Life is Swell with Laihha Organna


I'm Laihha. I'm originally from Oregon, but I've been coming to Maui on and off for several years. After college, I finally made the decision to move here permanently, which has inspired a lot of the artwork that I create.


I work for the nonprofit Maui Hui Mālama. A local nonprofit that works with families and children to offer education and tutoring provides cultural resources. I run the newest program, which is a youth entrepreneurship program. I get to take a lot of my skills and use them there with an amazing group of teenagers who get to learn Life and job skills through running what we call the Maui Hui Mākeke together. We make designs and laser cut products which we sell at markets and online. They're such an inspiring group of kids. My day job is super fun!

Participating in this program, the youngest kid is 11, and the oldest is 18 - so It's a pretty big range of ages. The program mainly focuses on teenagers who are around the age where they'd be thinking about getting their first job. All the revenue goes back into the program and forms a stipend for the kids. So when they graduate, we encourage them to re-invest it into their own business ideas, or if they want to go to college, or to help buy their first car. They have this little chunk of money that for many of them is the first time they've ever had something like that, that they've really worked hard for themselves. We teach them how to use it wisely, and the program's profit-sharing means that all of them get their little cut and are set up for the future.

These kids are already thinking about the future. I love being able to help and to be a part of their journeys at such a young age.

Some of them are amazing artists who draw crazy things and have never been given the idea or taught at a young age that they could possibly ever make a career out of art. I want to be a rock in their journey that's like, "you can do this, I'm doing this, we're doing this together." It's cool to see how many of them see art incorporated into their future.


There's an element of leaning the laser cutting that certainly feels hard and challenging! There's this robot that you're basically trying to use, and that comes with scaling and math, and I'm using more of the left side of my brain - and that feels really good to learn new things. When there's a problem you've gotta solve, and the robot has its own personality and doesn't work all the time - When I'm troubleshooting and trying to get something to work, and it actually works, it feels really, really good. I still get to use my creativity and this more STEM-focused element in making your art physical through complex and challenging learning processes.


I was a little familiar with digital drawing from college. I got into cartography and making digital maps using Adobe illustrator. With an understanding of the process of layering etc., digital illustration has flowed pretty easily for me. I would sit at the computer in the college lab for hours at night as I had access to great programs, and I would draw on the computer with the mouse - It was SO HARD, but I would sit there, and I would draw for hours. It was seriously the hardest thing ever. I finally ended up getting a tablet and started drawing on that, but it still wasn't very good. I saw people who were using iPads for their art, and I was like, OMG; this seems so smooth and easy and good, I'd be able to make beautiful things! My family gifted me an iPad because they really wanted me to be able to create and do these drawings and not have to sit at the awful computer anymore. Starting out on the iPad was a little harder than I expected. When you're learning a new program or software, I struggled a little bit at first. Still, you find your process - and that's what I've found really cool about watching other people is that everyone has their own way that they start a drawing. For me, I open up my first layer, and I always do some sort of pencil or light grey sort of sketch. A lot of times, I don't even start with an idea. I just draw a line, a circle, or a flower and then build off of that into something kinda weird - that's usually how it goes! I layer it all up, and I don't usually have any sort of end visual. It's just an ongoing process, and when I'm done, I'm usually like, "that's interesting, I didn't see that happening!" 


I have always drawn with a little fun, weird, punky edge. In high school, I drew a lot with charcoal and ink and dark things. My drawings were always really spooky, and kind of interesting and funny - but a lot of people didn't understand them. These days, I feel like there's this really bold, funky, weird style that comes into play with surf and skate cultures. I don't feel like a lot of them are that inclusive to women, though, so I like to blend groovy/weird/grungy look with a splash of femininity to make it feel more inclusive to everybody. Wherever I am, I'm always thinking about drawing. I've got images in my mind all the time, always thinking, 'how can I make this as weird as possible? - how can I take something normal and turn it into something someone looks at and ask's - how did you ever think of that?!'

My dad always drew really funky weird stuff too. He was a tattoo artist his whole life, so I think I just inherited some of his sense of creative style, with some Oregon weird meets funky and cool vibe. 


Creativity definitely comes in waves, and often there are times when I don't pick up my iPad and draw because life gets busy, and I just don't have the creative spark. Other times there are too many ideas floating around, and it's almost overwhelming since I don't have time to draw everything that I want to draw. To keep my creativity alive, I often read my favorite book - Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talks all about things like - 'don't burden your creativity, don't make it something that you have to fully depend on because it puts so much pressure on it. It doesn't allow creativity to be as open and flowing as it usually would. I also love to have other outlets - whether it's doing other jobs to help support me, so I'm not burdening my art with paying my bills - or having hobbies like surfing, which resets me every day. I surf almost every day, and it makes me feel back in my body and makes me feel really good and alive! Obviously, I draw a lot of surf stuff, so it helps inspire me too. It can be hard to think of new ideas and create new things without doing new things for yourself and experiencing new people and places. I think switching it up and never having the same day-to-day is what really helps keep my art alive.


