Illustrator Interview – Mika Song

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mika-song-photoI have interviewed several winners and runners-up of the SCBWI winter conference portfolio competition and it is my pleasure to welcome this year’s winner to the blog today, MIKA SONG. Congratulations on your win! And we have promised each other to get together for a drink in Chinatown very soon! 

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator? If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[MS] Author/Illustrator, please. My ideas are usually visual in my head but I like to transfer them first to paper as words. I usually sketch alongside but if I can get the idea into a sentence I feel like I have something to work with.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[MS] I was born in Manila, Philippines and went to high school in Honolulu, Hawaii. When I moved to New York (19 years ago) I made surreal comics about being a teenager and living with my grandparents in Hawaii. I drew a lot of underwater stories and folktales. Then in the last year I started making work inspired by the present- the people in my life and New York City. I notice people respond to my new work, partly because it’s familiar and mostly I hope because it’s more emotional.

[JM] I’d love to see some of your underwater stuff. Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[MS] I went to Pratt Art Institute in Brooklyn for illustration, but switched majors to animation, because it seemed more practical. This was a year before the facilities transitioned to digital so I was doing stop-motion with a 16 mm and shooting pencil tests with an oxberry, slow repetitive monastic work. When I was a kid I wanted to be a nun or a philosopher. I think I’ve always been inclined to quiet reflective work.

I graduated soon after September 11, in the middle of winter. I had a few years of part-time freelance web design, office administration, production gigs before I got a job animating for a children’s educational web site, which was very good and I met a friend there who encouraged me to try picture books, I was into making independent mini comics. I did that for eight years and then I left, almost a year ago, to work on picture books. I’ve never been happier and I’ve got exciting news to announce soon.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[MS] Sumi ink and watercolor.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

Loneliness, humor, outsiders, things we don’t notice, trying to connect with others. And cats.

[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP or your winning entry for SCBWI, and the process of creating them?

[MS] For my portfolio I gathered what I thought were my best drawings of the past few months and realized they were mostly inspired by my neighborhood in Chinatown.

east river sketch

east river sketch

east river notes

east river notes

east river final

east river final

I don’t draw from life exactly but from memory. I go to the street and take some notes and then go home and draw the scene. I end up getting something that looks nice in it’s own flat way to me. Sometimes I have to go back to the spot because I missed something. I draw in pencil first on sketch paper and then trace the sketch on to watercolor paper using a sunny window. I might do a value study on a thumbnail first. Then I paint in watercolors and sumi ink. Often I wind up painting the same drawing a few times, sometimes I will combine the best parts into one drawing with photoshop.

portfolio sorting

portfolio sorting

I showed my portfolio to my critique group and noted which ones they weren’t responding to and removed those. Then I printed it all out and took it to my agent who talked me into removing two more drawings and adding back an old one. Then we arranged the pages in a way that flowed.

The winning portfolio can be viewed here

I found these blogs for making a portfolio helpful.

[JM] What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about working in New York?

[MS] I love working in New York because you can just drop in on people. I suppose the drawback is it’s expensive to survive here but I think it’s worth it. I like small spaces, walking for miles, people watching, the range of experiences. I have a loyalty to this place.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[MS] Last week I moved my desk into my closet. If you lean in really close it feels like a room!On the walls are sketches for my childhood anthropologist friend’s picture book. She will be self-publishing it for the children in a tiny mountain village called Tawangan in the Philippines. I try to keep that computer off until after lunch.



[JM] How long have you been a part of SCBWI and what has that meant for you?

[MS] SCBWI and all the resources and people are essential to me. I joined in 2013 and went to my first SCBWI conference in NJ. I got very constructive feedback and met nice people. At the following winter conference, I made a friend at an illustrator intensive, who ended up introducing me to my agent a few months later. I joined my first critique groups through the SCBWI resource list. I submitted art to the Bulletin that ended up being featured, resulting in attention from two agents and a freelance project.

Five Fun Ones to Finish                                                                                                [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[MS] Christie St. Park (near Grand St.) I like to spy on people playing handball.

[JM] Cats or dogs?

[MS] Cats.



[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[MS] I still haven’t seen a real armadillo.

[JM] One word to describe your art.

[MS] Connection

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[MS] Lately it’s been black tea with milk and an egg custard bun.

[JM] Where can we find out more and/or follow you?

  • My website is
  • and I post new work on instagram as
  • and tweet timidly as @mikasongdraws

Mika, thanks so much for joining us on Miss Marple’s Musings today and i especially appreciate you sharing such helpful tips and blogs about putting together a portfolio. Let’s have that drink soon! 

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8 Responses to Illustrator Interview – Mika Song

  1. I wish I had had a chance to meet Mika at the NYC conference. She sounds like someone I would have really connected with (I tend to be on the quiet, withdrawn side).

    It’s always fascinating to learn about how different illustrators work and I will look for details of NYC Chinatown in her illos from now on.

    Congratulations to Mika for winning Best Of Show! She deserves it!

  2. Wonderful interview and great links – checking them out now, back later!

  3. Amber says:

    Sometimes days after seeing a Mika Song drawing I’ll recall it in my head while I’m doing the most mundane thing, hulling strawberries, or washing dishes. I’ll chuckle a deep and happy chuckle all to myself. I am thrilled she’s on the scene. Thanks for sharing, Miss Marple!

  4. Jen says:

    Hooray Mika! All your hard work is paying off. Can’t wait to hear this big news! And thanks to Miss Marple, who really has her finger on the pulse of the best in picture books 🙂

  5. Wonderful to meet you Mika. I loved your opening with how your ideas are visual in your head, but you write them down first. I”m sure other illustrators have said that, but for some reason that thought really hit me. I write an idea. But, I noticed when I worked on a simple story recently, I saw the entire story visually and wrote it down very quickly. That never happened for me before. Thanks! I need to think more visually.
    I love your pen and ink/watercolors — one of my favorite mediums for children’s books. I love your illustrations of China town in NYC — sketching what you know. Congratulations on the getting the attention of agents.
    Great interview ladies. I always learn so much!

  6. Love your style Mika. I bet it’s wonderful to live in a big place where there’s always something interesting to draw.

  7. :Donna says:

    Mika, this was really enjoyable to read 🙂 It’s nice to hear that you got noticed so quickly through the SCBWI. It CAN happen when the talent and style are so good!

    Now 40 years ago, I had the opportunity to attend Pratt, but at that time I knew I wouldn’t do the commute into Brooklyn or withstand what it took to really do art school properly, so instead of wasting my parents’ money, I passed. I wonder what my life would’ve been like had I gone! lol

    Anyway, I’m curious as to why you don’t also take photos when you are “on site” for art reference.

    Love your work! And thanks for sharing, ladies 🙂

  8. Erik - TKRB says:

    Ms. Song sounds nice! I like her art! 😀

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