“Emotion drives my work,” says Mikaila Maidment, 33, a children’s book illustrator and graphic designer who often develops product packaging, logos and websites. “Feeling an emotional connection to a character or a subject is the spark that gets me going.”
After graduating MUM with an MFA, Mikaila opened a studio in Fairfield, not far from the university. Her time filled up quickly with professional jobs. To date, she has illustrated seven children’s books, and works often creating designs and images for companies that include Heavenly Organics, AERON, and iPhone Life magazine. Currently she’s at work illustrating a children’s book written by a Canadian author in both English and Chinese.
Mikaila’s book assignments usually begin when a publisher (or sometimes the author) sends her a manuscript. “As I read it, instantly I’ll start picturing the characters and settings in my mind,” she says. “I start with thumbnail sketches, marrying what the author wants with what the text needs, and figuring how to get it all to work together.” View Mikaila’s website.
As she readies to put pencil or brush to paper, Mikaila bathes her studio in music chosen to evoke the mood of the book, playing songs that can range from Mozart to Matisyahu to Brett Dennen. As she begins to sketch, she often has no idea what she’ll come up with.
“I don’t have a huge agenda going in,” she says. “I try to approach it from a place of innocence.” In starting to work, Mikaila opens herself to a transcendent experience.
“Sometimes, when I’m working there are moments where there’s no separation between what I’m thinking and what my hand is doing. As an artist, you try to tap into a deeper reservoir and then wait for the spark of inspiration,” she says. “You get pulled in. You follow it. When I’m done I step back and look at the work and think, ‘Oh, that’s what that was.’ But while it’s happening, I’m not intellectually aware of what I’m doing. It’s a different, heightened kind of focus.”
Mikaila has been drawing and painting since she was a small child growing up in British Columbia, Canada. She learned the necessary technical fundamentals such as tone, color and shape at MUM, where she earned both a bachelor and masters degree in fine arts.
She notes a striking difference between MUM and other art programs. “Many schools place a heavy emphasis on critiques, which can sometimes be done in a destructive way,” she says. “Students are ripped down and built back up based on the views of a teacher or a program. I know artists who’ve had to unlearn what they learned because there was so much fear around it.”
She goes on, “Issues like ‘Is what you’re doing relevant, modern, and contemporary’ become more important than giving students what they need as individuals. Of course, it’s important to be aware and informed, but when you’re starting out, you need to feel comfortable and safe.”
The small class size at MUM helped Mikaila blossom as an artist. “I felt nurtured there,” she says. “The students were cared for, like seeds cultivated and allowed to grow. We had critiques, of course, and guidance, but I never felt ripped down or less-than.”
While at MUM, Mikaila took on outside commissions, working on everything from designing Bar Mitzvah invitations to illustrating PhD dissertations to painting a wall-sized mural at a carwash. “It was a picture of a train,” she recalls with a laugh. “I was really proud of it. The first time you get paid to do what you love to do, it’s a rush.”
After graduating from MUM, Mikaila traveled to Ireland for more than a year, where she toured the country painting murals at pubs and other locations. Mikaila has been practicing the Transcendental Meditation® technique since she was 12. “Meditation is a huge part of my life,” she says. “And so is authenticity. I’d always known that if I wanted to create art that was true to myself, that going within and being in the Self would have to be part of the process.”
On her future plans, Mikaila wants to continue expanding her book illustration career. “I’d especially like to work with the larger publishing houses,” she says. “Also I want to illustrate and write my own children’s book, do artist residencies in foreign countries, and write and illustrate a travel book.”