top of page

Artist Bio

Calvin Lai's art is a mixture of medicine, meditation, and personal growth. He found early on that drawing was something he loved, and to make a picture appear lifelike became his goal. Through constantly drawing, his work began to breath, and his fascination with value and perspective led Calvin to become a student of realism. Eventually he moved from where he grew up in Los Angeles to San Francisco. There he studied drawing and printmaking at San Francisco State University. In 2008, he enrolled in the Academy of Art for illustration, but began painting instead. He found that he preferred the fine arts over commercial illustration, and now works as a full time San Francisco oil painter.

San Francisco oil painter, Calvin Lai, has unique oil paintings for sale and is a commission portrait artist

Since then, working from his studio, he has continued to develop and refine his oil painting skills. Lai’s work has been shown nationally in galleries, group exhibitions and juried shows. He has executed a large number of portrait commissions over the past several years, and his paintings have appeared in national and international publications. Throughout his career, Calvin Lai has expanded his focus from figurative and portraiture to encompass a variety of subjects such as still lifes to the San Francisco cityscape. Now he has no borders to what he chooses to paint, and he is driven to capture everything around him through his paints, brushes, and determination.

Evolution of a San Francisco Oil Painter

Calvin Lai never thought he would become an oil painter. The first time he tried painting he made mud, so he stayed away from the medium. It was later in his life when he began to control the medium and then realized oils were incredibly suited for his particular style of realism. He calls it an accidental discovery, a life changing one, but an accident all the same.

Drawing people was, and still is, his first love. As a child he was given pencils, and he became obsessed with realistically capturing faces and figures. He grew to understand how to render lights and shadows in order to make pictures full of dimension. Drawing was like being an illusionist, and making a blank page come to life was magical to him. He soon gained the attention from his teachers where he was placed in the advanced art programs. During this time he had a penchant towards capturing detail. Upon leaving high school, Calvin moved to San Francisco to continue his exploration into art. But after graduating with a bachelor's degree he became frustrated. The school offered no instruction or guidance on how to become a professional artist. Faced with questions of survivability surrounding an inherently difficult field, Calvin Lai put down his pencils and didn't draw anything for seven years.

During his seven years away from art Calvin travelled, studied music, and had other disciplines and jobs that began and ended. But he couldn't stay away from art forever. He became fascinated with children's books illustrations and was inspired by the creativity of the genre to begin drawing again. His familiar passion for art reignited within him. He decided to enroll at the Academy of Art in San Francisco in order to study commercial illustration. His studies progressed, but he found that digital art dominated the field. He felt no affinity towards working with computers. His frustrations grew again as he knew he would have a serious disadvantage in the commercial illustration world if he didn't become skilled with computer art in some way. In order to relieve his fears and anxiety he took more and more painting classes. Though he didn't know what he was doing, he found himself working hard to understand the medium. For him creativity and art needed to have a tactile process to be fulfilling. Oil paints gave him that. So he poured more energy into it. It was a slow progression when he first began, and painting felt awkward to him. But eventually Calvin began to understand how to work the medium, and he realized that he felt an inspiration for painting that he didn't feel in his illustration classes. Energized with finding this unexpected passion, Calvin decided to pour himself into learning all about oil painting and how to prosper in the fine art world putting him on the path towards being the professional artist he is today. These days, as a San Francisco oil painter, Calvin creates unique fine art paintings for sale and works as a commission portrait artist.

San Francisco oil painter, Calvin Lai, has unique oil paintings for sale and is a commission portrait artist
From Figures to Still Lifes to the San Francisco Cityscape
San Francisco oil painter, Calvin Lai, has unique oil paintings for sale and is a commission portrait artist
San Francisco oil painter, Calvin Lai, has unique oil paintings for sale and is a commission portrait artist

Over the years Calvin Lai's scope of subject matter has expanded and grown. With a penchant towards figurative art and portraiture, Calvin Lai started working as a commission portrait artist. But feeling a staleness within his art, Calvin decided to expand his subject matter in order to approach his figures and portraits from a different point of view. He began painting landscapes and still lifes as an exercise, but soon found a greater sense of freedom within these paintings. His art started to change. It was during this time that Calvin's style became more energetic and full of movement. He found liberation through using colors and shapes to suggest detail and making areas not as developed as other parts of the composition. He realized to successfully paint a lake, or the San Francisco cityscape, or anything, a painter could reduce the details of what they saw and still render realistically, as long as they could paint a subject's essential elements. Calvin now applies the lessons he learned to every piece he paints whether a portrait, a cityscape, or a still life.

The Present Day

As a San Francisco oil painter, Calvin Lai has defied the odds and has been a professional artist ever since he graduated. Calvin is fortunate enough to have a studio space at the well known 1890 Bryant Street Studios. There he has been working as a commission portrait artist and developing several series of his own. Calvin's mantra is to be persistent. He is constantly at the easel or promoting his art. There are no limits to where he believes he is able to go. He lets his passion for painting fuel his drive to refine his style, expand his reach, and forge new paths for him within the art world.

bottom of page