Shona Moller: Doing it her way
A talented and successful artist, Shona Moller has been painting since she was four years old. Her kindergarten teacher recalls Shona painstakingly laying out all the colours she planned to use in her classroom artworks, and not walking away until she had used every single one of them. Shona said she still uses the same practice today.
A professional artist by accident, Shona is actually a trained primary school teacher. She taught for 10 years prior to starting a family and after that she said, “my art took off.” With small children at her feet, it was easier for Shona to socialise with friends at home rather than going out. Her paintings decorated the walls of her home. Admiring her work, more and more of her friends would ask her to paint for them, and in this word of mouth way, Shona started making a living from her paintings. “I have always said when my waiting list dries up and I’m not as busy, I’ll go back to teaching, but it’s been 17 years now.”
Seventeen years later, word of mouth still drives Shona’s business and as a rule of thumb she said, clients will generally have seen her work in someone else’s home and get in touch, or have been directed to her website by a friend. She is currently sitting on a waiting list of 20 ‘first option’ clients, which she said will keep her busy for the next 18 months.
Shona held a formative exhibition in London in 2008, which was a runaway hit. People were queuing at the door she said, and the exhibition was sold out. I asked her what her secret was, and she replied that the success of this exhibition took her quite by surprise and that luck must have been on her side. “It was before people really started to trust the internet and buy large scale items online, so you had to take the work to the people then.” Those times have changed, and Shona now showcases and sells a lot of her work online, quoting 50% of her sales going offshore. While most artists work hard to promote their work and establish a presence online, Shona still chooses to give social media a wide berth. “It’s too overwhelming and too noisy. I’m busy enough without the distraction of social media. I never try to aggressively sell my work. It still takes me by surprise that I’m producing work that people want to buy.”
Shona goes against the grain in other ways as well, choosing to decline offers to display her work in other galleries, not doing true commission work, and not reproducing paintings in print format. “I have the freedom to create what I want and how I want it, right down to the subject, the medium, the colours, and even how I display it.”
In representing herself, Shona is able to share her passion and enthusiasm for the work that she believes can only come from its creator. She writes inviting hand written captions beneath each painting which share some of her inspiration. Careful not to give all the answers away, the captions peel away a few layers of hidden meaning and make a novice art-lover like myself feel much more relaxed and at home in her gallery.
With a warm and bubbly personality, Shona enjoys having the opportunity to connect with the people who are interested in her art, and said she often has to tell herself to stop talking and let them enjoy wandering around her gallery.
Rather than taking commissions, Shona has a waiting list and offers clients on the waiting list a ‘first option’ when a work is complete, which works well for her, because she is able to maintain creative control, and paint from her own experiences and inspiration. She is very firm about not offering reproduction versions of her work. “It takes the magic away from the original. People forget that behind every piece of work is 30 years of mark-making, it hasn’t just arrived.” Instead, Shona said she offers a range of smaller pieces to meet a limited art budget.
Doing things differently has paid off for Shona. Moving from Waikato to Kapiti in 2000, Shona and her family were renting for a short period. Her husband said to her “we’ll never get our bond back if you start painting here” and found the gallery space on Paraparaumu Beach that she still works from today. “I feel really blessed with 17 years, so far. It’s more than most people get.”
Her favourite artwork? “Always the one I’m working on!”