Mina Elise has been drawing since before she can remember. When she was a kid she used art to interact with her younger brother and quickly learned that she could use her art to connect with people of all walks of life. At age 21, she is a senior at the Hartford Art School where she has explored all mediums and finally settled into her groove with graphite, ink, and watercolor being her favorite. Her parents are both artists and have always instilled a sense of confidence in her to pursue what she loves, unlike the parents who feed into the stereotype of the starving artist. With all of the support she receives, she still struggles at times learning to let go and make mistakes in her art. Because without those mistakes, the final result just wouldn’t be the same.
It comes from a lot of different places. When I first started (when I was a freshman in college) I was really worried about people liking my artwork, because I thought if people didn’t like it then it wouldn’t sell. But then school taught me that it’s pretty much the opposite. That if I create things that I love then people will see that authenticity and they will appreciate it. So now I just draw everything – food, faces, clothing. And once I realized that I could render (which basically means I can copy what I see), I felt like I was missing something. So that’s when I started looking into surrealism, which is the combination of dream and reality. Once I started to do more research I realized the most beautiful power an artist has is to create something that our senses can’t access in the real world. Surrealism takes things we recognize and completely distorts them. So they’re familiar but they are also unfamiliar at the same time. Salvador Dali is a master of that and he is one of my huge inspirations.
“Blood Orange: Fruit Porn Series” (colored pencil, ink)
How does cannabis affect your creative process?
It is still illegal here. It’s legal in Massachusetts, which is our bordering state, so it’s close! But I know a lot of people who smoke in my community. It’s a huge part of my life and always has been. In fact, this year I wanted to make a Valentine’s Day card with a nug on it, and so many of my friends were like, “should you do that? All the adults are going to see it and think that’s all we do.” And it really frustrates me that cannabis still carries that negative connotation because to me it’s medicine and it’s incredible. And the card ended up being my highest selling card I’ve ever done. And it was so great to see that because it really reminds me that I am not alone in feeling that way. When I smoke I put music on and am so inspired to create, to make things, to just run around and explore. Besides one time when I smoked and was a little dehydrated. I went to a figure drawing class and I basically forgot how to draw. She definitely let me down that day.
Who do you think is your audience and who do you want your audience to be?
For a while I wanted my audience to be people like me. I wanted them to be aware and conscious – whether that be politically or socially – or even just in tune with themselves. And then I realized that my artwork can spread awareness, that my audience doesn’t necessarily need to be aware. That I can share the thoughts I have, whether it’s good or bad or inbetween and it can interest whoever. I really learned that recently. And I think that allows me to create work that makes a bigger and bolder statement.
“Bosom Blossom” (watercolor, colored pencil, ink)
Is there anything about the current political climate that you feel like has inspired or affected the art you create?
In school, I felt like I had really censored my artwork. That I really wasn’t drawing provocative things or taboo things or politically charged things. Because illustration can be very editorial and commercial, and those things aren’t always appropriate. But as an artist, I thought to myself, “what the fuck? Why am I censoring myself?” I think this election has really helped my artwork. All of the sudden – I really want to paint inappropriate things and I want to paint things that make people feel good or bad or however they feel. I actually went on a Civil Rights tour at the beginning of this year and I think that tour changed me in so many ways because I had been so angry for so long about the state of our world. And it was kind of coming across… it wasn’t coming across the right way because I really didn’t know how to express it. And I realized that anger isn’t always the best solution, but once I took the tour and learned all about non-violence and its place in the civil rights movement, I wanted to create things that made people feel good, not angry. So, I channeled that into my artwork and I started to idolize the beautiful people and things in this country – body positive things, cultural positive things, women’s positive things. So as bittersweet as this election is, it has helped me in so many ways and taught me so many lessons.
“Lady Garden” (watercolor, colored pencil, ink)
How does being a queer woman of color affect your art?
It comes into play so often especially because I am the only woman of color in my department. So all of my content is very female oriented, very sexy, very colorful. And it’s tough because all of the artists we learned about and all of our teachers are men… and they’re white. And it’s hard because I want to know how is it going for women who look like me? How is it going for women who are gay? I don’t know, are they even out there? And it can definitely be a little discouraging, but I’m also really used to it. And I don’t let it affect the way I see my potential. You know when I was younger it definitely did. I never really saw women of color or queer women shown in any sort of beautiful light and that was hard. I resented myself for being gay and for being Afro-Latina and then once I met my girlfriend, she encouraged me to paint people who looked like me or variations of me – darker skin, lighter skin. Once I did that, I realized that if a younger girl saw this painting that she could think, “wow, that girl looks like me and she looks like she’s doing amazing things.” And that’s the power I have. I’m actually working on this book right now and the main character has this beautiful copper skin and really curly hair. And for a long-time I really hated my own curly hair, I think every curly-haired girl, especially girls of color, experiences that to some extent. And ever since then I’ve drawn girls with big hair.
Find More of Mina’s art here: