Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Artist Misha works in a home studio filled with collectibles-- shelves lined with Ghost in the Shell figures, Sanrio accessories, Gloomy Bear goodies and lots of small toys that she has accumulated over the years. Amidst the hodgepodge of cute, pop culture references, she paints adorable girls with big eyes. There are the girls with cherry blossom festivals and English high teas tangled in their hair, pieces from a series called "I Wish I Could Do More With My Hair" that will appear in a forthcoming food-themed show. There's the girl with half her face appearing as a Day of the Dead skull, something that Misha considers a recurring theme in her work. And then there are the Harajuku fashionistas, several paintings representing different styles of Tokyo street fashion, that will appear in Sweet Streets opening this September.

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

"I got offered it and I was about ready to die," says Misha of the group show. "When I was in Japan, Harajuku was the coolest place to be and they have a lot of different street styles and a lot of fun. I didn't even get to do a lot of the ones I wanted."

Misha's contributions for Sweet Streets

Shannon CottrellMisha's contributions for Sweet Streets

"One of the big ones, she has a mask with a heart face and she's the one who is based on my favorite designer, Takuya Angel," she adds. "I got to meet him. He's really cool."

Misha plays audio books as she paints and the Sweet Streets pieces came about while listening to the entire Dune series.

"I think it took me two and a half, three months to listen to the whole thing," she says. "So, for most of it, I was listening to Dune, which is kind of freaky. So, some of it, I'm like, this is when Paul took the Water of Life."

"Kei" by Misha for Sweet Streets

Shannon Cottrell"Kei" by Misha for Sweet Streets

Misha works with Liquitex medium viscosity. Occasionally, she paints portraits on velvet, something she began when a test painting of Walter from The Big Lebowski "turned out awesome."

"It takes a different skill set," says Misha, comparing her usual work with the black velvet pieces. "This stuff is my drawings, my big eyes, whereas, that stuff is more like classic portraiture."

Misha's signature style features girls with huge eyes and, frequently, elongated necks. The look of her girls came about during local artist gatherings known as Drink and Draw.

"I bought a long skinny pad of watercolor paper because I thought, 'That's interesting, why don't I try this?'" she says. "I ended up drawing the girls to fit the paper and their necks got longer and longer. They kind of reminded me of these Japanese ghost women who have these super long, long necks...It's influenced a whole new feel for me."

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

Misha's studio appears as a love letter to Japan. She fell in love with the country after watching a movie when she was a child.

"My friend and I were going to run away to Japan and live under Mt. Fuji," she recalls. "Of course, as kids, you're picturing yourself living at the base of a mountain not realizing, it's a volcano, kids, it can blow. We had these magical dreams of running away to Japan."

One shelf is devoted to Hello Kitty items, some of which stem from last year's Three Apples show, where her work appeared. Other pieces, she picked up here and there.

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

"If you open my purse, almost every bag has at least four Hello Kitty items," she says. "That's how I keep my collection down. It has to be useful. The plushes are an exception. "

She has a handful of Gloomy Bear items, most of which came from a JapanLA tour of the country, where she was able to meet artist Mori Chack.

Then there is the shelf and portion of a wall dedicated to Ghost in the Shell.

"I have a Tachikoma problem," she says, referencing the AI units from the famed series.

Misha has been collecting Ghost in the Shell items for about five years, beginning, simply enough, with a keychain.

Inside Misha's Studio: Where Hello Kitty Meets 'Ghost in the Shell'

Shannon Cottrell

"Jungle down in Little Tokyo knows when I walk in," she says, mentioning the anime collectible shop. "I have a little issue."

She also collects art, including a lot of Junko Mizuno's work. The most recent additions to this collection are two prints that she picked up at Comic-Con a few weeks ago.

Misha took up art as a high school senior, just because she needed to take another class. Living in the Detroit area, she soon ended up working for Chrysler, drawing car manuals. "It was miserable," she says. After that, she became a tattoo artist.

"It's kind of like they feed each other back and forth," says Mischa of tattoo art and painting. "For the longest time, all of my artwork had outlines on it and looked very, very, very tattoo-y. Then, now, my tattoos are starting to have less outlines and look more painterly. They're feeding back and forth continuously."

Over the years, her pieces have ended up in the hands of people like Kevin Smith and Jonah Hill and she's been able to land some pretty cool design projects. Most recently, she worked on The Grilled Cheese Truck.

Misha and her husband moved through several cities-- Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans-- before finally settling in Los Angeles. In her new hometown, Misha was able to land a gig at Zulu Tattoo. At the same time, she found a strong market for her painting.

Misha's own tattoo design

Shannon CottrellMisha's own tattoo design

"As much as love tattooing, there is an expiration date on how long I'm going to be able to bend over, how long my hands are going to last doing long hours of tattooing," she says. "As I get older, I feel it more, so I was looking to find a way to gauge the next thing, graphic design, painting, so that I won't miss tattooing as much when it's time to go away from it."

In L.A., Misha met other artists who tipped her off to galleries that would show her work. She began attending the weekly Drink and Draw sessions. But, one of the big selling points of the city, was the amount of Japanese culture present.

"I don't know if I can leave L.A.," she says. "Any city I go to, I'm going to have to have Japanese culture."