Oyster shell painting of musician John Cranford

Ann Devlin Connors grew up on the island. The ocean has long been her respite from any chaos happening around her. So it only seems right that nature is a huge part of what’s giving her a moment in the spotlight.

“I’ve been creative as long as I can remember. I loved to read, loved to draw, it’s always been part of my life,” said the talented shell artist behind Lowcountry Reflections. “It was always pencil growing up; I never did a lot of painting. Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Connors won local acclaim as a teen for her pencil work, winning local competitions and having her work displayed at the Barnes and Noble.

“I had a whole wall display – it was really cool. My mom still has that award certificate on her wall,” she said. “But the pencil work was intensive, so much detail. I would spend weeks at a time on one drawing, just zone out to my music and lose myself in the work.”

A series of emotional traumas in her adult years led Connors in a different direction to reconnect with her creative side.

“Painting is much more fluid. I can express myself in a way that’s not so constricted,” she said. “Pencil is so precise, whereas painting lets me capture the essence and the feeling of what I’m trying to express.”

After one particularly tough time, a moment of inspiration came to her while jogging. “I would go for long jogs down a nature trail along the water. I always loved mermaids and I had this thought that it would be so amazing to paint a mermaid inside the shell, like this tiny little treasure,” Connors said. “I grabbed some oyster shells, did my first painting and was so pleased with it and the joy I got from it.”

From there, she delved into painting all kinds of marine life in varying underwater scenes. An island local noticed her postings online and asked her if she’d be up for painting a portrait.

“I said, ‘Sure. Let’s do it. Why not?’ He sent me a photo of his three grandkids in front of a palmetto tree and I just adored the work.”

Her clients were equally pleased. The odd part? Like her initial mermaid painting, there was no face details, an approach that conjures mental images more than exact reproductions.

“This captures a feeling, evokes a memory, takes you back. I think that’s what makes it such an intensely personal thing for folks,” Connors said. “It’s emotion, it’s the connection and the meaning of the photo that really gets me motivated every time.”

Connors began getting commissions from strangers across the country to tackle shell portraits. But it wasn’t until another of her passions intersected with her work that her star really took off.

“I am a huge live music fan. It’s how my husband Mick and I met, it’s what we do to unwind and have the most fun. These amazing talented people, they’re my friends,” Connors said. “So I decided to do shells of each member of Shakey Bones and give them to them as a gift.”

The gesture hit home with Shakey Bones member Jevon Daly.

“The talent in these shells, it’s indescribable. That meant so much. And I always knew Ann was creative, but this was just otherworldly,” Daly said of Connors. “I was just like, ‘More please.’ This has to be the next big thing.”

Daly commissioned Connors to do a series of 10 local music icons, a project the artist said was a daunting dream.

“I was just like, ‘Pinch me.’ Mick and Craig Coyne go way back. Chippy the Hippie got ordained specifically to perform our wedding ceremony. Jevon and Craig sang at the ceremony. What a perfect crossing of my worlds. I’ve never enjoyed anything I’ve ever done in my life more than that project.”

From Frederick Freon’s signature bowtie to Martin Lesch’s keyboard to John Cranford’s flowing locks, beard and inviting drink toast with his glass, Connors’ shells nailed what makes each musician unique and beloved.

“I’m happy they were so well received, and I owe so much to Jevon. He connected the dots for me,” Connors said. “I’ve never been so busy. I have a huge list of folks I’m trying to knock off one by one now.”

She has launched a Facebook page, Lowcountry Reflections, to showcase her work. She charges $15 to $20 per shell, a modest price that Connors said isn’t going up.

While she enjoys her work at Pulseology Health and helping her chef husband at Hilton Head Brewing Company, it would be great for the shell work to pay her bills and be her only focus. But it’s not about the money for her.

“I mean, the joy that it brings to see the reaction when they get their shells, that’s everything to me. I want as many people as possible to experience that, so the price is the price,” she said.

She gives a huge shoutout to the Old Oyster Company for providing her canvases.

“They dump out all their old shells behind their porch and for me, finding the right shell is so key,” she said. “Purple, pink, every shape and size. Finding the right shell for every subject is just as important as the paint to get that essence right.”

Connors just announced her next project is a series to honor the chefs and bartenders of the Lowcountry.

“They’re so important to Mick and I, they deserve the spotlight and a little immortalization,” she said. “I am so in a sweet spot right now. I’ve found my calling. I’ve been given this gift and I am so excited to share it with the world.”

For more information about Connors’ art, search Facebook and search for Lowcountry Reflections, or call or text Connors at 843-384-4159.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.