Mia Carameros is a bona fide “slashie” – that is to say, one of those endlessly capable souls who defy any one creative or professional label. Artist/Graphic Designer/Calligrapher is a good start, but it leaves all too much unsaid. So, in the months since I first met Mia, I have come to think of her as something else altogether:
I imagine when she reads this, Mia will let out one of her warm and infectious laughs. She’ll be the first to tell you that where gardening – in its most literal sense – is concerned, she is still very much a novice. And so I must explain –
To step inside the home, the art & the work of Mia Carameros is to enter a living, breathing space that has been, at once, determinedly cultivated and left trustingly to the forces of nature. It is a rare and difficult balance to strike in one’s life and in one’s work – one that I believe many of us strive for and which takes an extraordinary amount of faith – and yet Mia, at twenty-five, has struck it.
Our conversation takes place in Mia’s South Austin home of five years which – full disclosure – she has since moved on from. But not before Chelsea Fullerton Jones could capture her (and four-legged Mabel!) at home and at work, giving life to her signature botanical paintings.
You work part-time from your home. Can you tell me your favorite thing about this space, and how it’s important to your creativity?
I think it’s about being in an intimate self-space – somewhere that I’ve invested a lot of time into making feel personal. I find a lot of my thinking and processing happens in my shower, which is a very intimate, normal place. I think it’s because of that … I’m able to be faster in cultivating these ideas, in a space like my home.
The shower as a creative space – I wonder how many of the folks reading this can relate to that – I know I can. You also have your shared studio space over at Canopy. Creatively, does that environment provide you with something different than you find at home?
My studio at Canopy really operates as a space to make and to focus. I think living and working at home can be hard. So when I get to Canopy, I switch into go-mode. I come with a plan– whereas, at home, it’s a little more loose in terms of what I’m working on. I’m also living at home, and that dual purpose can make it tough to establish boundaries –which can actually be good for me creatively at times, that free flow. But at Canopy, it’s all work. That’s the difference.
Is there anything that you do – that you can specifically point to in your space at home or at Canopy – that you’ve done to foster creativity? Things that you surround yourself with – rituals – anything of that sort?
Yes, particularly at home. For me, it’s about making it a personal space and having things around me that I’ve chosen, that I’ve found, and that have a story. Also, a lot of the process behind my work happens at home. I have books that I use to press flowers. In my garage, I have this really janky system of wooden boards that I use to press things that I find outside. I think the thing that has most fostered my creativity, maybe, is that – the process itself. I’m doing a lot of the process here at home. By the time I step foot in my Canopy studio, I’ve already done important steps A through C, and now I’m finishing with D through F.
That’s really interesting – the creative process itself as the ritual that fosters creativity. A virtuous cycle.
Let’s dive a bit further into your work. I know you primarily as a fine artist, but you’re also a calligrapher, a hand letterer, and now you’re branching into graphic design as well. How do you find the time and the creative energy to focus on each of those?
The way that I operate – I need to be stimulated, and I need to be doing different things in order to feel most content, and also most productive and creative. I think everything I do kind of feeds into each other. The ideas meld and mold into each other.
Much of my first paid work was as a calligrapher, but since then, I’ve really tried to utilize calligraphy more as a tool and brand it as one skill among many. Not “Hi, my name is Mia and I’m a calligrapher.” Because first, I was a graphic designer – or I studied design – and then calligraphy came along second.
I do think the calligraphy couples well with the design. Again, there’s this kind of – I don’t know that it’s a trend, necessarily – but a movement towards incorporating the hand with the computer. I think people are reverting back to this desire to see something made by hand. So I’m lucky in that sense – my skills fit very well into the design culture of the moment.
I’m really interested in that idea – of technology as an extension of our hands. I can’t help but think of our iPhones, always in hand (or at least in my hand), acting literally as an appendage but also as a tool that broadens our reach.
Yes, technology is key to what I do. I use my scanner not only for design but also for my work. In my botanical paintings, first I press the flowers and then I scan them and blow them up – and that becomes the blueprint or template for the gouache hand painting.
Moving beyond tools to inspiration – what feeds your creativity?
Being excited about projects and feeling authentic. There also has to be a conceptual thread behind it. “Why am I doing something?” It has to make sense to me on a deeper level and move me personally. I think when you make things that are personal, they matter more to you. They’re more precious, and therefore, you’re more excited about them because you own them.
It’s funny to hear myself say this, because I’m trying to… I do not want to be this artist that just makes work about myself. I want to pursue a different avenue of art and make art for other people. But when you care enough about something, it always ends up being personal. And I think that’s okay. But still – I’m always trying to resist falling into some super narcissistic artistic trap. To chase something that’s universal, but that just so happens to move me personally too.
On the flip side, what kills your creativity?
And also, doing something that I really don’t want to do – even if there’s money in it. That’s tough – balancing business with creative endeavors, trying to make them balance and match up. I’m at a point where I can say no to things, and that feels good, but I also want to make the right choices and not knowing what those are can be very difficult.
How do you move through that uncertainty?
