Women to Know: Q&A with Lisa Aihara

Lisa Aihara is a visual artist working with watercolor, hand-lettering, illustrations, and graphic design. A mama of two, Lisa draws (pun intended) inspiration from her own life, her sense of humor, and her knack for storytelling. From her silly comics about the struggles of motherhood to her illustrative branding work seen throughout Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, she brings her playful style to create an emotional connection. She is also the illustrator for the children’s book Change-Maker Village and contributing writer to the Red Tricycle

This month we had the pleasure of sitting down with Lisa who shared a little bit about her day-to-day life, her art, her journey and the ups and downs of parenting two littles while pursuing her creative passions. Check out the Q&A below and don't forget to snag a piece of Lisa's work in the August edition of the Polished Post. 

Visual artist Lisa Aihara Q&A on Motherhood, Creative Passions Visual artist Lisa Aihara Q&A on Motherhood, Creative Passions

PP: Tell us a little bit about yourself (you, where you live, your family, your career)

LA: I live in Los Angeles with my husband Steven, almost-3yo son, and a brand-new 4-month-old daughter. In my past life, I built a digital marketing career that I’m super proud of, with a resume full of brag-worthy companies like Disney, Hulu, and Experian. But then I started my own business in 2016 to pursue my creative passions, and haven’t looked back since.

PP: Tell us a little bit about your journey as an artist. We would love to hear your story – how you got started, where you are now and all the ups and downs in between. 

LA: I like to call my journey a bit of a scavenger hunt if you will. Even before the switch from corporate to entrepreneurship, I’ve always been jumping from one thing to another, following my curiosities. That never stopped, and I also did the same thing as an artist—starting from greeting cards, to wedding stationery, to branding design, to children’s book illustrations, spanning across mediums like calligraphy, lettering, doodling, web/branding/merchandise/graphic design.

I always struggled with this notion of having to be a specialist at something, because there are so many things in this world that looked too fun to pass up. And I love fun, I love to play. I love finding something I’ve never done before and then that rush of glee when something starts clicking. I’m a junkie for it. So I’ve picked up all these treasures along this journey that I absolutely love—it’s not curated, it’s kind of a mess, but it’s mine and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

PP: How have things changed for you since the start of the pandemic? (both professionally and personally)

LA: Has any of us come out unscathed from this pandemic? And I don’t just mean it in a way where we’ve all been hurt—we’ve all had some sort of scar to show for it, whether it’s because of something you did, something someone did to you, what happened in the world that affected you… it was all compounded in the last year or so (and it feels like it’s been 5 years, doesn’t it?)

The most profound change for me was that I have become much more compassionate, or at least am consciously trying to be. In my personal life, I welcomed my second child, my first girl, during the pandemic. I also saw and was affected by the discourse, the trauma, the conflicts that others were encountering; this fire that was ravaging us. Of civil unrest, of distrust in authority, of detesting each other for the views that we had.

To be very frank about my own position, I am an Asian American (Japanese American) woman who stands with Black lives, am hopeful for the science, got vaccinated, and voted for Biden. What feels sad for me is how these statements have become so very incendiary—sure, politics was always a more or less “private” topic, but I can’t help but notice how we’ve all seemed to forget how to have discussions. How to agree to disagree. How to argue without attacking. I truly believe that we are great as a group because of our differences, and because we’re a nation that allows all views to be heard—and there’s no right or wrong there. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is “We all fight because we are all right.” This is a work in progress for me too, to not criticize someone for having different views as me, but I’ve really been working hard exercising my muscle for compassion, never forgetting that no matter how detestable I may feel someone’s beliefs are, they are human with human flaws and human emotions. It’s easier for me to discount them as monsters, but I want instead to approach them with kindness. That’s definitely not the same person I was before all of this, and it’s exhausting, which must mean it’s the right path for me to be on and the right practice to take on.

PP: Where do you find inspiration these days? Is there anyone in particular in your life who inspires you?

LA: My son is at that age now where he is going through life with such intense joy and passion. Everything really matters to him, in a way that I think we’ve all forgotten how to. It’s inspired me to give a sh*t about things, which really influence the way that I work too. 

PP: Share a little bit about your daily life – what does the typical routine look like for you?

LA: Oh man, I really wish I had a routine right about now—that’s always the advice for managing life with a toddler, and I definitely haven’t gotten into that (please don’t ask us about our bedtime routine or lack thereof).

