Sarah Stewart sells seashells by the seashore, but these are not the kind an average shell seeker can pick up. To Stewart, the shells are “canvases from the sea.”

As a longtime collector, the idea to embellish shells came to Stewart as though in a dream.

“I first started collecting shells right after I moved here,” said the 14-year resident. “One day, I woke up and decided, I have all these shells, why don’t I put my art on them?”

And so Sarah’s Reef was formed and the Santa Rosa Beach artist began the process of enhancing the shells with a secret-recipe stain. Sarah’s Reef quickly grew to be more than a hobby for Stewart, and gave her a way of coping in the wake of a divorce.

“The idea came at the right time for me,” said the mother of three. Selling the shells helped her “bridge the gap financially,” as well as give her a “link to the outside world.”

“Some are just fun,” she said. Others, she added, are more divinely inspired, as if “God is inspiring me to share a message.”

As it turns out, others felt that way too. People connected with a simple saying or word of encouragement on a shell. They would approach Stewart to tell her: “I found the perfect shell for what I’m going through.”

Some of her pieces carry uplifting phrases, or simple reminders to “Live, Love, Laugh.” Some are vibrantly eye-catching and some are playfully whimsical. They come in a rainbow of colors and patterns on a variety of shells and shell fragments.

For the artist, the shells don’t have to be flawless to carry her designs. In fact, she loves to breathe “new life” into broken or marred shells, which could stand as a metaphor for her own existence.

“They don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful and interesting,” she said, pointing to lessons in the power of positivity she has learned firsthand, that no matter how defeated one feels, the right outlook can help one “keep on going.”

Stewart also shares her message of healing in other mediums, using acrylics for serene, quiet paintings and poetry to paint a different kind of word picture.

Stewart’s artistic aplomb was not cultivated in art school; she comes by it naturally. Stewart has art in her blood, with a father who is a large-scale muralist and painter, and a grandfather who was a sought-after cartoonist. She has also passed on the artistic gene to her children, who all draw. Her eldest child makes hand-printed T-shirts sold under the moniker “Logan’s Workshop.”

Stewart has no trouble staying busy, with her children and artistic endeavors, but to add to her bustling schedule, she recently received her real estate license and the registered nurse will use her income to complete her current studies to become a nurse practioner or physician’s assistant.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she said with a smile.

Sarah’s Reef shells are available at The Studio Gallery at The Shops of Grayton, at Hello Sunshine at Grand Boulevard, at Nuance Living in Seagrove and at Quincy Art & Toys in Seaside. For more information, Like Sarah’s Reef on Facebook or email

Stewart can be commissioned for work, but loves it when work from her heart resonates with others.

“My favorite thing is just to paint what I’m feeling and just have someone buy it,” she said.