Q + A with Illustrator Mia Saine

by Chris Reeder-Young | above photo by Marcus Menefee

CRY: Tell me a little about yourself and your entrée into graphic design.

MS: I’m a non-binary Black creative using illustration and visual communications as platforms of diversity for a more inclusive tomorrow. I’ve worked nationally and internationally and have been signed with Anna Goodson since 2021 to provide empowered and diverse representations for brands like Target, Google, Meta, Crocs, Instagram, and YouTube (just to name a few). There are so many stories and so many types of human situations to share with others, and I have felt so honored that these brands are allowing me to showcase so much diversity (that can connect to our similarities as well.)

I was always into art! Growing up, I was encouraged to draw at age four by my grandmother. I was moved by animated TV shows and live shows that told stories.In middle school, I would write stories and enjoyed communicating that way, but by the time I got to high school, I was leaning fully into painting and fine art. Then, I was introduced to a graphic media course and indulged in graphic design and screen printing which led me to Memphis College of Art in 2013.

Humanity and our experience are so vast. I feel for someone who doesn’t have the courage to have a spectrum of thinking that looks at all the ways we can be. Illustration and design helped fulfill me personally but also helped me embrace and communicate things that people could grasp, approach, and digest for discussion. They can see my work and have a conversation and engage in different perspectives around important topics like race and mental health.

I feel passionate about social issues being represented in my work. Things like community, mental health, Black situations, racial and social issues are all things that affect us everyday. I’m not trying to force an opinion or narrative but illustrating real people and their lived experiences to encourage understanding, grace, and conversation that can address the urge of damnation, violence, and judgment that may exist when people see someone or something that is unknown to them, that they fear.

What are some of your inspirations, from your past and currently?

My artwork is a blend of so many inspirations. Nina Chanel Abney, Carl Moore, Ahmad George.

I’m moved by 20th century African American artwork, especially during the 1900-1930s of the Harlem Renaissance period and Progressive era. It was so full of joy; Black people were embracing freedom and individualism in ways we are even now still rediscovering. I also have a heavy Japanese art influence that includes Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi and Studio Ghibli. Imaginative, empathic artists like Keith Haring and Moebius as well.

I’m also moved by other forms of inspiration like mineralogy, outer space, agriculture, and how people interact with nature, history, geography, music, sound, and fashion. I learned to be inspired by and communicate early on in my career through infographics on emotional development that were relatable and empathetic with issues like heartbreak, depression, loneliness and all the things that are human.

What types of art (or representations) would you have liked to see growing up?

Something that made a difference when I was growing up was the Golden Period of black sitcoms. So, I had a lot of exposure to shows that talked about growing up and friendship like Moesha, the late Hello! Mr. Chuck, Gullah Gullah Island, and Living Single. They represented the lives of young black people expressing themselves and going through the ups and downs of life.

Has your experience in Memphis shaped the ways you navigate the intersection of space and your graphic design? (Space meaning collaborations, who you work with, how you market yourself, how you view future projects, etc.)

Yes, Memphis has definitely influenced a lot of aspects of my career. It’s the reason why I have a dear enjoyment for music, Black history, community, artistic expression and storytelling. We do it best here! We are just ourselves and we genuinely know the wealth our people possess. The individuals I work with really commemorate Memphis’ origins and history while constantly innovating new ways to show richness that’s still present here today.

When I visited your site, I saw so many incredible partnerships and projects connected to the BLM movement, mental health awareness, and LGBTQIA+ pride (just to name a few). Can you share some of the most meaningful partnerships/projects to you? Why are they your favorite or most meaningful?

Yes, I collaborated with a lot of fun companies and organizations on different social matters that are important. Some of my latest favorites are Skittles and Crocs. With Skittles, I felt so privileged to share my queerness and story with people. Hopefully, people feel induced to meet more Black asexual, panromantic creatives like me in Memphis and other places. With Crocs, it was amazing taking creative direction on how to combat mental health and being your own hero to advocate change and fulfillment. I want more people to embrace themselves fully and understand that they can truly exist in their fullness.

Can you share more about your shift to freelance and advice for others in your field?

I departed from my full-time job at Memphis River Parks in 2020 to pursue freelance full-time. After a few months of taking on portrait and design commissions, I landed a contract job with the New-York-based education publisher, Amplify. I departed from them in February 2021 to explore more opportunities and figure out how I wanted my career to go. I’ve never done illustration professionally so I wasn’t really sure what I like to do. Anna Goodson Illustration Management reached out in March 2021 and from there, we’ve been working together to find and collaborate with brands and people.

Where can readers see your work locally?

Currently, I have two pieces in the city. The “Love Love’’ mural at Paula Raiford’s on 2nd St. is a fun treat from the earlier days of my career. Temporarily, I have work displayed in the International Memphis Airport. I enjoy the creative direction aspect of huge projects. I just need to find people to help me execute my larger ideas.

What are some upcoming projects that you can share?

I recently released a 2022 holiday collection with Target! This collection includes gift bags, gift wraps, ornaments, cards, and more. It’s available until late December. Besides that, I have to keep it hush but just know I have a few projects up my sleeve!

What are some dream projects you’d like to create from scratch or collaborate on?

Short-term, I want to make collections of merchandise and home décor items that encourage mindfulness and fulfillment for children and young adults. Long-term, I want to integrate into tech and create public art that can encourage upcycling, agricultural practices, and purification of air and water in Memphis.

Instagram: @heymiasaine, TikTok: heymiasaine, Twitter: @heymiasaine and Facebook: Mia Saine.