Whilst at FIT, I had to find a mentor and I chose an illustrator and typographer Daniel Pelavin. We are still really close – I still consider him my mentor although he is a great friend of mine now – and I think it’s really important to see what’s out there and to experience the realities of working in a creative industry. Whilst I was studying, he would give me so much freedom of expression. He’d literally give me a topic or focus and then I’d go off and work it through and develop my concepts and ideas.
When I finished my education, I had to think about the visa systems and how I would find work and so I did a lot of internships to gain skills and to explore the market that I would hopefully be working within. That’s when I got some freelance work with a fashion designer and began to develop those relationships that would help me in later years. The company sponsored my application and allowed me to work for them, but I had to fulfil a very specific role in order to adhere to the rules for my visa to work. I was looking for graphic designer, illustrator or textile design roles and I was lucky enough to wind up doing what I loved.”
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The excitement for her work is clear in every anecdote Mika shares, and I asked how she manages to maintain that enthusiasm whilst also running a business.
“I do a lot of freelance work at the moment, and the way I can prepare for that is by living, you know? Having fun, eating, being with people. The work I do, especially commissions, are custom portraits or original artwork. I have a gallery in Japan that sells my original artwork that is themed around New York City, so that is a good stream of income. It’s a funny story really, as I was on a television show in Japan and a gallery owner saw it, and asked me to start sending my original work so that he could sell it there. It’s also nice as it connects my two worlds: the one I left in 2001 to come to America and study, and the one I exist in now.
The one area I feel I need to engage with more is with logo and graphic design work which is something I am developing. There has to be a balance between jobs that I perform for a purpose – functional work – and then those that are more passion projects. My passion, as I said before, is making people happy through art but that can have more challenges sometimes than others. Some clients send 10 pages of notes with their story, plus a multitude of reference pictures or photos for me to replicate, and I want to ensure that they are totally satisfied with the end product so it can be a tough challenge to make sure I do justice to the story that they have to tell. But when I do – that makes me happy too!”
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Both Mika and I agreed that being happy is the key to success, and I asked her what advice she would give to a student getting ready to take their next steps in their educational or working careers.
“Not to be afraid to ask for help. When I came here, so many people offered me help and support – even if I didn’t ask. There’s always someone around to give advice, or help you make a decision about a course or more general life. Especially when you are young, you have to learn to make mistakes and that is a part of the learning process. So long as you are trying hard, someone is going to be there for you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – that’s my advice. And communication. In our cell-phone driven world, we need to make sure we maintain the ability to talk to each other and connect.”
Since choosing to follow her own happiness, Mika has enjoyed a multitude of successes: gallery exhibits in Japan, the US (including Brooklyn, Chicago and Miami) and France as well, submitting her artwork and sometimes exhibiting in person too. I can understand why her work is so popular, as her commitment to true reflections of the world around us come through in her zeal for her work and the delight she takes in sharing stories. She uses social media to document her work too, which can be found on her page.