Life with a baby and a toddler is pretty nuts, but luckily I have a husband who is like in it with me—I’m not his manager or his coach, we’re like in the trenches together. I wake up to my still-nursing toddler son waking me up at around 5am, and then he lets me lounge around with him while he gets milk with me in bed. Then the baby (who is the chillest baby I’ve ever met) will start cooing and asking to start the day at around 6:30am so we all get up to make breakfast. Then it’s nonstop playing or baby fussing or toddler tantrum or preschool home school learning time or feeding or squeezing in some work or… if you’re a mom, you know. This is until my husband gets home around 2pm during the toddler’s nap (he’s on an early shift). So from there, we sort of switch main parent duty, I get to do a little bit of uninterrupted(ish) work, then dinner, bedtime, I usually fall asleep with the toddler, waddle over to my bed at midnight, baby wakes up for a feeding at 4am until… groundhogs day.

When I write it out it’s really kind of nuts but the even nuttier thing is that I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We’ve thought about childcare to get me more time to work, but as much as I could sometimes throw my toddler against a wall, I just love having so much time with them—and I know it’s just for now. So I’m really enjoying it.

PP: What is the last book you read? Favorite musician/band you can’t get enough of? 

LA: I had to look at my Goodreads account for this because it’s been a while (ha!) but I read Exhalation by Ted Chiang and it was divine. My music taste I can only describe as trashy-basic, but I love all genres. With that said what I choose on my own is Taylor Swift (the greatest storyteller of our generation), a Ke$ha song always gets me going, and right now my son is really into singing and dancing to BTS. 

PP: How do you integrate your professional life and personal life? (mom-work-life balance)

LA: It’s kind of inseparable right now since mom life is so demanding in this current stage. With that said I do a lot of brain dump/planning stuff while we’re eating breakfast at the table, jot down ideas while I doodle with my son, set up an activity for him to do so I can steal a few minutes, and reply to email while breastfeeding. I think before, I would get really caught up in this idea that I needed this separation between work and personal time, but have found that acknowledging that they’re both aspects of my life that I love has helped to find these pockets in between for everything, and they’re co-habitating much nicer together.

PP: How has the past year and a half affected you emotionally, physically and within your work? Can you share any rituals or practices you use to stay afloat that you’ve learned along the way? 

LA: I honestly haven’t had the chance to carve out a time for regular rituals, but I have definitely taken up breathing work when I’m feeling overwhelmed and it’s like a little bite-size of yoga that I’ve dearly missed. In those little pockets of time I have where the baby is napping and the toddler has found something that captures his attention, I sometimes prioritize breathing over answering one email. Nothing fancy, just eyes closed ujjayi breath for a few times, and I feel like I can get through the day. After delivering two babies without pain management and just breathing, I really believe in the power of the breath and how it can get us through anything.

PP: Can you share the most recent act of kindness you witnessed? (or that was shown to you)

LA: Ok this is so cheesy and I keep talking about my son but—we just moved into this new house this year so the yard is still a mess and we have all these weeds that dry up and get on all our clothes, we call them sticky bugs. So Steven and I were talking outside, and he had all these sticky bugs on his pants, and my son just sat down next to him and started taking them off. At first, we thought he was just playing but after they were all off, he said “There you go!” and so we knew he was taking it off for him, the way we do for him when he gets the sticky bugs. It’s such a small thing but I’m of course too much of a sap to not tear up when I saw it, and have hope that what we model for them is really going to have an effect on them. 


PP: What are your professional and life plans for the next year? Any words of wisdom for those of us who are also parents and small business owners, striving to lead more intentional lives and build something beautiful?

LA: This year I’m working on another children’s book illustration, and now have the bug to write my own as well so I have a few ideas I’m letting marinade. I’m also hoping to take on more branding clients as well as start producing content to help business owners DIY their branding confidently and intentionally so I’m really excited for that.

I truly believe that whether we’re talking about parenthood, business, or our relationships, it all starts within. If we don’t love ourselves for the imperfect beings that we are, we are not going to be able to extend anything outside of us. Knowing ourselves, our triggers our joys our love language our flaws, and everything in between, with no expectations or shame. I've found that to be the path to understanding how we show up in this world, how we run our businesses, how we parent our children, how we work on our marriages. So we can love what we build, and see that it’s beautiful for what it is.

PP: What is your favorite Polished Prints tee and how does it resonate with you? 

LA: I just LOVE the print “Love more judge less” and think it’s a personal attack (haha) on me—I am so judgey, so it totally resonates with me. But on a more serious note I think it’s such a great reminder that while certain things can be together, other things are mutually exclusive and actually take up space for another thing. I think love/judging is an example of that. You have to make room in your heart for love to enter, and it’s not going to work if it’s cluttered with judgment. 

PP: Where can we learn more about you and your work? (website, social, etc.)

LA: You can find me at lisaaihara.com and on Instagram @lisaaihara where you’ll see my artwork, illustrations, silly comics, and whatever random thing I’m interested in. I also founded Ellette Studio (www.ellettestudio.com / @ellettestudio), a strategic branding studio for creative entrepreneurs.

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