Selective Focus: Masha Conner’s Character Drawings & Pro-Choice Art

When Masha Conner isn’t working as a nurse at WE Health clinic, she can be found pouring her passion for abortion access, drag shows and cosplay into her character designs. A collection of her drawings and a recent interview can be read below:

When did you start drawing, and at what point did you start to merge that with your pro-choice designs?

I loved drawing Sailor Moon characters when I was 10. Between then and now I have tried many different mediums: ceramics, photography, painting, collage. I worked as an art teacher for several years at a preschool. Drawing has always been a way to express my feelings about things that have an impact on me. When I go see a drag show, I immediately want to draw all the looks. Or I read a great book and I want to draw all of my favorite characters. The pro-choice designs must be a reflection of my passion for safe and accessible abortion, and for normalizing talking about abortion, even making the word abortion itself, as just another normal word to say. My first design was a “Not-Cho Taco” button and T-shirt for an event to raise money for WE Health Clinic, the Northland’s only abortion provider.

Do you primarily work digitally or on paper? Do you work with any other mediums?

I always start with a sketch on paper, adding some color with markers and watercolors. Then I finish the piece by adding tons of details digitally, in Procreate. I love the mess-less process of digital editing, plus it’s so easy to fix any mistakes.

How would you describe your art style?

Digital illustration with a hint of magic. Visually, I take notes from pin-up art, traditional tattoos and manga.

What motivated you to start making pro-choice art?

It can be important for folks who’ve had abortions to share their experience without being judged. For me, art is a safe space to do that. When one in four people with a uterus will have an abortion in their lifetime, it’s such a normal and common choice, and it’s ok to have that chapter in your story and to talk about it.

Are there any other themes that you really like to focus on with your art?

I love body positivity. My characters are strong and confident in their body. I have been attracted to drawing gender-nonspecific characters, however my strengths are in drawing the feminine form, so I have a ways to go in learning how to achieve that.

Have you ever studied art anywhere?

Yes! I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth. During my time at the University of Minnesota Duluth, my main focus was on photography. I would spend countless hours in the darkroom! I also loved being a part of the behind-the-scenes theater crew, my favorite was costume construction. I still enjoy putting together a good costume or cosplay and I do face painting at fundraisers and events like Duluth All Souls Night.

The character drawings you’ve created for event posters (such as WE Clinic Fundraisers) and the Nacho Taco event T-shirt are awesome! What have been some of your favorite events that you’ve made art for, and why?

WE Health Clinic is at Trans Joy Fest and Duluth/Superior Pride every year. I make sure to be there, because it’s a blast! We get to meet so many cool and friendly people. This year I made buttons to hand out at these events and a banner that we carried in the pride parade. The next event that I am looking forward to is the H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Militia Bake-Off on Nov. 11. I love that there are vegetarian options as well as bread from Liberation Bakery (my favorite)! [Editor’s note: Liberation Bakery has provided bread at previous H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Bake-Offs, but this year baked goods are being provided by Positively 3rd Street Bakery].

What do you like most about intersecting creative energy with your work in reproductive healthcare? What is your position at WE Health Clinic? Is there anything you’d like to share about your role there?

I work as a registered nurse at WE Health Clinic. I help folks make an informed decision about their pregnancy. If they present for an abortion, I get them ready to see the doctor, and discharge them safely afterwards. I manage the telehealth medication abortion program, perform ultrasounds for gestational aging, provide contraceptive counseling, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Some of my less exciting duties include a lot of charting, paperwork and statistical data collection. Here in Duluth we are incredibly lucky to have a local abortion provider at all. The clinic provides a safe place where people from all walks of life can talk about their feelings and their situation as well as take control of their sexual and reproductive health. I feel honored to be able to offer that safe space. I am also a part of the most dedicated, professional, and caring team I have ever met. Days at the clinic, while extremely rewarding, can also be long and emotionally draining. I find that I don’t have the energy to show up for pro-choice meetings or protests, but what I can do is contribute some designs and drawings.

More of Masha’s art can be found on Instagram @tiramisuapriori, or on Threadless as ProChoiceKitty where she sells pro-choice clothing and buttons. T-shirts with her “Not-Cho Taco” design can be found at this year’s H.O.T.D.I.S.H. Bake-Off this weekend, 5 p.m. at Peace Church on Nov. 11.

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