An Interview With Miski
By Jacob Chase
This week I got the chance to sit down with one of our frequent contributors and partnered artists Miski to uncover the mysteries behind her enigmatic and creative flow of vibrant cat illustrations!
Casey Uhelski, otherwise known as Miski is a Tennessee-based freelance tee artist, graphic designer, and kids’ book illustrator for the KeeKee's Big Adventures series. Best known for her stylistic and colorful designs, Miski’s illustrative techniques have a way of whisking away those who look upon them into her own sanctuary of pastels. From grumpy cats to bright designs, Miskis ethereal palette is truly unique in its own right— and that’s why I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to bring a bit of her creative muse to light in our little Q&A session over the weekend.
Welcome to Miski’s World of Creativity:
Jacob Chase: How long have you been creating artwork?
Miski: Forever. It's the most boring answer but that's how it be sometimes.
JC: Who or what were your biggest influences in you choosing a life in art?
Miski: My parents. I really don't know where I'd be without their entire spectrum of support for me. They encouraged my interest in drawing from day one. My appreciation for this only grows the older I get.
JC: What helped you develop your unique style?
Miski: I'm 31 and I still don't have an answer to this. I don't even think I have one. I've always just drawn what I liked as my tastes changed if you can call that my 'style', then I will. But I don't even think this is a bad thing! My style morphs to fit the work I need to do. It helps me get things done and I feel like I can try new things without worrying if it's 'me'. It's all me.
JC: What aspects of your creative process excite you the most?
Miski: I love holding the end result. It's incredible to see something you planned months ago come together and then you get to hold a real physical item in your hands. This is exciting and nerve-wracking for books because there are months and months of active hard effort that go into it and I'm scared of seeing something I messed up (thankfully this hasn’t happened too much). But for Yetee merch it's usually much more light and exciting because I get to focus on one piece of art at a time at my own pace.
JC: Do your cats tend to bombard you while you work?
Miski: Incredibly, no! Only if it's close to time to be fed.
JC: Is there a difference in mindset when you are creating designs for tees and merchandise vs your illustrations for KeeKee’s Big Adventures?
Miski: Yes and no. Doing merchandise design requires a much more strict use of color and shape definition. A shirt needs to look good and be readable even if you only see it for two seconds, but also I want people to buy something I made and still love it years later. Children's books are generally more slowly enjoyed and also read over and over and over again so there's a lot I get to indulge in as the artist with background details and character expression. But doing merchandise design over the years has helped me make the most out of color and make my illustration work more cohesive. But I actively use visual storytelling I developed as an illustrator in both shirts and books. I like to hope that's something people enjoy about my t-shirt stuff, even if they aren't aware of it.
JC: What does the Amaro brand mean to you and how did it come about?
Miski: Amaro came from a bunch of bad luck black cat sketches I drew after a weeks-long slump. It clicked with people more than I ever expected and it's become a really varied and fun character I can apply to all sorts of styles and ideas. There's a ton of freedom and I love being able to just apply themes I want to explore to this cat and not have to worry about it being "off-brand". I don't know if I can say what it means to me, but it definitely gave me the confidence to feel like I could make something worthwhile for myself.
(Original 2017 Amaro sketches from Miski’s Tumblr)
JC: Are your pets a big part of your artistic world?
Miski: The answer would probably be yes but I'm struggling to come up with a specific example. But I will say even little baby me LOVED cats and LOVED drawing cats and if I told them I do that for most of my career, I think they'd be proud of me. I think any specific inclusion of pets in my art is more like easter eggs rather than features. Like, Amaro is based on my old black cat that passed away, but his personality didn't really match Amaro's.
JC: Are you a big coffee connoisseur?
Miski: I hesitate to say connoisseur ahaha. I can always appreciate good coffee but I'll drink just about anything except this one coffee I can only describe as 'ground depression' that office supply companies deliver to break rooms. That coffee is not ok.
JC: Do you have a favorite stage of the creative process?
Miski: Everything that comes after composition and sketching. It's so mentally taxing to do those things that everything else is a breeze from there. But if I had to pick *1* it's the last 10% of making anything, it's just that little bit of polish that really brings what you're working on to home. I always give myself a day away from a piece to do the last 10% because letting your brain and eyes rest reveals a lot of little things you can improve that really add up.
