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On finding room for creativity. Words by George Upton. Photography by Justin Chung.

In 2015, Serena Mitnik-Miller moved away from San Francisco in search of a slower pace of life. The artist had founded a design boutique, General Store, in the city in 2009, stocking the work of local craftspeople and artists. The concept coincided with a moment of greater consciousness about what we buy and bring into our homes: “It took off quicker than we imagined,” says Mitnik-Miller. As early as 2012, she and her co-founder, designer Mason St. Peter, had been able to open a second space in Los Angeles.

Despite General Store’s success, Mitnik-Miller found she longed for the more mindful lifestyle that was embodied by the handmade objects she sold. Here, she explains how her life has changed since swapping the city for a cabin in Topanga Canyon, and how she found more time and space for her family and art practice.

Alongside your store, you’re also a practicing artist. How did you come to art?
Both my parents are artists and I was introduced to a pretty creative lifestyle early on. I was always making things and got really into photography in high school. At college, I rebelled against being creative and tried to do something else, but I realized being an artist was what I was good at.

What drew you specifically to painting?
It was really just the simplicity of watercolor. There’s this idiosyncrasy of control versus chaos, in controlling the edge of the brushstroke but letting it do its thing in the middle. My approach has evolved a lot over the past 10 years—I’ve refined my palette and gotten into pigments that speak to the environment I’m in. And I feel I’m ready to explore something new. It’s really exciting.

Do you have to consciously make time for your art?
I think when you do something artistic for a living it can be hard to get dialed in, but you get there eventually. It’s a case of figuring out your process. I find I need to create a mental space where I know everything is going to be okay while I dive in. It takes a lot of focus and you need to be present in the moment.

So, I’ll clean the studio, lay out all my materials and it will start to flow. I’ll work first on smaller pieces and then they’ll get bigger and bigger. When I’m starting on a show or a body of work, it can be a slow roll at first but then it will really pick up. By the end, I’m like, “Man, I wish I had another month.”

How do you find balance in your life?
A big part of moving out here was to spend more time in nature. It makes me a much happier person. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had this desire to be more isolated from the hustle and bustle of the world. I found that living in the city, I would be bumping into people on the street or meeting people in the store. It was only when I pulled myself away that I could be more thoughtful about what I was doing and how I spent my time.

 I think it’s important to disconnect, but technology also allows me to live this way: working partly remotely and sharing my life with people who are far away. I don’t know if we would still be living out here after COVID without the technology we have now. It’s been part of me slowing down and prioritizing what’s important.

This story was created in partnership with Samsung as part of Slow Systems—a new series offering simple ideas for transforming everyday moments into more meaningful experiences.

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