About Shay Niimi Wahl

About the Artist

Hi, I’m Shay! Here is a little bit about me.

The once-thriving sugar plantation town of Paauilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is where I grew up with three brothers and a sister. Except for my first years in Honolulu, it was country upbringing that made me aware of the beauty and diversity of the island that I tried to copy in drawings and simple paintings. I attended Kindergarten through ninth grade at Pa’auilo Elementary and Intermediate School and high school at Saint Joseph High School in Hilo. My first art teachers were my parents. It was my mother who made sure I always had a supply of crayons and coloring books. She showed me how to draw flowers, animals and paper dolls. My father co-owned an Oriental art store in Honolulu and I awed at the paintings from Japan. My mother’s love for flowers and my father’s respect for nature still live in me, along with a carefree country lifestyle.

At Chapman University in California I double-majored in International Studies and Sociology. I loved learning the cultural aspects of various nations, their differences and similarities, especially their art and how it played significant roles in their respective culture. My independent study focused on the Ainu culture/people in Japan, which led me to appreciate other Asian cultures, especially China. Little did I know then, that I would later fall in love with and paint in traditional Chinese styles, and along with western influences, become one of the starting neo-gongbi painters, as told to me, in America.

I returned to Hawaii and into public education. During the Master’s in Education program at Heritage University I did a brief experimental study on how art education affects student learning in the elementary grades. There was no scientific evidence to support my hypotheses, that art would lead to higher math scores, but by observation it was clear to me that students were happier learners with art, and so, I integrated it into the classroom as much as possible. I believe that expressing ourselves in artistic ways opens us up to greater appreciation of the world around us. It was a satisfying teaching career. I’m thankful.

Upon retirement from the 28-year career in education, I began life as a full-time artist, a dream come true! I painted to my heart’s content and still do. What I hadn’t expected in retirement was to make many new friends and resume teaching, this time as an art teacher to adults, for the following twelve years. I hope I’ve left many with a love for painting, with watercolors or otherwise, and a method to get started and continue on as artists on their own. A delightful surprise I encountered during this time with the adult learners is that they enjoyed learning in the way I taught in the elementary grades. I still smile over this with fondness and am so very grateful for their openness.

Our beautiful island surroundings never cease to inspire me to worship their Creator by way of a brush and a rainbow of colors. I paint mainly with watercolors on silk and paper, often with sumi ink and acrylic paints too as highlights, always beginning with the traditional Asian method of gongbi, which is a meticulous detailed style of painting originated in early China. I like to include strokes of the spontaneous style of Chinese painting, xieyi, because it gives energy to the refined gongbi character, resulting in a painting with a combination of styles and also a combined flavor of the east and west, the way it’s like to live in Hawaii, known as the melting pot of the Pacific where many cultures meet and mix and share Hawaii’s aloha. My paintings are an expression of that aloha and a deep appreciation of the boundless beauty found in nature. I strive to paint that spirit.

I live in Waikoloa Village on Hawaii Island with my happily retired and supportive husband and our sweet Border Collie, Hoku. I have a grown son who makes me happy by visiting often. I paint in a very small studio in our home. It is my happy place. I’m mostly inspired to paint the diverse flora found in Hawaii, native to or tropical. They are all consumingly beautiful to me. My sumi ink paintings are also mainly of flowers and plants, as well as imagined or actual landscapes. There are times that I have the notion to do a dozen paintings at once. Of course, that doesn’t happen, but I do paint a lot, especially now that my time is fully devoted to my own art. This website is a portfolio of my paintings. I hope you enjoy it.

Many of my paintings are in local galleries. Please visit Harbor Gallery located in Kawaihae, the Gallery of Great Things in Waimea and Banyan Gallery in Hilo. Prints are also available at the Gallery at Bamboo in Hawi and Kilauea Kreations in Volcano.

Thank you for visiting!