Sea Salt Ceramics at Tybee Oaks
Sea Salt Ceramics at Tybee Oaks

A Coastal Canvas: Artist Charissa Murray

The swaying trees and gentle breeze from the nearby ocean sweep across the wooden deck of the Tybee Oaks, a funky collection of locally owned stores right off Tybee’s main road. The first store featured is what Charissa Murray calls “The Shop.” It’s the culmination of her dream to display her art featuring her love and appreciation for her home, Tybee Island.

"I don’t think I could function if I didn’t paint. And I paint every day.”


Charissa Murray is Tybee Island. From her business to her volunteering and civic involvement with so many organizations throughout the island, it’s a wonder she ever finds time to paint her coastal masterpieces. She does it all because “Tybee is home.”


"My family moved here in 1992 when I was 12 years old,” Murray says. It’s been interesting watching Tybee change from dirt roads in places to every single thing now is filled in.”


She says growing up on the island was a kid’s dream. “We hung out in the dunes back when there weren’t rattlesnakes in those dunes—and that’s true! We rode our bikes everywhere. I had my first job in the service industry out here at 12. It’s just part of me,” she says.


Murray’s father was a painter, so she was always surrounded by art at an early age. She was in the last graduating class from the old Savannah High School before it became the Arts Academy. But it was in high school that her artistic talents took off.


“Drawing was the first medium for me,” Charissa muses. “I always had a pencil and paper with me. I would sketch and sketch and sketch my whole childhood. I didn’t get into painting until high school. Mrs. Oliver was my freshman year teacher. At the magnet school, they put me in all the senior classes, so I was the youngest one and I got to see some amazing talent that really inspired me to paint. I have painted ever since.”


Her 30-year talent and skill are evident when you step into her welcoming store. It is filled with local seascapes, sunsets, landscapes, and some flora and fauna. Her business partner, Kelly Jones, a ceramicist, features her pottery in the store, as well. Various-sized paintings and ceramic pieces fill the store with foamy beach scenes, vibrant sunsets, and eccentric birds surrounding you.

click to enlarge A Coastal Canvas: Artist Charissa Murray
Inside Sea Salt Ceramics at Tybee Oaks


“I focus mostly on coastal-inspired landscapes, especially the Georgia coast. Now … I have a thing for birds of any kind: grumpy birds, happy birds, silly birds. When I get tired of doing the coastal scenes, you’ll see me do a bunch of birds,” she says, laughing.

Murray, who works strictly in oil, says the reason it is so easy for her to feature Tybee Island in her painting is, again, “It’s always home. Tybee draws artists because it is visually stunning. However, it also draws people because it’s quirky. It’s not corporate or mainstream. Everything is independent and small businesses. It gives it a family feel out here.”


As for life on Tybee offering inspiration, Murray says, “There’s always something happening here. It’s a fun vibe all the time. The people here make it special. The nature makes it special. The conservation efforts make it special. From Beach Bum to PirateFest (of which she is the director) and the Tour de Arts (which she co-founded), we just love sharing information on Tybee, our clean beach efforts, how we watch out for the sea turtles … just all of it. This is our home, and we should take care of it. Every little bit we can do to take care of it and the creatures who live here are very important.”


In addition to all her community efforts, Murray finds solace in her studio, a recently vacated bedroom in her house. “Empty nest, you know,” she says. She’s put it to good use, though. “I have three easels going pretty much all the time. The studio is very well-lit with windows on all sides.”


Murray says she gets most of her inspiration for her painting from photographs. “I’ll either take the image myself or get another photographer to take it or I’ll ask for permission. I’ve had William Harold do an aerial shot of the Isle of Hope Marina so I could do a piece for them. Several local photographers have allowed me to use their images but then, I make it my own.


I’m not a realistic painter, nor do I want to be. I do it the way I see it.”


This is through her use of the color palette. “I see everything in bright colors. Our sunsets, cotton-candy skies with the hot pinks and deep reds … you need to feel it here,” she says, pointing to her heart.

click to enlarge A Coastal Canvas: Artist Charissa Murray
"Eagle's Nest" by Charissa Murray


Her favorite piece she has done has great meaning to her. “It’s called 'Eagle’s Nest,'” Charissa explains. “It’s a sunset from a dock I did as a commission for friends. They lived across from me and were moving to Washington. They wanted something to remember the place. I took a ton of photos from every angle [on their dock]. It was a gorgeous sunset and … I got a bird in the picture.”


However, it is the personal interactions, the connection with someone, when they see her art and are moved by it, that Murray treasures the most.


click to enlarge A Coastal Canvas: Artist Charissa Murray
"Happy Ostrich" by Charissa Murray

“I had a gentleman purchase my 'Happy Ostrich' recently,” she says proudly. “His wife was from Tybee, and she had recently passed. The family visited in order to spread her ashes. He went into the store and the ostrich reminded him so much of something his wife would have loved, and he had to have it. I just shipped it out to him.”

She pauses a moment at the recent memory. “Seeing and hearing that emotion in someone’s voice makes it all worth it,” she says.


As visitors begin to flood the island and season is at its peak, The Shop is ready to put smiles on people’s faces when they decide to take home a special part of Tybee Island.


“Since opening the shop, it’s humbling seeing others enjoy my art. I get chills. It makes me happy,” Charissa says.

For more information, Charissa, her shop, and her partner, Kelly Jones, can be found online at Charissamurray.com and SeaSaltCeramics.com. You can also follow Charissa’s Facebook group: Tybee Island Georgia Savannah’s Beach

     
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