Photographer / Amy Payne
As a teenager sitting in Paul Engle’s art class at Brown County High School, Sean Sheppard didn’t know the impact that his hard-nosed teacher would have on him. The Simon Cowell of the art world, Engle didn’t sugarcoat anything for his students but rather told it like it was. One day, he asked Sheppard to point out his favorite part of one of his pieces. When he did, Engle erased it and told him to do it again.
“At the time, I thought, ‘What a jerk,’” Sheppard says. “But he told me I had to learn that nothing was precious in my painting.”
During his senior year, Engle set up Sheppard with back-to-back art classes, and he took his students to meet world-famous Brown County artists such as Bill Root, Dwight F. Steininger and Joe Shell.
“At the time, you don’t realize the incredible training you’re getting,” Sheppard says.
In fact, he says he learned more about art in high school than he did in college.
“I recall sitting in an art history class at IU thinking, ‘How is this going to make me any money?’” Sheppard says.
That’s why when he speaks at local schools, he encourages students to study business rather than art.
“If you’ve got a talent, you’ve got it, period,” says Sheppard, who in 2000 founded Silver Crow Studios with David Studley. “But when you get out of school, you’re going to be competing with lots of other talented people. Understanding business is helpful.”
Though Sheppard considers himself a “decorative artist,” he’s a jack-of-all-trades in that he does furniture and cabinetry refinishing, carpentry work, custom finishes on walls and flooring, as well as giant murals and masterful fine artwork for people’s homes.
“In the art field, you have to always be evolving,” Sheppard says.
Recent projects include painting a storybook dragon mural at the Westfield Library when Arin Downy asked for his expertise. He got the idea after seeing the library’s Medieval theme that included a knight.
“I said, ‘A knight needs a dragon, but instead of hoarding all the gold, he’s hoarding all the books,’” says Sheppard, who was also asked by Paul Estridge to do all of the decorative painting for the new Westfield Playhouse.
“I designed the lobby with artwork and oversized playbills,” he says.
On the heels of that project, he was also invited to paint the Holliday Park mural that features colorful trees, clouds, a fox and an owl.
“I’ve been on a roll lately, which is great because if you watch the news, it makes it sound like we’re all going down in flames, but I’m actually busier than I’ve ever been,” says Sheppard, who has created art his whole life. “I remember making little dinosaurs at my grandma’s house when I was five years old.”
Over the past two decades, Sheppard has been hired by basketball great Larry Bird, NBA All-Star Paul George, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, whom he has done 57 items for through the years. Last year, Sheppard experienced the biggest thrill of his life when he was commissioned to create two paintings — one to be auctioned off at an Indy 500 event and the other to be gifted to Mario Andretti as a thank-you for being the ambassador for the Indy 500. He got the call on May 10 and was told they needed the paintings by May 16. Sheppard finished putting the paintings in their frames an hour and a half before the start of the event. That evening, Sheppard was asked to stand so he could be recognized for his work.
“Mario’s a living legend so I’m real nervous,” Sheppard recalls. “I didn’t know what to do so I saluted Mario like he’s a general and he saluted me back. Next thing I know, I have Mario Andretti’s arm around me and people are snapping pictures all around us. As an artist, you dream of that situation.”
Sheppard comes from a family of artists (his mom was a writer and his dad a photographer). Tragically, his mom died in a car accident in 1994. His dad passed from cancer two years later.
“That [kind of loss] shapes you as an artist,” he says. “I have a real thick skin. I cannot be jarred.”
His upbringing, along with all the mentors and other individuals he has met along the way, has made him into the man he is today — someone who is full of gratitude.
“Every day that I’m doing art, I’m so thankful,” says Sheppard, who plans to continue down this path for the rest of his life. One of his favorite artists, Thomas Hart Benton, passed away at the age of 86, moments after finishing a mural.
“I’m thankful to be in a career that’s got longevity,” Sheppard says. “In art, I still feel like I’ve got the potential to do something really big someday.”
For more on Silver Crow Studios, located at 11575 Sycamore Street in Zionsville, call 317-443-4051.