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Meet Shana Stern

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shana Stern.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I have always been compelled by music to move. I started dancing at three and it was always the thing that gave me the most joy out of life. Even at age 42, I was still taking two dance classes a day, six days a week. And if I wasn’t dancing to music – I was listening to it. It’s rare to find me in silence. I need music to function. Although I didn’t aspire to be an artist growing up, I was always surrounded by art. My father, a fan of Fauvism, Post-Impressionism & Cubism filled the house with paintings, lithographs & books about artists & art. So dance, music and art were always intertwined in my brain.

I moved to LA after college, worked for dance agents & choreographers, then at Geffen Records before ultimately became a working screenwriter. A diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis nearly 20 years ago didn’t slow me down too much the first decade then my vision started to deteriorate and my daily fatigue and pain issues became so bad I was no longer able to write and I moved back to Austin with my son. A few years after that, old dance injuries resulted in me having multiple failed surgeries. Unable to walk, I found myself stuck at home feeling isolated, defeated & without purpose. I watched every dance movie, tv show and YouTube video out there until the creative urge became overwhelming.

My son, Walker, loves to draw and paint so one day I grabbed his supplies and tried painting, but total numbness in my right hand and arm due to the MS means it’s almost impossible for me to hold onto a paintbrush – so that just resulted in more frustration. I was sitting on the floor, listening to “Prophesy” by Remy Zero – colors and movement triggered something in me and I balanced the canvas on my legs & began to create my own unique ways of painting — using my fingers and knuckles, both on top of & also from underneath the canvas. I don’t use any brushes or instruments.

That was the day I realized I could once again “dance” — by using paint.

Please tell us about your art.
Always having been strongly moved and controlled by music – I “see” fully choreographed, costumed and lit dances when a song attaches itself to my head. The colors explode before my eyes and that’s how I know what pallet I will use for that piece. Once that dance has imprinted itself – I see the same routine over and over and over as the song plays.

Because I’m using my fingers and arms as I move the paint around on the canvas, it’s almost gotten to the point where I experience the sensation of actually carrying out the choreography with my entire body. From the mixing of the paints until the final application of varnish – I listen only to a single song – hundreds of times – while I work. I can’t listen to multiple songs because then I’m seeing conflicting colors and movements. Drove my son crazy until I started using headphones.

I try to interpret the feeling and movement inspired by the music onto the canvas and my hope each time is that it results in a visceral fluidity of emotion of each piece. Every painting is named after the song which inspired it. My musical tastes are all over the map and so I have painted everything from Pearl Jam to opera. From Rhianna to Disturbed. From Icelandic Blues/Rock band Kaleo to Machine Gun Kelly.

To help me feel the paint a bit better, I utilize a multitude of mediums and I am constantly experimenting with different materials and chemicals. It usually takes about an hour to peel the thick, goopy paint off of my hands and inevitably I have paint on my legs or the back of my arms or in my hair that I don’t see until the person behind me at Whole Foods points it out. At this point, I’ve accepted that most of my clothing and my belongings have paint on them. I’m thankful I discovered hot paraffin soaks because my fingers will get ridiculously sore and fatigued – especially when working on a large piece.

Attempting to make something beautiful out of the chaos which ensues when I use my fingers to make the paint dance across the canvas, is my way of fighting back against the daily uncontrollable issues I have with my MS.

Creating unusual, unexpected textures and otherworldly effects – I get tremendous joy from creating paintings which seem to shift and move. Through my art, I can now tell stories with paint and I can once again dance with my hands.

Choosing a creative or artistic path comes with many financial challenges. Any advice for those struggling to focus on their artwork due to financial concerns?
There are so many ways to be creative out in the “real” world these days – so try to find a day-job which won’t make you crazy and then put your true focus on your art. Find artists in your area and see if they know about art/photography supply places where materials are more affordable. Ask friends and family for gift cards to supply chains for holidays and birthdays.

And know your value. Learn how to become comfortable talking about money so that you don’t clam up when people ask about your prices and discounts. We all give discounts and like to donate works for charitable organizations which mean something to us — just don’t get into a pattern where you are earning nothing other than the cost of materials. Art does so much — it inspires us, heals us, moves us. Remember that and you will find it easier to know that value of what you are creating.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I am still new to LA and to the art world here so people can show their support by purchasing one of my pieces shown on my website or by requesting custom orders and commissioned pieces via email or phone. Princeton University has just commissioned a second piece of work from me. You can find the first one in their AccessAbility Center and Mylan Pharmaceuticals is using one of my images in a global marketing campaign for an MS medication.

While living in Austin I was lucky enough to have had an incredibly talented interior designer recommend me to some of her clients and I did custom commissioned pieces for them – which is what I hope to eventually be able to do here in LA. For me, there’s nothing like getting to engage clients in my process – discover a song which is meaningful to them and then to create something truly unique and special for them!

I keep things most up-to-date on my Instagram page.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Taylor Miller Home Staging & Divine, Shana Stern

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.


  1. Christian Erickson

    June 12, 2018 at 16:47

    These are some beautiful paintings and what a great story! You’re very talented Shana and I hope that LA discovers you soon.

    • Shana Stern

      June 20, 2018 at 18:00

      Thank you so much Christian! I truly appreciate your comments and your support. Means the world to me!

  2. Mary Rose Deraco

    September 15, 2018 at 17:02

    You are a work of art! Thanks for inspiring me to do art through the ups and downs of life! You are an artist warrior! Your work is incredible and your process is unique and provocative. I had the opportunity to visit your studio and listen to the music that inspired you while gazing at your paintings. The experience was both healing and transforming! LA will love you and your work! Welcome!

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