Model, Artist, Everyday Kiddo

An Interview with Sonora MindWerl
Words by Chris Zimmerman
Photos by James Barkman

It’s easy to base a perception of a person solely on their social media feed. From exotic travel, fine dining and glamorous fashion, a lot can be done to curate a specific image or paint the picture of a perfect life. And while some are quick to take a person’s social persona at face-value and measure their own lives against it, others are able to read through the lines, more aware, but still only catching a glimpse of the realities.

When we first met Sonora Mindling-Werling, it was en route to a photoshoot. She had been referred to us as not only a great model, but a great person. We didn’t know a whole lot about her at the time, just that she was a model, had a great Instagram feed and lived near the shoot locations. But as we proceeded to spend the next two hours in the car and had a chance to get to know her over the next few days, we were able to separate the Instagram personality from the real, energetic, constantly happy and hard working person Sonora is.

Through working with her on the photoshoot, learning more about how she grew up in southern Mexico, her art and in-progress book project, we walked away from the shoot with a new friend—a friend that even sent us a hand drawn holiday card. We recently caught up with Sonora to learn a little more about how she got her start in modeling, how her book is coming along and why she chose to apply her art to Portland’s vast collection of denim jackets.   


Can you give us a little background info on yourself? Who are you, where do you live and what do you do?

My name is Sonora Mindling-Werling and I currently live in beautiful Portland, Oregon. As for what I do, that one’s a bit more complicated… I guess I’d call myself a multimedia visual artist/ social media influencer/ model. Basically everything from painting my designs on denim jackets and creating my first photo-poem-art book, to doing promotional brand photography on Instagram and modeling for clothing companies (Which is how I met Wayward!).


You spent some time growing up in Mexico. How do you think that experience influenced your current taste for adventure and travel?

I lived in the countryside outside of Oaxaca City, Oaxaca—way southern Mexico—for the first 10 years of my life. I would absolutely say growing up there has had a tremendous influence on who I am today, and especially the way I travel. When I was a kid, family trips usually consisted of us piling into my dad’s old van and bumping up crazy dirt roads out to amazing little towns in the middle of nowhere. There was never a super set plan, and there was always an element of the unknown. What I learned from that is you can still find real adventures as long as you look in unexpected places, through that, I got totally hooked on the sensation of discovering something new.

“I’m generally a really happy kiddo, but I don’t think people realize I’m also just a little human being. I get stressed, I go through heartbreak, I make bad life choices.”

Based on your Instagram, it looks like all you do is travel around to gorgeous locations, but we’re sure that’s not the whole picture. What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about being a model featured on Instagram you’d like to clear up?

I definitely don’t think people realize how much time I spend NOT traveling or shooting, haha. I try to be really authentic and true to myself in what I post, but it’s still a curated part of my life that I’m sharing. I mainly post about things I do that are exciting, beautiful, or creative—because that’s the good energy I want to put into the world. I’m generally a really happy kiddo, but I don’t think people realize I’m also just a little human being. I get stressed, I go through heartbreak, I make bad life choices, I have days where I can’t leave my bed because my mind is spiraling out. We’re all just people trying to live, be kind and do good.


Even five years ago, there wasn’t really an industry for models to get their start on social media, but now it’s grown to be a pretty large share. How did you get your start in modeling and was it something you always wanted to do or more like found yourself in?

I personally don’t identify with the term “Instagram Model” at all. It was only a couple months ago that I actually got signed to a modeling agency here in Portland, and before that I had never even done any professional modeling. As a kid I loveeeed playing dress up and doing photoshoots with my friends, but I never thought I’d be doing it as a job. I just loved creating art in any form possible—and I loved traveling—which is how my Instagram really started to take off.

A couple summers ago I got a one way ticket to Europe and spent eight weeks living out of my backpack and bouncing between whichever countries seemed interesting. That trip ended when my friend Andrew Kearns asked if I wanted to travel around Iceland for 11 days in a Land Rover Defender and take photos. He already had a solid following on Instagram, and he’s the one that showed me it was actually possible to make a living by doing photography on IG.


