I’m excited that the first Asian person I interviewed for my blog is Mika Song, an author and illustrator of children’s books, who grew up in Manila, Philippines and Honolulu, Hawaii. She is half Filipino, like me!
Her favorite artist technique is the dry brush — where you take an inky brush and blot it dry to draw a rough line. Cancer Hates Kisses and A New School Year: A Story in Six Voices are two of the books she’s illustrated and I reviewed. She also wrote two books Tea with Oliver and Picnic with Oliver. And she won an award called the Portfolio Award.
I hope you enjoy learning more about Mika Song. Make sure you scroll to the bottom to see some of her art!
Question: What is your favorite artist technique?
Answer: My favorite artist technique is dry brush – that’s where you take an inky brush and blot it dry to draw a rough line. I think it is a nice way to draw hair. Right now I’m using watercolor crayons for a book by Heather Gale about a young girl who wants to dance with the male hula group. I think the bolder colors will work for the story. It doesn’t come out until summer 2019 so you’ll have to tell me what you think when you see it.
Q: I noticed in A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices that the children you drew were very diverse. Why do you think diversity is important in children’s literature?
A: I grew up in the Philippines and went to an American school. My father is Japanese-American and my mother is Filipino. I grew up feeling different. I think diversity in literature is important because when you see yourself or your experiences represented in a book for the first time it’s like finding a long-lost friend. It opens up the possibilities in a person’s mind about how they might be in the world. I just finished illustrating a picture book – A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey. It’s written from the point of view of a boy on the autism spectrum. I am neurotypical, but the writer makes the character so relatable. I think diversity in literature is important for that reason too, to help us understand different points of view.
Q: I also noticed that all the children have lines under their eyes. Why did you draw it like that?
A: Ha that’s a good question! I use those lines to make the faces look more emotionally expressive. The characters in Sally Derby’s A New School Year have a lot on their minds so the lines help them look worried or weary like they just ran up some stairs or bleary like they just woke up. Also it is a way to make cheekbones by making the eyes look deeper and the area below the line look brighter and closer. Lately though I am using color and shading more than lines. Now that I think about it I used to draw mini-comics when my drawings were in black and white.
Q: Do you prefer to draw people or animals?
A: I like drawing people because I like drawing emotions. My animals have very human characteristics so even if I’m drawing an animal I’m really always drawing people. Oliver in Tea with Oliver is based on a close friend. And I just sketched some squirrels that remind me of my three-year-old daughter. Animals can be good for telling some stories because they can be any age or race the reader imagines for them to be and they can sleep in a hollow tree or drive a truck without anyone wondering if they are old enough and where their parents are. So far I have only drawn animal characters for my own books and humans as an illustrator working on other author’s book. Maybe one day I will write and illustrate a story with a human main character.
Q: What character in A New School Year do you think you’re most like?
A: Mia because I am very absent-minded and was often late for class because I was reading or day-dreaming. I had a blanket like the one in her bedroom.
Q: When you were in school, did you face any worries about the first day?
A: I grew up without siblings (I’m ten years older than my brother). So I really looked forward to the start of school and being around peers. I remember seeing my kindergarten classroom for the first time and seeing paper on the circle tables with new crayons laid next to them and my teacher (Teacher Carla) and thinking I love this! That feeling stayed with me all the way until high school. For high school I moved to live with my grandparents in Hawaii and started a new school. I didn’t know anyone and that was very stressful. I found the library and books helped. Also the art teacher was nice and used to let me hang out in the art classroom during my free time.
Q: Do you prefer to be the author or illustrator on books?
A: I like both. Working on another author’s manuscript is very exciting because you read the story before anyone else. I like being able to put my experiences into my illustrations and interpreting the characters to look like people I know. My kids in A New School Year are based on the kids I met when I was a reading tutor for a PS in Chinatown, NYC and also my own memories of school in Honolulu and Manila. I based Carlos’ dad on my friend’s dad so it’s fun to be able to do that. But there are stories I want to tell that no one else will so I also have to write to be happy.
Q: I’ve never been to the Philippines before, but I know you have. What is the best thing about the Philippines?
A: The best things about the Philippines:
1. The people are the most fun
2. Mango shakes
3. Road trips to La Union
5. The many bookstores
A close-up of final art from A New School Year by Sally Derby with lot’s of dry brush going on
Sneak peek of the last page of the book A Friend For Henry by Jenn Bailey [Chronicle, Feb. 2019]
Me working on the drawings for a hula book
One of my fave drawings was made for a poster for a children’s book festival in Queens Museum of Art a few years ago. I used to live in Sunnyside, Queens so that’s a scene from under the 7 train where my favorite taco truck (El Vagabondo) would park. The library in Sunnyside at the time was way too small for all the kids living there so I thought a book truck would have been a good idea. They have since renovated the library.
Picnic with Oliver, the follow-up to Tea with Oliver