The “Night Visions” of Paint Pens Collective

0 Comments 14 June 2013

Profile on artist Shayna Yasuhara and the urban art group Paint Pens Collective.

By Daniel Barron

It was only supposed to be a one-time thing.  Still a student at Boston’s Northeastern University, illustrator Shayna Yasuhara personally organized and curated her first gallery exhibition in 2008.  The show, “Paint Pens in Purses,” was designed as a way to bring together the finest female artists in the city.  In the five years since, Pen Pens in Purses has evolved into a wide network of women artists rooted in the urban and lowbrow movement.  Its influence has pollinated to New York and San Francisco and is ever growing, attracting such high profile sponsors as Scion, Adidas, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Now the group has expanded its ranks to include men and rebranded itself Paint Pens Collective.  The Collective’s latest exhibition, “Night Visions,” opens Friday June 14th at the Big Umbrella Studios in San Francisco.  The first boys-allowed show will feature the work of fifteen artists including: Chelsea Brown, Crystal Gonzalez, Kellen Breen, Harrison Love, Lauren YS, Lizzy Layne, Marina Loeb, Mary Syring, Michael Kerbow, Rick Kitagawa, Sara Jennison, Shayna Why, Spencer Mann, Tofusquirrel, and Yasuhara, herself.


Shayna Yasuhara photo

Paint Pens Collective founder Shayna Yasuhara. Photo by Sam Arroyo.

Can you talk a little about your background in the arts?

I am a self-trained artist and have been curating art shows for about five years. I did not go to art school; instead I learn things through other people, the internet, and good old trial-and-error. I have done collections of stencil projects, paintings on wood, and currently I am revisiting my love of collage and adding in characters and themes from my paintings.

Art by Shayna Yasuhara

You founded Paint Pens in Purses in 2008.  What led to its creation?

Paint Pens in Purses was started as a one-off show back in 2008. I had started the collective in Boston, where there was a great need for more art shows. When I moved to San Francisco I was able to continue to expand the collective to where it is now on a national level. Everything sort of naturally grew and expanded. One of the most rewarding aspects of the collective is that I can give deserving artists some recognition and create an art community that excites people and that is not driven by money.

About how many artists have become part of the collective or featured in your shows?

Through art shows, events, and our online Featured Artist series I have worked with over a hundred artists; both male and female. While the collective had started as a “female art collective” I have included a lot of male artists in the shows we host. I try to look far and wide for our artists. One of my favorite things is to find someone relatively unknown that  has amazing talent. For our Featured Artist series I have included artists from a large number of major city in the US, Lithuania, Canada, and parts of Europe. 

Paint Pens in Purses Best of Boston

Voted Best Artists of Boston!

What criteria goes into accepting members?  Is there a special quality or tone that marks a Paint Pens member?

There really aren’t any set members, per say. I try to find artists of all mediums and have an impartial eye. However, I think if you look at the website, it becomes sort of clear there is a sort dark and whimsical styles that I particularly enjoy.

 As a curator, I am so thankful for reliable artists. I am always looking for others that want to get involved in the collective. There are certain artists that have sort of become “go-to girls”, including; Tofusquirrel (Boston), Alison Bamcat (Boston), Ali Jersey (Brooklyn), MyKim Dang (Boston), Chelsea Brown (SF), and Crystal Gonzalez (SF).

How can others get involved with Paint Pens Collective?

We want everyone to be involved!

If you are an artist and would like to participate you can send an email via our Facebook page. If you are an art supporter and would like to support you can give a donation here. (We do not believe in the “pay to play” system and never charge for memberships or artists to participate in shows. We really rely on bartering and donations.)

We will also have a limited edition Paint Pens Collective totes, designed by Tofusquirrel, which will be on sale at the opening and online.

Paint Pens in Purses tote bag

What was the intention or theme, if any, for Night Visions? 

“Night Visions” is a show that covers the spectrum of dreams, nocturnal animals, monsters, and people of the night.

Where would you like to show next?  How would you like to expand Paint Pens Collective?

I have plenty of ideas for upcoming shows but I don’t want to give away too much yet! To hear more about upcoming project follow on the Paint Pens Collective Facebook page.

shayna yasuhara art

shayna yasuhara art

shayna yasuhara art

A few words from artists featured in “Night Visions”….



Chelsea Brown art for Paint Pens in Purses

Where did the fascination with Native American and indigenous peoples originate?  It’s such a central theme to your art.

I’ve always had an interest in indigenous cultures. While my fascination has to do with the richness, complexity,  and seemingly more centered, balanced, and thoughtful outlook on life that many native cultures seem to have, I am also very much obsessed with warrior culture. It’s the fiery self-confidence, resolve, and purpose on behalf of one’s people that really interests me — and in many indigenous cultures these qualities are paramount. I also love digging up instances like these when they involve women. I’ve found a number of women who led war parties, headed fierce raids, became Chiefs, and made it to the pages of history. Very inspiring stuff.
Chelsea Brown art
Is there something about those subjects that you relate to?
In terms of relating to these subjects, I love to the idea of being a powerful individual. So much today is based on the power of the masses; safety in numbers, homogeneous feelings of fitting in. However, when it comes to warrior culture, many times it’s about the individual and their personal strengths, determinations and abilities. Basically, it is necessary to embark on your own singular journey and to find your strengths to conquer your enemies. I’m also big on revenge, and sometimes much of warrior culture is powered by revenge and getting even on behalf of a greater cause. While revenge/getting even may not be the most accepted endeavor, I find it extremely interesting and it gets me fired up.
Chelsea Brown art
Do you use a lot of reference material or are a lot of your designs based on your memories of certain tribes?
I love research, and much of what I learn informs the work that I produce. I’ve worked many historical figures into my artwork. To name a few badass ladies: Pine Leaf/Woman Chief (Absaroka/Crow Tribe Chief) , Running Eagle (Blackfoot Tribe Brave), Alfhild (legendary Norse leader), and Tomoe Gozen (female Samurai). The more research-based material the better – I love using actual figures/histories using them to inform the direction of my work.


