“Art for as long as I can remember has been a strong influence in my life.” Words undoubtedly spoken by a true artist, this statement is the perfect prologue to the story of Sydney-based painter/illustrator Shalayne “Shayne” Smith. From a D in Year 10 art class to the D in her own brand of art, Disarming Designs; the road to today is more than a little colourful. “My journey with art began very young,” Shayne recalls, “my older sister was also arty and she would give me her own take on art lessons. Every birthday I always asked for Textas and paper so was always doodling away and it just stuck. Her lessons to this day are the only “art lessons” I have had and I love that.”
Driven by her passion for colour, pattern and texture, Shayne found herself naturally drawn into a realm which offered the perfect escape from the chaos of life. “Art is my happy place, my calm,” she says. Confessing her inability to draw, she has however inexplicably discovered that in being forced to draw the foundations for her paintings onto the canvas before applying her paintbrush, the skill has developed of its own will. Colour, though, is the source of her passion. “I have always loved colour,” she says. “The way the sky changes at dawn and dusk, the intense colour of flowers, the variety of blues in the sea; colour is always the main inspiration in all of my pieces and I guess I have always liked things that are a little different, that have an edge.”
Starting from a point of inspirational reference and with an eye for pattern and colour, Shayne notes that tribal is her genre “be it tattoos, mandalas or simply symmetry.” The skeleton imagery that so profoundly weaves its way through her oeuvre reveals an interesting turning point in her personal and artistic development. Disarming Designs signalled a resurrection of her passion for art following a personal tragedy that saw her drop her paintbrushes for a significant period of time. “I had never painted a skull nor had I ever been interested in them, they had to me as to most people represented death or scary things,” says Shayne of the skeletal commission requested of her as she found her flow once more. “Yet painting this one with the addition of colour, the feathers and the flowers, I began to look at it in a different way. This painting wasn’t representing death and in no way was it scary, it was beautiful and quickly became and remains my favourite painting that I have ever done.”
“If I could create something for anyone it would actually be for myself during my time of depression,” says Shayne of that experience. “During that time I couldn’t pick up a paint brush, all creative ability I had ever had seemed to have completely disappeared and I honestly thought it would never return. So if I could, I would love to be able to paint myself a piece just to say it’s ok, it may not be there now but it will be back, it will be back and better than ever.”
The unique flavour of the art she went on to produce attracted the tastes of the people who knew her best and Shayne’s first commissions, including the flower-adorned skull, were requested. Gaining momentum as more and more people came in contact with her pieces; Shayne decided it might be worth opening herself up to the wider world. “I just thought why not give it a go and put it out there in today’s world of social media which makes artists lucky enough to be so accessible and able to get their work out there to such a huge audience and it has grown from that,” she says.
“Social media makes it so easy to share and bounce off people who are on the same artistic journey, learning as they go, trying new ideas and techniques and just trying to get pieces out there for people to enjoy,” says Shayne. “I am just thankful for and influenced by those around me, be it my fellow market stall holders, self-taught artists like myself, street artists and hustlers who are just trying to make a little space for themselves as I am.”
Her clients are undoubtedly a huge element of her raison d’être and it is Shayne’s relationship with them that informs the finished pieces. “Each hand-painted piece of art varies significantly in time as it comes down to the level of detail in each piece, the size of the canvas and mainly on the client,” she says. “Some clients are very sure on what they want and are able to convey that message very easily, while others aren’t too sure what they want exactly so it becomes my job listen, learn and best interpret what they want, which can often be a back and forth process. The funny thing is they are the best people to work for as they allow you to have the most creative freedom in bringing this idea they haven’t even fully formed to life.”
Eschewing silence for the company of music and television, Shayne asserts that quiet kills her flow. Weather-permitting she is likely found on the deck outside her house, music playing and paintbrush painting. “My favourite medium is Acrylic,” the artist claims. “I have tried watercolours which I don’t mind but I have never been able to get the vibrancy that Acrylics offer. I have also tried oil paints but find them so thick and hard to blend that I just never liked them, plus they smell!”
Colouring outside of the lines both literally and figuratively, Shayne’s ‘Dripping Sunglasses’ design is one that has certainly caught my eye. The first to be created with the sole purpose of covering kids’ tees, she explains how the melting Australian summer sun and beach mentality of her Central Coast surroundings led her to the concept. “I wanted to design a shirt that reflected that. The Lighthouse depicted in the frames is my local lighthouse above our beautiful beach and the sun is always shining so bright you of course need your sunglasses.”
Sharing her beach-side abode with her girlfriend, Shayne is quick to point out that while art is a big love in her life, she reserves just as much importance for her romantic and family life. “If I can’t make time I will find time and if I can find time I will make time, you live once and whilst work and money is a necessary evil it should never be at the cost of time with your family or your own sanity.”
From collaborations of the heart to sartorial partnerships, Disarming Designs recently joined fashion forces with fellow small business brand Piper & Ike to apply Shayne’s skull-tastic artistry to some little soles! Shayne enthuses that she doesn’t want her collaborative journey to end there, “I would love to have my designs on SnapBack hats for kids and I recently discovered Koda Melbourne who have an art inspired candle series which looks gorgeous, and the very funky brand electrothreads who make awesome tees.” She remains philosophical however, always training her focus back to who she’s doing it for and why. “All I would want is for the result of my collaboration, with whomever that partner may be, to reflect the best of both our abilities and bring happiness to our clients,” she says.
Looking ahead, Disarming Designs will be adding to its design roster as its talented creator continues to conjure up new concepts for her clothing line and the hats she is dreaming of will hopefully too become a tangible addition to her collection. “What I’m looking to do in the coming months is just to consolidate what I have thus far,” she says. “It has all come about so quickly, which has been great but I feel now is the time to create more designs for all the different options I have to use them on, grow the kids clothing side and learn further about it to perfect it as the kids market is totally new to me.”
“In an ideal world I would love to see myself continuing to create custom pieces for people while seeing Disarming Designs Prints, Clothing and whatever else is produced stocked in stores,” she says. “One store, 10 or 100 so it’s accessible to a wide variety of people.”
It isn’t such a far-fetched thought to see this dream extend into reality. The determination, self-belief and passion which have brought Shayne to this point are only compounded by the unrelenting support system around her. This is what has given her the confidence to believe in the value of the art she creates. “Starting out, you feel you have to say yes to everything, often with a price tag that’s next to nothing just to get a start and get your work out there,” she says. “But I have learned over time that often that’s actually worse as once you set those low prices that’s what you become known for.” Making her artwork affordable and accessible, Shayne is adamant though to only do the work that matches her worth.
“I’m not a scheduler or planner…,” says Shayne. “I probably should be but I just take what comes as it does. What’s around the corner I have no idea but I very much look forward to finding out.” And so do we!