in partnership
(Image courtesy of Karisa Keasey)

Artist of the Week: Karisa Keasey

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!

Seattle Refined: How long have you been creating? Do you work with other mediums?
Karisa Keasey: When I was a toddler, my mother taught elementary art classes. She would place me in a make-shift blanket fort with a random collection of art supplies. Kids would try to lure me out by offering me food, but they would only see a tiny, grabby hand creep out before quickly retreating with the bounty. From then on, art became a release for me. Painting gave me a way to express myself when I didn’t have words. Eventually this led me to study studio arts at George Fox University after I graduated high school. Throughout the years I have explored and enjoyed many mediums, from watercolor and acrylics to charcoal and pastels.

Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work in it?
For my book “When You Can’t Go Home”, I started by interviewing and spending time with the people I wanted to paint and write about in order to get a feel of who they really are. While I interviewed, my photographer (Natalie Malis) took photos while I gave artistic direction. I then take those photographs and scribble numerous thumb nail sketches until I come up with a master plan that I feel tells the person’s story best. After penciling in the image, I start with a wet on wet technique for the background, being loose with the paint and letting drips fall where they will. As the painting evolves and the layers build, I become tighter and tighter in my brush strokes until the final details are dry-brushed. I love the contrast of a loose, abstract background against a realist foreground.

Tell us where the inspiration for your art comes from.
As far as concept, I am inspired by people’s stories. I find meaning in amplifying voices of people who have been marginalized, misunderstood, or oppressed. What keeps me going is getting to learn and be humbled by the people I paint, and then share that knowledge and experience with others. Art can be a huge catalyst for social change. For Image and technique, I have always been drawn to the raw and intimate moments depicted in Edward Hopper’s scenes. I also enjoy the play of light and movement expressed in his brush strokes.

Do you have a specific “beat” you like best—Nature, food, profiles, etc?
Portraiture and figural. I’ve done a LOT of portraits for my book lately, but really want to get back into the full figure soon. I feel a freedom and hope when I draw the human body. In a culture that often demoralizes and sexualizes our bodies, I want to be a part of reclaiming the beauty and respect our bodies deserve and were created for. Lately I have really enjoyed drawing pregnant mothers and capturing the beauty of bearing life. I’d love to do more of this.

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
One of my favorite pieces currently is a large watercolor titled “Durga”. It’s the one on the cover of my book. Not only was it fun to paint (I LOVE painting wrinkles) but, I was also inspired by the woman in the painting. She is a refugee from Bhutan. She raised all her children in a refugee camp for 20 years and recently came to America. Her braid represents her resilience and freedom. She refused to cut it and convert when the Bhutanese government pressured her to assimilate to the national religion. I want to have the courage and resilience that Durga has.

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
In my senior year of college, I skipped the first few weeks of my last semester to spend time at an orphanage in India. They had few ways to raise funds because they were an “underground” non-profit that rescued children from the red-light district. I worked like a journalist would and listened to their story, asked what they needed, and figured out how to translate those things onto canvas, raising awareness and funds for them. I really don’t have words for how humbling and meaningful my time was there. The care-givers, children, and culture impacted me more than I could ever impact them. It was the first time I saw the power that art can have to transverse lingual and cultural barriers, and make a difference. I’ve been addicted ever since.

If we want to see more of your work where should we go to find it?
You can order my book or download a free chapter on my web site For updates on behind the scenes looks, shows, and current projects, follow my Instagram @karisakeaseyart.

What is next for you? Anything you are working on right now that you are really excited about?
I just released my book “When You Can’t Go Home: Portraits of Refugees in the Pacific Northwest”. After two years of writing and painting in the studio, I am excited to show this project. I am donating 50% of the profit from each book to World Relief to support their efforts in resettling refugees. We have several events scheduled and are eager to book more!

Lastly, how do you take your coffee?
I WISH I could have coffee. Instead, like a five-year-old, I get Raspberry and Vanilla flavoring in steamed soy milk.