An illustrator for some of the most beautiful children’s fashion labels, creator of the highly addictive blog, Une Envie de Sel, and the mother of three-year-old Flynn, Maia leads a truly artful life. We learned about her through our friend Jane D’Haene, founder of children’s label Anais & I.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you ended up in Denver: I’m a children’s fashion illustrator (Anais & I, Le Vestiaire de Jeanne, Loup Charmant, Suvi Ainoa, Naïve Life, etc.) and full-time mommy to a very charismatic three-year-old. I’m originally from New York, but lived for many years in the Vail Valley, where I was a freelance illustrator and adventure sports journalist–I know! Crazy combination. That’s where I met my now-husband, chef/journalist Mike Larkin. Four years ago, we got married—on horseback—and moved to Denver, my husband’s hometown, with the crazy idea of adopting a child from China. Two years and several thousand pounds of paperwork later, we met our daughter Flynn (a.k.a. “Q”, which is short for her Chinese name) in a little adoption office in Nanjing. That’s when things really got exciting! I work from a studio in our house near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Who cooks in the house? I do not cook. I am entirely undomesticated. I can barely do laundry. I am extremely lucky that my husband is a former chef, who now cooks exclusively for us!
What’s a typical weeknight? In the summer, we like to take a long cruiser bike ride along the river or around the lakes just before dinner, or pedal down the hill through the old North Denver neighborhoods toward downtown for tacos and caramel-sea salt profiteroles.
Do you have a go-to dinner that appears weekly? Since my husband was in the business, we like to experiment and try new things as often as possible. We do of course have some favorites that crop up – a stand-by at home is a fresh udon or soba stir fry with grilled fish. Our daughter is very fond of a feather-light fried tofu with a crispy crust that daddy makes (stay tuned for Mike’s recipe, which will appear on Momfilter on 4/18!).
What’s in the breakfast rotation? As for breakfast–oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t ask! None of us are big breakfast eaters. My daughter usually refuses to eat at all in the morning. My husband likes black coffee, and as for me (wince) I eat an entire bar of 70% dark chocolate accompanied by a quadruple shot of espresso con panna each and every morning, need it or not.
How do you feel about screen-time? We are a bit anti-TV. As sometime-journalists, we’re readers at heart, and we prefer not to get sucked into the void of evening television. We actually don’t have cable TV at all, but we do download like fiends! The nice thing about the internet age is the ability to tailor your media. Q has a few shows like Lazy Town, Eloise, and Caillou in heavy rotation on her iPad, and is allowed to watch for a while when she’s winding down for a nap. Her favorite film is The Wizard of Oz, or, as she calls it, the “Lizard” of Oz.
How do you celebrate Q’s birthdays? Q’s birthday is in late summer and last year we had a little Moroccan feast on the lawn under our apple tree with a few friends. We hung lanterns from the tree branches and spread rugs on the grass to sit on. We had iced mint tea in tall glasses, and cupcakes instead of cake at Q’s request. We tend to keep it on the small side so as not to overwhelm. I like a birthday to be relaxing, low-maintenance, so that hosting it is not a stress-generator. I have no objection to goody bags – I actually enjoy putting them together and finding unusual things to put inside. Last year I had little carved wooden whistles, origami cranes and sea shells.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life? I am endlessly fascinated by blogs created by mothers who have a unique and visual way of documenting their daily lives. The list is long, but to name just a few: MimiMouse, Maandag Daandag, Izakoo, Tous les Jours Dimanche, My Marrakesh
Tell us about a typical weekend: Since neither of us works a typical five-day week, our weekends are a little less typical than most people’s. I have an aversion to crowds, so I’m not fond of weekend outings where things get really crowded. I tend to use Saturday and Sunday for work. If we can, we have family days during the week when museums and parks are less crowded, and we have the world a bit more to ourselves.
What are your family rituals? We depend on our memberships for family time – the botanic gardens, the contemporary art museum and the nature and science museum are all regular stops on our family days. Cruiser bike rides en famille are also a favorite ritual. For a night out, we ride about ten miles to a little hole-in-the-wall that serves the best Cantonese/Thai/Vietnamese food in town. We have waterfall beef, Vietnamese eggrolls, lemongrass curry and a whole fried fish with hot chili sauce, and then ride home along the riverbanks in the twilight, with the crickets singing and the Rocky Mountains turning mauve against a sapphire sky.
Favorite activities for when you’re stuck indoors? This is Colorado, so very few people let the elements stop them from being out of doors. Running in the pouring rain and hiking in blizzard conditions are par for the course around these parts. I have a nice, sturdy running stroller and a Cougar Chariot bike stroller, both of which keep Q relatively dry in most conditions.
Are you into music? We are definitely music people. My husband has a wonderful singing voice and he used to play in a band, so it has been a bit of a project for him to give Q a well-rounded musical education from the get-go. She listens to everything from Iron and Wine to Mumford & Sons, from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Dean Martin, from Pink Floyd to Flogging Molly. We are HUGE GirlTalk fans. But without a doubt the funniest thing I have ever witnessed is Q strapped into her car seat, belting out “Hey Big Spender” at the top of her little three-year-old lungs. She loves to play air guitar, and has a picture of Bob Dylan in her room that my dad took in the ‘60s when they used to jam together.
