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Meet the artist behind Seattle's most colorful murals

24-year-old Stevie Shao creates modern interpretations of historic folk art. #k5evening

SEATTLE — One of Seattle’s emerging artists painted so many murals over the past 18 months, she’s lost count.

"I'm not sure,” said Stevie Shao, laughing. "My memory is really bad because of the pandemic.”

The pandemic is also what jump-started the 24-year-old’s art career.

When the state shut down and businesses boarded up in March of 2020, Shao went out and painted over a large piece of plywood.

The message? “It’s gonna be ok.”

One month later, she was laid off from her day job.

But Shao took the job loss as a blessing in disguise.

"It was a really great excuse to just dive in (to art) full time,” she said.

She received commissions to paint murals across Seattle, collaborated on an installation at the Wing Luke Museum, and worked with Sub Pop to design tote bags and a t-shirt.

Her vibrant pieces are inspired by historic folk art, and mainly focus on the natural world — animals, plants, and sea life.

"We're so removed from the natural world, and I think there's so much we can learn from the way animals work together,” Shao said. "Color is a big thing that draws me to this imagery, and some of that is also based in my Chinese background, growing up and seeing artwork."

The public art is also a love letter to Seattle, where she was born and raised.

"It means everything. I never moved away,” she said. "Something I love about my job is how you can watch people interact with your work, I think it's really special."

She embraces every part of the process: the physicality, working outside, the city noise and foot traffic, and even touching up murals that have been tagged.

"I do love visiting my pieces and kind of seeing how they age,” she said. "The environment, the community and how people interact with the piece adds so much to it. I'm just so grateful to be able to do what I do for work. I really love it."

Shao is available for mural commissions and sells merchandise showcasing her work on a site shared with her sister.

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