A bit of research and planning can help make a PCS a little smoother. Army spouse/artist/illustrator/printmaker Mirka Hokkanen talks about transition and transformation in this January 2021 MilspoFAN interview.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Mirka: Hi, I’m Mirka, a military spouse, artist, illustrator, printmaker, mom, and entrepreneur. I wear a lot of hats every day. My husband and I have been married for 14 years, and he has been in the Army for one year longer than we’ve been married. I grew up in Finland, and was an international student finishing up my graduate degree when I met my husband. After graduation, we got married, and I’ll tell ya – life in the Army has not been boring. We’ve lived all across the US, in Germany, now in Hawaii, and next in Korea. We have 3 kids, of whom I’m currently homeschooling two. Our youngest is 2, and she goes to a family daycare several days a week, so I can manage the other two a bit better.
I have worked odd jobs in the arts since we’ve been married. I’ve taught art everywhere from a state university to my garage, organized art events, attended various art fairs and markets, shown my work in galleries around the world, and recently became a published picture book illustrator. My second book comes out early 2021! I also run an Etsy shop that I stock with linocuts and wood engravings, digital prints, tea towels, stationery, and other small home goods.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as an artist – creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Mirka: Becoming an Army spouse totally changed the plans I had after graduation. I thought I would get a job teaching art at a university, or at least move back to Finland. So instead of a “real” job and then doing art on the side, I ended up doing a bunch of odd jobs at every place we lived. I became very creative in networking quickly and finding a place where I could plant myself. But it has been hard to mold a solid career from the instability when a lot of the art world runs through in-person networking.
After about 9 years of starting over-and-over again, I decided to pivot toward picture book illustration. I was always drawn to that type of work, and after finding the right people to get advice from, I jumped all in. The advantage of the picture book illustration world is that it all runs rather smoothly online. I don’t need to be in person for anything, so it doesn’t matter where we move, I can work from anywhere, and all my contacts are reachable via email or social media.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Mirka: Moving every 2-3 years is pretty tough for a printmaker and fine artist. It takes time to get to know people in the area, and just as you are getting your footing, it’s time to pick up and leave. I have become very fast in networking and hit the ground running with googling and emailing people before we even arrive in a new city to introduce myself and say hello.
I think one thing that has helped make “art”-friends everywhere we go is that I take genuine interest in the area/culture/people and see where I can volunteer, join a membership or help. Volunteering and showing up for meetings and events is a natural way to meet people and let people know who you are. Instead of thinking what can I get from here, I think what can I give to each particular community. Each city has been different, and it takes a bit of trial and error to find the folks you vibe with the best, but if you don’t get yourself around galleries, art centers, universities, craft guilds etc., they won’t come around looking for you. I feel so grateful to have made lifelong friends in each place where we have lived so far.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Mirka: I am currently getting ready to start purging our home and get ready for a move this spring. I try to start early, especially now that we are doing another overseas move and are only allowed have our HHG. I am working on two books that I can’t officially announce yet, but that will be coming out in 2023, and am working on an illustration for a puzzle to come out in 2021.
I’m also working on my very first graphic novel, and cross my fingers that it would catch a publisher’s eye early this (2021) year. Before we move and I put my big printing press into storage for the next 2 years, I hope to finish a few more linocuts, too, and record and put together a few online classes. LOL It might be a tall order to finish all that, but I thrive when I have multiple projects going on simultaneously.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Mirka: I feel like I have three on my heart today:
Give yourself grace. It is so easy to compare your journey to other artists around you, and that can really zap you of joy and creativity. Stop comparing yourself to others and give yourself grace. You are on your own journey, and it’s different from others’, and you will reach your goals when it’s the right time.
Turn jealousy into joy. I follow and enjoy a lot of artists’ accounts, but sometimes that green monster lifts its head from the ugly darkness. When that happens, I acknowledge the feeling and flip the tables on that monster. The other person is celebrating a win, and they don’t even know that I exist in most cases. The reason I am jealous is because of something inside me that I am unhappy about. When I acknowledge that, I can make future goals (see next paragraph), focus on my blessings and accomplishments, and realize that I am on my own path, which has nothing to do with the other person. After that, I can truly be happy for both myself and the other person, and show up to cheer them on and lift them up.
Write down your goals. You are on your own path, but instead of walking around aimlessly, it really helps to have some clear goals set. You can use that jealousy monster as a positive here. What are you jealous about? It usually has to do with some life goal that you would like to attain, too. So, take some time to dream and write down your ultimate dream goals list. Those goals might feel impossible to reach, but when you break them down into smaller and smaller steps, you will have the stepping stones to reach where you want to go. For example: I wanted to illustrate a picture book. It was a multiple-year journey, where I took classes, made a lot of art, went to conferences, networked, got my work critiqued, signed with an agent, built a social media presence, etc. Breaking things down and learning and implementing things one step at a time, I finally reached one big goal. And that is part of an even bigger goal of making a career out of it. So, get a pencil out and write out life-goals, 5-year goals, 1-year goals, 6-month, 1-month, and 1-week goals, however small you need to make the steps to make your dreams come true.
You can Find Mirka online at:
YouTube: Process videos https://www.youtube.com/c/MirkaHokkanen
Etchr lab free watercolor class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KDJWaY-DAQ&t=3s