Artist Shannon Grissom certainly knows how to make up for lost time. She didn’t delve into the world of art until after years of doing other work. Once she became an artist, though, her creativity blossomed: she became a prolific painter, hosted her own art television show, became president of a local art association, released her own music CDs, and even created a monkey-based pop culture phenomenon that was huge in Japan. She tells us how it all came about.
Shannon Grissom considers herself to be a “late bloomer” as an artist, mostly because, like many people, she was torn between creativity and practicality. “My mom and dad were always very creative, and they encouraged all manner of creative endeavors,” she recalls. “They told us that our only limits were those that we put on ourselves. Because of that, my journey as an artist began during high school. I didn’t take any formal classes, but I was compelled to paint. We had a loft in the garage, and I’d hang out there and paint whenever I could. I also attended some informal art gatherings, where ladies would get together and paint. I was the only young person there (most folks were around my parents’ ages), but I really enjoyed those sessions.
“Despite all of that, when I moved out and entered the workforce, I thought I needed to do work that was ‘practical.’ So during my twenties, I was working, going to school, and enjoying my social life—and I dropped all of my creative activities. I didn’t come to my senses until I was thirty-three.” Grissom held various jobs: popcorn stand operator, preschool teacher, lease agent, transportation coordinator, assistant bookstore manager, staffing specialist, and badging coordinator. Although each job was enjoyable and helped her acquire business skills, she knew that this wasn’t the path she was meant to be on. That path was art.
While working at the bookstore, she started painting in her spare time. She felt compelled to paint all the time but says she was too “fried” after a day of stress-filled work to do much of anything, let alone paint. Since painting after work was out of the question, she instead got up every day at 3:00 a.m. to paint before work—while also planning how to turn it into a career.
By the time she took the part-time temporary position as a badging coordinator, Grissom found herself at a crossroads. “That job was a way for me to still have a little money coming in and ease myself into the transition of life as a full-time artist,” she says. “I was at that job for a year when they started talking about bringing me on full time. That’s when I decided it was time to finally take the plunge as a full-time artist. It was exactly five years from the day I started painting to
the day I started my full-time art business.” In 1999, Grissom opened her art studio, Shannon Grissom, Inc., which sells her original artwork and prints and offers art-related services.
She dove right in to her business, continuing to create a vast array of oil paintings using a brush and a palette knife as her primary tools. Grissom says that two aspects of her work stand out perhaps more than anything: color and expression. “I love color!” she gushes. “Color is more important to me than any of the other elements of painting. I enjoy being able to use it with two tools: I love the subtle blending I am able to achieve with the brush, and I love that the knife helps me to be more expressive.
“I paint almost every day,” she continues. “Some projects I get done in a day. Others take me weeks, even months. It depends on the work. I’m able to keep my productivity up because I have several in process at the same time. Having a choice of things to paint makes sure I’m always in the mood for one of them.” And what does she enjoy painting the most? “People and reflective surfaces speak to me more often than any other subject,” she says. “They are both engaging and contemplative at the same time. I feel I can really go deep with those two subjects.”
This is particularly palpable in Grissom’s portraits, which have an uncanny ability to make the subjects’ personalities shine through her colors. She sometimes paints the portraits using photographs, but she mostly enjoys attending live model sessions at Yosemite Western Artists, an art association for which she serves as president. “I love painting from life! Not only does it strengthen my work, but it also helps me to connect with the model,” she explains. “I typically start from life and finish in the studio. I strive not only to get a likeness, but also to get the spirit of the model in the work. That’s when I know I’ve completed a successful piece.”
This desire for connecting with people has also taken her down some unexpected paths. The first was television. “In 2003, I was pondering how I could expand the audience for my artwork when I met the executive director of our local access station at a chamber mixer,” Grissom remembers. “She encouraged me to start my own show—I was completely inspired! I took every class they had and volunteered on a number of shows to learn all the aspects of production.”