Chelsea Brown art



Rick Kitagawa painting


Rick Kitagawa painting


Rick Kitagawa painting

There’s a real sinister quality to your art.  Where do you like to draw inspiration from?

Regarding the sinister/dark/creeptastic quality to my work, I really pull my inspiration from a lot of different sources.  I’m obviously a big fan of horror films, and I’m greatly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Mike Mignola.  I also pull in a lot from science (I actually have a biology degree) and there is no shortage of weird animals out there to inspire creature designs.  Additionally, when I’m working on my short stories, I often turns to folktales and fables to see where I can take them, or I scan the HuffPo Crime section.



Lauren YS art


Lauren YS art


Lauren YS art


Lauren YS art



Tofusquirrel art

 Your work has become particularly emblematic of the Paint Pens in Collective style and tone. What does being a part of the group mean to you?

As a female artist, it means the world to be a part of Paint Pens Collective. All of the Paint Pens Collective art shows that I have been included in have been a huge success.


Tofusquirrel art

You enjoy volunteering at local elementary school art programs. Who our what were some formative inspirations for you?

I volunteer because I love motivating and encouraging children to use their imagination.  Everything I’ve ever loved throughout my life has been inspirational to my artwork.


Tofusquirrel art

 Are you closely collaborative with Shayna in developing artwork for her shows or does she encourage you to do what you want?

She encourages me to submit anything I see fit. Recently, she had an ice cream girl themed show and I specially created a series of new pieces for it.

Tofusquirrel art

 Any reason you prefer markers and pens over other mediums?

I enjoy using markers and pens because they’re portable and I love drawing at cafes and at the park.



Mary Syring art

 Your work seems very much inspired by the classical children’s book illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Joh Tenniel.  What are some of the biggest influences on your style?

Arthur Rackham is a huge inspiration of mine, his work is what convinced me to try out my hand in ink/watercolor back in college, before that I thought I wanted to do digital illustration. He changed my complete outlook on art, I’d probably be on a completely different career path if it weren’t for him. Another huge inspiration is Alphonse Mucha, art nouveau in general is one of my favorite styles, it has such a warm, inviting flow to it.


Mary Syring art

 Your work embraces nature, but it also seems very concerned with the grotesque.  Can you elaborate on that a little?

I love to incorporate nature, animals, and symbolism in my work, and yes, everything I do has some sort of creepy/dark undertone hidden throughout it. I love studying life cycles, and ever since I was a child I much more preferred the ghoulish fairy tales to the generic bubbly ones. Which is why I feel I love to integrate both subjects in my work now. If it’s not slightly eerie, it’s just no fun for me.


Mary Syring art


Mary Syring art



Kellen Breen art

How did you interpret the theme of the show?

Fortunately, Shayna reached out to me with the intent of using this particular painting (The Beer Pong Painting, oil on canvas, 56x72in – see above) for the show.  Otherwise, I most likely wouldn’t have been able to participate (my paintings usually take 4-6 months to complete).  I think the painting fits well with the “Night Visions” theme, though.  It’s most obviously a night scene, but with all the psychedelic, saturated and electric colors that can come out of the dark. There are also human behavioral changes that take place at night that can add a lot of character to a story, especially when drugs and alcohol are present (as were many of my experiences were like in college, which the painting is based on).


Kellen Breen art

What are some recurring themes in your work?
I only started painting recently when I took a class my last semester of college in 2008.  Back then, I was painting things that inspired me, mostly music related imagery: bands and jam sessions, etc.  After college, I went traveling around the world for a year and when I returned, I gained a lot of perspective on the way I had been living and the way western society, the USA in particular, operates in the world.  Since then, I’ve often felt like an outsider looking in at our society.  I’ve become more and more aware of the absurdity in which we often act and live.  Now most of my paintings attempt to address these perspectives.  I’ve noticed, though, how humor has become an important tool to make these perspectives more accessible to people.  In all, accessibility is the most prevalent theme in my work. I want people to be involved in my painting.  The various elements from the point of view perspective, detailed composition, bizarre imagery, contrast and vibrant colors all add up to a recipe for people to get feel some self-awareness, and possibly take something away from the experience.

Kellen Breen art


Kellen Breen art


View more artwork and learn about Featured Artists on the Paint Pens Collective website.

Follow Paint Pens Collective on Twitter at @paintpenssf.

Follow Shayna Yasuhara Instagram at @shaynaface and search #PaintPensCollective.


paint pens collective

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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