Social media, for me, is a real double-edged sword. I have to be grateful because I wouldn't have any of the opportunities I have right now without social media. Still, I also understand that it's really tough! There are people out there who are social media specialists, and there are people who just want to create things. When you are trying to get your own business off the ground and work for yourself, you become everything - the accountant, the marketer, the artist, the content creator. One of the biggest struggles is looking at numbers and letting that be how you value yourself. A lot of it is really random - nobody really knows how to make the algorithms work for them. Most of us just don't understand it, so it can be really easy to look at something and think, why did that get some much attention? And then you start to create based on that, and you're not genuinely creating what you want to make - you're creating what you think you need to make based on the number of likes you might get. That's not a sustainable way to create a long-term future in art. To keep going, you have to do what feels good to you, and so long as you're doing it for numbers, you will probably find that really challenging. I don't have any answers about "this is what works, and this is what doesn't," but what always works best is doing what makes you happy. You have to remember that your favorite drawing may be the one that nobody 'likes' and that's ok! You still have to put it out there.


If you go through my iPad, I've got drawings that I think are really good, and then I'll look at it a couple weeks later and be like, " I just don't like it anymore. It's just not me anymore." I certainly feel like I change a lot in my creativity. Often people will hire me for projects, and you have to be good at accepting feedback. Not everyone's going to like the first draft you did. Sometimes you're going to have to go back four or five times until it's right and your client likes it. That can really make you question your worth and your art - but that's part of the process. It's not failing; it's the journey to getting to where you want to be. 


When working with a client, I really enjoy clear set expectations. I love it when they come to me with pictures of my drawings to point out things they like about my colors or style. It helps me pick apart my creativity and run with ideas. Sometimes when you're given too much room, you just create something that you love and is awesome - but then maybe they don't like it - it gives them another idea and turns in a different direction, and we end up back at the drawing board. Which is fun, but also very time-consuming! For me, I love to spend my time doing drawings that I like doing, or when clients come to me and say - I love this drawing you've done, and I'd love to use it for this - That is the most awesome thing! Custom work is fun; I love getting to know the people I work with - but at the same time, it can be very time-consuming. When a client comes to me with really clear expectations and ideas, and they let me run with it - that's the work I find the most fun!


One of the biggest lessons I'm learning is being able to have the confidence to price yourself so that it's sustainable. We often grow up not talking about money and having it be a really taboo subject, and as artists, we're not always taught how to price things either. So it's been a really tough lesson. I've completed jobs, then after the fact, realize that I didn't get to pay myself that much. It's because you want to give your art. You make art because you really love the way that it makes people feel, as well as yourself. So that's been hard to do, and some lessons have been learned for me there.


If I was starting out again tomorrow, I would give myself permission to be super messy. I think there's a lot of pressure to find a niche or find my style, my color palette, and stick with it - but if you look at my stuff, you can tell I try to be this way sometimes. Still, I want to try different styles, mediums, and colors. So just do that and don't care what anyone else thinks. Eventually, you'll find something that you want to stick with, but even if you don't and your art is all over the place - there's always going to be someone who resonates with what you're making, no matter how over the board it is. So don't put pressure on yourself - you have permission to be messy!


It's super cool to have a design you just made for yourself be something other people can appreciate too, and even cooler when it ends up out in the world when you didn't expect it to! That is a low-pressure creation period that's really nice. For example, creating the Life Is Swell design, I remember it was a Saturday morning. I was sitting on my porch drinking coffee, really in my element, and I was in the mood to draw a bunch of groovy surfer girls. I really appreciate when there are flowers and longboards, shortboards, fishes, and all different sorts of surfboards, combined with my groovy element of 'there has to be something weird.' Hence, their heads had to be flowers! I remember creating that design and showing my roommate, who thought it was really awesome, and it was this super cool moment that's stuck with me. It's one of the more memorable pieces I've created. It's super cool to see your art become something in the real world and to see people wearing it will be really cool. I've never worn my art - This is the first time I'm going to be wearing my art, so it feels like such a milestone!


I feel like Her Waves has a really big impact on artists, maybe more than they know. It started back when they featured me in a blog post and something that small really helped and gave me a lot of traction on my Instagram. That sort of traction is really high quality, and the people interacting are the people who really enjoy what I enjoy, so they really interact with me. It's led to some opportunities to do client work for people. So it just feels like a really supportive foundation to a cool partnership going forward.


There are lots of ways you can support artists. At the end of the day, exposure doesn't pay the bills and for people to be able to create a career out of art is super hard yet so cool. Remember - everything you buy has art on it - from the kitchen appliances you have to your clothes - whatever it might be - everything has some creative design element. You have a choice about where you source things - and ultimately what kind of artists gets supported when you make those buying decisions. You can go to the corporations or shop with smaller businesses and companies. The choice that you get to make has a massive impact on creatives - So I would encourage anybody to think about that every time they're shopping.


I’m inspired by the water, the sun, the moon, and the stars. My countless wipeouts, my dreams of noseriding, and the feeling I get when sliding across the face of a wave.

Meg Jacovino