We had the good fortune of connecting with Tori Higa and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tori, do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
One of my favorite quotes when it comes to creating art is by Theodore Roosevelt. He says, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” That quote has influenced me greatly over the years. It’s always tempting to want to purchase the latest art supplies, but I find that when I use what I already have in my immediate surroundings, my art turns out better and I have used more of my creativity than I would have if I just went out and bought some sort of new supply. I have found that I don’t need the latest and greatest things to be creative which is why I love to work with vintage fabric or paper scraps so much. The quote also speaks to me in regards to using my talents. I may not be considered to be as gifted as another person, and that is OK. We are all gifted with different measures of talent. The quote reminds me that I need to focus on the gift that has been given to me and use it where I am right now in this moment. I don’t need to wait until I am better or have accomplished more. I can simply do what I can, with what I have, where I am.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have considered myself to be an artist for as long as I can remember. As a kid, my parents always supported and encouraged me, so it was easy to want to be an artist when I grew up. Nobody told me that I couldn’t. After graduating Pepperdine University with an art degree, I went on to design carpet patterns and soon after, started my own handmade greeting card company. I created the art for the cards and ran the business for five years, with my husband joining me for the last three years. It was more than a full time job. I’m very thankful for that time in my life and look back on it with fondness – my cards even got into the store of my dreams (Anthropologie)…but I was always working and something had to give after the birth of our first baby. I had always wanted to be a mom with a side art hustle, not the other way around. Some people can genuinely balance it all and that’s wonderful for them, but I discovered that I wasn’t one of those people. So we made the difficult decision to close up shop and I started freelancing on the side. I was creating art like stationery products and eventually wall art. I loved it. I have always loved creating art with some sort of product or end goal in mind. Even though I felt creatively fulfilled, I had this longing inside of me to create children’s books. I took a class at Otis back when I was designing carpet patterns right after college. It was a children’s book illustration class. The main thing from the class that I took away was that it’s wise to write children’s books and not just illustrate them if you want to get work. I started tinkering around with ideas, but always found myself putting it on the back burner because life just got in the way with moves, jobs, and kids. But the dream of writing and illustrating children’s books started rising in me again over the last few years and I started devoting time and energy to what feels like a creative calling. I became very passionate about it. I had the huge breakthrough of my first book, “The Christmas Color”, being published by Little Lamb Books this last October. I loved every bit of the process of creating this book and it’s my dream to make many more children’s books in the future. I have written several more books that I plan to illustrate. I am constantly inspired by kids and the idea of getting to inspire them right back through words and pictures.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love living in Riverside. It’s a great place to live in and of itself, but it is also only an hour or so to the beach or the mountains. I would start by showing her around Riverside a bit and walking around the historic hotel in downtown Riverside, The Mission Inn. Las Campanas is the out door Mexican restaurant attached to the hotel and the food and atmosphere are amazing. Table side guacamole is a must. Across the street is the biggest and best antique store I have been to in LA. I always find the perfect gifts to give in that store and the inspiration is endless. I would also take a day trip to Malibu for sure. I love going to the old Getty there as well as walking around the shops and finding a beach to set up camp and get lost in a good book. I always take any out of town visitors to the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for a Vanilla Ice Blended and the Malibu location is my favorite. I went to college in that area, so it’s nostalgic for me. I also would have to do another day trip to the beach which would be to the South Bay. I would start with going to Manhattan Beach and then work our way through Hermosa, Redondo, and end up in Palos Verdes with the spectacular views. I would definitely take her around Terranea for an easy hike on the hotel premises and dinner at Nelson’s. I love the art on the walls and the food is excellent. And then I would finish things off more locally. We’d take a simple walk in my neighborhood (one of my favorite things to do all year long), make time for our favorite local coffee shop (Arcade – their lavender lattes are unmatched), and eat at one of our favorite lunch spots, Backstreet, for the best turkey sandwiches.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have a lot of “shout outs.” SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) has been an amazing resource for all of my children’s book endeavors. I was able to attend their in person event last year (pre-COVID19) with one of my best friends of more than 20 years who happens to also be one of my favorite LA artists (Melissa Jolley of www.inkandpaperart.com – I love her and I love her art!) Next to my family, she has been my number one art cheerleader. I also took an online art business course this year that I would highly recommend through Arts and Entertainment Ministries (www.a-e-m.org). This intense course was a deep dive into what it’s like to be an artist in business and went above and beyond what I expected. It has a faith component at it’s core which I really appreciate because it spoke to me on a deeper level. And lastly, my children’s book publisher, Little Lamb Books, has poured so much into me as a debut author/illustrator with them. The founder, Rachel Pellegrino, has truly been a mentor to me and that is by design. It’s how she is wired. My book would not be out in the world if it wasn’t for her (and her team) accepting my proposal and for her guidance, support, and encouragement along the way. I am so grateful to her for making my book dream a reality.
Headshot by Hillary Smiley