A Sailor’s Valentine in the Making

All my life I have loved seashells. It is amazing the variety of sizes, shapes, and colors they come in.  For the most part, I just collected shells with no idea what to do with them. Then one year after a vacation to Florida, I decided I was going to create something with the shells I had gathered. While we were there I did browse through a couple of shell stores for ideas. My plan was to decorate a picture frame or mirror.

I searched many websites and the public library. There were pictures but not many how-to articles. Some of the completed seashell projects were way over the top for my taste, anyway. Shells are a natural product we can pick up on any beach and use to  create wonderful art.  Seashells are not solely for bathroom decor!  The range of shape and color make them readily usable for any decor.

My husband found some vintage seashell craft books. Granted, no one wears shell earrings or hair barrettes any longer. However, I found instructions for some simple shell designs that I was able to experiment with and learn just basic skills. In the meantime, my husband was still on his quest to find me information. He discovered seashell flowers. Now I have a heavy hand. Not even in my wildest dreams do I try to do delicate work. Yet he faithfully ordered dainty, little shells for me. Then I saw a Sailor’s Valentine. It was love at first sight. My first attempt, however, was far from perfect! Not to mention that it isn’t in a box. Sailor’s Valentines are traditionally in octagonal shaped boxes with glass covers.

The geometric patterns of the Sailor’s Valentine were easier to create than a flower. You need patience when making one, which didn’t trouble me. You might have to go through a hundred shells just to find a few that are the right size and shape. I love puzzles and, to me, it’s rather like putting a puzzle together with no picture. My second Sailor’s Valentine is just OK in my mind. I guess the longer you do something, the more critical you become. I have thought about trying to add to it, but it would be like trying to improve your five-year old daughter’s finger painting.

I had thought if I resisted long enough, my husband would forget about ‘the flowers’. His stubbornness finally wore me down. I printed out dozens of photos of seashell flowers and real flowers so I could get an idea of what to do. I also found another book that gave instructions for creating shell flowers. There were no real diagrams to follow but after a time, I got the gist of it.

As I made flowers, I used shells in different sizes. My confidence grew and I tried a new form of art.

I really liked this form. I got expired wall paper samples from the paint stores. Hobby Lobby carries picture frames as simple or extravagant as I needed for a design. For the backing, I used tempered hardboard purchased from Home Depot.

From there I discovered new ways to use shell flowers. I experimented with dyes to increase my color choices. I think, though, I really prefer shells in their natural state. Most have lovely shades and variations that a touch of baby oil brings out. I spray the finished products with shellac to seal them. This also protects any dyed shells from fading.

Then my husband went back to nagging me. When was I going to make a Sailor’s Valentine? Once again he began purchasing shells that he wanted to see me use. I don’t think my finished project was exactly what he imagined. As hard as I tried I couldn’t visualize what he wanted. But then neither could he picture what I wanted. I’m not sure he understood when I would try to explain this. But, after a month, I finished the Sailor’s Valentine.

I was proud of myself. I can see where I need to improve. Pitfalls are easy to fall into and sometimes difficult to cover up. It didn’t have the geometric design I really wanted but I think it is pretty and delicate.

I decided to write about my progress as I work on this Sailor’s Valentine. My method of madness may not work for someone else, but it works for me. The finished product may or may not look like I envisioned. As I work, it’s like the design ‘talks to me’. Well, okay, it’s me talking although that habit drives my husband crazy, but…To each his own, I say. So here is the beginning. I’m waiting on the shell company to send me my box. I chose purpleheart wood. It’s a dark, purplish brown that I thought would compliment the shells I have chosen.

The box will be a ten inch octagonal about two inches deep with a glass cover. My preliminary plans are to start the design with two offset squares. Small sand dollars will outline one square. I’m using several types of shells to create the geometric design. The center will a cardium cardissa, a white seashell in the shape of a heart. When creating sea creatures, God truly let His imagination rule. A living creäture in the shape of a heart is just so awesome to me! I plan on randomly placing shell flowers around the center and perimeter.

So that’s it for now. Until my box gets here, I’m on a stand still. Guess I can work on my photography skills while I’m waiting.

If you want to know the names of the shells I’m using, let me know and I’ll list them.



About leggygillin

I make Sailor's Valentines, Seashell flower arrangements and other shell art. Blogging about them helps me improve the quality of my work. By looking at my progress through images, I'm able to view the pieces differently. I think also it helps others who may be wanting to learn. Not that I am a teacher, by any means. I'm still learning, growing, and developing my art with each post.
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One Response to A Sailor’s Valentine in the Making

  1. Elizabeth Brallier says:

    I enjoyed reaing your journey of “sea shell art” I have a beautiful “My Sailors Valentine” kaleideoscope by Judith Paul that I purchased manyyears ago along with the book “Sailors Valentines” by John Fondas. I consider myself creative and would love to make a valentine. Where can I Buy shells as well as an octagonal box. I live in California and I do have quite a collection of shells but would love to buy some. Any information would be appreciated if you have time. Thanks…Elizabeth

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