What do sailing, painting, writing, and clothes-designing all have in common?
They’re all talents of Marblehead resident Michelle Brown.
While Brown’s main passion is sailing, which she has done since she was a young teenager, she has also started her own clothing line using her paintings and drawings, and she even has plans to write a book.
“I’m not afraid to try anything,” Brown said.
Brown grew up in foster care, which is where she discovered her knack for sailing. Her foster dad owned a HerreshOff America 18 Catboat and would take her on rides to teach her how to sail.
“I always loved that sailboat,” she said.
She continued sailing after college and when she moved to Marblehead, she had been looking for a Catboat exactly like her foster dad’s.
During the pandemic, she came across one for sale in town. She made an offer, and soon after owned a version of the very boat she grew up on.
“I was looking for the 18 because that was the childhood boat,” she said. “That was the fantasy.”
Since then, Brown has become a veteran of sailing up and down the New England coast. From the coastal community of South Dartmouth, Mass., to Bar Harbor, Maine, Brown has participated in a number of sailing trips and competed in races across the region.
In a sport that is typically associated with being an exclusive, male-dominated club, Brown has broken the mold as a woman. Just a few weeks ago, she completed her first independent trip in Padanaram, Mass.
At the Catboat Association in South Dartmouth, Brown was awarded with tiki candles for traveling farther than any other sailor by herself.
“I’m probably the first woman that’s ever done that in the Catboat Association,” Brown said with a chuckle.
Brown said that she is friends with a number of other female sailors in town, but only saw two women out sailing during her entire trip in Maine.
“I would like to see a lot more women sailing,” Brown said, referencing words from a speaker at a winter seminar for women in sailing who encouraged women to “go try things.”
Speaking of breaking stereotypes, she also learned how to become a diesel mechanic just last year.
The boat that she bought was in rough shape cosmetically, but that wasn’t an issue for Brown, who had acquired carpentry skills working on her childhood boat.
“My foster dad always had me doing things, working with power tools, working on the boat. He used to take me to auto body classes when I was like 14 with the car he gave me.”
As far as becoming an artist, Brown said it was another “just try it” moment for her after she was laid off from her corporate position in 2016.
But like her other talents, she picked it up rather quickly, watching instructional YouTube videos and using her prior experience. Brown had dabbled in painting and sketching in her 20s, but decided to seriously pursue it after leaving a brief career in real estate.
Last year, she won the Marblehead Festival of Arts Logo Contest with a signal flag design. At this year’s festival, she saw a number of people wearing her shirt with the logo on it, which she said pleasantly surprised her.
“I was actually really surprised that I won and I was really surprised that no one had done a signal flag logo before,” she said. “It’s a sailing town. It just kind of came to me.”
Brown’s artwork can be seen and purchased through her website, shipyardart.com, which sells fine art, clothing, and home decor. Her “Wearable Art” collection showcases clothing and accessories featuring her original artwork, winning Northshore Magazine’s Best of the North Shore award for yoga apparel in 2021 and 2022.
Sea Salt restaurant also currently features 15 pieces of her artwork that are available for purchase.
On her website, Brown writes that she feels art is a path for her to fully express herself.
“Growing up, I never felt like I fit in or understood who I really was. I put a lot of effort into being the girl everyone wanted me to be, but this just led to me not knowing my true self,” her website reads. “Art not only allows me to express my emotions in a positive way, but it is slowly helping me find myself again and allowing me to become the woman I want to be.”
The next challenge that Brown wants to tackle is becoming an author. She said that she has already sat down and started the beginning stages of writing a book, drawing influence from her experience growing up as a foster child.
She also hopes to grow her art on her website to the point that she is able to do what many would be jealous of: take the summer off.
“The goal is to kind of create a lot in the winter,” Brown said. “If my website was rolling, I could work all winter and sail all summer. That’s kind of where I want to be.”