Now Reading
Tropical Art Chick

Tropical Art Chick

– Susan Coulis


Susan Coulis or ‘The Tropical Art Chick’, as she’s known to fans and patrons, has taken a path to artistic success that’s as colorful as her work itself.

Coulis grew up in Vermont and her pursuits centered around many outdoor activities. “I always liked art, but I was really more of a sports person. I grew up skiing and hiking. I played golf and tennis—really anything you could do outdoors. But I always enjoyed drawing and I loved art class. I thought I wanted to be an art teacher and that’s what I started out majoring in when I went to college,” she says of the early days of her artistry. It was actually Coulis and her brother’s participation on the competitive golf circuit that led them to move to Florida after she graduated from college. While her brother pursued golf, and still works in the industry, Coulis discovered the beach, and her golf game quickly took a back seat to her future inspiration.

In need of a job, Coulis went to work in a restaurant where she made connections that eventually led her to a career as a flight attendant. “I would draw and dabble in those years, but nothing serious. It wasn’t until my kids were out of the house and I had more time and space that I really started to explore my creativity more,” she says.

Coulis started out working mostly in acrylics, but she always loved jewelry making. One day she googled ‘how to make beads’ and discovered polymer clay—a medium that, at the time, was new to her. She baked her first batch of beads
and when her jewelry began receiving positive responses from friends, she took to the craft fair scene. However, the transport of items, the set-up and break-down of it all was tedious and she started brainstorming ways to “work smarter.”

“One day I looked out my window and saw a palm shuck that had fallen from a tree in my yard, and I thought ‘that looks just like a fish’. So, I took it in, dried it, and painted it. I put it up on Facebook and I was flooded with inquiries and offers to purchase it!,” she says, surprised of her first foray into online
art sales.

Despite her taste of the convenience of online sales, Coulis continued to take her painted shucks to markets, but she was having trouble keeping up with production in painting each individual piece. She came up with the idea to start printing her designs on totes and purses and opened her first online store.

Coulis was getting orders and enjoying success with her prints, but her manufacturing was being done in China and, when the pandemic hit, she ran into issues with product fulfillment. “I thought, ‘I’m too old for this. This is a hobby, not my bread and butter. I’m shutting down my website’.” That lasted all of three months until she began getting ideas for her Salty Sayings.

The inspiration for Coulis’ Salty Sayings came to her and, before she knew it, she had about 30 designs. She began showing them to people and stores and the orders poured in just as swiftly as the ideas. Coulis views the pieces as the most successful of all her endeavors and seems genuinely surprised by it. “I really didn’t expect this at this stage in my life!,” she exclaims with laughter.

At the encouragement of her husband after a ‘paint meets new carpet’ incident, Coulis traded out her acrylics for watercolor pens and they remain her primary medium. Her Salty Sayings paved the way for her Birth Shell and Coastal Towns series, all of which are beautifully illustrated in her colorful and whimsical style. All three of the bodies of work are just what one would imagine based on the names.

Salty Sayings are cute original phrases accompanied by a corresponding illustration. Birth Shells, just like birth stones, are assigned to one’s birth month and are illustrated and framed—making them perfect gifts for loved ones. And
Towns offers playful depictions of beloved places, almost as colorful dream-like maps.

Coulis’ Town illustrations have really begun to take off. She’s even started to receive requests from towns out-of-state that she’s never visited. “I just ask for poignant landmarks and historical places. I look at maps and do research online to be able to illustrate them to the best of my ability, site unseen,” she says of the ‘foreign’ commissions.

Editor-in-chief Paula Wright found the Tropical Art Chick on the internet and reached out to her for this edition of Bradenton Magazine’s holiday cover. The piece is built around a painting that Coulis had done previously. She added some extra holiday flairs and tweaked some things with a little collaborative direction from Wright to create the fun manatee wreath illustration that graces the front of the issue.

With her niche finally realized, Coulis is growing more than she ever anticipated. Her ‘small art business’ that began as a hobby about 12 years ago has surmounted production woes and fulfillment struggles to become a streamlined and successful operation.

Coulis is still able to do all the printing herself and works out of her home, but she’s looking into possibly acquiring a space if continued growth calls for it. She recently hired her first sales representative, and her pieces can be seen in gift shops and stores around the state. Her son, who works in marketing as an Amazon specialist, believes the sky is the limit. “He’s planted some ideas of grandeur, but I’m just taking it slow and steady. I like to joke that it’s fun art, not fine art! We’ll see where it goes!,” Coulis jests of her son’s high aspirations.

The work of the Tropical Art Chick can be viewed and purchased through her website and on her Instagram page @susancoulis

Scroll To Top