It’s a practice in staying in tune with who I am and what I like. There are things that other people think are very cool, opportunities that other people get really excited about, but I have to be careful not to make decisions based on what seems great – or impressive – to others. That’s true for all scopes of my life; the way my house looks, what I wear, the people I surround myself with. I think it’s – I’m in my 20s. And for me, right now, it’s about figuring out who I am and what I stand for.
I also believe that wherever you invest your time, that’s who your clients will be. So when I’m flip-flopping on other points, I think a lot about who I ultimately want my clients to be.
You studied fine arts and graphic design in college, was that when your desire to create art really took root or does it go back further than that?
It definitely goes back further than that. I’ve always known I wanted to make things, and I tried to figure out how I can do that as a job. My parents really fostered a safe and supportive environment where I could do that. I took art all throughout high school, and they encouraged me to do that. It was never seen as a frivolous pursuit. I only applied to art schools – probably because my SAT scores were shitty. I wouldn’t have been able to get in anywhere else. So I worked on my portfolio, and that’s what got me into college.
I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do something creative. I didn’t know it’d be this. I didn’t even know what graphic design was until I went to college. I didn’t know that there are people who design letters. So being in art school really opened my eyes to what design is – or what it can be – and the opportunities it could provide me.
In terms of my studies or career, I did resist the fine arts path for as long as I could. So that resistance has been part of the journey – and now that I’m settling and resting in it, and being okay with the path I’ve chosen… that’s where I am now.
How would you describe your own art?
When people ask me what I paint, I tell them I paint botanicals. They’re black silhouettes on paper, using gouache – a medium. Then I explain the process of forging these plants – because that’s really the interesting part. The story behind the plants I’ve picked. One of the pieces I had on Buddy Editions is something I picked while staying at the Hotel Saint Cecilia for my birthday. I’m like, “This is a little token of that time in my life that I wanted to remember.” Most of the pieces have a personal story to them. They’re almost like journal entries that no one really knows about. I think that’s why people like them too. I think people get the sense that there are these meanings behind the paintings that are kind of hidden, but they are also these beautiful images to look at. Personal to me, but universal in the sense that we all share and marvel at nature’s beauty.
Has nature always influenced your work?
Yes, even as a little girl, I would press flowers and place them onto rocks and cover them in glitter. Then I would freeze them – I don’t know what the heck I was thinking [laughs] – but I’ve always connected to nature.
I think I was in awe of the way things bloom and grow – I still am. And the fact that it’s so out of your control is – it’s just magical and kind of a mystery. And the amount of species of specimens of plants just blows my mind.
A lot of the work I make – my botanicals – are weeds. They’re things that are not desired or sought after, but they’re beautiful and we drive by them every day and don’t really think twice. But I like to set them apart and celebrate them. I guess that on a deeper spiritual level, it’s my homage to the fact that all of these things have been designed and created. And being an image-bearer, I’m proud to get to be a part of that.
I’m seeing a lot of natural influences and botanical work online and on Instagram right now – and I think it makes a lot of sense within the context of our society. As technology and cities continue to develop, we’re moving farther and farther away from these organic things. We spend our days in cubicles with fluorescent lights that are probably poisoning us – miles away from the food we consume – so it makes sense to me that people crave this little bit of nature on their wall, or in their feeds. I know because I crave it, too.
However we can get it.
Yes. It’s still inspiring to us, even if we’re not experiencing it for ourselves.
So nature has been a big inspiration for you – how about people? Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who know who they are; people who are confident and authentic. People who are taking risks and doing what they love. I try to be around those kinds of people as much as possible. I recently worked with Chelsea [of Go Forth Creative and Hands-On!]. I bugged her until she said yes, that I could come work with her [laughs]. I wanted to be around someone who was successfully running her own business, doing that for herself – because that’s inspiring to me.
One look at Block Print Social, and I imagine it’s pretty obvious I share in your admiration– both the web design and photography are by Chelsea.
Can you tell us anything about your own art collection – or your dream collection? Who are your favorite artists?
My own collection is a mix of thrift store finds and paintings I’ve purchased from an antique dealer on Ebay or paintings from my parent’s collection. I have a wall that’s black and white, and predominantly nature-themed. They’re all original, which is important to me. I have one print – a Picasso. It’s from his blue period. It’s kind of my dream to have a blue period. In some capacity, they’re all sentimental; they’re personal. I don’t really buy anything that doesn’t evoke something in me.
I adore Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly (obviously), Isabella Ducrot, Doug Johnston, Robert Motherwell, Donald Baechler…. the list goes on and on…
Alright, last one – if you’ll indulge us –
What’s next for Mia Carameros?
Oh gosh, I find myself having to compartmentalize thoughts and dreams and keep them in a “box” and take them out only when and if the time feels right. Currently focusing on continuing to make new work. Getting into the studio and carving out the time to make, sit, and paint. It’s really hard but it’s so rewarding when I actually do it. I think too, in this season of my life, I want to fall in love with my own story and stop worrying about the expectations I may have for myself or constantly be distracted by what everyone else is doing. I continually have to grace myself and remind myself to fall in love with my own story.
Thank you, Mia, for inviting us in!
Follow Mia on Instagram for glimpses of her new home and more of her beautiful work.
Follow Block Print Social here.