Collecting shells and pebbles on the beach is a popular pastime for many, but for New York-based artist Anna Chan, it’s become “a bit of an obsession.” Chan is a jewelry designer, but just like many others, her work slowed down during the COVID-19 lockdown. She and her 10-year-old daughter spent their days at the beach, where they began collecting seashells and making animal-inspired sculptures from them.
“Having worked on a small scale most of my life, being able to use my entire hands to sculpt large pieces was truly liberating, especially during such trying times,” Chan tells My Modern Met. “I saw great potential with this new medium and was determined to keep refining my work, so I moved some sand and seashells to my garage and that is where I work today.”
The first sand and shell sculpture Chan created was a turtle, and now her portfolio boasts an entire array of land and sea animals. For one piece, she crafted a bird from scallops, mussels, clams, and horseshoe crab tails. In another, a lion’s mane is sculpted from large, broken seashells. Chan carefully chooses shells that match the real life characteristics of the animal she's creating. “The seashells are like little jewels to me, each one a mosaic piece finding its place in the big picture,” she reveals “I’m inspired by their colors, texture and shapes and even the broken pieces, I find beauty in it.”
What started as something to do during lockdown has now become a main focus of Chan’s artistic practice. “My sculptures are inspired by the materials I use. I have worked with clay, wax, metal, fabric etc. in the past but none of them are as intuitive as sand,” says the artist. “It is the material I feel the most connection to and my hands just know what to do when I’m creating with it.”
Check out Chan’s shell art below and find more of her animal portraits on Instagram.