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San Clemente Journal

A Special Kind of Artist, Terry Murphy

Jun 29, 2021 11:11AM ● By Britta Wilder

by Britta Wilder

Local artist Terry Murphy believes in the gift of nature; honoring, designing, working with it. Naturally gifted, the longtime San Clemente resident and former firefighter/medic literally got his start from the ground up, creating beautiful gardens for his Murphy’s Lawnscaping business.
In 2001 he teamed up with his mother, Betty, an accomplished interiors expert,and the duo was busy, designing indoor and outdoor perfection for area clients. Their finishing touch after each project was a gift to the owner: a hand-poured cement tortoise that Terry had crafted from his own unique mold.

Terry delivers to a special customer, Sugar Ray Leonard.


“After one job, my mom told me she thought it might look good with shells on it,” Terry laughed at the memory. “I didn’t think so but I did it anyway–and people went crazy for it.”
Terry’s affinity for art began young, with hours and hours of pencil drawings. This activity later evolved into building from his detailed sketches--waterfalls, mermaids, garden statuary–and incorporating natural elements, like shells, driftwood and sea glass. Client word-of-mouth kept his one-of-a-kind pieces in demand, and soon the custom orders followed.

“Business exploded,” Terry said, “I got contracted for stores--boom–sold out. Then another, and another; my only problem was I couldn’t keep up!”

In 2005 the artist formed a company, Shell Shock, which boasted his signature style of ocean nature embellished onto his cement designs, featuring crosses, mermaids, marine life, and beyond. Then around 2015 a marketing tsunami hit.

“I was walking around town and saw this job site trashing beautiful old windows and told them to stop, I’ll take them!” Terry recalled. “I cleaned them up and they sat at my house for weeks while I was thinking of what to do with them.”

It started with a wave. Shells and sea glass meticulously and beautifully embellished onto a pane to form a crest, then another, and another. Terry rode this wave and expanded his designs as clients requested special orders.

“Customers would come to me and say, ‘Hey, can you do a heart?’ Or ‘Could you make a sign for my store?’” Terry said smiling. “Demand for the windows is huge; I have a big custom order business.”

Some of those custom orders have gone to local businesses around town--The Wickerbee on Avenue Del Mar (which also carries Terry’s merchandise), Sonny’s Pizza (his uncle’s amazing restaurant), The San Clemente Motorcycle Company, and most recently SC Electric Bikes on El Camino Real. 

Terry’s glass-as-canvas art has also attracted numerous auto enthusiasts and dealerships, alike. 
“I’ve been contacted by Harley Davidson, Indian Motorcycles, Aston Martin, Porsche, and Ferrari, as well as receiving custom orders for private clients,” Terry said. “People contact me all the time; I can do any car they want.”

Before Covid struck, Terry had just finished up custom orders for Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong (a big pot leaf in shells), and a huge window for famous retired boxer Sugar Ray Leonard (boxing gloves motif with script).

“It was awesome working with those two,” Terry said. “Then Covid came and shut everything down.”

Retail closed but not the business of being an artist. Terry used this time to catch up on inventory, work on new designs and take a moment for himself. He needed it. What had begun as a cement turtle had evolved into an empire--with shops carrying his work from Santa Barbara to San Diego–and the energetic, charismatic Murphy does it all.

“Once things re-opened I was busier than ever,” Terry said, “and it’s great to see things coming back again.”

The busy artist will definitely make time this summer to catch up with his son, Jacob Murphy, retired Sgt from the Marine Corps. Also important to Terry is his continued commitment to volunteer with Stop Before You Start, a drug and alcohol prevention program his Uncle Danny founded. The traveling series emphasizes early intervention, focusing on positive and effective messaging for schools and colleges, jails and institutions. 

“We tell our stories, offer a way out,” Terry said. “It’s a great opportunity to reach people and really talk to them.”

This nature lover is equally loved around town. Terry’s windows, his artifacts and his distinctive style are reflected throughout San Clemente–as is his family. With friends and relatives everywhere, home is this special place right here.

“I’m grateful to be living here in the most beautiful place on earth!” Terry said. He’s also grateful to his mother, who’s still creating her masterpieces. 

“My mom is amazing!” Terry beamed, paying tribute to his first true teacher. “Betty Murphy basically taught me everything I know!”

Shell Shock designs are featured at The San Clemente Store at The Outlets, San Clemente; The Wickerbee on Del Mar Ave, San Clemente; Bliss in Encinitas; and other locations throughout Southern CA. For details: [email protected] or (949) 350-5587.