!” -Shelby Counihan
Shelby Counihan’s artwork can be seen on her Instagram page @shelbycounihandesigns and she can be reached for commissions and inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is well-practiced in a variety of mediums including, but not limited to, printmaking and painting. There is no doubt that she will continue to grow her portfolio and explore new processes along the way