Who Really Is The Artist…

Thank you, Dan Foley, for these great photos of Work in Progress‘ debut event at 2 Blocks of Art last week!

Source: Who Really Is The Artist…


News from the Studio, August 2015

For a better formatted version of my latest news: Click Here.  (http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=8a3896950ee08bf11864f611f&id=43fc39d4bd)

I Moved Into My Own Studio!

Mark Your Calendars: Open Studios will be Saturday, November 7th and Sunday, November 8th.  Come through!

My Studio at Pacific Felt Factory, San Francisco
Incredibly excited about being among the first twelve artists selected in a rigorous application process to move into a brand new, below market-rate art space in the Mission District in San Francisco.  The resident artists include world-class performance artists, architects, installation artists, printmakers, and painters, and I am constantly inspired by each of them every day.
We had a soft grand opening a few weeks ago, which was an enormous success, and I’m really looking forward to having more events here soon.  
Like PFF on FB or click on any of the icons below to check out my current work and find out more about events at our new space! 
Some in progress photos of what’s currently on the easel. Will be updating Instagram and my FB page with new stuff, and will have some new pieces completed by Open Studios. Or just come by and visit if you’re in the neighborhood, I’ll be here!
News and Events:
My Upcoming Live Demos/Workshops

  • Saturday, August 29th: “Exploring Sennelier Soft Pastels” with Cindy Shih, University Art San Jose
  • Saturday, September 12th: “Sennelier Mixed Media” Demonstration, Napa Valley Art Supplies 
  • Saturday, October 14th: Watercolor Gift Card Workshop, Ink.Paper.Plate, Point Reyes
  • Monday, October 19th: Guest Speaker, ART 185 “Art Career and Transfer Portfolio Prep” City College San Francisco Ocean Campus
Marketing for Savoir Faire, Inc.

Started working as an online marketing consultant to Savoir Faire, Importers of Fine Materials for the Arts: Sennelier, Cretacolor, Fabriano, Isabey, Raphael, Awagami, of over 30 years, based in Novato, CA.

Bridging Art and Technology

On Sunday, September 13th, I will host Wiki Day with Katherine Maher, Chief Communication Officer of Wikimedia Foundation, and Elizabeth Addison of Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art at PFF. To learn more about the event or participate, check out the event page for details.

Private Art Consulting 

I have started working as a private art consultant to help place art in private and corporate art collections in San Francisco. Please email me at cindyhshih@gmail.com if you, or anyone you know might be interested in commissioning or buying artwork in the near future, and sign up to receive invites to private receptions to gallery events.

Work In Progress Live!

Introducing… Work in Progress Live! A Bay Area Artist Collective of four teaching artists (from Left: Leah Tumerman, Cindy Shih, Mark Harris, Joshua Coffy) driven to share the process of art making to transform space, inspire creativity and community. Check out our “About” page to learn about our live painting services, and email us at workinprogressliveart@gmail.com to book us for your next non-profit, corporate, or private event. 

Art | Song Salon

Hosting Art | Song Salon: As a way to give back to the community that has given so much to us, Jessica Wan and I founded and host Art | Song Salon quarterly. Art Song Salon, now on its second year, is an intimate, thoughtful salon pairing visual art with live classical performances around a theme and discussion. The last event “Saudade,” was held at Pacific Felt Factory, which was an enormous success. Our next event will most likely be sometime in September or October, but we encourage you to “Like” the Art | Song Salon FB page or sign up on our website to receive an invite to our next salon. 

Demos, Workshops, Classes

Art Demonstrations: Currently working as a demo artist for Savoir Faire, Inc. to represent their brands and provide art demos to Art stores across the Bay Area. This is me looking dorky in front of folks at a watercolor demo at Napa Valley Art Supplies. 
Sennelier Acrylique Demo, Riley Street, San Rafael, CA
Copyright 2015 Cindy Shih Art, All rights reserved.
2830 20th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110You are receiving this email because you’ve either attended an event, or crossed paths with me at some point, or I hope we’ll cross paths again soon. I promise you won’t be spammed, and there will be no more than 2-3 of these updates per year, but if you would rather not receive them, please feel free to update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list. Thank you!
This email was sent to *|EMAIL|*

why did I get this?    unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences


Sent Off Another Commission Today

Sending this commission off today, which took me a few months to create. Commissions always take a lot longer than I anticipate; it involves a lot more back and forth to communicate a shared vision. This piece took some time, because I spent a lot of it understand their story and the emotions behind what they wanted to convey. 