How did this new opportunity with modeling and travelling influence your decision to put off college after high school? And what did your parents think of your choice?

After high school I had already decided to take a gap year, and it was during that time I traveled, ended up meeting Andrew and was introduced into that whole world. Even then though, not going to college didn’t really feel like a real possibility. I was valedictorian in high school and had a full ride scholarship to a really good private college, but I really had no idea what I wanted to study.

When I saw Andrew and all of these amazing young photographers making their own paths and getting to do what they loved everyday, I realized I didn’t have to stick to the main path. My dad moved to Mexico when he was 21 and soon after started his own business down there, so he was super supportive of me forging my own unconventional way in the world. My mom took a bit more convincing, but I think for both of them, they just saw the way my eyes lit up when I was talking about it and knew that this was what my soul truly wanted to do.


There are a few photographers you seem to spend a lot of time shooting with, can you name a couple of your favorites and share why you like working with them?

Andrew is probably the photographer I’ve shot most with, we spent so much time traveling around together and we just got know each other super well. We have a really fluid shooting dynamic as well, and he’s one of my best friends. I also love shooting with Sam Elkins, who is insanely talented and probably the most driven, hardworking person I’ve met—and he’s even younger than I am!


How did you first get into sketching and where does the inspiration for your work come from?

I’ve been drawing since I could first grab a crayon in my baby fist, and ever since I can remember, making art is simply my favorite thing to do. My school notebooks are packed with doodles, and I’ve filled more sketchbooks than I can count. As for my inspiration: it comes from everything. Overheard conversations, bird bones in the road, old botanical books, a picture I scroll past on Twitter—my mind is constantly taking in details from the world around me and cataloging them for use in future designs. Traveling is when I get most inspired. Your senses are already on high alert so you end up noticing much more than you would in your normal life routine.

You’re also becoming known for your one-of-a-kind denim jackets. Aside from denim jackets just being cool on their own accord, you’re adding artwork to them. How did you get started in this and why did you pick jean jackets?

As with most of the projects I do, the jackets just kind of started by chance. I personally get super obsessed over other artists I see, and I always wish they had more things with their art on them I could have in my life—to support them and also to have something super personalized and rad. I decided to make the first couple jackets to see if there was anyone who felt that way about my own art, and they sold out instantly! I love that people can have an absolutely unique piece of my work in their life and actually get to use it instead of just hanging it on a wall! Denim is similar to canvas to paint on, and in Portland it’s easy to find really unique pieces at vintage shops.


You are in the process of creating a book of all your sketches. Where did the idea for the book came from and what it’s all about?

Originally, I just wanted the book to basically be like one of my sketchbooks, because I have soooo much art I never really get to share with the world. Once I started it though, I realized having it be only drawings would cut out a whole big part of my own creativity, so I created a book that’s a combination of my art, photos and poems. MindWerl Vol. 1 is basically a little window into the way I see the world—a glorious, chaotic mixture of emotion, expression and creativity.



Between sketching, art, custom jean jackets, a book, photography and modeling, how do you think all those creative outlets work together to make you who you are?

I think the core of my personality is really just an art kid. There’s part of an Andrea Gibson poem I love which says, “We have to create; it is the only thing louder than destruction.” My art IS who I am. It’s my way of experiencing the world and connecting with other people, my way of sharing my wonder at life with others. It’s my meditation and my war, a never-ending beautiful journey of never really being able to capture the emotion that exists in the world, but always trying to.

I love working with so many different mediums as well, because in each one I learn things that translate to the others. Through drawing, I have all this base knowledge of light, shadow, composition, etc., which lets me see the world in a way that works perfectly for photography. Being behind the camera teaches me how to best capture a moment with the subject, so when I’m in front of the camera, I know how to move and find the best angles for the photographer. Growth in any one area is growth in all of them, and I am constantly striving to learn more, get better, and try new ways of creating things and experiencing the world.


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