I found Olivia Sawai on Instagram and immediately knew I wanted her to create something for our boutique. Right as we were about to start the mural process, COVID hit and we had to put the project on hold, but I knew it would be perfect for when our doors reopened. It’s impossible not to smile when you see her bright and imaginative design, and I love when customers take the time to snap a selfie in front of it.
I loved how it turned out so much, we decided to sell a print version of Olivia’s mural for our customers to hang at home. It’s not only a great budget-friendly way to collect accessible art, but to support local artists and small business, too.
Scroll through to learn more about Olivia’s story, the process behind her mural, what inspires her and more. Be sure follow Olivia and shop the limited-edition Olivia Sawai print as part of the Prism Home Collection!
What initially got you interested in art?
As a little girl, I was always drawn to creativity, whether coloring with crayons, dancing (I would make up my own choreography routines to JLo and force my little sister to do them with me!) or going on the computer to digitally draw. But, it wasn’t until 2011 when I was exposed to art history in college that I became passionately interested in art. Art history shook me to my core as I was so intrigued by the stories behind legendary paintings. What really pushed me to start creating work of my own was an art class geared towards elementary school teachers. I remember being introduced to the works of Henri Matisse and Keith Haring and thought to myself, “The world needs more women abstract artists.” And, here I am.
Tell us about your path to becoming an artist?
The day I decided to pick up a paint brush and create my own work was a peaceful moment for me. In 2015, I started painting as a stress reliever; a self-care kind of thing. At this time in my life, I was dealing with severe mental health issues so I turned to painting and Jhene Aiko’s music to get me through. I applied everything I learned in that art class for elementary school teachers and experimented with acrylic paint to find my own style. June 2018 was the time I actually identified as an artist and motivated myself to put my work on Instagram. I was terrified. I made it a goal to post every painting to document my progress and within two months, I had booked a collective art show in Venice Beach. I was shocked, yet excited to know that someone even liked my art! After that, my career moved at a fast pace. I collaborated with my favorite company Slowdown Studio, had my first solo art show at Burke Mercantile (shout out to Maggie!), and did a mural for Starbucks in Westwood. Although my art career has been filled with wins, I’m still learning and always challenging myself to grow and improve everyday.
What was the process and inspiration behind your mural at Prism Boutique?
My inspiration was the shop itself. I remember when Dayna initially asked me about a mural I was hyped because it was local and I felt seen/represented as a Long Beach native. My process for commission pieces always begins with research on the brand/company/shop or even person. I like to have a story or foundation before I design. The day I stepped into the shop, I was in heaven. I was mainly attracted to the overall color palette and home goods section as it consists of beautifully designed candles, unique plant pots, and curated kitchenware that reflect Spanish Villas. I meticulously pulled from the elements that caught my eye to create a bright and whimsical design to not only bring happiness to everyone, but to also compliment the goods in the shop. Each shape and element in the mural can be used as a photo-op and I see it as form and function!
How do you approach a mural project vs. a smaller painting or digital piece?
A lot of prep work goes into a mural project. I have to get organized and make a game plan ahead of time to keep the process smooth. For example, dimensions and size play just as important a role as the color palette, so getting those elements locked down are my first priorities. I also make the color palettes ahead of time so I know which colors to mix together.
I feel more comfortable creating on a smaller scale because I feel like I can easily fix the mistakes if they were to happen, I can have a do-over without getting on a ladder. Digital pieces are probably the easiest of all three because deleting a mistake is so simple. I don’t normally need to plan things out as much as i would for a mural, but staying organized is still important no matter what medium you’re using.
Where do you find inspiration? What do you do to stay creatively inspired?
Recently, I’ve been getting inspiration from vintage furniture pages on Instagram and from Pinterest. I create tons of mood boards to look through when I need a little inspo. I also look to nature, particularly the hues of sunset at the beach or bright, gorgeous flowers. Honestly, staying creatively inspired has been difficult for me. Recently, it hasn’t been consistent and when I force myself to be inspired it usually causes friction. It’s important to know that artists’ processes aren’t linear and it’s okay to take a break - it’s okay to not live, breathe and eat art for even a couple of minutes.
What’s a typical day like for you these days - if there even is one?
I’m not sure there is a typical day for me during this time! If I’m not over-booked with projects, I sometimes will find myself still creating digital artwork in my free time to get my creative jitters out - otherwise I’ll lose my ideas. While I might not have a consistent routine these days, one thing I make sure to do every single day is carve out self-care time. Whether that be a nice bath, my skin-care routine, sunset walks to get fresh air or listen to podcasts. The time has given me the opportunity to take care of myself, recharge and slow down. Oh, and feeding myself yummy food of course!
As a freelance artist you’re often focused on being your most productive self, even before the shutdown. How are you balancing that pressure with your personal self care and wellbeing?
Before things shut down, I was having a difficult time balancing personal self-care and work. I tend to overwork myself to the point of anxiety attacks and I was in an unhealthy cycle. Being forced to stay home more has helped me adjust to a new lifestyle of balancing my own wellbeing with work and has allowed me to say no when I can’t do something. I’ve really started to see my worth as an artist which has forced me to put my own health first because I can’t create if I’m not healthy physically and mentally. I now give myself time to prep for a project along with the space and time I need to complete it without rushing. I’m so thankful most of my clients have respected my process. I take days off to just relax and do absolutely nothing. I’ll find my ego trying to turn up and say, “you’re not being productive. You could be doing something right now,” but that’s normal when I lived my life that way for the longest time. So, as of right now, I’ll work on a project for 4 hours if needed and then pick it back up the next day.
How do you attract your ideal clients - or know a client that approaches you will be a good fit? Who’s your dream client?
My ideal clients are honestly anyone or brand that will respect me as a woman of color and as a female artist. I truly believe in the power of the universe so I always strive to manifest positive, kind and authentic clients. Sometimes I try to decode emails or DMs to detect if the client is a good fit…really. A client is a good fit when they effectively communicate with me and respect my process - I don’t do well with demands or micro-managing. I am an empath and so I look beyond business interactions; I prefer to build relationships and if a client is understanding of that, then we are a good fit!
My dream client would have to be R&B singer Kehlani. I love her and everything about her, it would be an absolute dream come true to create a piece for her. I’m going to manifest that!
What advice do you have for young creatives or those just starting out in their career?
Sometimes art can be overwhelming in the beginning. Sometimes, it can feel discouraging and sometimes the art world can be intimidating. But, those reasons should not stop you from doing what you love. Don’t be afraid to take risks or to put yourself out there because there may be people looking for your artwork. There are people waiting to support you! Be true and authentic to yourself because you will attract great opportunities and people to you. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help. There is a great amount of artists willing to help you. Continue to create for yourself, continue to share your passion with others and stay ten toes down. Your worth is not measured by what others think of you! Growth takes time and with time, you will find yourself perfecting your craft each day.Supporting local artists, like Olivia, is what keeps our community diverse, eclectic and thriving. Make sure to come see Olivia’s work IRL at our Long Beach boutique, follow her on Instagram, and shop our exclusive-to-Prism, limited-edition print.