This month we welcome Austin SCBWI member Misha Blaise to our interview series.
Misha is the author-illustrator of several books, including MY WONDROUS CLOUD ODYSSEY and THIS IS TEXAS, Y’ALL. Her most recent work, THIS PHENOMENAL LIFE, has been translated into 5 languages and was a best seller in China in 2017 (where she went on a 2 week book tour last November). Misha also served as a jury member for the Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrator’s Competition at the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair.
Thanks for joining us, Misha!
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I’m originally from Toronto, Canada and we moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado when I was young, so I was mostly raised in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. I spent a lot of time in the mountains while growing up, and I learned how to connect with nature as place solitude and regeneration. When you observe nature you see how everything is intertwined, and that knowledge definitely has inspired my work about the interconnection of all life on Earth. I had a strong belief in the oneness of humanity and the biosphere even before I had all the scientific proofs, and that belief influences all of my work.
Did you always want to be a writer, or did that come later?
I always wanted to make an impact through my art. In my late 20’s I started having more commercial success with my paintings and graphic design, but I was struggling to communicate a broader message with my work. I took my first step as an author-illustrator with a kid’s book that I self-published (My Wondrous Cloud Odyssey). Reading a book is like taking a little journey, and I love how an idea can unfold gradually through the pages of a book. Merging my art with text felt like the natural next step in my progression as an artist.
I try and get at least 8 hours of sleep every night, and also I try and spend a lot of time with my kids. Between those two things I’m left with a few hours to work everyday. When I work, it’s all about music and tea: reggae is my favorite background music, and I prefer black tea with honey. Half of my work is doing research and writing (i.e. mostly on the computer or reading books) and the other half is executing the art: I draw and paint and then scan the art to finish it in Photoshop. I try and read everyday, get out into nature a few times every week, dance to live music whenever possible, and I am also very involved in my local Austin Baha’i community.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
I’m in Austin, Texas and there is an incredible creative energy in this city; it’s filled with artists, entrepreneurs, beautiful green spaces, and of course music. But there are also great struggles here. We are a southern city with a history of forced Jim Crow segregation that has resulted in current day race-based inequities. This is just one manifestation of issues of xenophobia, materialism, and isolationism that are plaguing humanity at a global level. I guess I bring that up just to say that there are really great things and really challenging things in our era, almost like a twin process of integration and disintegration. I’m very aware of this in my daily life; I care about what’s going on in my local community, and I see our local issues as being connected to global issues.
In reality, we are one human family sharing one common planetary homeland, and I believe that once people really understand this truth, they become deeply motivated to work for social justice and environmental conservation. I hope my work as an artist can contribute to this psychological shift of perception that is needed for humanity to recognize these truths. Being concerned with the challenges of our era definitely feeds the direction of my work.
What surprises you about the creative life?
When I have an idea that I feel really excited about, or I’m painting something that’s really coming together, I feel totally happy and fulfilled. It’s like the high point of life as an artist. I don’t care if my stuff gets recognized or I become famous, I just want that vital feeling of being in the creative flow.
So I talked about these broader ideas of love, unity, and justice that I’m exploring, but I think something else that people find in my work is a sense of humor. I think humor is probably one of the greatest tools to open people’s hearts and to help us survive all the craziness of life. I hope people find some whimsy, some quirkiness, and some respite in my work.
Quick Fire Questions:
Would you rather be a turtle or a groundhog?
You’ve traveled back to 1990 for this one important task…to be a contestant on Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune?
Jeopardy, and my question is: “Bell Biv DeVoe’s 1990 hit.” To which my response is “What is “Poison”, one of the best songs ever.”
Would you rather be able to be invisible, or be able to fly?
Fly. My heart is always with the birds.