After learning he has Stage 3 pancreatic cancer, Siesta Key artist Shawn McLoughlin sold more than 160 pieces of art.
Driving through Siesta Key, you might find brightly colored murals of children playing in the sand or snorkeling in the ocean.
Although the murals have become island staples, the man behind them might not be as well known.
Shawn McLoughlin’s passion for art began as early as kindergarten, when a teacher held up his drawing and pointed out all the details he’d added.
“After that, every year, every teacher I’d always try to win their approval through drawings and class projects,” McLoughlin said.
He moved to Sarasota in 1968 and graduated from Sarasota High School in 1971. He then went to what is now the Ringling College of Art and Design and got married during his second year of college.
“I was determined to prove to her father that I could make a living as an artist, which really at that time, it was just in graphic design where you could make your living,” he said.
So McLoughlin got a job at a tabloid designing advertisements before becoming a catalog designer for Scott Plastics Ltd. and Sun Hydraulics. He would study hundreds of pieces of hardware and learn the different types of hydraulic valves, so he could draw them up for the catalogs. In all, McLoughlin estimates there were 600 different valves he had to draw.
“That’s where the downfall began — I hated drawing those valves,” he said. “But I did love drawing my children.”
By then, McLoughlin, now 67, had two sons — Ryan and Robbie — and he decided to draw a picture of them for his wife’s Christmas present. The engineers he was working with saw his drawings and began asking him if he would draw pictures of their children.
He began selling small charcoal drawings for $20 each, and he could draw about three an hour.
“I was making about $60 an hour, which was an enormous amount of money in 1982, and I thought if I could just keep those coming in, I could make a living off of it,” McLoughlin said.
He quit his job at Sun Hydraulics and began a business called Art to Heart. He would set up displays in drugstores, where people were getting their portraits taken, and then take home photos to work from.
Over 17 years, McLoughlin has used a variety of media to create portraits, but his speciality, he said, is candid watercolor portraits of children.
Rather than working off an image provided to him, McLoughlin began visiting with families to get a candid image of their children playing.
“I knew I couldn’t go wrong painting a child because they’re all beautiful,” he said.
Later in life, McLoughlin began painting on the beaches throughout Sarasota County. As he was painting, people often would approach him asking if they could buy what he was working on.
Around that time, color printing made it possible for McLoughlin to take his watercolor paintings and create several copies at a time. So he would paint a scene one day, print it that evening, cut mats for it, shrink wrap it and then return with it to the beach to sell as he painted another scene.
He painted everything from wildlife to the Siesta Key Beach lifeguard structures to beach condos. But no matter what he painted, he always tried to place children in the foreground.
“People would always ask me when I was coming back, and I’d tell them I wasn’t sure because it wasn’t exactly legal,” McLoughlin said with a chuckle.
After the police asked him to leave the beach, he began renting a small space in Captain Curt’s Crab and Oyster Bar, which he called Watercolors. He stayed there for about five years before he began painting from his home.
In spring of this year, McLoughlin spent several days working on an outside mural at Sarasota Brewing Co., which he’d done countless times before.
However, after three days outside, he couldn’t figure out why he was so tired. Over the next few days, he began noticing several other symptoms as well, so he went to the doctor.
On June 12, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. On June 30, he had a Whipple procedure to remove portions of the pancreas, small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct. As he was getting the procedure, doctors found a malignant mass around his portal vein and removed it section by section.
After 15 days of recovery in the hospital, McLoughlin returned to his home, which was overflowing with his artwork from the past few decades. He decided it was time to let go of it, so he began planning a liquidation sale.
“I thought, ‘This is the perfect time to sell my artwork,’” McLoughlin said through a laugh. “You can buy it before the artist is dead, but you know he’s dying. You can buy it from him, get him to sign it even, and then he’s going to be gone, but you’ll have a piece of his work.”
He began cataloging more than 160 pieces of work by photographing them, handwriting details of each piece on the back and uploading them to his website. He also planned an in-person show at Village Cafe, where he’s regularly sold his artwork for the past eight years.
“He’s just been a joy to work with,” cafe co-Owner Kay Kouvatsos said. “Most of his work is nature-related or waterline or local, which is perfect for our mom-and-pop place. It’s all relative to our community, and it’s what people are here to see.”
He wasn’t sure how much he was going to sell, but the night before the sale, he had already sold several pieces. The in-person sale, which was meant to last two days, closed early on the first day because almost all of his artwork was sold.
“I’ve been wanting to let go of my artwork for a long time, but it was just mind-blowing, the number of people that came,” McLoughlin said. “I was just so pleased to see my work go to a good home.”
Doctors have told McLoughlin he has about a 10% chance of living five more years. Although the doctors have recommended an aggressive form of chemotherapy, McLoughlin said he’s unsure of his next steps.
One thing he knows is in his near future, though, is creating more artwork.
After he fully recovers from surgery, McLoughlin said he would like to head back into portraiture. He already has several commissions waiting.