Local artist and art instructor Shelby Kiper Burns of Wisner was recently given a unique opportunity to further explore her creative style in an art residency program.
Called “Cultivate/Create” the program was offered through a partnership between Downtown Arts Alliance of Monroe and the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council.
Burns, along with artist Rae Tedeton, stayed in the historic Neville House in Monroe, giving them a chance to live and breathe Monroe culture as they dived into their art.
As a busy wife, mother and art instructor, Burns welcomed the chance to focus uninterrupted on her own art.
“I spent my time in residence painting. For the last couple of years, I have painted several murals in our parish, but I have not taken the time to paint for myself. During the residency, I worked to find my personal painting style and niche. The first piece I created was actually the first time I have painted on canvas in over three years,” Burns said about the experience.
Burns said that as a child she loved to draw, and during her time as a student at Franklin Academy submitted art to various district and state art competitions, but did not have formal art classes then.
“I remember my parents having my winning pieces framed with their ribbons and on display in our home. That always made me feel like I must have been good at it, which encouraged me to continue doing it,” she recalled.
Burns is the daughter of Lisa Kiper and the late Trey Kiper of Wisner.
Burns said that during junior high and high school she thought she wanted to be a counselor. After graduating from high school she started at LSU majoring in Psychology, but said that after just one semester there she fell in love with the art school. She changed her major to Interior Design then Art Education.
She transferred to ULM in 2011, but said they had just terminated their Art Education program due to budget cuts. She said she tried Elementary Education but quickly realized that she was not cut out for teaching. She majored in General Studies with a concentration in Psychology.
“I am actually only nine hours from a bachelor’s degree in Arts at LSU,” Burns said.
In a twist of irony, although Burns said elementary education was not her cup of tea, she has found a place in education as an art instructor for elementary and junior high students in the Franklin Parish School System’s Talented Arts Program.
Burns has used her artistic talents to instruct private art classes and has worked on various community projects. Her most recent community project of note is a large mural painted on the side of a building at Davis Park in Winnsboro as part of a park improvement project in which new playground equipment was installed.
The board overseeing the project wanted to incorporate some of the “story” behind the park. The catfish in the mural represents the Catfish Festival which donated the original playground equipment. The flag represents the patriotic spirt of the community.
It was the mural which caught the attention of Brooke Foy, president of the Monroe Downtown Arts Alliance and creator of a mural in the Crowville community.
Burns described the opportunity to take part in the residency as “a crazy coincidence.” She said an artist who was to have been involved in the program had dropped out, and that after seeing her work, Foy called to see if she would be interested.
“That happened on Friday, July 1, and the program started on Wednesday, July 6. It was very last minute and I certainly did not have much time to prepare, but my family was so supportive and willing to help work out everything at home so I could go, and it was definitely worth it,” Burns said.
Her family includes husband Nathan, and children Kainley, Trystan and Uriah.
During the two-week residency, Burns and Tedeton worked on their own art privately
“That was the benefit of the residency – a total emersion in your own thoughts, processes, and works,” Burns said.
However, she said they did collaborate on a project for the final part of the residency which was a community discussion on public art held in Monroe Aug. 29.
Speaking of her approach in visualizing her creations, Burns said that she usually sees the full picture before she begins, but that doesn’t mean the finished project will always be the same.
“Art is very fluid. The creating part is half of it. So my designs, thoughts, processes, etc., can certainly change as I work. It also depends on how much creative freedom I have to work with. If I am painting a specific design or look, then I strive to make it look as exact as I can,” she said.
Burns created an “inspiration photo-wheel” to facilitate using photographs.
However, she said such preciseness can sometimes be a hindrance.
“My recent projects stem from photographs, and I have struggled in letting go of the hyper-realism to create something more bold and animated. Finding your style is always a work in progress,” she added.
Burns said she enjoys sketching with graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser, but said that she is also happy to use a paintbrush and paint. She said she is familiar and comfortable with acrylic, but her work in the Talented Arts Program has given her an opportunity to use other mediums such as pastels, prismacolors and pen and ink.
Regarding future projects, Burns said she has been asked to help with a painting for the Children’s Coalition to use for a fundraising auction, but said she is mainly focusing on task to continue her personal painting to create a series that she hopes will be part of an exhibit at the Old Post Office Museum in the near future.
Burns said the residence will be a starting block for the new body of work.
“For over two years I have had an idea for a collection of paintings. At this point, I’m far more familiar and comfortable with the concept than the actual pieces it will include,” she said.
Burns offered words of encouragement for others who enjoy creating art and search for uniqueness.
“Just be you. I think our society puts so much pressure on people, especially creative entities, to be original, but then we don’t always accept the new, unique and different as a culture,” she said.
“Keep creating what is in your heart and inspires you. One day it may just inspire someone else, too,” Burns said.