ISLAMORADA, Florida Keys — While maintaining a busy seasonal weekend schedule of art shows intermixed with creating new paintings, 28-year-old artist Michelle Nicole Lowe remains refreshingly grounded. At the same time, she is resolute in her passion for the ocean and for sharing her boldly original art with fellow sea lovers.
Lowe's watercolors, oils and colored pencil renderings seemingly pop off the canvas. Each scene is a snapshot of lively eyed creatures like hogfish, angelfish, large-scaled tarpon, tangs and turtles, or the unmistakeable contours of native seagrape trees, palm fronds and plumage of island birds.
"As much as I love to paint, I have a passion for the ocean and the underwater creatures," said Lowe.
She admits that she loves traveling to art shows, accompanied by her mother/assistant, because she meets others who have been around the world and who love to dive or snorkel as much as she does.
"The majority of people buy my art because they are ocean lovers," said Lowe. "They have a memory of whatever I've painted and want it on their wall just for the pleasure of it, not because it's an investment, necessarily. They appreciate my work ... share the same passion."
Lowe's childhood was spent fishing, snorkeling and diving in the clear waters off the Keys, Dry Tortugas, Marquesas and Bahamian Out Islands with her parents and younger brother.
Her family tree is solidly rooted in the Florida Keys. Her great-grandfather Archie Lowe was born on the Bahamas' Green Turtle Cay, emigrated to Key West and traded as a local turtle retailer. The Keys' turtle fishing trade flourished in the mid to late 1800s and was effectively ended decades ago with the passage of the Endangerd Species Act. Today, the youthful Lowe expresses her fascination with turtles and other underwater creatures through her paintings.
A graduate of the University of Florida and a die-hard fan of its Gators football team, Lowe was talented in art, but pursued a degree in finance, figuring it would provide independence and stability. After two post-graduate (and freezing) years spent in the corporate finance arena of Washington, D.C., she began a yearlong painting program in Florence, Italy, to return to her heart's passion.
Afterward in 2010, she took a leap of faith and went home to the Florida Keys, using her in-home studio in Islamorada to cultivate creativity and solace.
Lowe has tailored her knack for finance into managing her own entrepreneurial business, spearheading everything from booking shows months in advance to overseeing reproductions and giclee prints. Yet even while juggling show setups in major South Florida cities and price points per square inch, she has discovered her age presents a surprising challenge.
"As a young artist at shows, I do get doubted a lot and people don't want to buy from me," said Lowe.
She is often mistakenly judged to be as young as 20, an age that implies having so many original pieces of art would be impossible. She recalled one show patron who was convinced that art only became valuable after an artist was dead, and was reluctant to make a purchase because Lowe would not be "gone" any time soon.
Islamorada and the Keys are where Lowe feels most grounded, and she participates enthusiastically in the monthly art walk sponsored by Islamorada's Morada Way Arts District.
To balance her workweeks, she spends Wednesdays on peaceful pursuits that clear her mind, without the distractions of other people or her cell phone. Her mid-week activities might include being on the water or fishing the backcountry.
"Being in the Keys is a good thing," said Lowe. "There are a lot of artists around to talk to and learn from, but not so many that they're competitive and don't want to be friendly and share their advice with you.
"I love it here. I hope I'll be here for a long time."
Michelle Nicole Lowe's art is featured in shows from Tampa to the Florida Keys, including the monthly Morada Way event, and at michellenicolelowe.com.
Lowe displays some of her work at the January Islamorada Fine Art Expo. Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau
Snorkeling a Keys reef with a green sea turtle, Lowe gets firsthand inspiration for her paintings.
A then-five-year-old Lowe plays captain for the day on the water with her family.
Bonefishing in the backcountry is one of Lowe's passions, and how she maintains a peaceful balance.
Lowe (right) shares her giclee prints with an art show patron at the Pigeon Key Art Festival, during February in Marathon.