Salty Hands

For Ashley Hanson, every part of the ocean has its own beauty.

From the crashing waves and gritty sand to shells and sand dollars on the beach, the coast is a constant source of inspiration for the burgeoning Weymouth artist and her new small business, Salty Hands.

“It’s almost like they have a little bit of a personality,” Hanson said of the oysters and seashells she paints for her business. “The gold and the pattern takes that ordinary shell – which is already beautiful – and takes it to that fabulous level.” 

Salty Hands was born last fall, months after a lockdown-driven spurt of summer creativity found Hanson and her nieces painting shells they found on the beach near their family’s Maine vacation home. After one day of painting, they put a stand at the end of the driveway and sold colorful seashells for $3. 

“They (Hanson’s nieces) were so excited to make $30 that day and then I started doing it on my own. I fell in love with oysters and started an Instagram and it just kind of took off from there,” Hanson said. 

In November, Hanson launched an online shop for her painted and decoupaged oyster shells, most of which she turns into ring dishes. Later that month, Hanson donated several oyster shell Christmas ornaments to be raffle items at the virtual Quincy Square Winter Market, and her pieces caught quite a following. 

These days, it’s not uncommon for her to sell a dozen or more oysters in a week and she works with clients to customize patterns to fit their needs. She has also teamed up with North Dartmouth-based calligrapher Canterbury Ink to inscribe her pieces with names and well wishes. 

“I feel like I’ve been crafty always. I really enjoy it and I spent time as a wedding planner,” Hanson said. “I enjoy customizing things and I love a theme. … This is the first time I’ve really taken a creative hobby to the level of a business.” 

The oysters and other items sold through Salty Hands are either hand-painted or done via decoupage – the processes of transferring a pattern from one item, like a napkin or tissue paper, to another. Each is then given a gold leaf border to clean up the edges and add a little bit of shine. 

It takes layers and layers of paint, glaze, hodge-podge glue and other materials to make an oyster, each of which is hand-painted and has to dry before another layer can be added on. It can take a day or more to make a batch.

“After I buy all of my supplies, it’s not like I’m making a ton of money, it’s more of a creative outlet for me,” said Hanson, who works full time with the nonprofit Greg Hill Foundation. “Especially since I went from that event planning lifestyle to more office work, it’s been really nice to have that again.”

In the months since she launched her business, Hanson has sold oysters as Christmas ornaments and wedding place cards, and she’s working to develop a bridal line. She says her items have been given as Mothers Day and engagement gifts, and are perfect for “anyone who loves the ocean.”

“Every time someone orders from me, I hand pick that shell and make sure every item is something I’d want to receive,” she said. “I get excited every time I package up something in my little box and send it off. Even though they’re purchasing an item from me, it feels like I’m giving them a gift and it has to be something I’m proud of.”

Hanson’s work is available in her Etsy shop, Salty Hands. Ornaments are $16, small ring dishes are $18 and large dishes are $20 to $22. 

The Salty Hands Etsy shop will be on hold for 28 days starting Monday, June 7, as Hanson takes off on a 270-mile walk across the state. She and two friends are walking from the New York border to Provincetown, a journey called She Walks MA, to benefit the Greg Hill Foundation.

Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.

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