When 2018 Liberty Bell High School (LBHS) graduate and Methow Arts alumni intern Mia Stratman moved to the Methow Valley as a sophomore, she had taken few art classes. But LBHS art teacher Robin Nelson-Wicks “took me under her wing,” says Stratman. “She brought me with her to classes and basically designed a program for me at Liberty Bell. She taught me techniques, but she also taught me that its ok to pursue a unique path to making art.”
“There’s a bit of a stigma about making art,” Stratman continues. “People believe that you shouldn’t do it if you’re not ‘great’ at it. I’ve learned that you don’t need to be great to begin. It’s ok to take your own path.”
Stratman’s path took her from the Methow Valley to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), where she enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 2018. “I didn’t have a defining moment in terms of deciding to go to art school,” Stratman says. “It was always going to be my path. I’d always loved all aspects of school—art wasn’t my only connection to school. But I wanted to be ‘all in’ with my art, and art school was the way to do that.”
After a rural upbringing, Stratman knew that she wanted to try city living for college. “It grew on me,” she says of the urban experience so far. “Although when I first got here I felt a little bit like a country mouse.”
Now a junior at MCAD, working toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration, Stratman is exploring traditional and nontraditional forms of illustrative art through textiles, product design, and editorial classes. One day she’s designing a fictional mural store display for eyewear brand Warby Parker; another day she’s reworking old book covers; still another finds her creating signature packing for an eponymous coffee company. A Children’s Book Illustration class paired with a Children’s Literature class gave her perspective into both the literary and the visual arts aspects of kids’ books.
Stratman does a lot of digital design these days, using an iPad. “It’s important to me not to look overly digital, however,” Stratman says. “I always want to retain an original look, so I make deliberate stylistic choices. I use collage and other methods to create a whimsical, quirky, and sometimes surreal quality in my art. I want it to be recognizable as mine.”
Stratman’s prioritization of originality over commercial appeal means that you’re unlikely to ever see her work in, say, the home décor section of Pier 1 or Target. “To express myself I had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to love my art,” Stratman says. “I had to let that go.”
This whimsical and quirky nature—what Stratman often calls ‘wonky’—shows up most poignantly in her illustrations of people coupled with a single word or short quotation. The characters appear vulnerable, but also fearless; they open themselves up to life—its risks, its rewards. They’re a bit like Stratman, and really, like most of us: doing our best to appear confident in a world that demands confidence, yet willing to expose their vulnerabilities, which make them both endearing and inspiring.
“A lot of my work focuses on the human connection,” Stratman says. “Vulnerability is a cornerstone of the human experience. Humans are funny creatures in the ways we interact and communicate.”
Stratman’s work seems infused with meaning, but it isn’t necessarily by design, she says. “I approach illustration from the side. The meaning isn’t always there when I begin—it often fills in later.”
While Stratman’s educational focus is art, creating it for herself—as opposed to for classes—sometimes has to “fill in later” as well.
Stratman is a working student who has helped pay for part of her tuition through a variety of jobs: café work, a pizza restaurant, and, notably, working as a sock designer for the novelty sock company Fanatics, whose products Methow Valley residents may have purchased at Ulrich’s Pharmacy. “After seeing the job on Craigslist, of all places,” Stratman says, “I sent in my portfolio and got to work with a senior designer.” When she’s not working or completing assignments for school, Stratman creates freely, although “sometimes I’m just tapped out from school,” she says.
Stratman is also working on building her web presence, through her Instagram, Etsy, and Patreon sites. Instagram showcases her range of art and occasionally results in commissioned work for clients from afar, such as the Diversity Council of Rochester, NY. Etsy provides a marketplace to sell her work, and Stratman intends to build up her Etsy site inventory when she has time.
Patreon is a newer endeavor for Stratman. Patreon is a subscription service platform that allows consumers—patrons— to support creators and artists. “I resisted Patreon at first because it felt like asking people for money,” Stratman says, “but in exchange for membership I offer different ways to access and utilize my work. I appreciate that people are willing to support artists and other creators.”
The country girl has settled in to city life, but she still visits her parents, sister, and grandparents in the Methow Valley a few times each year. “I got my boyfriend addicted to Blue Star coffee,” she says. “We try not to go too long between visits home.”