By: Trent Leith / March 10, 2022
On Monday the 7th the Vancouver Canucks announced their latest addition to their special warmup jerseys this season, the Pride jersey. So far this season the Canucks have worn special warmup jerseys for Diwali, the Lunar New Year, and Black History Month. The Canucks are a team that seem to put more heart and soul into their special warmup jerseys than most other teams around the league.
We spoke with Mio, the designer of the latest Canucks special jerseys. Mio is a Swedish hockey illustrator and designer and she was kind enough to give us some insights about her jerseys.
Trent: Your Twitter profile says you’re from Sweden, have you ever been to BC? I ask because BC obviously ties so heavily into the design of this jersey.
Mio: No! I have never been to Canada or the US! I was looking at doing school in BC, you know before for the pandemic. Even before hockey, Vancouver has always been a city I really like. So I had researched and I have a friend who studied there and I have a lot of friends living in Vancouver. So even though I’m not from there or have been there, I have a lot of people around me who have.
Trent: Was it those people that you leaned on because obviously a lot of the BC Landscape and wildlife are a part of these jerseys? Or how did you tie all that in if you’ve never been here before?
Mio: Research. Just looking at images and trying to figure it out and seeing and reading articles about Vancouver. It’s very similar to Sweden, especially the conifer woods, a lot of mountains, and lakes, it is a similar climate to what I am used to. It’s different, but Sweden and Canada have similar climates. That means that a lot of that is there too, it is as much Sweden as it is Vancouver in a way because that is where I was brought up. I grew up in the city on a big lake with a lot of boats and buildings and it reminds me of Vancouver and that feeling is present a lot.
I also asked my friends, which is tricky because I couldn’t tell them about the project. It was like “oh can you tell me about the Vancouver landscape and its nature for no reason at all”. The Canucks Team also helped me too.
Trent: How did you end up getting this job with the Canucks? Did they reach out to you? Did you find them? How did this all come together?
Mio: They actually had a form for anyone to fill out on Twitter that said they were looking for queer artists to do their Pride Jersey and asked for your portfolio and a little bit about yourself. So I sent that in and the next day I got an email from the Canucks. It was a really quick response, and all of this happened in like three weeks, so it’s all been very fast and a very intense process.
I remember that. Being like, “oh wait, they actually responded to me!”. Even though I have a lot of experience, it’s such a big deal, so you don’t think that you can get it because there are so many other artists that are doing this, you know? There are people actually living in Vancouver, and I was like “Well, okay! I guess they picked me”
Trent: Wow, that’s crazy. I guess it shows that sometimes you just have to shoot your shot.
Mio: Yeah, it was around on Twitter and a few of my friends applied right away. It did say “local artist” on the form, which I’m definitely a local artist 100%. I mean I’m Swedish so that’s kind of local for the Canucks, right? I didn’t know if I should apply. I actually had to use a friend’s phone number to fill in the form because my Swedish one didn’t work. In my first meeting, they were wondering why I had a Canadian number if I was in Sweden. I was like “well, you see, this is my friend’s number because mine didn’t work.”
Trent: How does it feel to be able to represent the queer community in such a public-facing way like this?
Mio: It feels really great. I’ve done stuff like this in the past for some Dallas Stars t-shirts and, posters and stuff like that. But at this scale? To have it so proudly worn and so out there. To reflect my own experience and my story, that is really cool, it’s really, really fun to see. And you know it’s important for me to be able to say, “Hey, I’m a queer hockey fan. This is what I do, and this is what can be done.” and the Canucks supporting that idea? I love it.
My friends and people around me were saying, “oh my god, this is cool “ and “oh I like the story you’re telling” or “I like what you’re trying to do”. People getting what I’m trying to tell and understanding this is where I come from and understanding me is really cool.
What really speaks out to me is the details, because I love the details. People are noticing that and paying attention to those details and noticing “oh, there’s a little work in this, I like what you’re saying with this” and understanding those small details, I think that’s my favourite part. It’s really showing that storytelling is in the details. It is in small things, you know?
Trent: Your jersey design tells a story about the queer journey, would you be able to walk me through what aspects of the journey were represented on the jersey?
Mio: In the beginning of the process, I really just want to work with all colours overall. After our first concept meeting, we decided to work more inspired by the intersectional pride flag that includes both the trans flag as well as brown and black and interweaving it through the design to make it feel more natural. I didn’t want it to feel like a pride flag pasted on a jersey, that was really important to me.
I had two concepts, a nature-focused one and one focused on the concept of ‘breaking the ice because the orca breaks through the ice and that’s a pretty powerful queer metaphor for coming out, as well as just the experience of being queer. Those two were the two main ideas I played with. The way we decided on this one was it works well as a story, and I feel like it captures the queer experience. It works well from the water to the trees, to the sky, and then ice.
It was about telling a story. I wondered what purple and blue could represent for the queer community. A lot of nature metaphors are used in queer literature and art. As an artist who is queer, I see a lot of art and poetry in that and that’s why nature metaphors felt very right for this. So the blue and purple became the story about the flow, the happiness, and the freedom of water, but also that water can drown you. I want the contrast of danger and wonderfulness and the turmoil of the weird thing that makes us queer.
From that, I wanted to create the journey of the people who started one of those at the bottom of the ocean and worked their way up and create that narrative. I included two individuals to show community because in a romantic aspect, in a family aspect, friendship aspect, the community is the most important part of being queer, so I really wanted to show that journey.