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you? There are so many things on my to-do list that I have no hope of ever pawing my way to the bottom of it! I work from a home office and I am also a full-time mommy to a high-energy child who is not yet in school. Because Q spent the first year of her life in an orphanage, it has been very important to us to spend all of our time with her during the first couple of years. We don’t use daycare, and we decided not to put her in preschool until next fall (she will be just turning 4) so as to make up for all the family time that she missed out on at the start. It is quite the juggling act, and there are days (like today!) when I really have to wonder whether I’m going to sink or swim, but I’m so grateful for this time with her, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.
Top 3 favorite books—for Q, top 3 for yourself? We live under a teetering Matterhorn of literature that is constantly threatening to avalanche, so it’s going to be tough to extract just a few. At random, on Q’s night table: Go Dog Go, Madlenka, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. For me: Le Blé en Herbe, The Night Manager, Night Flight
Last book you read? Unfamiliar Fishes
A fail-safe beauty product? I am most easily swayed by the way things smell. I love men’s fragrances, and the one thing that I cannot live without (unfortunately it’s difficult to find here) is Hermés Eau d’Orange Verte body lotion. Years ago, my mother brought me back a small jar of it from the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires, and I have been addicted ever since. I even take it camping.
Favorite family trip ever? I come from a family of adventurous travelers. Traveling is in our blood and our bones. I have a great aunt in France who was an anthropologist, and traveled the world on her own before settling in Casablanca during WWII. She was fiercely independent, never married, and was still a great hiker well into her 90s. My own mother is just as adventurous, and travels the world fly fishing and painting wildlife to this day. Next month, she’ll be packing into the deserts and canyon country of Utah for a multi-day hiking trip. When I was a child we moved every two years, and spent every spring and fall on the road, camping out of our car with two dogs, two cats and two horses. Before I met my husband, I road-tripped alone four or five times a year, West to Utah and California or south to Arizona, camping in the desert in the spring and fall with my little desert tent. Since becoming parents, life has been busy and travel time has been difficult to find. Three weeks and three different regions of China during our adoption trip was our last really great adventure. But we still find the time to go back to New York twice a year to visit family and friends and take Q on her accustomed rounds of museums, galleries and restaurants.
Life philosophy? I’d have to say “don’t sweat the small stuff!” I am a congenital optimist, and I think there’s a lot to be said for keeping things light and living in the moment. Our daughter was born with a severe cleft lip and palate, still unrepaired when we adopted her. It’s a condition that requires many surgeries (a dozen or more likely before she reaches adulthood. She will have three surgeries this summer alone). This might seem like a heavy burden to bear for a small child, and yet she is the happiest creature I have ever had the good fortune to meet. She is healthy, vigorous, charismatic, outgoing, demanding, athletic, endlessly witty, and smart as a whip. What she has been through – losing her birth parents at just three days of age, traveling halfway around the world with a couple of total strangers before her first birthday, the surgeries, the recoveries, the therapy… it really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? We could all learn a lot from her.
How did you transition from journalist to illustrator? I got into children’s illustration at the time we started talking about adopting our daughter. I had never thought I’d settle down and have a family, and the idea came rather late in the game. But as soon as we started thinking about adopting, my creative thoughts moved toward the children’s book illustrations I myself loved as a child. The adoption community is rather large and widespread, and because the process is so long, you get to know a large network of people in the “community”, so I started out doing children’s portraits on commission. Then I was hired by Ree at ThePioneerWoman to illustrate for her blog and her cookbook, which I did for about two years. That lead to other types of commissions, and I got too busy to do portraiture anymore. As for the designers – it’s funny because it never even occurred to me that there was such a niche as children’s fashion illustration. Q wore a lot of VDJ clothes for the first couple of years, and I had sent a sketch of Charlotte’s sister Jeanne (who’s the model for the line) as a thank-you. Charlotte put that sketch on her inspiration board that Christmas, and wrote to ask me if I would do a set of paperdolls as a way of presenting her next collection. Because VDJ is very well respected in the design community, I just started getting emails from designers looking for an illustrator. I was just plain very lucky to work for a series of designers that I admire very much! This year, Jane may have told you, I’m working on a series of illustrations that will go on some tees and dresses in Anais & I collections, which is a lot of fun! I love Jane’s designs (and I love Jane!).
You feel your best when? I am working in my studio, and I hear the thunder of tiny bare feet that precedes the arrival of a small, half-naked daughter, all rose-cheeked and tousle-haired with sleep, a big grin slowly spreading on her face at the sight of me…
Favorite clothing item and why? A pair of cognac over-the-knee pirate-style Frye boots, because I have long legs and tall boots are my friend!
Guiltiest pleasure? Q’s closet of gorgeous clothes (many of them handmade by talented friends and designers around the world). After all someone has to appreciate them…they are entirely lost on my little tomboy!
Proudest moment in parenting? Every single time I hear that amazing, magical creature call me “mommy”. It never ceases to blow me away.