Yanan Dai / 戴亚楠

I came to the US for the first time in 2008, when I was 32, for an MBA in International Management in Chicago, and I went back to China early 2011, when I finished it. I was feeling confused and isolated in the US at that time, so I started volunteering in order to try to understand more about the society here, I was going to museums a lot, galleries and I was also meeting more people, which helped.

For this trip, we came here in 2020 right at the beginning of Covid. I came with my two boys to visit some friends that live here in Oregon. It was supposed to be just a vacation, but now it became a much longer vacation. In the beginning we couldn’t go back because of the pandemic and we were stuck at our friends’ house in Southern Oregon for 6 months. Then we lived in an Airbnb for another 6 months, when we realized we couldn’t go back.

For my older son it was pretty hard to adjust when we moved, he was 13 years old at that time. For my younger one it was a little easier. Now we have adjusted here, my kids have their friends, go to school and we like it.

Home for me is the whatever place where I am with my Chinese brush, ink and the nature around.

First, I studied journalism, which is a passion because I like writing. In the end, it was not a good fit for me and I became interesting in art through my husband.

After journalism, I joined a Japanese marketing company in China. That’s how my career in marketing started. Later, I had the opportunity to work in marketing for an American music company, which was a nice experience. Though, I was in the marketing department, it was still more related to creativity. After a while, I realized I needed an MBA degree as most of the people around me had one or some kind of international degree. At that time, I just had my first son. In a way, that is like a turning point in a woman’s life, when I started questioning what to do next. Thinking back now, the MBA program was more about wanting a change in my life.

After finishing my education in the US, I went back to China, where I started having more interest in NGO’s. The NGO’s there usually are very grass roots, they don’t have a management team. For me, it was important to do something meaningful for myself, so I started a consulting type firm providing support for different NGO’s in China. It was something really new there. I didn’t know if it would even work, though we found ways.


When my kids were little, I was doing art with them at home, like free painting and expressing themselves without restrictions. And I saw they were having so many ideas, it was messy but lots of fun. Then, I started to post on social media and many of my friends really liked it, so they started joining our art activities. I realized that it was even more fun to have more kids doing these art activities together. We called our activities “Art experiment at home”. We used my husband’s studio for these art classes.

Background paintings by Yanan’s husband

My husband was very supportive with everything. He passed away in 2015 from a heart attack. He was an artist, an appreciated painter in China.

When my kids were little, I was doing art with them at home, like free It was a shock when he passed away and it was really difficult. At that time, we were living in Beijing. A niece of mine moved in with us after my husband passed away. She helped us a lot and she is very good with the kids too.


It was hard emotionally as we don’t learn to talk about death and deal with it. In Chinese culture, death is something extremely negative. We don’t have support and it is not normal to actually go to a therapist. It is really hard to talk about it.

After my husband passed away, I’ve learned one thing: if you really want to do something, you have to do it now, otherwise you don’t know what’s happening tomorrow. So, I transferred my consulting firm out of Beijing and moved to a village where there are more artists. My husband and I talked about moving out of Beijing for so many years, and we never did it while he was still alive.

I am a painter and a writer. I am writing books in Chinese about painting and art education in general.

I always wanted to learn painting. I used to do some sketches but I didn’t think I was good enough because I never studied art as my husband and many artists around me at that time did. I thought then that you could become an artist only if you would study art, which I know now that’s not true. It was 2016 when I started learning painting from the community of artists around me and I was just painting a lot by myself. I also feel I found my purpose through art. I used to paint 14-15 hours per day sometimes.

Paintings by Yanan

Chinese ink painting is about living in the moment, it has a flow. My inspiration is coming mostly from nature. I see nature as a great teacher that’s sending you a message. When I paint, I feel very calm, very satisfied, like the time stops and it’s very meaningful for me. I have no regrets, if I die at that moment, I’m fine.

Yanan’s books

The books are about how to bring art into your daily life with your children, and for me they have a strong message, like you have to be an independent thinker, following your intuition and creating a meaning of your own life, not what someone else tells you to do.

I started writing after moving to the suburbs. Because I was organizing those art events with kids, I saw how the interaction was going between kids and parents, and I knew it would help to write about art education. I felt there were misunderstandings from the Chinese parents about how the kids should do art. It was more about the results, but ignored the process. I realized that it would help to write a book about the process.

The first book I wrote was about how to help parents to understand art education, how to bring art into daily life and to play art with their children. That book was published in 2017 and won several awards in China.

The second one was published in 2019. After the first book, many people still had questions about what to do and how to implement at home the art play with their kids, they needed more specifics about addressing these practical details. In China, we really like to follow instructions exactly. I tried to explain that everyone has a different environment at home and the kids are different, though they still wanted to know more specific details, which made me write the second book. So, I gathered about 200 Chinese families and we did an online collaborative project, we talked about their questions, how to create the art environment for kids at home.

After the second book, I kept working online with parents, and I realized there were still questions, there was an invisible wall between them and the art. In order to break that wall, you have to change your perspective as an artist.

The third book I wrote in 2022 is more about the process, how to learn to paint, to build a connection with the world around you through art.

I am working on my fourth book now about how to learn critical thinking through art, to be able to build your personal connection with art.

 I think in life it is important to be truthful to yourself. My hope is that the kids will have the opportunity to learn something through art.

Yanan having her first exhibition in the US, at Lake Oswego Public Library in Oregon.

More about Yanan Dai: www.yanandai-chineseink.com