I'm a former lawyer turned full-time creative, an author-illustrator represented by Folio Literary Agency, a Top Teacher on Skillshare, and a soon-to-be certified mindfulness meditation teacher.
I mostly create for my own studio Mimochai, where I make illustrated books & products, work on collaborations, and host an international drawing community.
My Creative Journey
I loved drawing and make believing as a child, but it was never nurtured in my upbringing. "Creativity" was seen as something you grew out of, not something you turned into a career.
I was strongly discouraged from pursuing a creative major, so I studied economics and poli-sci at UCSD and decided to go to law school. I enjoy the philosophy of law and enjoyed my time at UCLA Law School.
After graduating, I worked at the my dream law firm Latham & Watkins. I had "made it" but found I was not aligned with my true self. In my fourth year, I took a leap of faith to find my own true path.
I had a transition period working as a project lead at the agency Hello Design. When I started there, I didn't even know you could be a freelance illustrator! I learned a lot, but I was still on the business side.
My Own Studio
In 2015, I took a second leap of faith leaving the salaried world to working for myself. I gave myself six months to try to make it work, and it's still working seven years later. Mimochai is a dream come true.
I learned that just "doing want you love" is not enough to lead a balanced life. I found a spiritual practice to be a critical part of my creative pursuit, and am a soon-to-be certified meditation teacher.
Work With Me
I take on a limited number of client projects that align with my mission and values. In the past I've worked with Disney, the National Parks Conservation Association, and Adobe.
Esembly, "Making Magic with Mimochai" 2022
Esembly: What advice would you give to someone who’d like to transition to a creative job?
Mimi: You can do it! I’ve found that so many people are waiting for permission to take a chance on themselves. I was in the same boat! So I like to say, “here is your permission!” It’s absolutely something you can make happen for yourself. That said, it’s not a walk in the park to make a big career transition. So on a practical note, make a plan— a financial plan, a learning plan, and a business plan. It most likely won’t turn out the way you expect, but having a map is helpful. Seek out inspiration and hold onto your north stars. Don’t listen to people who discourage you if you do not want the life they have made for themselves. People who have lived a life of fear or living for other people’s approval will project their fears onto you as well. Truly happy people who have followed their dream will encourage you to do the same.
Procreate, "Meet the Artist: Mimi Chao" 2020
Procreate: While still being sophisticated, your work has a childlike wonder and whimsy to it. Is this deliberate and does it come easy?
Me: I love how you described it. Yes I would say it’s deliberate in the sense that I want my style to reflect me. I love modern Scandinavian and Japanese design styles, as well as the aesthetic of brands like Aesop and the taste culture of Monocle. At the same time, I love picture books and animated films like Spirited Away. I suppose that’s all reflected in what I create.
However, it’s not deliberate in that I don’t have an exact vision of how I wanted things to look when I set out. It’s more that I have a feeling in mind, and it’s exactly like what you described. I would say my style has evolved a lot but the sentiments of my drawings have always been the same.
I wouldn’t say it comes easily. Even drawings that look very simple take a lot of skill to execute well. I learned that the hard way! There’s a fantastic quote by Ira Glass on it, just google “Ira Glass The Gap” as it’s a little too long to write here. But it’s so true: you have this vision in your mind of what you want your work to look or feel like, but it takes a lot of time and practice before reality meets expectations.
Skillshare, "Discovering Creative Freedom with Mimi Chao" 2019
This is a video profile that lives on Skillshare's company About page (as of November 2022). It shares my story and transition story.
Giant Robot, "Daring to Daydream with Mimi Chao" 2017
GR: What would be your advice to somebody who is afraid to defy their parents’ expectations?
MC: I hope my example shows it is possible. I don't think I'm an especially lucky or brave person; a lot of it is fear. There seems like such a huge wall, but once you say you’re going to do it, the fear is behind you. Then you think, “Oh, that wasn't so bad.” The caveat is you should plan. It doesn't always work out, so it's good to think through your process. And you have to know yourself in order to find the right fit for you. Why do you want to do art? Is it because you think it's easy or cool or because you really have a passion for it?
If you have the passion, I really think you should do it. Whether it's art or law or medicine, you should do what you care about. A lot of times, Asian Americans feel selfish pursuing what they want to do versus the responsible thing that will make their family proud. But at the end of the day, you can’t get exceptionally good at whatever you do, unless you really care about it and are willing to put in those extra hours. I've never been able to work hard at something I didn't care about; maybe that's a character flaw that turned out to be a guiding strength.
My dad, a typical Asian parent, literally said, “I think you're lowering your value,” and “Why can't you just do this at night?” It sounds so hurtful and it is on an individual level. But so many Asian parents have said this to their kids. They come from a place of love and they mean well. They had their own experiences of struggle. But they also need to see that it's our fortune as their children to have the opportunity to chase something we want to do in America.
In the end, the things preventing me were thoughts like, “I'm scared of what my dad will say,” and “I'm scared of what people might think if this doesn't work out.” But when you go for it and you work hard, things just happen. Things follow with you. Even though you might not be able to see how your destination ends, your path is literally building under you as you're walking. I don't think the fear should prevent you from doing anything.
VSCO, "In My World: Interview with Mimi Chao and Jillian Ma" 2017
"They are ecstatic. For both them, it’s about more than just a pipe dream come true. It’s about representation, in that they were able to tell a meaningful story for an audience who has traditionally been underserved. Representation, in that two women, from immigrant families of Asian descent, are showing up and throwing down for a new class of makers and artists.
It’s cliche, Mimi admits, but “by following my dreams in illustration, I was in the position to help Jillian make her dream of making this book come true, which in turn pushed me towards the next, higher step in my own pursuit of my dreams. I love this idea that your dreams can awaken and enable the dreams in others. And if none of you ever went for it, all these dreams would remain asleep.”
Do you take commissions?
I currently do not take on personal commissions. I do take on collaborations with Mimochai as well as editorial illustration projects.
Do you work on collaborations?
Yes for Mimochai. Learn more on my Portfolio page or get in touch on my Work Inquiry page.
Do you do speaking engagements?
Yes, I do virtual speaking engagements. Please use the Work Inquiry form for requests.
What brushes do you use?
I use the Shale Brush and Dry Ink the most in Procreate's free brush set. I also use MaxPack's Gouache Brush Set. Join Mimochai Studio to learn more about how I draw and paint.