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Shela Yu | Local AZ Artist | Interview

When my friend Dorian and I were in Phoenix in January, one of my favorite things we did there was venture to the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market. Dorian and I left the market and walked down the street looking for a restaurant to grab a bite at, and we happened into another smaller market on the side of the street, which is where I met local artist Shela Yu. I was absolutely enamored with her artwork and her vibe, and ended up purchasing one of her “We Are All Connected” prints, which I now have hanging in my witchy plant lady sunroom. I wanted to do an interview with Shela because I loved her work… and I think you will too.

Shela Yu

Shela, I ran into you and your work right outside the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market and just loved what you do… I bought a print for myself to take home and am so excited to hang it. First, can you introduce us to yourself and your work?

Hi everyone, my name is Shela Yu. I am a full-time artist and a 1st generation Chinese American, born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. It was really the pandemic and sitting at home in quarantine that jump started my full-time art career. Prior to that, I was a massage therapist for 10 years. I owned a massage business called Lazuli Healing where I also led women’s drum circles, which I ultimately shut down because of the pandemic and shift in career focus. This new chapter of my life will be the first time I give myself permission as an adult to dedicate my time to creative practices. It is truly a liberating feeling that I am very fortunate to nurture.

How did you get started as an artist, and what is your process?

Growing up, I was heavily involved in the arts. I played piano, sang in choir, played clarinet in band, and was active in dance, theater, and visual arts. By being inundated with so many creative outlets, I jokingly like to tell people that I am good at a lot of creative things because I am incredibly good at self soothing. I truly believe that a healthy dose of creative expression coupled with traditional therapy helps a great deal with mental health having personally overcome a long history of depression and PTSD.

As far as my process goes, each piece is a little different. Sometimes an image pops into my head and I sketch it out and it’s ready to go. Other times, the idea begins more as a feeling, and the process feels more like a dance with imagery that refines and reveals itself bit by bit over time. Something I do as a creative release is fill up sketch books with free thought drawings. Similar to a writer or poet writing with a stream of consciousness, I often draw with the same sensibility to loosen my mind and connect my feelings with my hands to paper. Every now and again, I revisit these free thought drawings and turn a few of them into complete pieces. I do all my refining digitally either on my iPad or in Adobe Illustrator.

Shela Yu

How would you describe your work and what it means to you?

In many ways, my work is a view from the other side of hardship. As I mentioned earlier, I have overcome some of my hardest struggles. Thus, I want to create work that offers peace and solace for those who need some light or for those who have also overcome their pains to be reminded of the joy they now possess. As an Asian American, it is also important for my work to offer representation for my community because we are still under represented in mainstream media. A few years ago I finally started to embrace my face and realized I had not been drawing Asian faces in my work. So by drawing faces that look like mine into my work it has become a statement of belonging when for so many years I felt that I did not belong anywhere.

The final components of my work are that of feminine empowerment and spirituality. I paint and draw mostly women in my work because I want to give voice to the often voiceless. I want to show the female form as both fluid and strong, graceful and powerful. Ultimately, spirituality is woven into each of my pieces because I believe it is vital that we are reminded of our collective humanity. My use of ‘third-eye’ imagery is intended to activate society to higher awareness that begins within.

Can you tell me about any exciting projects you’re working on (I just saw you doing a huge mural on your Instagram page!)?

I have quite a few projects in the works. I am designing a zine of poetry and art that looks back on poems I had written a decade ago, which will be entitled ‘My Past Life Pass Times’. I consider it a chance to commune with my younger self through visual art. I recently completed a large mural at a residential home in the Willo Historic District in Midtown Phoenix where I pushed the boundaries of my style by creating something more colorful and detailed than that of my previous work. My next mural project will be inside the Tempe Youth Library with an installation and outreach component that involves work created with local youth. In addition, I am working on a collaboration mural with my dear friend and inspiring artist, Blaise Danio at the Pemberton inside the new Fever Dream coffee spot. She and I are also developing a business together where we really emphasize giving voice to female artists both locally and abroad. Needless to say, there are many exciting projects in the works!

Shela Yu

Are you a cannabis user, and what is your favorite way to consume?

I am an occasional cannabis user. I take edibles for pain when I have really bad periods, which help immensely. I also particularly enjoy a homemade spliff of cannabis, lavender, and damiana. It is a smooth and relaxing experience that I highly recommend.

How can people find you to buy your work and support you? (Upcoming events, online, your instagram, FB, website etc)

Currently, I have prints and stickers available at Gather inside the Churchill in Phoenix and stickers are also available at Wasted Ink Zine Distro and at Fever Dream Coffee. You can also find me at the Churchill most Saturdays from 11am-3pm for Sidewalk Saturdays along with other great local makers. I also sell my work Sundays at the Jobot Coffee Sunday Makers Market from 11am-4pm. Find me on instagram @shellshaker to stay posted as I launch my new online store, which is currently under construction. For now, feel free to DM me on instagram for any mural or print inquiries.


The Cannabis Cactus Magazine has more great interviews.


Heidi Keyes

Heidi Keyes is the Founder of Puff, Pass & Paint, and Co-Founder & President of Cannabis Tours. Heidi writes about her experiences, sharing her advice, travel tips, and wisdom in Puff, Pass Ponder.



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