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(Image: Anita Yan Wong)

Artist of the Week: Anita Yan Wong

Seattle might be notorious for niche coffee shops and scenic waterways, but locals know it's also home to an array of people who love to create. This city is chock-full of artists who we love to feature weekly on Seattle Refined! If you have a local artist in mind that you would like to see featured, let us know at And if you're wondering just what constitutes art, that's the beauty of it; it's up to you! See all of our past Artists of the Week in our dedicated section.

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with different mediums?
Anita Yan Wong: I've started learning painting since I was five years old from my teacher, [whose] teacher is Chao Shao-an - one of the most well-known Chinese painters and Pu Hsin-Yu, cousin of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. I continued my art and design studies in Hong Kong, London and the United States and became an art professor after graduate school. In 2015, after over ten years of being a teacher, I decided to leave teaching to pursue my dream of being an artist full-time. I love working and experimenting with different mediums, from water-based paints such as watercolor, Chinese mineral paints, ink to oil-based mediums such as oil and acrylic. I've started exploring with organic materials such as coffee this 2021, inspired by the local cafes in Seattle.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
I can only begin a project when I feel completely inspired by the subject, and currently, the subject that interests me is coffee portraits (painting portraits with a cuppa coffee). I often begin my paintings with research — snapping photos of beautiful objects I've encountered, browsing online/offline materials and visit local museums/galleries or walking a trail in nature during the weekend.

The process of creation is very fast for me — I don't usually outline nor sketch. The process of painting and style is similar to writing calligraphy. I love spilling ink/coffee on paper and finding happy little accidents on paper. The final painting usually takes sometimes between 10-15 mins from start to finish. However, I sometimes make 20 paintings and only be happy with one of them. I like taking a break when I don't see the results. The break is extremely helpful to me. I can never force myself into painting. Having feelings for the subject and picturing the piece of art in my mind before painting is very important to me in the creation process.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from?
My biggest inspiration is Nature. As Claude Monet says, "The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration. I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers." My biggest inspiration in life is my mom, an animal lover, a Chinese language, history teacher and biologist. I am always inspired by the Impressionist painters and the more abstract/freehand style of painters. The new Lingnan Guo Hua style I am developing is inspired by Impressionism for its characteristics in expressive defined brush strokes; movement of the subjects. I'm fascinated by not just the subjects but the dynamic movements of my painting subjects. I am very interested in using fast and expressive strokes that capture the moments. Unlike realist painters, impressionist painters and Asian brush painters are using the medium as an expression of their feelings and viewpoints towards the subject matters rather than an imitation of the realities. I like to create art for art's sake. I don't want to limit myself with what sells or what is trendy. Creating art and being an artist is a luxury to me. I wake up every morning and feel lucky to be alive because I am an artist. As great Salvador Dali said, "Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy — the joy of being Salvador Dalí — and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?"

Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
I am a foodie as much as I am an artist. I think living life as an artist reminds me every day that there is beauty in many aspects of our lives. My favorite thing to do is First Friday gallery events in the city — exploring both local cuisines, meeting creative people and being inspired by the art scenes.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you or is extremely special to you?
I will have to pick Water Lily Pond (1899) Green & Pink Harmony paintings by Claude Monet. It is special to me because I was lost as an artist for a long time and found myself painting again after seeing the Water Lily Pond painting in person during the Monet exhibition in San Francisco.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
Traveling and living my life in different cities affected my art the most. I lived in Beijing, Hong Kong, London and many cities in the United States. It is hard for me to define who I am and where I’m from verbally, but I am able to show my style, who I am and experiences, memories I've collected over the years in my art. As a "contemporary traditional" artist, I try to preserve and add a modern twist to the old art technique, thus making it appealing to both eastern and western viewers.

If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
I am represented by Desta Gallery in California at the moment. I actually had to cancel my solo cat art show this year in California because of coronanvirus. It is a very hard year for artists. I am, however, showing my new creations on my website, Instagram and my new books. If you want to learn Brush painting, you can find me on YouTube Joy Brush Channel here. I have also published two art books on Amazon:

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
I am working on a collection of coffee paintings titled Coffee portraits. I am making portraits with a cuppa morning coffee and using techniques in both Asian art and Western art in these paintings. I am filming the painting process of each portrait and making them into short animations featured on my Instagram/anitayanwong.

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? (We ask everyone!)
What a fun question — I like my coffee, both hot and with ice. I like adding milk and not sugar. I use the leftover coffee as paint in my coffee paintings.