That work paid off when she got her own art instruction TV show, Give Your Walls Some Soul, which started airing on one Northern California TV station but would eventually air on fifty stations across the country, reach ten million households, and win numerous awards. After seven years and over seventy episodes, Grissom stopped filming the show in 2010. She looks back fondly on her television days. “What a great experience! It was such fun to collaborate with the crew to create the show, and the feedback we got from the audience was truly heartwarming,” she recalls. “Mostly, I love that people discovered their own creativity as a result of watching the show.”
Another chance encounter led to her most popular project, an ongoing labor of love called Monkey Made of Sockies, which honors her late mother. “It all started with my mother’s sock monkey,” she says. “My sister and I discovered him in a trunk when we were going through her belongings after she passed away. I fell in love with him, and I took him home with me.
“At the time, I had entered an art competition in which you had to paint a fish and a pear and relate it to something you loved. I found some lovely pears and grabbed some goldfish-shaped crackers at the grocery store. I then decided to include the sock monkey in the painting and make it a tribute to my mother. I added a black-and-white photo of my mom and her cousin, as well as a kazoo (since Mom was a brilliant musician and had a delightful sense of humor), and named the painting I Will Remember You.”
Grissom kept painting more sock monkey scenes and realized that she had enough characters for a book, which led to her creating her first picture book, Monkey Made of Sockies. But the monkey momentum didn’t end there for the Coarsegold, California, resident. A local golf course’s then-CEO suggested that the Monkey Made of Sockies character would make a great golf club headcover. “I loved it!” she says. “I had a prototype created, secured a licensing deal with Daphne’s Headcovers, and, just like that, Monkey Made of Sockies became a global phenomenon!” Various pro golfers now have Grissom’s monkeys covering their clubs. “He even has a cult following in Japan, where people stand in line to get him!” Grissom marvels.
As amazing as it has been to have her creation become so popular worldwide, Grissom never forgets her inspiration for her sock monkey art. “My mother was a special education teacher, and these Monkey Made of Sockies pieces, which were inspired by her spirit, continue to help children around the world,” she shares. “And that makes me smile as big as a sock monkey!” Proceeds have gone toward various charities, including helping children with Prader-Willi syndrome and providing pet therapy to at-risk children.
Her mother’s influence can also be seen—and heard—in Grissom’s other passion, music. Growing up with a musical parent, Grissom always had interest in instruments and singing, but didn’t actually write her first song, “I Was Made to Cover You,” until she was almost fifty. (“It’s actually about my Monkey Made of Sockies golf club headcover being perfect for the driver,” she reveals.) She has since released two CDs of her songs and describes her style as “Americana songwriter with a touch of soul.” In addition to the vocals, she plays clarinet, guitar, and piano on her CDs.
So how does one highly creative person fit all of these passions into a day? “Sleep is important to me!” she insists, laughing. “I get about eight hours a night, but my schedule is not in sync with most of the world. I go to bed by 7:00 p.m., and I get up between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. and do some painting or write some music, much like I did when I first started painting. I write my morning pages (from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way), spend time on positive visualizations, and then paint,” she continues. “After painting, I answer e-mails and attend to my social media and websites. I spend the rest of the day on the business side of art, such as coordinating the club activities and addressing issues as they arise at Yosemite Western Artists, and I work some part-time jobs to supplement my art. On my days off, I like to take long walks.”
The most important thing for Shannon Grissom is that, no matter what she does, she continues being creative and being positive. As far as creativity goes, Grissom feels it’s always been an inextricable part of her life. “For me, creativity has never been an elective activity. I see it as requisite for a fully lived life,” she says. “I simply don’t know how I would process life if I did not create.”
So it’s apt that, when people visit her website, they are greeted with her mantra of “Positively Creative.” It captures who Shannon Grissom is, both as an artist and as a person. “I mean that in the truest sense of the phrase, in that it is with certainty that I create. I am also very conscious of sending positivity out into the world. If I can leave folks with a smile, I’ve lived my life well.”
For more info, visit shannongrissom.com.