Mia Lee aka @hotfunmia is a Chicago creative splitting her time between illustrations, murals, graphic design, branding, and animation. While there’s plenty to admire in her portfolio, perhaps the most intriguing (and timely) is Unwonderful World, her upcoming cartoon which was recently teased over at Adult Swim. With only a few snippets and trailers available, the brightly colored (yet twisted as hell) cartoon shows Mia in her element, where she has crafted her own surreal world full of unique characters and vibrant backdrops. With the pilot episode arriving sooner than later, I spoke with the multi-talented artist about her creative process, her studio setup, taking a sketchbook to the club, and how the ‘third time’s a charm’.
How has 2018 been treating you?
Man, 2018 has been absolutely insane. Not really any other way I can put it, but I mean that in the best way. My environment has changed, so has my mindset. Especially as an artist. I’ve been doing some solo traveling and just making moves with freelance work.
Congratulations on Unwonderful World airing on Adult Swim! How long has this project been in the works?
Appreciate that, really! I’ve been working on this animation for about a few years now. I’ve had a TON of fucking setbacks. Basically, I had to start completely over on everything (and I mean everything) twice. TWICE. The first time, my hard drive corrupted and I lost the cartoon, and the second time was definitely my fault. I was working on the cartoon in a bar in Atlanta, next thing you know, boom. I’m drunk. Lost my drive. That one still hurts. So basically, this is like third time’s a charm.
For those of us who didn't catch it when it aired, can we expect the pilot episode soon?
I’m working on the pilot as we speak. A lot of time had been put in developing characters and the actual world it takes place in. Giving meaning to why things happen the way they do. I’ve also taken some time to learn and practice script writing and structuring which is something I’m truly unfamiliar with. The goal is to be thorough as fuck.
When/how did you make the transition from illustration to animation?
I had this marketing design job once and it was the driest, most boring gig I’ve ever had in my life. But it was full-time so I was trapped in the office for 40 plus hours a week. Instead of being bored to death, I spent most of my time trying to learn all of the Adobe programs which includes animation.
How would you describe your style to a stranger on the street?
My style is oddly beautiful and nostalgic. If it’s illustration, I’m pretty black and white. In Unwonderful World, my color game is crazy.
Your work appears to be playfully violent and dark. Has your imagination always been a bit twisted?
Yeah I’ve always been an odd kid with an “interesting” point of view. Growing up, I was classically trained in piano and my instructors would always worry cause I would learn all of these eerie sounding, Alfred Hitchcock-type pieces on my own. Most students wanted the upbeat melodies in major keys and I’d always be like, give me that Chopin in E minor.
If you could pick one cartoon (previous or currently airing) to be a guest animator, what would it be?
Without a doubt I choose Courage the Cowardly Dog, which first aired in 1996. At the time I was four years old going on five, but I vividly remember every single episode. I’m sure that’s when I was first even introduced to cartoons with dark undertones. My parents had no idea that’s what type of shit I’d be watching cause they were never really strict on me.
What's your typical studio setup?
I have a pretty nice setup. One thing I will say it that I’m not cheap on my tools because they’re investment and you have to keep that in mind. So I have a 27-inch iMac desktop, which is my baby. I have this giant drawing tablet which is amazing cause I can see everything I’m drawing right there on its screen. Truly a game changer. Also, I literally built with my hands on the opposite side from where I animate, a long desk which I dedicate to drawing/sketching only. I have a bookcase full of books/resources. And of course, an overflow’th of coffee.
Aside from Unwonderful World, you've also created murals and assisted with branding design. What else are you working on apart from your show?
Sometimes I take freelance gigs depending on the scope. Currently, I’ve gotten into web and UX design and becoming more technical in those areas.
Music seems to play a large part in your process. What have you been listening to recently?
My music library is everywhere! I love music from Miguel & H.E.R, Tyler the Creator, James Blake, and artists like that. But actually, when I’m working I listen to classical music. It’s something that has always calmed me and help my long struggle with anxiety. I’m a huge fan of Frederic Chopin.
What's been your largest struggle in the process of finding your 'voice' and developing your style?
I used to think people would only notice my work if I only drew celebrities cause that was the thing and after a while I was like, “Nah this shit sucks.” So I started making non- celebrity related art like coloring books and cartoons and people became more and more interested in my work.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Please don’t ever stop trying to learn and get better. Find a mentor if you have to. Spend some time alone. Read, read, read!!! Seriously, read books. Sit in Barnes and Noble and look at their art books. Write your ideas down. I keep a sketchbook with me everywhere I go. Like I will be in the club with a fucking sketchbook. And to my young black ladies who are pursuing art, you have to work three times as hard. That’s no cliche saying, that’s real ass life. Don’t be discouraged, hopefully society won’t treat you as bad but if it does, take that energy and put it towards your craft.
Any final words / thoughts / shout-outs? Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your platform with me, this was dope. Thank you to everyone who has been down with me and who is continuously rooting for me! I never forget any of that. And follow @unwonderfulworld!! :)