Warrior 18″ x 24″ Oil on Canvas

A long-time friend, (whose name I’ve been asked to withhold, so let’s call her “A”) messaged me via my website and asked me to do a painting for her husband. I hadn’t seen either of them for almost 15 years, and was happy to see that they had gotten married and have a wonderful life together. Social media certainly has its drawbacks, but I’m so grateful for its ability to reconnect me with old friends and it inspires me to see so many people find their own versions of happiness. These friends are no exception: I find myself sharing their ups and downs through Facebook, and it astonishes me that I haven’t seen either of them for almost 15 years, but can still share in all their joys. 

Their Story

I often have trouble finding a tangible purpose for my ability to create, and commissions challenge me to empathize and understand other people. I’m continually surprised and grateful for so many people willing to share such intimate stories of their lives with me, it helps my creative process. Of course, I have also asked A if I could share her story here, so this is printed with her permission.

A’s husband’s story inspired me for various reasons. In the past 10 years, he went the prescribed path into Finance, made enough money to buy his parents a house, then dropped everything to own and run a private Kung Fu school. Battling mental illness in his family and being a primary provider, he decided to join a local police department in Los Angeles as an officer. Being in law enforcement allowed him to live his values as well as provide for his family. Since joining the police force, he has encountered life-threatening situations daily, while being deeply conflicted by those he seeks to fight and those he wants to protect. “A” shared with me her husband’s personal struggle with having to come to terms with news of police brutality, his own family member’s struggles with mental illness, his own personal values, and his devotion to his family and the people he serves. As an introspective, thoughtful person, I couldn’t imagine the daily struggle he goes through to put on his uniform every day while facing such opposition within and outside of himself.

Part of being an artist, I believe, is also being able to step outside of yourself. I’ve had my fair share of negative interactions with the police growing up as a kid in LA: Police officers have applied unnecessary force on my close family members and arrested them on zero charges. I have had my car hit by a police officer, been cited multiple times in a week for going less than 5mph over the speed limit, and have been dismissed by not one, but two trial jury panels for not being “objective enough” to rule against law enforcement. But having these personal beliefs didn’t prevent me from understanding his conflict and empathizing with his choice to stay in police force. Despite all of that, I commend my friend for having the conviction and willingness to put himself in harm’s way every day for all the ugliness that he sees in the world. 

So Friends– this is for you. I wrote these phrases in my sketchbook on a couple sketches when I started your piece: “Broken armor has stood the test of time,” and “we are all imperfect vessels.” These phrases helped me develop imagery around your piece.


In addition to 4-5 sketches not-pictured here, I wrestled with the concept in various ways and took a trip to the Asian Art Museum in order to find out more about the folklore around “Guan Yu,” a legendary Chinese warrior. I did color charts to figure out what colors to use for various metal/bronze/leather objects in blueish light, and tried different compositions in order to find the right balance between symbolism and imagery. 

What resulted was a fragmented, imperfect depiction of an old warrior chest plate, battle-tested and cracked, revealing only a thin blue line; ready for the next fight. It depicts an object used to protect– something tough and built to last, but hides the scars of the person wearing it. The painting itself represents stillness and solitude, a reflection of the path you’ve taken to protect your family and for strangers who you’ve never met.

Thank you, friends, for sharing your story with me and allowing me to be a part of your lives so many years later. I hope to see both of you soon.

Much Love,


Nice People Finish First

I’m a “nice girl.” I know this about myself. I’ve often told that I may be too nice…perhaps too trusting. “Nice guys finish last” is the old trope that men, in particular, like to point out when they don’t get what they want. I have opinions on this (like I do with most things), but I won’t get into all that.  My point is that I am well-aware of all the problems with being a “nice” person.

“…but you’re so nice.”

I’ve struggled with this characteristic of being a nice girl: On one hand, it has given me immeasurable opportunities to connect with people. On the other, it perhaps reflects some of my inherent need to be accepted, to be liked, and to avoid confrontation.  I’ve also been screwed over more times than perhaps I choose to count. The latter doesn’t bode well with me, especially considering the inevitability of stepping on a few toes and hurting feelings in the game of Art. That can be a dissertation in itself: whether or not you can establish a career in Art without competition. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible at the current state of things- blame Capitalism, blame poor taste in Art, blame Canada, blame it all—but I try my best so I can keep going.


As you may know, I’ve recently hit few big milestones in my career in the past few months: landing two great positions with a leading art supplier, Savoir Faire, as a demo artist and a marketing contractor– and being selected to join Pacific Felt Factory as one of the first artists in a brand new,  creative think-tank/community minded artist space in a highly competitive, hostile space/housing market. These are significant achievements for me, mainly because they contribute to three important elements in building my long-term art career:

  • Financial stability
  • A like-minded community of great artists
  • An affordable space to do it in

Oh yeah, and I’m also still teaching the kids. As I said in a previous post, Art is a game of survival, and I’m here to play the long game. In this game, there are no defined rules, no prescribed milestones. You just have to make your own and celebrate them as you see fit. So friends, let’s party!

It Takes a Village

That said, I am enormously proud of these accomplishments because I know I did my part in getting them, but my pats on the back are limited, because, if I am truly honest with myself, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it on my own merit as an artist. Sure, some of my early success as an artist must have played a factor. But if I’m honest, every one of these opportunities trace back to my one characteristic that has also given me pause: being a nice person. The truth is that I have so, so many people to thank in every little success I have– whether it’s a live painting gig, a commission, a salon I host, a show I’m in, or even just a meal I enjoy (Thank you, Carlos. ;)) Although it seems a bit silly to feel so much gratitude for something so insignificant to others, I feel it all the same so I’d like to acknowledge them… because when other artists ask me how I get these opportunities, I can help them connect the dots and hopefully convince them that– despite the risks, nice people win.

On Getting the Studio

1360 Mission

Current studio I share Downtown with Sandra Yagi (www.sandrayagi.com)

I originally wrote about 6 paragraphs about this, but realized it was really TL;DR (too long, didn’t read), so here’s the synopsis: If you buy me a drink I’ll divulge all the details and more. Here’s how it happened:

December 2013: Met Sandra Yagi by chance, after I spoke on “Choice” Panel, a show juried by Catharine Clark of Catharine Clark Gallery, hosted by Arc Gallery.

April 2014: I featured Sandy at “Escapism” at Art Song Salon – the salon Jessica Wan and I host quarterly. I visited Sandy at her studio afterwards, and we chatted about studio prices being exorbitant. A few days later, she asked me if I’d be interested in sharing her studio. I said HELL YES.

June 2014 (?): Not sure exactly when, but I moved into Sandy’s studio on 10th and Mission.

December 2014: Sandy tells me Michael Yochum (from Arc Gallery) has been working with some folks to a huge project in the Mission aimed to provide long-term, affordable studios for SF Artists and a creative space for gallery talks, lectures, workshops, and events for the community. They wanted a diverse group of well-established, gallery-represented artists who were in need of studio space. Sandy jumped on it, so did I.

March 2015: Found out that not only did Sandy get a studio, I qualified for my own space at Pacific Felt Factory as well. I suspect Michael Yochum and Priscilla Otani gunned for me to get the space, along with Sandy, who has worked and been friends with Michael and Priscilla for years.

Brand new studio building under renovation

Brand new studio building under renovation


On Getting the Job


This one was much more straightforward: I met Rick Kitagawa and Eve Skylar while taking a course at City College back in 2010, I think, and we’ve stayed in touch. Rick and Eve are amongst my favorite people, and their pure grit, humility, passion, and hustle has inspired my artistic career. So when Rick referred me to Savoir Faire as a potential demo artist, I was honored. After interviewing with Savoir Faire, I realized I also had a mutual friend to the founders of the company, Deb Cook Shapiro, a fabulous painter in my studio building. I had also been helping Deb with some of her tech stuff, which led her to give me a glowing recommendation to Maureen and Pierre at Savoir Faire, who asked me in for a few interviews and promptly offered me a job as their marketing manager.

Surrounding Myself with Good People

me and the crew at open studios

If that was too much for you to read: Here’s an even shorter version. I acknowledge that I’m a crazy lucky person, so I will never take full credit for my successes. BUT– if I were to take credit, it would be for being able to surround myself with great people who, despite having had their fair share of difficulties, choose to be kind and supportive. When I think about the crazy trajectory that I have taken in the past three years since leaving Google, I can only be grateful to those who have believed in me and helped me get to this position. The rest is up to me, and it will be a long game, but I know one thing: I’ll do my best to succeed, and help others get there too.

