A series where we highlight a member of our Minted artist community. Featured this month: illustrator (and trained architect!) Maja Cunningham, who is currently based in Fort Worth, Texas.
Maja Cunningham grew up in former Yugoslavia and moved to the United States in 2000 as a war refugee. Here, she studied architecture, then recently began to create her own art while working as a full-time mother to her two-year-old son Jack. We chatted with Maja and asked her to share with us a glimpse into her art, work, and family life.
How did you end up doing what you’re doing now?
My husband and I bought a house three months after our two-year-old son Jack was born, and as we were getting settled in, I realized we didn’t have any artwork for his room. My husband and I almost exclusively decorate with photographs and art from our travels. Jack was new and didn’t have any stamps in his passport yet so I decided to make something for him. “That’s One Fast Bike, Said The Cloud” was the very first framed piece in his room.
Did you study art formally in school?
I considered it briefly but architecture has always been my passion and calling, so art took a back seat. It was just biding its time though, of course.
Where do you currently reside? And why do you like living there?
We live outside Fort Worth, next door to my family. I came to United States as a refugee in summer of 2000 and stayed with my cousin’s family in Texas for several years. We have always lived either together or very close by. So when my husband and I decided to have a baby, I was finishing graduate school in Portland, Oregon. As much as we loved the Pacific Northwest we were missing two things: sunshine and family. Texas has always been good to us and there is something here that gives me the feeling of home. As only a refugee knows, when you find that feeling again, you hold on to it and never let go.
Can you share the schedule of a typical day in the life?
Breakfast is a big deal, always has been. My husband’s schedule changes but he’s with us most mornings. After that, Jack and I go out: to the park, zoo, botanical garden, our backyard, museums, Target (on rainy days!). My cousin joins us most of the time. When we get back home we eat lunch and then we nap. Sometimes it’s just Jack but a lot of times I sneak in a nap, too. Running around with a toddler all morning is a workout because I wouldn’t otherwise. Other times I use nap time to work. Afternoons usually go by fast and they vary in location and activity as well. We spend a lot of time outside. I think that childhood surrounded by nature is the best way to grow up. And I find that my best art pieces are inspired by those moments or memories created during those times.
What are some of your own “rules” for living and working?
Family and health come first, the rest always finds a way of flowing in between and around it. My husband works a lot so that I don’t have to until Jack is ready for school. But we always find time for each other. There was a time when I thought I could never give up architecture, but motherhood changes pretty much everything and you adjust. It’s a kind of adjustment that makes living and working a brand-new experience. Also, naps are a priority. Dishes, laundry, showers—not so much. Work happens when inspiration strikes and if that’s during, say, a playdate, then ideas might get scribbled on a chalkboard. All this to say, there are no more rules. We go with the flow and make happiness instead of to-do lists.
Please describe your last month in a word.
Can you share an as-of-yet unrealized project with us?
I am working on a storybook for Jack. All my art work is essentially a painted story, so I’m very excited about this.
What are you serious about?
Keeping priorities in check. One can easily get carried away with distractions, but our family will always come first.
What things will you never take seriously?
What medium(s) do you most enjoy working with?
I’ve been sketching with pencil, ink, and markers for a very long time, they’re what I’m most comfortable with. But lately I’ve been going back to my school days where experimenting with materials was a daily exercise. So I’ve been trying watercolors, gouache, charcoal, collage—I love trying different textures. I know exactly what the end result is supposed to look like, so I experiment a lot until I reach my goal.
When did you begin painting and drawing?
I’ve enjoyed art for as long as I can remember. But I’ve only recently started producing actual art pieces. Before, it was always a part of a design process or just a sketch exercise. My subject matter was architecture or interior design, so the end result was quite different.
Is there a movement in art history that speaks to you?
Without thinking too much about it and getting lost I’d say Impressionism has always evoked my deepest appreciation for art. I could sit in front of a Monet, Degas, or Pissarro for days. The beauty and tranquility of those works is immeasurable.
How do you approach your art?
