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(Image: Vinaya Rao)

Artist of the Week: Vinaya Rao

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?
Vinaya Rao: I was fortunate to have been introduced to art at an early age and spent my childhood summers drawing and painting with various career artists back in India. Working with them helped instill in me a sense of wonder for all things creative and a true passion for art. After spending a few years working in human resources, I left my corporate job and decided to become a full-time artist upon our move to Seattle. I've been meandering along this creative journey for 15 years and have been loving it.

Do you work with other mediums?
A medium is to an artist as language is to a writer. I completed several artworks in a multitude of mediums (watercolors, oil pastels, encaustics, acrylics, collage, mixed media) and explored various art forms. I've been mostly working with acrylics for the past few years, but keep experimenting with a variety of techniques and mediums as new techniques learned in one medium are likely to transfer to another, making for more fun and variety. Travel also plays an important role, and I enjoy sketching and dabbling in watercolors along my journeys.

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Can you tell us about your artistic process and how the different stages work into it?
Personally, I believe that abstract art evolves continuously, and I rarely start with a theme, thinking only of colors, shapes, and textures. Each painting begins with several layers of collage and paint, and most times, they lend themselves to an unpredictable journey. It's the lushness of the layers that excites me, and I'm often guided by my vibrant color palette and imagination as I try to create rhythm and energy with a unique balance of color, movement, texture and depth. This is perhaps the hallmark of my work, which allows the viewers to connect with my paintings visually and emotionally.

Tell us about where your inspiration for your art comes from?
My inspiration comes from both my life experiences and the colors and forms found in nature. Inspiration is different for each artist, and mine comes from nature's beautiful and spontaneous display of colors, short strolls, a thought, an image, a conversation, negative spaces, museums, people, objects or from somewhere words cannot reach. There are also many artists that inspire me, some well-known and some who are starting out. The world is a treasure trove of art in all shapes, styles and vibes, and I will say travel inspired me the most. In some places, it's the generosity from strangers, the culture, traditions, and the interplay of human feelings and emotions that influence me and my art in many ways. It's these little things that make me want to create!

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Do you have a specific "beat" you like best – nature, food, profiles, etc.?
I am endlessly inspired by nature, and it's resemblance to abstract art, my works are born out of a desire to create experiences and stories within color. Abstract art allows for a perfect amalgamation of color in unexpected places and keeps me on the path of spontaneous creation. It's this free exploration of line, form and shape that feeds my love for art and keeps everything going!

Do you have one piece of art that means more to you, or is extremely special to you?
Painting brings me a lot of joy, and I would like to spread that joy to as many people as possible. There are many paintings that come to mind, but "Green Dream" is one of my favorite works and was selected for a Kirkland Art Gallery juried exhibit by Michael Monroe, Director Emeritus at Bellevue Art Museum. It's the first in a series of layered colors that signify struggle, perseverance, hope. It is inspired by the millions of people working in the rice fields of southern India, trying to educate their kids and come out of poverty. A work of art carries a sense of feeling and caring on the part of the maker, and I was happy to fulfill it with the "Green Dream."

What experiences in your life have affected your art the most?
There are two primary influences reflected in my art — culture and travel. Growing up, I spent a lot of time watching artists paint live at art workshops, and their interplay of form and color always captivated me. I'm an admirer of Eastern and Western artistic traditions that influence my work, and Seattle being a cultural melting pot provided an environment to mold them in my own making. My art embodies a zest for vibrant colors and textures, with each painting filled with layer upon layer of paint and collective experiences, building a rich history into each painting.

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If we want to see more of your work, where should we go to find it?
My recent works can all be found on Instagram at @vinaya_rao_art. You can also find some of my works for sale on my gallery page.

What is next for you? Anything you're working on right now that you're really excited about?
This response would've been very different if not for our collectively changed circumstances with COVID-19. An artist doesn't paint what they see but what they feel, and that's reflected in my works filled with true colors, optimism, and hope. The world needs connection and healing more than ever, and I'm happy to do my part by donating paintings to help health care workers who are on the front lines of this epidemic. I am also excited to be part of an Artist pledge to support the broader art community. While the future remains uncertain, I'm looking forward to a restart of my canceled art shows and a return to sharing my works in person with the world. I'm ever so grateful for my passion to paint — it never fails me!

Lastly, how do you take your coffee? We ask everyone!
Life is too short not to be enjoying a hot cup of Joe in the morning, and I love Caffè Mocha — hot chocolate with a shot of espresso, topped with whipped cream!