LMA: Tell us a little about your artistic background:
Shawn: I guess looking back on my life now, I was always creating art in one form or another. I loved to doodle portraits with just a regular pencil and paper when I was a kid—I remember on long car rides with my mom and sister I would doodle a picture of someone who we all knew and make them guess who it was. I grew up in the little village of Wolverine in rural Northern Michigan, so the wilderness was a perfect canvas for designing forts out of tree branches, rocks, and whatever else we could find. As I got older I went through phases.. I was big into collage art in high school, then got obsessed with oil pastels for awhile, ultimately falling in love with mixed media mosaics.
LMA: Do you have any professional art training?
Shawn: In short, no. Not beyond my senior high school art teacher. She adored me and I adored her. I would come up with the weirdest creations using tar paper and charcoal and makeup and flame that year. I’m sure they were hideous, but all she could do was heap praise on me and tell me how “unique” my art was. Her dream was for me to attend Parsons School of Design in NYC. She would bring me pamphlets weekly and shower me with compliments trying to persuade me to apply. Perhaps her nudging for me to move away was less to do with my talent and more that she recognized I really didn’t fit in the small town. Either way, it’s for the best I never went to art school. I was so introverted and naive at the time, NYC would have eaten me alive!
Be Brave by Shawn DuBois
LMA: How did you get started in mosaics?
Shawn: In the late 1990’s I had left Wolverine and was living in one of my first apartments in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had been dumpster diving at the apartment complex and pulled out an old wooden table. I was looking for ways to refinish the top of it and my friend suggested I mosaic it with stained glass. I didn’t know anything about mosaic art. I can’t even say for sure if I knew what the word ‘mosaic’ meant at the time. I certainly didn’t have any mosaic tools, so I think I just broke up the stained glass sheets on the carpet in my living room with a hammer and glued the pieces down on the table. I’m sure my downstairs neighbors hated me!
LMA: How long have you been creating mosaics?
Shawn: Maybe 16 years or so now? At the time I made that first mosaic table my life was a mess. I was constantly jumping from job to job, apartment to apartment.. I had no stability, certainly no space to create a studio. Then, in the early 2000’s I was on a trip to New Orleans, LA with my boyfriend and we happened to walk into a shop and the entire floor was a mosaic! I had never seen anything like it in my life! They had used broken beer bottles and bottle caps and and it just sent my head spinning! I knew in that moment I wanted to explore this art form more.
Art Saves Lives by Shawn DuBois
LMA: What about mosaics resonates with you?
Shawn: Just how versatile of an art form it is! Being able to tie the past to the present.. I love being able to place a piece of vintage china from a hundred years ago next to one of my handmade tiles or a rock I found on a trip.
LMA: What is your favorite part of the mosaic process?
Shawn: Finding tesserae to use in my creations! I can spend entire day alone just driving from one thrift store to the next. It just gives me such excitement to search for interesting junk to use. I also love a good beach.. found objects, old driftwood, rocks...! Once this pandemic is over the first place I’m going to travel to is Lake Superior! I need my rocks!!
God Saves the Queen by Shawn DuBois
Follow Your Own Brick Road by Shawn DuBois
LMA: Do you have a favorite subject matter?
Shawn: Hmm. Maybe overcoming adversity? I don’t know. Almost all of my mosaic work has a simple positive message written right out in it. ‘Be Brave’, ‘Express Yourself’, ‘Follow Your Own Yellow Brick Road’ ect. So I guess just being true to yourself. Ultimately just respecting yourself. Showing yourself mercy. Just taking a stand, daring to disappoint. You’ll lose friends and family for sure. But you will never regret telling the world the truth about yourself or how you feel.
LMA: Where do you find inspiration for that?
Shawn: Injustices I see everyday or read about in the news. Blatant bigotry and discrimination and crime by some of our “so-called” leaders. My own life and memories, my experience of growing up feeling like an outsider.
Wake Up by Shawn DuBois
LMA: Do you have favorite materials you like to work with?
Shawn: I love taking something seen as “trash” and using it in a work of art. I guess it’s sort of like a silly metaphor.. like “You threw me away, you dismissed me, but look at me now—I survived!”