JC: What sort of references do you use when creating?
Miski: I definitely save art I admire to look at later if I'm really feeling stuck, sometimes you just need a theme or a color scheme you haven't thought about in a while to get you started. There used to be a really good Tumblr that would post color palettes based on photos but I think it's long-defunct. I also like referencing photos because they offer a lot more interpretation on my end. I especially like slice-of-lifey photos of pets and flowers/nature. This actually reminded me of a piece I wanted to make based on that one dog in Bruges, Belgium that slept on the window sill overseeing the canal (he passed away sometime in 2015, rest his good doggy heart).
JC: What programs or mediums do you utilize to create your work?
Miski: Just Photoshop. My shirt designs are done with the pencil and gradient tools. I'll sometimes still sketch stuff on paper but it's definitely a rarity these days.
JC: Has apparel always been something you’ve wanted to create artwork for?
Miski: Not even remotely. It seemed completely out of my field in college, I'd have never in my life thought I'd be doing what I'm doing and having so much fun with it. I was sure I'd *have* to learn illustrator and I never found the time in school or after graduating to really get into doing so. I also didn't think I had the skills or the mindset to be a 'graphic designer' either. It just so happened both of these things were untrue.
JC: What’s it like collaborating with VIDEO-20XX on the AMARO-VIDEO brand, do you collaborate with other artists in a similar way?
Miski: Oh my god Marc is THE BEST. I even feel bad saying it's a collab because I feel like he's pulling SO MUCH of the weight with his design sense here. I'll offer these very messy sketches and "hmm maybe" ideas that I think would pair well with VIDEO-20XX and he delivers more than I could ever hope for. There's a lot of back and forth in terms of weighing what we think is working the most between several concepts or if an idea is worth doing. I think we communicate well because we both have a very specific vision and feel we're going for. The recent splatter tee reprint used a neon blue/pink/cyan recolor I did over a year ago that we couldn't find a good use for and abandoned. At the last minute before we launched the recent reprint he found that PERFECT SHIRT and my year-old recolor looked like it was made for it and it somehow looks even better in person. It's very rare that that happens. Usually recoloring is just an expected necessity when you're trying to find interesting blanks to print on.
AMARO-VIDEO is definitely the most I've directly collaborated with someone so far other than occasionally doing coloring swaps with shirt designs (which I've just once done with Kevin Fagaragan's linework)
But honestly I feel like every Amaro thing I've made has some element of collaboration with at least one member of The Yetee to it, even if I made the art, I could never make the huge variety of what I've made alone.
JC: What are your favorite three cat characters?
Miski: Sakamoto from Nichijou, Fukumaru from Ojisama to Neko, and uhh can I say every cat in March Comes in Like a Lion? If not I'll say I'd pay good money to take the Catbus.
JC: What was one of your favorite memories when creating/releasing a piece of art for The Yetee?
Miski: It wasn't any one moment as it was the outpour of support I received from all ends when I decided to focus on my original work. It's been the most rewarding and overall best decision I've made. I was so unsure how well it would go, I'm so grateful I was given a chance and even more grateful that people took interest in something personal to me.
JC: Is there an unreleased/upcoming piece of work that you would like to tease to your fans/readers of this interview on The Yetee?
Miski: HMM I've got big summer plans for some brand new Amaro stuff, but there's an older ~flowery~ piece that's making a comeback soon alongside some new stuff that's currently in development that I hope to be able to announce very soon.
Speaking of new things coming soon… We just launched a brand new enamel pin designed by Miski over in her collection! This purring little pit is just adorable! You know the age-old adage if I fits I sits— Well this little peachy companion is ready to fits wherever you sits it. Adopt your very own Purring Pit now over on the YeteeMart!
Purring Pit Enamel Pin
If you would like to see more of Miski’s work, please check out her artist collection over at the YeteeMart, as well as her website, Tumblr, and social media accounts:
Artist Store: https://theyetee.com/collections/miski
Social Media: Twitter & Facebook