APIECE APART WOMAN
What does it actually look like to follow your intuition? Serena Mitnik-Miller is an example. Straight out of college, as an artist in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset working at a surf shop, she took a chance on a building that came up for rent, thinking she’d use the back yard as a studio and transform the front into a storefront to cover her rent. The shop, General Store, quickly took over the entire space, and the rest as she puts it “is history” (or actually, history plus a lot of sweat and work). In 2013, General Store expanded with a second location in Venice Beach, and last year Serena made the move with her husband to Topanga Canyon, where she lives now in an 1920s one room hunting cabin they’re in the throes of restoring to its former glory. Serena still makes time — between a regular commute between SF and LA — to create artwork, her watercolor compositions at once delicate and complex, each layered studies of the connectedness between nature, form, material, and of finding pattern in disparate parts. We visited her in Topanga to discuss these ideas.
Serena wears SALINA CONTRAST YOKE DRESS in cream - email [email protected] to purchase or visit our POP UP
Could you share more about your upbringing and childhood?
I was born in Massachusetts and spent the first half of my childhood on the East coast. We moved around a fair amount until we moved to the north shore of Kauai when I was ten. This was a life changing experience for me — it was just me, my mom, and my brother growing up. My mom was an art school graduate turned Waldorf kindergarten teacher so I grew up in a very creative and healthy home. Naturally, living in Hawaii was an amazing experience as a child, and I fell in love with the ocean and spent a lot of time outdoors. I was very fortunate throughout my time on Kauai to be able to visit family on the mainland and experience different ways of life and location. By the time I graduated high school I was excited to experience the world. At first I went back to my roots in Boston and eventually made my way to California where I now call home.
Have you always made art?
Both of my parents are artists, so growing up it was just a part of life. My mom encouraged all types of creative practice from dance to music to painting; I was taught watercolor at an early age in Waldorf school and it stuck. Early on, I never thought I could make a life out of art, and it wasn't until I dropped out of school and traveled that I was able to admit to myself that I needed to follow a creative path. When I moved to California, I felt like I truly found myself and eventually my work.
How has your style, inspiration, and/or process changed through time (or has it)?
I am constantly searching for inspiration and pushing myself to evolve, but what I have gathered from my short existence on this planet is you cannot force things to happen. The process of gathering the inspiration has become routine: eyes open, visually documenting surroundings day by day. The style and process evolves on their own terms.
Do you ever go through times of feeling stagnant or stale in your style or work?
All the time. Multitasking helps me. I am very fortunate to have a few creative outlets so when one becomes stagnant I can focus more energy on the other. Traveling also does the trick, nothing better than stepping away from my daily routine to get perspective.
Can you share more about your perspective (the challenges + benefits) of having a self-made career and working independently?
For me independence is freedom. There is nothing more rewarding than creating something, and I have never been scared of the work. I have definitely doubted myself and made mistakes, but I always learn something. The best is when you doubt yourself but still take the chance and are surprised by the outcome. You can never know what is out there if you don't try. The biggest challenge for me is the “adult stuff”: logistics, taxes, employees…and just when you think you have it all sorted, poof!
The best is when you doubt yourself but still take the chance and are surprised by the outcome. You can never know what is out there if you don't try.
You recently shifted to living part time in Los Angeles from SF: what went into the decision? How has location influenced your career?
I fell in love with Topanga when my mom lived here 10 years ago and always dreamed of moving here. I love that it feels like you’re in the country, but you can still be in the city in 30 minutes. When I started getting more work in LA, it just made sense to settle here. Topanga is my happy place and I feel so fortunate that we can now call it home.
Our house was originally built in 1927 as a one room hunting cabin. It still has the original brick fireplace, but at some point two bedrooms and a bathroom were added. The previous owner was a very eccentric designer who added some amazing details like nautical portholes as skylights. It’s all a work in progress, but we’re trying to restore the house to its original glory by opening up the original cabin as one main living area. We recently were able to refinish the original floors with a white wash, and we painted the interior white to lighten the space. We added and small deck and paved a driveway and are now starting to plant!
You must spend a lot of time on the road! What are your favorite spots to stop on the trip between SF and LA?
Most of our favorite places are surf spots. Honestly most of the time we just power through and stop for gas but when we do have some free time we love to camp on the beach, or in the back of our truck. My favorite part of the drive is the stretch of 101 north of Santa Barbara and I also love taking the scenic rout through Malibu.
Do you have any sort of beauty routine?
My daily routine is pretty simple: wash face, moisturize with SPF and a little lip gloss and sometime mascara. Earth Tu Face makes a great daily face cleanse called Palmarosa + Aloe. I cannot go anywhere without Dr. Hauschka Lip Care Stick, and for a little color I like to use Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm.
What is next for you?
Becoming a mother!
Serena wears PUEBLA SHORT WABI DRESS in navy woodgrain
Photography by YE RIN MOK | Films by CLAIRE COTTRELL | Styling by ALEXA HOTZ | Interview by LEIGH PATTERSON