Festival of Arts painter Elaine Twiss and jewelry designer Roya Nassirian both find inspiration in these ocean treasures.
By Stefanee Freedman
In an oceanside town full of artists, it’s no surprise that local exhibits showcase the beauty of beach life. One common focal point of coastal art is the integration of seashells. These natural gems from the sea lend a unique element to each artwork, whether it be a painting, sculpture, furniture or piece of jewelry.
For local painter Elaine Twiss, painting seashells is a labor of love that many of her clients identify as some of her signature art pieces. Twiss started painting seashells many years ago and explains that every time she would create a new one, she would sell it just as quickly.
“I have always just loved seashells and I live by the beach,” she says. “My husband and I also collect sea glass. I started putting … [the shells] into jars and painting … [what they looked like] in the jars.” In addition, she has painted collages of shells as well as images of individual specimens.
Twiss’ artwork was first displayed in town at Laguna Art-A-Fair, then in the now-closed Watercolor Gallery for seven years before joining Festival of Arts in 2003. After 2021, Twiss took a break from the festival to give her attention to a few national opportunities.
“It has been an honor for me to be a part of all the different … [art venues] in Laguna Beach,” she says. “Being a part of … Festival of Arts has been amazing since so many people from around the world come and see your work, and [it is also] where I have met so many of my clients. I absolutely love it.”
A self-taught artist, Twiss explains that ever since she was a young girl, she knew she wanted to be an artist. She was most inspired by the art of watercolorist Carolyn Brady. “I look back and, even though it is not really my style now, I just really admired her work and was emulating her work,” Twiss says. Nowadays, Twiss is more into hyperrealism and is part of the International Guild of Realism.
Currently, as she moves to create a new painting, Twiss searches high and low for the objects she will paint—hunting through several places and taking her time, months even, to ensure she has the items she wants for her vision. She then arranges the shells and photographs them in various types of lighting and compositions before using acrylic paint on watercolor paper to replicate the image. While she may often use multiple layers, she is meticulous in her method, as once the paint is applied, it cannot be changed—leaving no room for error and ensuring each piece is one of a kind.
Elaine Twiss Studio
Iranian native Roya Nassirian left her country at 19 years old and came to Arizona at 21 on a student visa, graduating from Arizona State University with a degree in business. She worked in retail to put herself through college, then spent time with companies like Neuman Marcus, Estée Lauder and Chanel Haute Couture.
“My name means ‘dream,’ so I am a dreamer,” Nassirian explains. “I worked retail when I first came to America, right off the boat, so I have a lot of fashion background that added … to what I am doing now.”
Nassirian was traveling to Europe a lot while working for Chanel and, on one trip to Paris, she met a young woman making jewelry on the steps of La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre. She asked the woman to teach her as well and thus began her career as a jewelry designer.
“I was just fascinated [by her] and, for three days, I went back to see her, and then she took me to the industrial part of Paris and helped me buy items to make my own jewelry,” Nassirian explains. “I bought bronze, wire, anything I could get my hands on. I came back to Arizona and started to make jewelry. Then, I started to take classes—… everything I could learn.” These classes included soldering, casting, working with wax and more, in addition to jewelry-making.
“Every time I would make something, my friends and family wanted to buy it or would ask, ‘Can you make me one?’ ” she recalls.
After moving to California, Nassirian earned her Applied Jewelry certification from the Gemological Institute of America in San Diego County, and now designs a variety of sterling silver and 14-karat gold jewelry. Her fascination with using seashells in her jewelry started when she moved to Laguna in 2014 to be closer to her daughters, who were both attending California universities.
“I started having … pop-ups and trunk shows. In those shows, I started incorporating shells and started making one-of-a-kind shell earrings,” she notes. “… Each shell is so unique, so each piece turned out to be very different. … Shells are really fun to work with.”
Nassirian is the owner of, and one of the main designers at, Royan Jewelry here in town. She showcases her one-of-a-kind pieces there along with work from other designers.
“The inventory in my store constantly changes and I … [regularly host] events at the store,” Nassirian adds. “… The variety of the customers that we see here is amazing, and the variety we offer in the shop is very unique. We have jewelry-makers from Spain, India, Turkey and Canada, just to name a few.”
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