02.23.15 – Buffering…

Writing helps me think, and lately I haven’t been able to think a whole lot. Funny, I came into Art as a way to become more deliberate and thoughtful– but I find myself thinking less, and doing more. A lot more, like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. The act of thinking is almost luxurious…now that I’m thinking about it. These days, I have fragmented, incoherent thoughts, so I’ll formulate them into bullet points and/or a list. I might even tack on a catchy link bait title like “She Quit a Dream Job… You Won’t Believe What She Did Next!” Anyway:

  • Cindy Shih, Artist. A few years ago, I cringed every time someone referred to me as “an Artist.” Honestly, I still cringe when I hear that now. I think what I should actually call myself is an “Art Worker” or “a worker who does Art,” because that would probably be more representative of what I do, but that would also mean I’ll have more to explain when people ask me what I do. People seem to be fairly satisfied with the term, “Artist,” so I just leave it at that and try not to be too irritating about it.
  • I celebrated my 33rd birthday nearly two weeks ago, and the thing that struck me the most was how life continues to surprise me. I find that it’s really difficult to take yourself too seriously, when things change and often don’t always make a whole lot of sense when you think about them logically. In the past five years, I’ve scrutinized, examined and uprooted myself from every aspect of my life and turned it upside down. And somehow, it works pretty well too. Go figure.
  • Remember how people say things like, “Don’t work harder… work smarter?” Well, apparently that shit doesn’t work (at all) with Art. Art is humbling, because there are simply no shortcuts. The most successful artists I know work 12-14-hr days in the studio, often to their own detriment. They are relentless bad-asses, and they put me to shame. If I had all the money and hugs to give, I would unquestionably give it to them. Because apparently, paintings don’t paint themselves, and I’m convinced it’s actually impossible to enjoy the entire process of creating any of them. To this point, I find that the better I get, the more work I have to do. I’m not sure why that is, or how that works, but that seems to be the way it goes.
  • Does crazy beget crazy, or does being isolated and alone for hours at a time make you crazy? I’m still trying to figure this one out. I’m putting my bet on the latter, although I’m convinced no sane person would choose this line of work to begin with.
  • To all my personal relationships: Thank you, and I’m sorry. As of this month, I will have three part-time jobs, in addition to being a full-time artist. (This also makes me bad at Math) Fortunately, these jobs are all hard earned, art-related and teach me things, but that doesn’t leave me a whole lot of time for a social life. This concerns me a bit, because my friends mean so much to me, but until I figure out how to balance teaching, hosting Art | Song, art demos, live painting, social media, shows, and commissions– I might not always be as available as I’d like to be. Call me out if you need to, but I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening,


Montara State Beach

For the most part, I enjoy doing commissions. I get approached from time to time to do them (mostly by friends and family), and I find myself having to be fairly choosy when it comes to which ones I want to take. To me, my decisions come down to three criteria: the story, technical challenge, and cost in terms of time and materials.

When the Shelton Family asked me to do this commission back in August, I was first struck by their story. The piece comes from a memory of when they were engaged at Montara State Beach, a beautiful moment situated right before a scary diagnosis that was foreshadowed by a sudden hospital stay in November.

As Jessica recounted her memory of her walk with Kevin down the beach at sunset, she shared this with me (published here with their consent):

He told me to look out over the ocean. He still had pain in his side from the November ER stay, so in order to get down on one knee I could feel his hands progress down my back, then my thigh, then my knee as he supported himself to get down to the sand.

I said Yes immediately and joined him on the sand and we sat and watched the ocean until it was almost dark.  It was nice because no-one knew but us.  He hadn’t told his parents, and hadn’t asked mine, so it was just ours.  

And it was so quiet.  Very insulated.  And we thought that the medical stuff was behind us.  So it was very much time out of mind, if that makes sense.

Very shortly after their engagement, Kevin was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that had spread, making it Stage 4.  He’s now been through 8 rounds of chemo and surgery and, I’m happy to report, the outlook is good.  However, they didn’t know that a year ago. Instead of wedding planning, they had the turbulence of a year flying back and forth across the country to receive treatment, finding laughter and joy wherever, and as often, they could. They embarked on a journey supporting each other through what would be both the scariest times, and some of the happiest times (they got married in April 🙂 in their lives.

I sobbed when I heard their story (yeah, I cry a lot – so what), but I realized what Jessica wanted in the painting, was for it to be an eternalized memory of that fleeting, magical moment… a time without worry, and a moment that was only theirs. Jessica described the scene as having an ethereal pinkish glow… which I assured her was probably something she made up– but I struggled to incorporate it successfully into the painting.

