The story behind “The Conservator versus life” by Shellie Cleaver

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Copyright Shelley Cleaver

If you inhabit the realms of social media and are part of online conservation/preservation groups chances are you have come across a comic strip call The Conservator Versus Life. The comic, exploring the world through the eyes of conservators, caught NiC’s attention some time ago and has since delighted us with its fresh brand of humour and wit.
NiC caught up with the author Shellie Cleaver and asked her to share the story behind the idea and a few strips.

“I had just completed the first of two years study at Melbourne University in Australia, to become a conservator. It was the summer holidays and for some time, I had found aspects of conservation and how it related to life quite humorous, and had wondered about creating comics based on it.
On the first of January 2013, inspired by a friend’s son who had been regularly creating comics and posting them on his blog, I began. Using very simple graphics for the comics, I started a Facebook page and a blog and committed to regularly posting.
Initially I wanted to test the idea out and remain anonymous, as I had no idea how it would be received; it was a fine line between getting the word out about the comic, and not letting on that I was the author. It started with my university friends and somehow, in a year it had reached 1000 likes on Facebook, with people from all over the world following it.
Currently I try to post two comics a week that highlight the quirks particular to conservators. I try to make them accessible for those outside the industry, so they can learn something about what conservators do.
Some of the comics betrayed the fact that the author of The Conservator was part of our university group, as they made reference to things that had recently happened in our classes. Word started to spread, peo¬ple began asking who it was, guessing and even placing bets, or so I was told. I was even asked directly, and had to deny it - this was particularly difficult given my inability to lie!
My university friends also created a poll so people could vote on who they thought the author was and I was on the list. Luckily for me there was another student who was considered more likely…
At the end of the final year of study, I had to work out how to reveal my identity. I wanted to fess up to my university friends as the comic had provided some fun and distraction for us, and their requests for The Conservator to reveal themselves were mounting. I confided in a friend from university, asking for her help to devise a plan. In my final thesis presentation, I alluded to the fact I was The Conservator, some people did ‘get it’ but it was too subtle for most. In the end, I just had to tell some of my classmates, and the word spread.

Creating the comic strip has now become a regular part of my weekly routine and I am always listening out for comments from conservators that I could use in a comic.
After one year of creating these simple comics, over 100 of them were compiled into a small printed book.”

The book is available from:
You can visit the Conservator Versus Life on Facebook at
or bookmark the author’s blog on

Shellie Cleaver came to the conservation industry from Sydney, Australia, with a background in Fine Arts. Having furthered her education in small business management, she moved to Melbourne and completed a postgraduate qualification, becoming a painting conservator in December 2013. Upon graduating Shellie lead the creation of the new international conservation magazine, The Condition Report, which aims to connect the conservation industry with artists, other museums professionals and the general public -