Shaun Donovan, a surfer-turned-artist, posing in front of one of his textured pieces of artwork. He will be at Café Ipe this Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Artist draws on surfing for inspiration, technique

ENCINITAS — Shaun Donovan is a sponsored surfer and skateboarder. 

Just as he transitions between skateboarding and surfing, he’s also crossed over into another area, one with a connection that might not be as obvious — art.

“In a lot of ways, surfing and art go hand in hand,” said Donovan, the Encinitas resident who will make his art world debut at Café Ipe this Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.

As expected of a surfer-turned-artist, it’s safe to say surfing is Donovan’s primary motif. Barreling waves, sunsets and long sections with ample room to carve — many of his pieces capture any surfer’s ideal break.

But surfing is more than thematic inspiration for Donovan. It also introduced him to a unique technique that largely defines his pieces.

Donovan doesn’t only ride surfboards he builds, or “shapes” them, as well.

Thanks to shaping, he gained an understanding of a surfboard’s composite elements: foam, fiberglass and most importantly, resin. His familiarity with different resins, which he mixes with a special kind of paint and other materials, gave him license to experiment with texture in his artwork, adding another dimension to his pieces.

“I try to make everything like it would be in reality,” Donovan said. “There’s different textures and materials for each part of the picture. The waves have a smoother texture than the foamy water that’s been churned up below.”

After trial and error, he’s honed his texture technique.

“I think I’ve developed a pretty innovative take on texture because of working with surfboards,” Donovan said. “People appreciate the piece a lot more when they’re standing closer to it. It pops out.”

To give his pieces definition, paintbrushes alone won’t do. Donovan also uses syringes full of a blend of materials, meticulously dabbing on layers. The painstaking process takes more time than a normal painting, Donovan said.

“I feel like a slow cake decorator sometimes,” he said. “It’s mind grueling, but worth it in the end.”

By design, light too plays a role in his pieces. Sunlight or well-placed artificial lighting reveals subtle differences in color that maybe aren’t apparent in a darker room. It’s an effect he accomplishes with special materials and glosses.

“I like how in real life the area by the lip of a wave is lighter in color, while the rest of the wave face looks gradually darker if you look across it,” he said. “I tried to reflect that in my work with material that takes advantage of lighting.”

Donovan has taken a few art classes. But he never thought he would be so enamored with creating pieces. It all began, he said, with a painting his girlfriend gave him a few years ago.

“It was a great painting,” Donovan. “I wanted to paint with her. So it just started to be a thing I was super in to. And once I came up with my own style, I just became obsessed with it.”

Donovan’s first pieces were focused on geometric patterns. But surfing scenes slowly became a part of his repertoire, and he’d like to continue exploring that niche. Depicting surfing scenes — with the elements like the sun and sea interacting with each other — is a great chance to play with color, he said. For example, Donovan’s favorite piece, pictured with the article, shows “the green flash,” an optical phenomenon that occurs when the setting sun’s rays hit the water.

Another reason he likes color: It’s a way to demonstrate the link between nature in our backyard and the entire universe.

“The sun and the top of the wave are the same color,” said Donovan, referring to one of his pieces. “In all my pieces, the colors connect in some way. I think earthly things are fully connected with space.”

Donovan will display 10 pieces at the show.

And next up for him? He sums it up simply: “Become a better artist, stay inspired with surfing and skating.”



Kris Roberts August 31, 2012 at 7:18 am

Go Shaun! So proud of you. Really looking forward to your show tomorrow!

Jessica Roberts August 31, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Yaaay Shaun! So stoked for you! Can’t wait until tomorrow night!

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