This is the story of Jade Mikell, taken from our ongoing interviews and real-life stories of the creatives in our community. Jade is a budding artist and an autistic activist living in Victoria, British Columbia. Her interdisciplinary works are beautiful intersections of observation and expression, ones that address tougher issues with genuine honesty.
“As a warning before our interview: my home is very small — less than 200sq ft — I don’t want you to be too surprised!”
I glanced at the message Jade had sent, and stepped out of my car onto a broad sidewalk. Despite being a weekday afternoon, this part of downtown Victoria stood still. I scanned the neighbourhood for my destination — and caught a glimpse of the majestic heritage building through a row of trees that stood guard out front. The exterior of Jade’s apartment complex looked like a Late Victorian palace.
Yet, within this castle was the humble home and work studio of one budding artist. Just as Jade had warned in her message, her studio was compact — but well utilized. The main room hosted a bed and a kitchenette. A small table was pushed up against one wall, and a shelf of book and canvas lined another. To maximize space, a rack of clothes hung in mid-air from the lofty ceiling.
This studio had not always been Jade’s home. She had moved from her idyllic island hometown to Victoria in pursuit of her artistic journey.
Just like her home, Jade herself was petite. Her stature was slim, and her delicate features exuded a guarded softness. Her face wore no make up, and splashes of endearing freckles highlighted her fair complexion. Tattoos of Totoro and his friends ran up her slender limbs.
“How did you first get into art?” I asked.
“I first engaged with art as a two-year old, insofar as a two-year-old can, and it has provided respite ever since. There’s never been a time that art has not only influenced my identity and well-being, but defined it,” Jade responded, her eyes wandered off to one side as she spoke. She paused.
“As an Autistic child pre-diagnosis,” Jade continued, “I used art as a way to download, fundamentally, the onslaught of visuals I encountered in my day, I would draw every day for hours, well into my adolescence.”
“I was raised in Waldorf education, so art was extensively integrated into the curriculum, but I found myself hyperconscious of my work, preferring it to be a private meditation.”
“That hasn’t changed,” Jade added with a smile.
“Art is very private for me, which I have sought to push the boundaries of, because art is an opportunity for communication. However, I always create my best work when I don't have to socially mask, and that’s when I’m alone. I can stim, I can verbalize, I can undertake my work on my own terms.”
I noted the wide range of artwork around her room. A stack of delightful colours on canvas were tucked in one corner, few sheets of carbon black paper sat on a chair and traces of handmade furniture can be spotted throughout the studio.
“What materials do you enjoy working with most?”
Jade lowered the painting she held and said, “I’ve worked with drawn and paint-based mediums upon flat surfaces for the longest time, but have recently begun to explore sculpture, furniture, and contemporary abstract forms composed of wood and fabric, choosing to use discarded wood cut offs and repurposed fibres as best I can and letting the forms emerge as they are informed by the materials to.”
She got up and sat on her bed, where a pile of small wooden sculptures were laid out on the duvet. Each piece had its own unique shape, but all corners and edges were hand-sanded to a softened outline. The shapes were not finished with paint or varnish, exposing the rich textures of the wood’s natural grains.
Jade's sculptural pieces were reminiscent of their maker — both emanated a beauty that was tenderly layered, soothing and raw.
She picked up a U-shaped sculptured and explained that these pieces were once a part of an art installation she created.
“My Father is a craftsman who builds artisanal homes and furnishings, so bringing my interpretation of his teachings into my work is very important to me; working with wood connects me to him. I am also hoping to learn rag weaving from my Grand-Mere, who has been practicing the craft for over 30 years, and integrate this knowledge into my installation work.”
“Materials that are sustainable and connect me to familial craft most speak to me.”
I nodded, and a vision of Jade’s family home came to mind. A small island, with stretches of untouched forest and sea to share between a closely knitted community. Pursuing the unknown — the hallmark of a creative career — in an unfamiliar environment was no easy feat.
“What do you do when you become unmotivated with your art?”
“What precedes artist's block for me most of all is the structural limitations of my current home, which is also my studio. This space’s total breadth is 185 sq ft, and it is where everything happens — meal-preparation, rest, and of course my work.”
“I work on my bed and floor, having to pack up each day as the sun sets. This interruption of flow can cause me to feel stagnant in my practice, or experience imposter syndrome. Moreover, I am grateful for the opportunity to do creative work at all. Living in such a small space enforces a sense of minimalism that I have always held, as a small space will become chaotic if you do not surround yourself with intentional, meaningful furnishings that converse harmoniously.”
“To overcome this block, I’ll transition my practice to the nearby park. I am enormously privileged to live in close proximity to an expansive natural space, taking my work into the organic world does wonders in combating a sense of stagnancy.”
Curious to dive deeper into Jade’s art journey, we packed up her painting materials and took a short stroll to the nearby park.
“What inspired you to pursue a creative career, Jade?” I asked, as she set down her canvas and paints on a large grass patch with a seasoned familiarity.
“From a young age, I knew not necessarily that I wanted to do creative work, but that I had to. Art has never been a choice to me, I don’t think you choose this path unless you feel that it is essential for you to. It can be gruelling, defeating work—but it’s also work that needs to be done. We rely on this language to nourish ourselves, even those of us who disparage the arts as a valid career opportunity rely on the arts in some way.”
Jade sat down. The canvas she decided to work with was a plaid wood panel — a fitting material for the lush greenery that served as her backdrop.
“My ultimate goal is to become an Art Therapist, and I am studying to do so,” Jade said as she dipped a flat brush into a jar of fern coloured paint.
Stillness settled in.
For a moment, there was little lineation between Jade and her surroundings. From her small hands flowed large, confident strokes of olive and fern shades. A stray grass wandered onto her canvas with its mossy spike. Swaying branches from the surrounding trees casted ripples of light on both the artist and her canvas, plunging the two into a creative world of their own.
“Why art therapy? Does this intersect your work in autism advocacy?” I asked, as she layered a stroke of white over the green she painted.
“My art and my advocacy work are inextricably connected. My work is built upon the foundation of reclaiming comfort, prioritizing safety and rest for disabled people, and providing personal examples of what one disabled person finds to be soothing. Every work I make is an elegy to my Autistic livelihood, as I create it imbued with the Autistic experience, as it were.”
What strength do you think quiet people have?
“Intentionality, conscious observation. Comfort in still moments. A connection to operating from a place of authentic practice not defined by profit or industry,” Jade answered earnestly, as she continued to paint.
In one mere afternoon, I have observed tremendous strength in this quiet individual. It takes a strong soul to host a kind heart. Her pursuit of an arduous artistic career, her active work in autism advocacy, and even her genuine concern for my comfort throughout my entire visit cemented my conclusion.
Never dismiss humble roots and quiet façades — for great things always came from small beginnings.
Note: For further reading on Jade’s work on autistic advocacy, we will publish a Part 2 to outline her work in the field and her thoughts on this subject.