When I am not diving for mussels in the Tennessee River, a good part of my time is devoted to artwork. I have been drawing and painting since childhood and have always had a love for art. Back in 1999, my mother suggested I try painting on mussel shells. At that time the shell business was booming and there were over three thousand mussel divers in TN alone. Since washboards were a top dollar shell and the bigger ones were worth upwards of 7$ a pound, I picked the smallest, thinnest shells to paint. My first painted shells were kind of crude river scenes, often featuring a dive boat. They were an instant hit and they sold as fast as I could paint them. Over the years, as the prices of shells dropped, I realized that the larger washboard mussels made the best paintings, they often had more 'mother-of-pearl' color and a larger area to paint on. A few years ago I started mounting them on driftwood from the river to make them easier to display. 
     The following is a pictorial demonstration of how a shell painting is created:

The shells are harvested, in this case hand-picked by wading while the river was down in the winter.
I pick the largest 'washboard' type shells to paint on then clean the meat out of them. Sometimes I find a pearl if I'm lucky!
When I get back to my studio, the painting begins. One of the trickiest parts of the process is laying in the background. Since the shells are concave and rippled it is extremely hard to get the horizon straight. 

When I get the background like I want it, it's time to decide what the focal point of the piece will be. In this case a wild turkey.

Turkeys are harder than they look because of all the subtle colors and feathers. This one has shaped up pretty well! 
When the painting is finished, it is signed, mounted on driftwood and sprayed with a acrylic clear-coat for protection. If you would like to see more of my work, you can visit http://www.lostcreekart.weebly.com . Or you can google frizz-art and go to images. I am also on deviantArt username frizz-art. You can contact me at kennethfrizzell@gmail.com.
T. Poulsen
8/24/2014 07:49:07 am

Hey Mr. Kenneth I enjoyed you blog, can you tell me if I can purchase a few shells from you? All the Best!

Emmie Arroyo
4/9/2015 04:27:28 am

Dear Kenneth Frizzel,
I Am a student at MTSU needing to do research on Pearl hunting for a Graphic Design Class. Including topics such has the essential job description, daily tasks, characterstics one would need to possess to accomplish the job, and tool of the trade. If you are interested in such an interview and want to help me make awesome art, then feel free to eMail me as soon as you can as the project is only a few weeks long.

The ultimate products of this project are:

1 package design for the certain item sure to convince someone to be a pearl hunter

Concept and design of a series of billboards advertising the profession, not the product


Create a newsletter for people who are actually in the profession.

so as you can see, I could use your help to relay me advice on wether or not what I'm creating will truly relate to pearl divers. Let me know if this is something you are interested in, I know you love art and pearl diving and, so do I so i think we could work well together. Im in Tennessee, as well.

Let me know.


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