Small, Cute Things
El Segundo resident Aja De La Rosa finds joy in making art, teaching art, and running a successful small business.
By Maureen Kingsley
“I’ve always liked small, cute things,” says Aja De La Rosa (pictured), an artist, maker, small-business owner, and art teacher who lives in El Segundo. (Visitors to Blue Butterfly Coffee Co. on Main Street this past fall may have spotted her art on the coffee house walls, where it was displayed alongside the work of fellow artist Julian Catania.) Aja’s distinctive brand of enamel pins, stickers, buttons, note pads, and other items, cheerily named “That High Five Life,” is indeed full of small, cute things, including flowers, mushrooms, houseplants, strawberries, and teapots, all featuring sweet little faces and many painted with 1970s-era shades of yellow, orange, and olive-green enamel. “My parents were hippies,” she adds, explaining some of the inspiration for her groovy aesthetic.
Aja started That High Five Life two years ago, in 2019, shortly after investing in the Procreate illustration application, an Apple Pencil, and her first iPad. “That iPad brought on an explosion of creativity for me,” she says. Having spent most of her art career working with tangible, conventional materials, such as paint and ceramics, Aja found she loved creating art digitally, on screen, and spent a lot of time happily experimenting with her new digital tools. “My iPad has provided me so many opportunities to make art and start a business from my home,” Aja says, and, with the help of YouTube tutorials and helpful folks in a few online communities, she quickly taught herself to create small, giftable products—enamel pins, in particular—from her digital illustrations.
Two years later, That High Five Life maintains a popular shop on global online marketplace Etsy, enjoys an enthusiastic Instagram community, and appears on retail shelves in shops in various U.S. states. Aja also sells her products wholesale. “This business keeps growing, and it has brought me so much joy,” she says. “It’s a family affair; my kids Luca  and Tripper  are supportive, and so is my husband.” She adds that Luca is a maker just like her mom and often appears on That High Five Life’s Instagram to reveal new pins and offer her take on her mom’s work.
Teaching and Learning
Aja not only makes art but teaches it to students at Torrance High School in East Torrance. “I strive to engage students, let them have fun, and encourage them to be expressive,” she says of her teaching philosophy. “I offer them relatable projects that will interest them; I want them to learn, try, fail, and try again,” she adds. While she’s delighted to be back on her school campus in person after months of teaching remotely, Aja says that time spent teaching over a screen in isolation forced her to explore the use of technology in her teaching methods. She found, for instance, that teaching drawing to students by recording herself on video doing it, then speeding-up and editing the video for efficiency and making it available to her students to watch—rather than demonstrating her drawing techniques to them in real time—was a revelation and in many ways preferable to the conventional method. “That whole lock-down time was a real learning experience for me, figuring out new ways to educate my students and communicate with them remotely,” she says.
That Pre-Pin Life
While Aja has been teaching for many years, she’s been an artist even longer—since she herself was a student in high school. At Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach, Aja “excelled in and loved all art,” she says. “I really loved it all: ceramics, wood shop, photography, cinematography.” That confidence and joy carried her through to El Camino College after high school, where Aja “took every art course El Camino offered,” then over to Cal State Long Beach where she started out majoring in fine art and eventually switched to art education. From there, she began her career in secondary art education and has been teaching ever since.
Today, Aja strikes a balance between teaching, creating, running a business, and raising her kids, and this busy lifestyle suits her. “I love making art, talking about art, and helping people,” she explains. In the life she has built for herself, she is able to do all three.
Visit That High Five Life online on Etsy.com and on Instagram at @thathighfivelife. Locally, Aja’s products are available at The Book Jewel in Westchester. All photos provided by Aja De La Rosa.
This story appears in the December 2021 issue of The El Segundo Scene.