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Mindzai Creative

Mindzai Interviews: Leela of Native Bear

Posted by Susannah Leigh Caviness on

*We like to pick our client's brains on a regular basis. This is the first (of many) in our new blog series.

At Mindzai Creative, we have the pleasure of working with some really badass and talented people. I was fortunate enough to share a studio space with my friend, Leela of Native Bear for awhile, and she was a client far before that. We wanted to start highlighting some of our clients and their processes, and how Mindzai has helped give their brand a little push. Our goal is to make it easier for artists and businesses to thrive off their ideas, and guide them in making smart marketing decisions with our wide array of print services

Keep reading to learn more about Leela!

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Hello! Introduce yourself and what the Native Bear brand embodies.

Hi! My name is Leela Hoehn Robinson and I’m the owner and artist behind Native Bear, paper, gifts & vibes. I design greeting cardsart prints, and screen printed goods inspired by 1970s psych rock imagery, nature, and personal interpretations of archetypal symbols.

Photo by Ashley White

photo by Ashley White

How did you make the decision to move from block printing to digital printing on some of your items? 

When I realized that I didn’t want to be a starving artist forever. I knew I needed to get my hands out of the production somewhat in order to grow and handle large orders. This was also so that I could expand my design options. When you block print you are very limited to how much you can print and how many colors. I love that about block printing and I feel that’s part of its beauty but as a business I was ready to move on.


What's your favorite thing/theme to draw or create? 

I tend to draw scenes of the sunrise/sunset over mountains pretty often. I think that must be my happy place.


photo by Ashley White

How do you find balance between work, creating, maintaining relationships, brainstorming, sleeping, doing all of the things?!

I really don’t think there’s any such thing as a balance, and that’s coming from a friggin’ Libra. People like to say there’s a way to balance it all, but I don’t believe in it really. Different parts of your life will suffer at varying times depending on what you’re putting most of your focus on. Things fluctuate though; sometimes you need to be a workaholic and sometimes you need to just close up shop and sit on the couch. If I hadn’t come home from my day job to work another 6-8 hours formulating my online business everyday for almost 2 years then I would have never been able to quit my day job. How badly are you trying to meet a goal? If it’s all you can think about then girl. Do what you gotta do. Your friends and family will understand.


At what moment did you realize that making and selling watercolor prints would be beneficial to Native Bear? 

I was so excited to have found Mindzai! Art prints are one of my biggest sellers at markets and all of my customers love the texture and quality of the watercolor prints that you guys make me. Before I was actually printing them myself on a large format Epson but, again, this was completely unsustainable for a small growing business. I’m happy to be able to provide consistently high quality prints that only take me a moment to order online.

photo by Ashley White

Are there any other products you'd like to add to the Native Bear line down the road?

I would love to offer some enamel pins! I have been jonesing to design a couple of little rose gold pins for the line. Maybe I’ll get my act together and actually draw something out soon…


What's your favorite workday soundtrack?

Oh my. That really depends on the workday! Lately it’s been a mix of Black Mountain, Savages, Bully, Santigold, and Rhianna (specifically Bitch Better Have My Money).


photo by Ashley White

Which screen printed tea towel is your best seller or personal favorite? Are there more designs in the works? 

The Seeing Eye tea towel is definitely my best selling design. I can’t seem to keep enough of these on the shelf! I’m working on a couple of new designs for fall, but I think I’ll stick with the black and white look. There’s just something so lovely and strong about a black and white colorway. 


Mindzai helped create your gold foil business cards! Do you think business cards are still important as they used to be, especially in the digital/instagram age? (As a side note they are my favorite cards we've made to date and I look at them all the time!)

Business cards are definitely still relevant. Especially as a paper and gift brand I feel like they will always be important, plus not everyone is as used to instagram being the new norm of networking. There’s still plenty of people and higher ups out there that still expect you to have a card (and a fancy one at that!)

photo by Ashley White

What is the biggest lesson you've had to learn (the hard way) in running your own business? Or being an artist in general?

Be careful of what advice you take when talking to others about your art career aspirations. Often times as an artist trying to make a sustainable career your friends and loved ones will express hesitation about your ideas or the risks you take. Take it with a grain of salt and don’t take it personally. People are terrified of failure and insecurities tend to come out when someone is talking about making art or designing for a living. Yes, art is a risky career but so is just about any other job these days. Listen to your gut!

photo by Ashley White


For artists or business owners just starting out, what print products would you recommend to them to help push their brand?

Watercolor or giclee prints! Also, business cards and postcards (something else I needed to order from you guys, like, last week).


How would you like Native Bear to grow in the coming years? Flagship store? More employees? Dogs?

You know I love a dog. I might take another dog, a full time employee, and maybe even a studio with a showroom! My goal by the end of this year is to have Native Bear stocked in 100 stores in the US, so in the next couple of years I would love to triple that. 


photo by Ashley White

What is the worst movie you've ever seen? 

A French movie that came out a few years ago called Amour, directed by Michael Haneke. Not because it was bad (it was beautiful) but because it was SO. SAD. I was sobbing throughout the whole thing, and then had to basically run to the bathroom at the end to continue crying. My husband slept through the whole thing.


How long does it take you (on average) to carve a stamp, from start to finish?

It really depends on the size and complexity of the design I suppose! A return address stamp used to take me about 15-30 min., whereas a wedding invitation stamp could take up to 4 hours to carve from start to finish. I recently stopped selling hand carved stamps and my back is thanking me for it. 


What would 2016 Leela say to 2011 Leela?

Patience, grasshopper.


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-Leela's line of watercolor prints, screen printed towels, stationary, and goods can be found at http://www.native-bear.com/

- All photos by Ashley White Photos