Dear Montecito: Mia Wilkinson

By Stella Haffner   |   October 21, 2020

I’m going to tell you something, and I’ll bet you haven’t heard it before. Back in school, my most stressful subject was art class. Every single year. Even when I liked it, art class was always a source of anxiety for me. I cannot isolate shapes or reproduce still images, and as someone who felt the approval of my teachers like a hit of morning coffee, this was a big disappointment. It is no surprise then that I admire (that is, I’ve felt jealous of) those who were inclined to visual arts. As they say, the grass is always greener – but was it emerald, moss, or chartreuse? 

Enter the author of today’s letter, Mia Wilkinson. This was someone who in retrospect exhibited from an elementary school level the characteristics of a thriving artist. I remember waiting at the Ojai water park with my friend Jasmin what would have been 11 years ago now. We were waiting for the Wilkinson family – Chris, Lisa, Mia, and younger brother Kai – to come join us in the Lazy River. So up walks Mia with her gorgeous ginger hair that has been dyed. Dip dyed. In Kool-Aid? Third grade Stella thought that was immensely cool. 

Well, we’ve both grown up. I’ve expanded my vocabulary, possessing all new synonyms for the word “cool,” and Mia Wilkinson has evolved into the hip, groovy, chic artist she is today. 

Dear Montecito, 

After leaving for Los Angeles, Mia Wilkinson now recognizes that Montecito is a bubble, but the beaches and hiking trails are way nicer

I grew up drawing on any surface I could get my hands on, and, luckily for me, it developed into a skill I use in many areas of my life. No surprise, art class was always my favorite part of elementary school, and once I got to high school, I knew I wanted to make some sort of career out of it. I basically realized I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. So I enrolled in the MAD Academy (Multimedia Arts and Design) at Santa Barbara High School, where my artwork met the computer. Here, I found a new love for Photoshop and Illustrator. I guess it was a long time coming that my passion for art would “go digital” – I’ve always loved photography, even when I was little and only got to take pictures when my aunt let me borrow her camera. 

And that’s how all my interests came together! Photography, illustration, and computer design converged on the same path: graphic design was the right career for me.

Whether I consciously realized it or not, I always knew I was heading for a career in art. Truth be told, since junior high I was ready to move somewhere else, just to see something different. But it was my senior year of high school that saw me enrolling in extra classes at Middle College. I was finally allowed to take more subjects and have more freedom in what I wanted to study. I spent two years completing my general ed at SBCC before moving on to the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.

I have learned so much since moving away for college. One of the most important lessons? Having grown up in one of the most beautiful places has turned me into a beach snob. Honestly, nothing can top the beaches and hiking here in Santa Barbara. Don’t get me wrong, Los Angeles beaches are nice, but they don’t really compare at the end of the day. On the other hand moving away has given me perspective. I can now see what a bubble Montecito is.

But there are other, more big-picture things I’ve learned too. I’ve learned how important it is to take your time, and I think that is the advice I’d want to give anyone leaving for college. You don’t need to know what you want to do right away, and SBCC is very helpful with finding your niche. Taking classes there will help avoid rushing into a major you may end up hating. So as I said, take your time, talk to counselors, and use all the resources you can to discover what actually fits best for you. 

I try to take my own advice and focus on where I want to be and how I want to get there. Within the next five years, I’m hoping to land an internship with a design studio and eventually be able to freelance on the side. Taking my time has let me consider what I want to pursue the most and why I was drawn to arts fields in the first place. I have always wanted to work on album coverings, clothing, and magazines, so I see all those things on the horizon. Looking forward, I also plan to spend some time honing a newer passion: film and video. My brother Kai shares this interest with me, so I hope to eventually partner up with him, utilizing the skills I already have in arts. 

To sort of wrap this up, I guess I want to say how important it is to find your passion. It can take some reflecting to decide where you want to end up, even if it’s been staring you in the face your whole life. But taking the time to become well acquainted with what you want will help set your sights for the future. At least it has for me. 



P.S. Parents of Montecito children, if you have recommendations on people to feature in “Dear Montecito” please contact me,


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