LMA: What is your favorite thing you have created and why?
Shawn: I never look back on anything I’ve made. For me it’s all about falling into the creative process in the moment. I do remember last year I made my first mosaic made entirely out of ceramic tesserae that I made in my kiln, so that was something!
Weird Artist Type by Shawn DuBois
LMA: What would you like to learn or add to your mosaic experience?
Shawn: Forming a deeper connection to the history of mosaic art as well as the future of it. It is one of the greatest gifts that has been given to me in this lifetime. I don’t have any aspirations to become technically “better” at it. I just hope to grow and evolve with it. It’s such an important relationship in my life. I hope to always honor that.
LMA: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of mosaics?
Shawn: Just the mess that it makes to create mosaics. I’m not very good at tidying up my studio on a regular basis, and the next thing I know, everything in there is buried under junk and glass shards!
You are Starting to get on my Fucking Nerves by Shawn DuBois
LMA: What is your least favorite thing about mosaics and why?
Shawn: Grouting! It sucks and everyone knows it!
LMA: Tell us a little about your studio:
Shawn: It should be wrapped with yellow ‘CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER’ tape.
LMA: Do you listen to music while creating? Or do you prefer television, podcasts or silence?
Shawn: It’s always been music for me while creating. My boyfriend bought me an Echo Dot for my studio a couple years ago, so that’s all I’ve been using since. I love being able to just walk into my studio and say “Alexa, play me the new Fiona Apple album!” And she says “Here’s the music you requested.” It makes me feel powerful and privileged! Sometimes she says the music I requested is only available with a ‘subscription’ to “Amazon Music Unlimited”. I don’t like it when she says that.
Tell Me a Happy Ending Story by Shawn DuBois
Rescue Me by Shawn DuBois
LMA: What is one of your favorite quotes or sayings?
Shawn: I’ve always loved a good quote! Umm.. how about “Take your broken heart, turn it into art.” -Carrie Fisher. That’s a good one I heard recently.
LMA: If you could give readers one single piece of advice, what would it be?
Shawn: Look at your own life. Think about the things you’ve lost. The people you’ve lost. Times you’ve felt smart and times you’ve recognized your own ignorance. The things that scare you. The memories that make you feel shame. Times you were brave. Times you were a coward. The things that make you feel like a freak of nature. These are your strengths. These are the only things that make your existence on this planet uniquely yours. No one can take any of these things from you, and they are all as equally important and beautiful. Now go channel them into creating your art.
Live Green by Shawn DuBois
You Can Go Your Own Way by Shawn DuBois
LMA: Tell us about your single greatest mosaic moment:
Shawn: I’d have to say that very first mosaic. That table back in my old apartment more than a couple decades ago now. I was brave enough to try a new form of art, feel like a failure, and yet keep on persisting.
LMA: Who are your favorite artists or most influential artists in your work?
Shawn: I don’t really have any favorite artists. I have moments of being inspired daily when I see things creative beings have created, but I wouldn’t say there’s any particular artist I favor. Depends on my mood I guess. I’m as equally inspired and influenced by the cute drawings my little nieces and nephew are always sending me in cards than I am by anything I’ve seen in any art museum.
I Did it My Own Way by Shawn DuBois
LMA: What made you want to participate in the Diversity Mural?
Shawn: As soon as Cherie Bosela put the call out for the mural in Orlando I knew I wanted to be part of it. I was crushed when I learned of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. I couldn’t comprehend it then, and I still can’t to this day. To be a small part of the healing process, to create something beautiful and inspiring to honor the memory of the lives lost to senseless gun violence. It was touching to see all the artists from around the world step up to participate, not just those of us in the LGBT community, but allies from all over the world. I haven’t been to Orlando since the mural was completed but I’m looking forward to visiting it.
LMA: What is the meaning behind your heart you created for the Diversity Mural?
Shawn: I created six simple hearts. One each color of the rainbow. I didn’t want to choose one color of my tesserae to use and make the others feel left out. I felt like including them all, so I did! It takes all kinds of kinds to make the world beautiful!