The art of inspiration

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Motivated by health scare,

Shawn McLoughlin paints a positive future

By Jane Bartnett

Shawn McLoughlin’s art is woven into the tapestry of Siesta Key life. Found in the form of whimsical island scenes that not only grace the walls of thousands of homes but also in large, brightly colored murals and signs that dot the sides of stores, resorts, and restaurants in the Siesta Key area, McLoughlin defines the term of successful working artist.

Many would say that this talented and commercially successful artist with grown-up beach-boy good looks has led a charmed life in his adopted hometown that he made his own some 50 years ago.

 But in June of last year, at age 67, McLoughlin’s life changed dramatically. After living a healthy and active life, he suddenly felt extreme fatigue and pain. Doctors delivered devastating news: he had pancreatic cancer.

The good news, they told him, was that he was a candidate for the Whipple procedure — a major surgery for which only about 20% of patients qualify. According to the Mayo Clinic, this “difficult and demanding operation” can be “lifesaving, particularly for people with cancer.”

Surgeons at Doctor’s Hospital in Sarasota performed McLoughlin’s surgery. It was a success. Following 15 days in the hospital, he went home to recuperate.

Shaken by his sudden illness, he decided to sell more than 160 pieces of his art during a sale at the Village Cafe. It was a sellout. With that done, McLoughlin created a website and began cataloguing and documenting all of his work.

The weeks went by and McLoughlin found a new will to live as he gained strength and better health.

“I still have a lot of living to do,” he said, speaking of his two sons and five grandchildren. “Time is precious. I’ve been given a gift with my ability to paint and I want to share it with others. I’m very grateful to my doctors and now, I’m back at work.”

Shawn McLoughlin works on a “destination sign” painting in his studio. (submitted photo)

Sitting in his studio surrounded by paintings, canvases, pens, ink and paint, he recalled his emotions earlier this year, when the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It was a great honor, but it made me realize that I’m not done yet,” he said.

Speaking of his life and what lies ahead, “I’m back to painting after regaining my health,” he said. “Because of the operation, I feel the importance of doing what matters most. With a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation, I have a passion to paint our natural world of beauty here on Siesta Key. Look around, look up, look into the eyes of people we pass, look at the grass growing or the flowers blooming or the sun setting over the gulf. Gratitude can change our whole perspective on life.”

 McLoughlin’s new life perspective is most visible in his oil-on-canvas paintings. A departure from the often light-hearted work that he is known for, his oil or “plen air” paintings (a French term that means to paint in the open air) are created in nature.

His work reflects the Impressionist and Hudson River schools of art. “I enjoy building the picture on site, free form, as you see it,” he said. 

As a member of the Plen Air Painters of the Suncoast, McLoughlin is one of more than 700 artists in the non-profit group who paint together on Siesta Beach and other scenic locations in the area. In 2018, during the organization’s Light Chasers outing at the Phillippi Creek Art Show, McLoughlin won first place in the professional division. 

As an artist, painting en plen air “takes a little more guts,” he said.

“The Rose Garden at Phillippi Estate Mansion,” an oil painting on linen panel, won McLoughlin first place at the 2018 Suncoast Light Chasers competition in the professional division. (submitted image)

As much as his love of this classic art form has become his passion, McLoughlin is still very much committed to the business side of the signature designs he has created over the years in either acrylic, oil, watercolor, or charcoal. Sales and distribution of his popular 8×10 paper art prints depicting Siesta Key beach scenes, birds, sunsets, resorts, and sea life remain strong. Wrapped in plastic with a foam board, they are sold ready for framing at four Siesta Key shops: Beach Bazaar, Crescent Beach Grocery, Sunshine and Sand Hidden Treasures, and the Village Cafe.

A finished piece of work for a happy customer. (submitted photo)

His paper prints, along with custom-sized gallery-wrapped canvas prints, are also available through his website:

Commissioned projects for private clients also fill McLoughlin’s day. While putting the finishing touches on one of them, he commented “I enjoy knowing that the work that I’ve created brings joy to people who come here to visit.”

Embracing his past while looking ahead to creating many more en plen air oil paintings is driving him forward.

“Some days,” he said with great sincerity, “I look at a blank canvas and I think, ‘I can’t do this.’”

After a brief pause, the smile returned and the artist said with great modesty, “It’s not always easy, but I’m getting better at it.”


John Morton
Author: John Morton

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