Storytelling and Sustainability with Mia Saine

by | Humans

Mia Saine is a visual storyteller that creates art that addresses important issues, like black history, police brutality, and mental wellness. Born and raised in Memphis, TN, they credit South Memphis, Arlington, Orange Mound, Whitehaven, and all the places they spent time during childhood with the inspiration that led to their early art.

“I really believe where I grew up really influenced who I am as a person just because I got to experience duality. I got to experience a whole bunch of people and situations and also got to go from [living in] the forest to seeing extravagant houses.”

Mia Saine’s Early Influences

“I was really definitely influenced by nature, definitely by people in my earlier work. I would say my earlier work was more catered to the fact that before I got into illustrations I was into packaging and sustainable signage.”

“My character Cheddar (a deer) and the person that Cheddar was with were my first two characters I designed. That was during my internship at International Paper. Around 2016/2017, I was told to create a visual narrative of how International Paper gives back to nature while also using resources, like trees, in a sustainable way.” 

Drawing Inspiration From Others

“I’ve always been around all types of people. I realized that the more people you know –the more people you meet from different walks of life, you get to understand that people go through similar [situations] and emotions. It really helped me open up my eyes to what is possibly out in the world and who do I want to be in the world. It was an incredible time, growing up. And going to a diverse college and being in a diverse part of Memphis. I got to surround myself with people I enjoy but I can say we are not the same.  The majority of people I get along with aren’t solely because they have the same interests and hobbies but because we share the same values. You never know who you will find inspiration from.”

Finding Their Voice

“A lot of my work is inspired by me having to visually explore my voice. In my earlier designs, when I was doing portraits and personal illustrations, I was trying to reflect the people that I interacted with everyday but also my thoughts and emotions. The internal struggles that I had to constantly navigate. Around that time I was in my early 20s.”

“I also got a lot of inspiration from other artists, not only sharing the Black narrative but the queer narrative. I saw myself in other people. It was really cool because there were certain things that I would have never thought would have influenced me, like letterpress would influence my work today. Or that painting reflects the way I choose color today. Being exposed to so many elements, I definitely picked up a bunch of things and I try to use those assets to translate my own story.”

“I think my favorite type of art, beside the kind of art that I do, is printmaking. I was in graphic design for a long time but if you study graphic design you’ll find that a lot of that stuff originated from printmaking. Printmaking is such a beautiful art form. I really love how demanding the process is. It’s soothing but it’s really technical and I love the imperfection of it. Not every print looks the same. It can make you embrace diversity, imperfection and things just being different. I think that gets lost with digital work.” 

These skills and assets all came together to form a powerful voice. Once Mia found their voice they put it to good use. They have spoken out against the police shooting of Ahmaud Arbery with the Thirty Three “Let Me Run” t-shirt. With the Allbirds brand they helped design a running shoe made with natural materials, which embraced not only physical wellness but environmental sustainability as well.

Mia’s Favorite Projects

“Each project really made me feel liberated for different reasons. I really enjoyed the project I did with Oiselle and Allbirds with the sustainable running shoe. That was during the time when I was trying to get my health back and was getting into running. And when Ahmaud Arbery was shot for just running through a neighborhood. I had my voice. I was angry. [Thirty Three] wanted to align with that awareness.” 

“With the Crocs project, we were able to donate money to an organization that we saw addressing mental health. It was so comforting to me to be able to work on something that gives back to people I think are doing a great job at showing up for the Memphis community.”

“On my behalf, Crocs gave My Sista’s House $15,000. They put that towards therapy sessions for transwomen and others who receive their resources.”

“The Allbirds shoe, Skittles and Crocs are definitely my favorites. They each addressed different parts of me: Health, physical and mental health especially for marginalized groups; queerness, other identites and how people should be allowed to fully express themselves. Those were really powerful projects that I was really honored to work on.”

“To the public, I’m a very shy and introverted person. When I have an opinion or something to say [I don’t want to always share it] but it was really awesome to work with these brands and other people who amplified my voice to reach out to people and hopefully inspire them to get connected with themselves.”

Mia believes that catering to and honoring yourself are essential to navigating life. Being intune with your mind and your body can help tremendously in trying times.

Mia’s Journey to Wellness

“In 2020 there were certain things regarding my health that I had to address. When my career really started to take off, I started to notice things with my health declining. I was dealing with both at the same time. I had to start taking more vitamins and working out just so that I could fully walk again without getting so easily tired out. I’m still working to get an official diagnosis but it is pretty obvious that I have a condition called endometriosis. It impacts how your reproductive system functions and the tissues surrounding the area and to your nerves.”

“It was a really interesting time. I had to address it because it was in addition to another condition I have, PCOS. It made me more desperate to share what was going on because I don’t think a lot of people get to really hear from a Black, non-binary person with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if you are struggling, whatever you are going through, if you have a goal in mind you can do it but…please don’t sacrifice yourself to make it happen. Pay attention to your body.” 

“The health of your brain and body is wealth. My condition is a hormonal disorder that started to affect me physically. From 2020 to 2022, I’ve been getting my health back. It’s been a rough ride but incredible. I can say I know myself more than ever, I found confidence.”

Practical Self-Care Advice

“I started to honor how much time I had on this earth. I feel I was taking it for granted beforehand. I got happiness, strength, confidence, awareness – there were a lot of things I gained during that time where I thought I lost so much. But it’s: Intention and Courage. You need those two things to overcome hardship of any kind.” 

“Make sure you rest and rest with intention. I feel like a lot of people in American society believe we have to overwork ourselves to make ends meet. Even though you aren’t lying in the bed all the time and getting actual, physical sleep, make sure you are giving rest to your mind and your heart.” 

“Read something that makes you feel differently about a certain situation you might be in. I’m currently reading Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton. Taking what I live in my everyday life and seeing that anything that you do or interact with you can tell someone about it. Storytelling is a powerful tool in feeling seen. …But, really surround yourself with activities that bring rest and pleasure.”

View their portfolio and learn more about Mia Saine.

Read more interviews with creators:

Making Space for Creativity | An Interview with Dante Clemons

How to Amplify the stories of Black women entrepreneurs | Interview with Malliron Hodge

Be Original and Bypass burnout with choreographer Maya Taylor

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