It all starts with a story, a memory, or even a silly tune I sing to Jack. The characters emerge from our outdoor adventures, a cartoon, or favorite toy. From there, I sketch an idea. Composition. Colors. Textures. It’s a kind of dance. All these elements move until everything is just right.
A great artist gets inspiration from anywhere—what are some of the most unusual sources of inspiration for you?
“Mrs. Edith” emerged from a sewing box and a string of yarn. Literally. I see ideas in patterns, textures and colors—they are everywhere to me, I just need to open my eyes to them.
How would your describe your artistic style?
What do you do when you encounter artist’s block?
I move on. I have at least three projects I’m working on at any given time. If one is stalling, I give it time and air to breathe until it’s ready and I work on something else.
What are you working on now?
A moon series. Jack is obsessed with the moon. We go out almost every night to look at the moon and say goodnight, of course.
What color palettes have you been into lately?
Cool blues, greys, and browns.
What are some of your favorite Minted pieces?
“Mornings Away” by Emily Jeffords will soon finds its way on my freshly painted wall! As well as Whitney Deal’s “Going for a Swim.” They both evoke a happy feeling, of freedom and serenity.
How do you encourage creativity in your own little one?
I believe that at an early age kids learn most from observing and trying things on their own. Under supervision, of course, but letting children be children. They have an innate ability to invent and create, and giving them time and space to experiment is the key. Providing a safe and diverse environment. Taking them out into the world rather than keeping them inside a classroom. There will be plenty time for that later.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Minted community?
I love comments and feedback. Since I work from home I miss that interaction I had in the architecture studio. The Minted community is my studio surrogate.
What does Minted mean to you as a working artist?
Minted gave me a platform to become one! I never thought I could reach as many people with my art as I do now. It makes me so very happy to know that my art stories are finding a home all over the world and that children are waking up and growing up with them. There is no greater work satisfaction than that!
Please tell me more behind your Minted artist name “Llinella.“
Llinella was a mistake, really. I was having a conversation with my husband about favorite cartoons. I grew up in former Yugoslavia and, later when the war started, in Germany. I watched a lot of European cartoons—French, Polish, Italian, there was a lot of Disney ones, too. But one of my most favorite ones was an Italian one called La Linea (“The Line”), with very simple animations of a man drawn as a white-outline silhouette on a blue background, walking on an infinite line of which he is a part. Facing obstacles and going around them. I found it so entertaining as a child. Decades later, when I attempted to remember the name of it, I called it falsely Llinella. It’s a made-up word but it comes with a story.
Maja’s Favorite Things
We asked Maja to share her current favorite art, style, fashion, and home décor inspirations.
What inspires you: Nature
Favorite recent discovery: Inside Out (Pixar movie)
Favorite place in the world: Home
Favorite charity: SOS Children’s Villages
Favorite movie: Gone With the Wind
Favorite colors: Black and white—not really colors but let’s not get too technical!
Fashion idol: Kate Moss
Favorite city: Rovinj, Croatia
Last stamp on your passport: Madrid, Spain
Song in your head: “Slow Motion” by PHOX
Favorite Instagrammer: @Meg_Nlo
Favorite pieces of art in your home: Photographs taken when Jack was born
Stationery: Oblation Paper & Press in Portland, OR
Pets: None yet but according to Jack, very soon
Favorite flowers: Tulips
Favorite gadgets: iPhone
Favorite drink: Mojito
Favorite dessert: Swiss or Belgian chocolate
Coffee-table book: The Sea Ranch by Donlyn Lyndon and Jim Alinder
Favorite snack: Sunflower seeds
What’s in your Netflix queue: Inside Out, Cars, and Despicable Me
Favorite artist: Edgar Degas
Favorite works of art: “A Carriage at the Races,”, Degas; “Soleil Levant,” Claude Monet
Favorite art supply store: Utrecht
Favorite watercolor paints: Winsor & Newton
Favorite brushes: Raphael Kolinsky
Photos: Courtesy of Maja Cunningham1 COMMENT