Shayda Safe is a sophomore at the University of Illinois and visual artist from Glencoe, Illinois. After putting art on the backburner throughout middle school and highschool, being stuck inside during the pandemic inspired her to start painting again. From there, she began exploring other mediums and trying out new techniques. Much of her art focuses on faces and human eyes, which she says act as a window into the soul. She likes to explore darker emotions and display a sense of passion in all of her drawings. Recently, she’s been working on realistic portraits and has painted musicians like H.E.R. in watercolor. She will often spend hours, even days, drawing realistic portraits of her friends. Her art is full of emotion and passion.
While she’s been exploring new mediums in the past year, she usually switches between pencil, watercolor, and acrylic. Although most of her training had been informal, she says she prefers it that way. Safe’s art isn’t in just one aesthetic—she works through multiple lenses at a time. Some of her work draws inspiration from the rigid lines of her earlier cartoon drawings, whereas other work has warmer tones, flowy water-colors, and uses broken lines.
Q: When did you first get into art?
A: I started when I was a kid drawing cartoon characters, and it came pretty easy to me. Of course I would mess up, but I liked it, and one of my best friends at the time was doing it too and would encourage me. I didn’t draw consistently anymore as I grew older and got into middle school. I took art lessons here and there, but they never helped for some reason, and I never liked them. Then, when the pandemic started, I took it seriously for the first time again. I actually made progress and I enjoyed it. I would look up YouTube videos of stuff I was interested in doing and the mediums I wanted to try for the first time. I started off with pencil, and then colored pencil, and then I was like, “I want to try painting.” From there, I would use acrylic and watercolor.
Q: How would you describe your art and what kind of emotions do you explore?
A: I always ask, “What is going on inside of a person?” Depending on the emotion, I just try to make it as intense and expressive as possible.
I also tend to explore passion a lot. Some of it is darker emotions— not super dark, but maybe more lower emotions. And then some are just more positive looking paintings.
Q: What is your process for starting a new piece?
A: Honestly, it can be really difficult to draw sometimes, and the process is very much like a rollercoaster. Sometimes, an idea pops into my head and I want to draw it, and then based on what I want it to look like, that’s how I choose the medium. If I want it to be a more flowy piece of work, for example, I’ll use watercolor. But when I start, it can be really frustrating if it doesn’t look how I want it to look.
It really teaches me how to be patient and that I need to take my time because that’s when it looks good. So, it’s frustrating at first, but then as it goes along, it gets easier and easier. If it starts to come together and it looks a little different from how I pictured it, then it was meant to look that way.
Q: How has practicing art helped you?
A: It’s an outlet to be as creative as you want to be. There’s a lot of freedom in art. If you’re in school—and even in an art class in school—there is much less freedom. There’s usually an outline of what you have to do, which can be helpful, but there’s also guidelines, and when you’re doing it on your own, there’s no guidelines.
I think you learn more about yourself too. I learned more about what my personal style is and my aesthetic, and even what my favorite color is. It also helps me see what’s going on and how I’m feeling at the moment. It’s a good way to practice concentration, and it feels like a very productive thing to do. I think it grounds you and it makes you more in tune with reality and not in your head so much. It used to be easy to suppress emotions, but with drawing, you’re literally letting it all out on paper. So that makes your emotional life way easier too.
Q: Why do you think you focus on drawing people and faces?
A: I think being passionate about something and showing true passionate facial expressions is a rare thing. Even for me, I feel like I subconsciously hold back how I’m really feeling sometimes, and I think that’s a common thing for a lot of people. I think we should all try to be more vulnerable and honest with ourselves about exactly how we’re feeling. If you’re passionate about something, you shouldn’t hold yourself back. That’s what I try to show, and maybe if other people see my art, they can feel motivated to be more honest with themselves too.
I feel like some people are good at hiding their emotions, but there’s a certain point where you can’t hide your emotions—and not even with your eyes. You can tell when someone’s tired, when they’re really drained, or when they’re really full of life and they’re happy. I feel like over time, my eyes have changed and I can see that in myself.
Q: What is your favorite piece and why?
A: I would say my favorite is one of my realism pieces because I was the most serious about making it and I planned it out. I really wanted to take my time on every section and be detailed. I think it’s one of my best, visually, because it looks the most realistic and there’s stuff in that drawing that I didn’t know I was able to draw. I really went out of my comfort zone and did more than I thought I could do. It also represents how sometimes your feelings or your perspective or emotions can blind you, and that’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past, so it also has a deeper meaning to me.
Q: I noticed you draw a lot of musicians, would you say you are inspired by music?
A: My favorite songs and my favorite artists shift a lot, so I’ve never had one consistent artist that I’ve always listened to for some reason. But I did draw one of my favorite R&B singers, H.E.R. because I think she is so talented. She just goes crazy on a guitar like it’s nothing and I don’t know how she does it.
I feel like musicians are really brave when they’re honest in their songs, especially certain artists that are very genuine about it and can make you feel it and take the song in your own way. Listening to music can help you be more expressive with your own emotions. So while I wouldn’t say a lot of art pieces are specifically inspired by music, music definitely does play a role in how I feel creatively.
Q: What do you hope that people will take away from your art?
A: I really hope that when people see my art, then they can feel more positive about their surroundings. I know when I watch a TV show, or even see a drawing or an aesthetic that I really like, I kind of see the world through that lens for a little bit. It can really help you see life in a more positive way and see the beauty in life a bit easier. It would be great if people can look at my art and feel the same way, and then be inspired to be more honest with themselves.
Find her on Instagram at @shayshaydrawz.