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Artist fuses paintings with playful quality

Yao’s art featured at Vancouver’s Shiny Fuzzy Muddy show this weekend
Night Canoe, by Lan Yao. Her paintings will be on display this Saturday and Sunday at the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy show at Heritage Hall in Vancouver.

Squamish’s Lan Yao never really found the opportunity to produce art on her own time when she worked in 3D animation in Vancouver. 

But, in recent years since moving to the community, Yao has slowed down and taken odd jobs so that she can resume her creative work.

Even though she admits she takes a long time on her artwork, she has been productive, especially over the last three years, although this year has brought a change.

“This year is the first year I’ve been able to paint full time,” she says.

This weekend, she will be taking part in a Vancouver event from collective Shiny Fuzzy Muddy at Heritage Hall, not far from where she used to live.

This will mark her first time in the event, which she heard about through local jewellery maker Caroline Miller, who is also taking part in Shiny Fuzzy Muddy.

Yao was born in China but moved to Vancouver with her family when she was 10. She was always interested in art, but her talent was fostered when her mother enrolled her in traditional Chinese watercolour classes.

As an adult, she attended Emily Carr University to study art further before moving into 3D animation as a career after studying at the Vancouver Film School.

She wanted to return to her love of painting, though, and found a life in Squamish that encouraged this. An avid climber, she says she will often go outside to look for inspiration.

“I’m really inspired by nature,” she says. “Everything is inspired by nature.”

Her immediate surroundings in the Sea to Sky Corridor play an important part.

“Living in Squamish, it really inspires me,” she says. “Whenever I get stuck, I go for a run or a walk.”

She fuses her work with a whimsical quality, often mixing layers of natural images of trees and leaves with creatures that have inspired her since her younger days.

“I like keeping my work quite playful,” she says. “I just kind of get lost.”

The layering process not only describes the imagery but the process of producing the paintings, which also mixes in ink drawings. She used to use ballpoint pens but switched to an adapted calligraphy pen for the fine detail, which she could not get with a brush.

She also moved into acrylic inks and paints about three years ago. 

Sometimes she starts with a wash of colour and adds the ink, and other times she will start with the ink. Throughout the duration, she may continue to add layers.

“I try not to plan anything,” she says.

For Yao, it’s all a learning process, as she says she is still working on the editing side of her work.

“Sometimes I leave a little too much in,” she says. “I’m still looking for that balance.”

Early next year, Yao is taking on a new project and will begin illustrations for a children’s book.

She has had shows in Squamish and, like Miller, shows her work at the local farmers’ markets throughout the year. 

She will be at the Dec. 17 market at Squamish Elementary.

This weekend she is pleased her work will get some more exposure at Shiny Fuzzy Muddy.

“I just want more people to see my work,” she says.

Shiny Fuzzy Muddy runs Saturday, Dec. 10 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Heritage Hall on 3102 Main St. in Vancouver.