There’s more to Long Island beaches than sand, sun and surf. Just ask an artist.
“My studio is covered in shells. They’re all hand-picked, local seashells,” says crafter Marni Butchkoski, 36, who's among a handful of local artists using the area's sea and land to create jewelry, art, candles and more.
Butchkoski, of Smithtown, turned to the craft two years ago to cope with her late brother’s cancer diagnosis. “He was a big Long Beach surfer,” she recalls. She walks the beaches where he surfed, searching the sand for the perfect pieces to include in her artwork. Every shell holds meaning, she says.
“Sometimes I walk for miles and sometimes I walk up and it’s just a harvest,” she says.
Here’s a look at five local crafters creating with beach finds:
PAINTED SEASHELL SCENES
Butchkoski has been painting canvasses for more than 20 years and her mural work is displayed around Long Island, including at the Whales Tale restaurant in Northport. “I can paint anything,” she says, but “the shells are what has the story.”
Butchkoski’s brother died of cancer at 41 years old in May 2020. “I had never had loss like that in my life … How do I even comprehend all of these emotions that I was having,” she says. A few months later, she started painting shells full time in his honor.
Art By Marni B features hand-picked shells from Long Beach, Tobay, Robert Moses and Fire Island beaches. Using acrylic paint and a “very specific layering technique,” Butchkoski freehands her paintings on 51/2- to 6-inch-wide shells; she can also design shells with recreations of customer photos.
“There's so many meaningful pieces that I do. Every single shell someone orders from me means something to them, but it also means something to me,” she says.
Shop Art By Marni B at artbymarnib.com, at The Codfish Cowboy in Long Beach and at Waterdrinker Family Farm & Garden in Manorville; Butchkoski's vendor booth will pop up on Aug. 6 at the Greenport Skate Park (170 Moores Lane, Greenport) and Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. at The Buoy Bar in Point Lookout (72 Bayside Dr.).
SANDY SHADOW BOXES
Debbie McCort Beck, 68, started collecting beach finds last year while going on walks at Iron Pier Beach in Northville with her fiance who had suffered two strokes within four months. To help him recover, they'd find themselves strolling the sand up to four times a week, and while walking, would find sea glass, shells and rocks.
“There has to be something we can do with this stuff instead of just keeping it in bowls, bags and jars,” Beck, of Calverton, thought. It was then she realized she could incorporate rocks, seashells, oyster shells and drift wood to create and sell art.
Beck uses these beach-y gems to create scenes displayed in shadow boxes, available in three sizes (5 by 7; 8 by 8; 9 by 9; and 8 by 10; from $25 to $40). Many of the shadow boxes feature photos she’s taken herself. She also turns shells into ornaments and trinket dishes using a decoupage technique and sells her items on Facebook and Etsy under the name DDBeachFinds.
It was 20 years ago, when Janine Spillane’s mother taught her how to do macramé — a craft that uses a “specific threading to create knots and twists," Spillane says. It's a hobby she would, in her adult years, circle back to and sell under the name LazyScallops.
Spillane, 27, a waitress and yoga teacher from Islip Terrace, sells a line of handmade bracelets, necklaces, anklets and rings using the macramé technique, though she makes chain jewelry, too (sterling silver and gold plated).
The idea behind LazyScallops is to create “something that represents living on the Island, represents summer,” she says, adding that she searches the beaches of Fire Island (Ocean Beach and Atlantique), Robert Moses and Montauk for scallops that she can incorporate into her jewelry. Items start at $16 for a cowrie shell anklet and top out at $55 for a mala necklace. Her jewelry line is sold on Etsy, Instagram and at Heart and Soul Wax in East Islip; 85 W. Main St.
A self-proclaimed “beachcomber,” Robyn Romanoff, 30, says she started collecting seashells when she was younger and later began expanding her collection to include sea-glass and store it in jars. After seeing someone wearing sea-glass jewelry, her interest was piqued and she began to try her hand at making her own during her college years.
Romanoff, a St. Joseph's tennis coach from Middle Island, launched RoRo’s Seaglass Jewelry in more than 40 local stores in 2021. Her line features sea-glass necklaces and rings sold in silver and gold plated. Necklaces start at $25 and rings at $22.
“The further out east I go, the more I find,” she says about her treasures. She dedicates at least three days a week to hunting at public beaches in Southold, Orient Point, Greenport and Montauk.
On top of selling her jewelry, Romanoff also teaches wire-wrapping classes with beach finds at local libraries, wineries and breweries. She'll teach Aug. 5 at Pindar Vineyards; Aug. 12 at Port Jefferson Library and Aug. 19 at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.
It was during the pandemic when Cristina Francis, 35, of Floral Park, was looking for “something to help ease” her mind, thus she took a trip upstate with a friend where they explored a crystal shop. This trip helped her unleash her creative side while combining her love for crystals and candles.
Launched last year, Alluring Creations MC stocks hand-poured natural soy wax candles and wax melts featuring crystals, plus grapevine wreaths that incorporate home-dried flowers. The Ocean Breeze candle from her summer line of scents is available through November and features shells that were hand-picked by Francis at Point Lookout, Lido Beach and the Rockaway Inlet. Her summer wreaths are also embellished with hand-painted shells and dry florals.
Candles range from $15 for coffee-mug vessels to $65 for large baguette dough bowl vessels. Wreaths go for $20 to $60. Shop Francis’ crafts at alluringcreationsmc.com and Wild Flour Studio in Stewart Manor.