I also struggled with depicting their profoundly moving emotions, but I wanted to encapsulate what Jessica had told me when describing that afternoon on the beach:

…Similar to that space between sleep and waking, where you’re totally relaxed and smiling at something whimsical in your dream that you, now that you think of it … you can’t quite remember … before you wake up and remember the scary truth of what’s going on.  

… a break from the scariness and uncertainty that we thought at the time we’d just overcome, coupled with celebrating our whole life together, just around the bend.

As the scarecrow said, though: I think it’s going to get darker before it gets lighter.

We didn’t know that, then.  And it got a whole helluva lot darker.

Now that we’ve fought through everything this past year, I guess what this painting – or that place – represents to me is a respite.  A break from being scared.  A place where things might be okay – but, more than that, a place where the problems don’t even exist so you don’t have to focus on just not thinking about it.  It’s a world apart.

It’s my red dress from ‘Requiem for a Dream,’  my Jodie Foster moment at the end of ‘Contact. ‘

Thank you, Jessica and Kevin, for letting me be a part of such a special moment in your lives. Thank you, also for referencing “Requiem for a Dream,” which might actually be one of my favorite movies of all time. And Kevin, I sometimes have a hard time expressing in words how happy I am for you both right now, so the best I can do is give my love and care into creating this piece for you. I hope you take care of each other for ever and ever. I’ll be here, too.



18" x 36"  Oil on Canvas  Commissioned by the Shelton Family

18″ x 36″
Oil on Canvas
Commissioned by the Shelton Family

What is Beyond “Awareness?”


“Tear to Mend” (2012) Watercolor Pencil on Paper (c) Cindy Shih

I am Asian (surprise!), which means: I don’t create waves, I don’t stand out, I don’t have emotions. But I went to bed angry last night, and I woke up today feeling profoundly sad. I don’t think I was alone, because if you’re even remotely a thinking person in the world today, you realize what a sad world we live in. But Anger? What good does that do?

I’ve learned to appreciate Anger, because I find it more motivating than Sadness. Depression runs deep in my family, I’ve always known that, so through the years, I’ve found ways to bring myself out of the never-ending spirals of despair and powerlessness. That’s just how my brain is wired, that’s all. But Anger? It’s there. But how the fuck do you use such a raw emotion constructively?

I’ll get to that. But perhaps the saddest thing of all though, is our Cynicism. Scratch that- MY cynicism. Blame it on social media, on fear, on circumstances, whatever it may be– but it’s easier to climb onto my Facebook soapbox and pass judgment on every small gesture, every feeble attempt to build a community, than to put myself out there and do something about it. Ha, that artist brings arts and crafts to the inner city children every weekend? Naive. That dude that writes a poem for everyone on the street? Desperate. “That’s the shit I did in high school,” “how typical,” “that’s so Asian.” Even the self-aware, liberal progressive types are branded as”#Stuffwhitepeoplelike” and makes a mockery of people trying, in their own small way, to bridge the gap between communities and use their own unique strengths to make things just a little bit better.

As an artist, I’m constantly consumed by self-doubt and live in fear of what Amanda Palmer would call, the “fraud police.” Truth is, everyone does. We don’t need each other to tell us how powerless we are, we have the media, our government, and ourselves to do that for us. In short: we’re already vulnerable. Yesterday’s decision made us more vulnerable; it stripped away any illusions that we are protected, we’re naked– and we’re angry. 

What now? We’re encouraged to protest when we’re angry. Protests unite; Protests work to create awareness. But we’re past awareness now. We know shit is fucked up. We’re angry because this isn’t the world we want to live in. We’re angry because we’re vulnerable, we’re angry because we’re powerless.

So what’s past awareness? Social media is a powerful tool, but it can only do so much until the next anger-inducing thing comes along. (There are so many!) It’s also a lazy substitution for meaningful, human connection. What we need now is a collective understanding of our powerlessness, a focus on what we can do to help in our little way: make art, sing a song, volunteer at a soup kitchen, write a letter: free from judgment from others, and fear of being called out as a fraud.

I’m writing this as my personal offering, it’s my attempt to connect: so if you feel the same way, make something, find a way to make a meaningful connection, and help others do the same. If we’re afraid of each others’ judgment, we won’t connect. Now is a time to connect and rebuild, we’ve done enough destroying.

Do something small, something stupid, anything–I won’t pass judgment, and in my own small way, I will help. We have a long fight ahead of us, folks. Nothing we do or say will fix the problem overnight. Little, stupid, small, seemingly inconsequential things to help build the community may be the only chance we’ve got to make a difference. Let’s help make our communities better.