This year marks the 20th anniversary of the annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, which kicked off August 5thBarack and Michelle Obama made a special appearance at the festival, which celebrates the diversity of the breadth of films from our community. To honor the festival’s milestone year and the celebration of Black excellence in film, EBONY held an ‘Summer Soirée on the Vineyard’ with culinary delights and artwork from notable Black creatives. 

Among the artwork featured was a custom mural by contemporary artist and graphic designer Sheena Wong Shue. The vibrant painting was “created to highlight the initiative and efforts that Novartis is taking towards helping Black women overcome breast cancer. My artistic vision for it was to inspire, bring hope and awareness to the cause,” explains the artist. 

As an artist, Shue is acclaimed for her artistic versatility and ability to evoke strong emotions through her work. Not only has she made her mark on the New York design landscape with vibrant murals, she is a member of the Serena Williams Design Crew, a fashion design team established by Nike and Serena Williams. 

Shue credits her range as an artist to her diverse life experience and education. The former U.S. military cadet also earned a civil engineering degree at Howard University. Today, the full-time artist is focused on funneling her talents into artwork that “makes people happy.”

Below, the accomplished artist discusses her career, artistic influence, and vision behind the special piece created for EBONY's "On the Vineyard Soire" event.

EBONY: What was the process of creating a custom mural for EBONY’s Martha’s Vineyard activation?

Sheena Wong Shue: For the piece that I created for EBONY, the mediums used were aerosol, acrylic paint and gold leaf on stretched canvas. From concept to completion, it took about 2 weeks to complete, which is a very limited amount of time for an 8ft. mural!

Did you always have an instinct to create art growing up?

I grew up with a natural passion for art and creativity. Before understanding that anyone in my family was a professional artist, I naturally gravitated to it. Coming from an artistic family background, it organically became a part of who I am. I know it's in my DNA!  

At the age of 11, I was hired by my uncle who owned a pet fish and aquarium store in South Florida at the time. He commissioned me to paint an underwater scene in the glass window of the storefront. (I also had to paint everything backwards!) Being that young and working with such a large surface area wasn't so daunting, I'm thinking, because I was a kid back then. I guess that [experience] gives me the confidence to work on large scale projects today.

What goes into your creative process and how does your engineering degree influence your work?

My creative process begins with a narrative. I believe that building a rich and creative story before landing on specific visuals, can allow the artwork to have meaning and depth and can be that much more meaningful to the viewer once it is complete. Then, I put pencil to sketch book to build a visual center of images, whether the images land on the final artwork or not, it helps to output imagery from my headspace and is sort of a brainstorming session. Then I begin to refine the sketches and digitally render them. I arrange the refined sketches in an aesthetically pleasing order. Once I have a final digital sketch, I use that image to recreate it in a large-scale format by either creating a grid or working with it section by section to reproduce it in large scale format.

When I was student studying engineering in college, my passion for designing with aesthetics was the focal point of my studies. I always create while keeping a design intent in mind by asking myself questions like: what is the center point of the artwork? How can I create balance within the piece by making letters or images fit an aesthetically pleasing scale? Art and design are intertwined so I am subconsciously using my degree skills at all times.

What message do you want your art to convey and what communities do you want it to reach? 

I have always said that I want my artwork to make people feel happy. This is why I tend to use illustrative figures and bright colors. I believe great art strikes emotion and should make the viewer on the receiving end feel good about being in its presence. It should be captivating and fun to look at.