Spotlight Artist: Lori-lee Thomas

spooky scene with sea glass

Lori-lee Thomas is a beachcomber and artist from Newfoundland, Canada. Lori-lee collects a wide variety of beach treasures: rocks, sea glass, pottery, shells bones, seaweed, driftwood, fossils, fishing rope, buoys, and anything that catches her eye. She says, with great enthusiasm, “It would be easier to tell you what I don’t collect.”

Lori-lee in her studio. June In Blue. Lori-lee’s painting process .

Left to right: Lori-lee in her studio. June In Blue. Lori-lee’s painting process.

Lori-lee has been collecting since she could walk, and has never lost her love for the coast. “If I don’t come back as a haunting apparition wandering the beaches, I’ll be severely disappointed.” Lori-lee grew up beachcombing on a small secluded island in the straits of Belle Isle between Quebec/Labrador and Newfoundland Island in Canada. Growing up in a fishing community with a fisherman father and mother made Lori-lee instantly appreciate and love the ocean and anything she offers to sustain, and inspire her. Though she found many treasures in her adolescence, the didn’t get the chance to find sea glass until she was in her twenties. “I was instantly enamored with the colors, patterns, and their inner glow.”

Underwater Coffin Box, closed and open.

Underwater Coffin Box, closed and open.

Today, Lori-lee loves to wander around Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, which she calls home. She collects only in the town enclaves, because the natural treasures in the park cannot be taken home. She says the area is an absolute wonder for both treasure seekers and nature lovers, and the sweetest spots are the beaches that aren’t too sandy or too rocky.

Lori-lee still has many items on her beachcombing bucket list, including a whole stopper, glass insulator, frosty bottle, ammonite fossil, an intact dish or plate, pirate doubloons, or, she jokes, an actual pirate.

paintings Honourary Newfoundlander. Seagull Captain. Lori-lee Thomas Art logo.

Left to right: Honourary Newfoundlander. Seagull Captain. Lori-lee Thomas Art logo.

Lori-lee’s most treasured items are those that loved ones found and gifted to her. “My father found me a 10-legged sun star that I absolutely adore, along with a frosty purple sea glass jug ring handle, and my son found me a three-holed hagstone right here in my hometown. These items are very special to me.” Over the last few years, Lori-lee’s main beach companion is her six-year-old daughter, who loves all of the things her mother adores.

Lori-lee says her entire life has been creative, filled with drawing, painting, and crafting of all kinds. But she says the art bug truly hit when she turned 11 and found one of her older brother’s Spider-Man comic books, instantly enamored by the illustrations and art. In 2005, she graduated from Bishop’s University with an Honors Degree in Fine Arts.

beach art collages Fish Bones. Dead Things.

Left to right: Fish Bones. Dead Things.

Lori-lee’s passion for her craft grew in 2020 during the pandemic. She started to notice great enthusiasm for the variety of treasures she was finding and sharing on Instagram, and quickly discovered the massive community of like-minded beachcombers online. “I learned what a flat-lay was, and let’s just say the rest is history.”

beach art assemblages Autumn Periwinkles. Hagstones

Left to right: Autumn Periwinkles. Hagstones (detail).

Lori-lee loves to share the amazing finds of the west coast of Newfoundland, and loves to create, share, and educate with the art she makes from her finds. “If someone asks me about a particular rock or shell, they better prepare to get their ear talked off.”

Lori-lee has been working as a freelance artist and children’s book illustrator, but she says in recent years her beachcombing collecting has become a larger and larger part of her creative journey. Lori-lee mainly sells her artwork locally since her area is a massive tourist hot spot in the summers, but she’s looking to bring her work online.

driftwood and sea glass art Deep Sea Angler

Deep Sea Angler

For her flat-lay photography, painting, and crafting, Lori-lee says she always starts a piece of work with a theme in mind. Whether it’s a color, subject matter, texture, material, style, cultural focus, or composition, she picks something and she goes with the flow. “I have ADHD, and as anyone with this superpower knows, hyper-fixation is real. I get inspired; I do the thing, and I move on to the next challenge. There are definitely pros and cons to working this way, but it always keeps me on my toes.”

Lori-lee says she’s most inspired by learning new things, skills, and ideas. She often finds herself on quests to learn about absolutely everything around her. “Everything and everyone inspires me. You inspire me!” Growing up in an isolated area with little access to supplies made Lori-lee appreciate what she has—he says she can always work with whatever’s on hand. She also loves to teach and educate with a little humor, saying “It’s rough when trying to learn something new with an intimidating teacher. Art is about expression and being your true self, and it should be fun and exciting.” She encourages new artists to not be afraid of mistakes, flaws, or imperfections. Lastly, she says to enjoy the process and to make sure you have a laugh while you do it.

Lori-lee’s home, Gros Morne National Park, has 1800 square kilometers of rugged coastline, saltwater fjords, old mountains, and beautiful wildlife. It’s a UNESCO site, and amazingly, one of the only places in the world where you can walk on the Earth’s exposed mantle. Obviously, the geology in the area is incredible, and a must see for enthusiasts.

Lori-lee recommends hiking any (or all) of the fantastic trails around Gros Morne, which she says will leave you amazed and likely a little breathless. She says to walk the Tablelands and visit the Western Brook Pond fjord. “You will think you are on planet Mars and the Lord of the Rings movie set at the same time.” There are also boat tours, live music, and excellent seafood. She recommends Anchor Down B&B as a place to stay, and the Buoy & Arrow Restaurant for foot-long lobster rolls.

This article appeared in theBeachcombing Volume 38 September/October2023.

All photos courtesy of Lori-lee Thomas.

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