Shana Blakley hasn’t considered herself an artist — until now.
Despite years of practice with a variety of different mediums, Blakley didn’t fully commit herself to the title before the creation of her business, Figure Form. About a year and a half ago, she and her husband underwent deep devastation that resulted in the line of art that exists today, when they lost their first son to stillbirth.
“Everything was turned upside down for us, inside and outside,” Blakley said.
This completely unexpected and unexplained tragedy impacted the art that Blakley began to make. After years spent working in larger spaces with acrylic paint, large-scale canvases, wire, and macrame, Blakley found herself turning to a medium that was accessible in their smaller space in Richmond. Watercolor became the way that Blakley could grieve through her work.
“Once that happened, it sent us into this really intense spiral of every emotion,” her husband Matt Blakley said. “It was rooted in a confusion as well as shock.”
From there, Figure Form was born out of grief and resurgence of getting back into art. On lunch breaks from her remote job, Blakley was able to work with just a few materials, including water, a palette, and a piece of paper.
Blakley poured her emotions into her work, churning out multiple pieces a day, Matt said.
“I believe in my heart that it’s absolutely beautiful, and that it’s meaningful and it feels professional,” Matt said. “But the best part about her is that she didn’t go to art school.”
Through watercolor, Shana studied the human figure — particularly the female body at first — as a way to occupy her mind.
“Looking back now, my fixation on the female body was influenced by my own obsession with my own body, and how it betrayed me, really, in the birth and the death of my son,” Shana said. “I was just creating those images.”
Despite the betrayal of her body, Shana got pregnant again while continuing to work on Figure Form. Pregnancy was extremely terrifying for them both, feeling as if it were unfair to grieve the death of their first son during the second pregnancy, Matt said.
Shana turned to a new medium to create her work by using line drawings to create digital prints.
“She had gotten what she needed to get out of watercolor and was searching for a new medium,” Matt said. “It’s been really great, because she can work on it in bed, in the car, at the dining room table, while breastfeeding our son. It’s extremely portable and matches her lifestyle right now.”
Matt noticed that these early prints not only illustrated an honest, natural form, but one that reflected Shana’s reality of the second pregnancy. Due to to the intense caution taken, Shana’s life existed mostly in the domestic sphere, much like her early Figure Form prints show.
“This was interesting because at the time, when she was six to nine months pregnant, Shana was, for lack of a better word, a recluse. We didn’t really go outside,” Matt said. “We felt like every move we made would potentially devastate the second pregnancy, so it was interesting to see her digital illustrations of a woman in the domestic sphere, not outside.”
Not only does Shana’s art show a study of the human form, but it also emphasizes her deep passion for representation in art, with shading and variety of ethnicities evident in her prints.
With a customer base of people of all ages, Shana works to create prints that can relate to anyone who may find her online or at a market.
“I try to have a variety, different colors, shapes, figures. I want people to be able to see themselves in my art. I hope to make art that people can connect with, art that people might want to keep around in their space,” Shana said. “I think all people should be able to feel seen in art.”
Matt has watched this charge of Shana’s come to life.
“That’s something she’s been really interested in and feels ethically and politically charged to do through her work,” he said. “She’s already creating the female form, which has been over objectified since the dawn of time. She didn’t just want to make fair-skinned white-girl forms. She wanted any woman in the world to see themselves.”
The creation of Figure Form has also allowed Shana to complete commission work for those seeking particular projects for her to tackle. She creates informational images for doulas, and has recently created building prints for other businesses.
Figure Form isn’t restricted to visual art. Shana also created Milk Balm, a three-step kit for nursing mothers to turn their breast milk into a multi-use salve, to treat dry baby skin and other motherhood woes. With research and trial and error, Shana successfully created an all-natural, organic salve that she sells at markets as well.
“I feel like there are a lot of avenues that we want to go into — I think it just takes time,” Shana said of brand expansion. “I just need to keep creating.”
As a maker in Richmond, Shana has been embraced by fellow female-owned small businesses.
“I’ve met so many wonderful people at these markets,” Shana said. “Richmond is such a cool place with so many creative, interesting people doing their thing.”
As Shana’s support system, Matt has been glad to see that other female business owners had been encouraging Shana both on and offline.
“She couldn’t do this in a vacuum,” he said. “I think she’s been really touched by all the other female-owned small businesses in Richmond and beyond that have reached out and encouraged her in small, and also large, ways.”
Through a terrifying and confusing life experience, the Blakleys found a way to channel their grief and create a business that celebrates the human form despite color or size. Shana’s prints can be purchased at a variety of upcoming markets in the area, or online at shopfigureform.com.