Then we get to the ice, which is where you struggle, which I felt was very important to show because being queer is great, but we live in a society where that is not always true. It can be really hard, whether it’s a government, family, friends, or random people, being queer is hard. I really thought that it was important to show both parts of the journey of being queer. Coming out is hard, coming to terms with it is hard, understanding is hard and to see an acceptance is hard. I was really grateful that they allowed me to include that because I think that’s such an important part of the journey to show.
After that, is where we come to the flowers, the people, and the trees. It’s about stepping into something new and about growing, about flourishing, and about the hopefulness of starting the journey. That’s why I wanted to use the trans colours in the flowers. I am not trans myself, so that section isn’t based on my own experience or feelings, rather it’s inspired by what my friends have told me. I felt the growth was a metaphor that could be applied to that area, and a neat little detail and that’s why I chose to implement those colours there. I didn’t want to add the colours randomly, I wanted them to have a bit of meaning, a bit of a touch.
Then we get to the mountains and a bird and the transformation from the ground to the sky and floating really there being able to explore the euphoric feeling of being free and being queer and finding yourself. That’s really the journey I wanted to tell, you know, the whole cycle of what the queer experience is based on my own experience and the people around me’s experiences. This makes it both general and personal at the same time.
And for the shoulder patch, there are the two orcas circling each other, I really love that design. I asked the Canucks if I could use it as a shoulder patch, and they really liked that idea.
Trent: The Canucks said this jersey was based on your experiences and you’ve said that too. How did you decide to tie that story with the landscape of BC versus some of the other ideas you might have had?
Mio: We had those two concepts and at the end, the Canucks liked this one the most and we were going to move forward with it. This was the one that was most personal to me. I’m not from Vancouver, but I am a nature child. I grew up around water, mountains, and trees, I like being outside, exploring, and adventuring. That has always been really important to me, as a kid it was being outside, swimming during the summers, and pretending you’re a mermaid. Going into the forest and hunting with a bow and arrow was my dream as a kid. That stuff isn’t necessarily queer, but I am queer so I feel those parts of my experience became relevant in the design. Like I said, there is so much nature in queer art and works that it feels like a concept a lot of us relate to and use to express ourselves.
I felt that worked really well on a jersey, especially in a province that is as nature heavy as BC is and that feels like a natural way to tie Vancouver in when there may not be obvious queer symbols to tie them together. Bringing this together that way felt really fun and exciting.
Trent: Would you be able to walk me through your creative process?
Mio: The process for me is really always references first. I make a Pinterest board and I look through all the images I can find and I save them. I try to get everything down in visual examples because I’m a very visual person. I want to collect general images like queer art, queer stuff, the Canucks, Vancouver, and different art styles. I looked for paper cut art, how embroidery can be done, and cool stuff with flag colours.
I try to look for different art styles and expressions that can be applied well to an embroidered jersey. That was something to be considered, the fact it will be embroidered on a jersey. I need to adapt and what kind of art style does that?
Once I gathered the visual library then I sketched it, I sketched out all of my images and showed the Canucks. After that, I cleaned up two of the designs, the ones I mentioned, and they decided to go with the Gorca. The Gorca is the nickname I gave it (gay orca). But yeah, we went with the Sea-to-Sky Concept.
After that, I tweaked the file and the colours which was hard for me. I am used to using lots of colours, shading, and textures in my work, but of course, you can’t do that in an embroidered jersey. That’s why I looked up other art styles and references to see how people do that, how they work in that art style, and how I can do it with my own art. I was really trying to figure out how I can do the kind of detail I normally do but through limited colours only using the pride flag and adapting the design to that. It was really challenging for me, but also the experimenting was very fun.
Trent: All the commentary around the jersey I’ve seen has been overwhelmingly positive, people seem to absolutely love this design and of course, the community it represents. How does it feel to have such overwhelming praise for your work? And are you seeing the same positivity around your work that I am?
Mio: AAHH! It feels very overwhelming in a very good way. I have seen mostly positive stuff and it’s overwhelming that people like this. I knew it was going to get attention, it’s just the nature of something like this. But it got so much attention and so much of it was positive. It’s such a weird thing, as an artist to separate yourself and work in trying to look from it from outside that.
I see this as a design that I’ve been working on most of it for two weeks. The design I was so anxious about and excited about, and really nervous about. Would people get the story I’m trying to tell or is it too abstract or weird? For me, the jersey is the process and my feelings about it and art and the anxiety that comes with it and the constant stress.
When people are seeing this their overwhelming response you’re like “oh wow”. It’s really cool and weird you kind of want to, AAHH, scream all the time because people care about something I made. How did that happen? How did I, the silly little artist make something people care about? It’s weird and cool and a little emotional.
Trent: Many around the NHL look at the Canucks as a team that leads the league with the best of these jerseys, with the Black History Month, Lunar New Year and Diwali ones before this, how does it feel to have your art in that collection?
Mio: I am screaming. I got into hockey one and half years ago and I wouldn’t share my art with anyone and now I am doing jerseys that are so visible. It’s really cool. It’s a real honour and really nice and surprising in the best way.
I have had weeks to get adjusted to it but, I haven’t really got used to it yet. It’s such a big deal in a sense. This is something people are going to see and notice. I love the other jerseys, the artists did amazing jobs and I am so impressed, and to be able to think “I am a part of that too?!” My mind is exploding, I have so many feelings. It’s so cool and exciting. I am very proud of it, but I am also very anxious. It is crazy, I am not going to lie. It’s kind of an unreal experience to start doing something because you love it and then it turns into your career.
The Canucks will be wearing the new Pride jersey on March 11th during pre-game warmup and are sure to be the best team in sports that night. Make sure to follow Mio on Twitter @flyerswitch and to check out her portfolio for much more hockey-related artwork. Special thanks to Mio for giving us her time to for an interview.