MK Joe: turning a lifelong passion into a career

The talented MK Joe talks us through the influences behind her style and how she realised she could turn her love of anime into a dream job.
Tell us about yourself. How and when did you decide to make a career out of your passion for illustration?

I started drawing and painting seriously when I was seven because my Dad, who is an architect and painter, started to teach me at that age. My Mom also encouraged me and bought me art materials and books so I could learn.

I never really knew illustration existed as a career until my cousin showed me a bunch of magazines from Juxtapoz and High fructose, where I read the word “illustration” for the first time. I was blown away by such amazing art.

Years later, when I turned 18, my cousin went to art school for illustration in the US, and she suggested I should join her there too, so that’s exactly what we did! In the beginning, I went to art school for sequential art, but then I switched to illustration because I discovered James Jean and Sam Weber. That’s when I knew I wanted to become an illustrator!

Talk us through a typical workday.

My pandemic workday routine goes a little something like this—I wake up at 10.30am or 11am, and I walk my dog. At 12pm I drink some coffee and make lunch while listening to a 1960s-80s playlist. I start working around 1pm, where I put on a podcast or one of my favourite twitch streamers. I hyper-focus until it hits 4pm, so I rest a little bit and walk my dog again. Then I work for another two hours or so up until 7pm. I then eat dinner, go for a run with my dog and finally, at the end of the day, play some video games or watch another twitch stream before going to bed.

It’s clear your work is heavily influenced by anime. Is this a long-time passion for you? Where did your love for anime come from?

I am so glad you can see it in my work! It is definitely a passion! Back when I was six years old, my parents didn’t have much money, so we had this broken tv that could only broadcast one channel that happened to have anime at 1 pm and 5 pm. That’s when my passion started. I was blown away! My Dad also watched lots of anime, so he introduced me and my siblings to Dragon Ball, Ranma 1/2, Masinger Z and Transformers. Dragon Ball was broadcasted at 5pm when my Dad was still at work, so he called every day at that hour and asked us to record each episode on VHS so he could watch it afterwards!

My Dad loved Dragon Ball, so we got to watch anime together with my siblings on VHS all the time. I love anime, and it definitely became an influence because it’s part of my most incredible memories with my Dad. Now that I am around that age too, we get to watch anime together and it makes me so happy!

Your work has some incredible depth and emotion. What’s your top tip to convey this through illustration?

I try to study lighting and colour from photos or my surroundings. When I start a painting, I create a board with lots of inspiration, photos and illustrations, then I create three to four black and white thumbnails that will convey the most interesting lighting. Finally, I choose my favourite thumbnail and start adding colour to the rough artwork and experiment until I get the mood I desire.

What was the idea behind your 100 Days. 100 commission. piece ‘Journey’?

I wanted to paint a girl with her pet getting ready for a journey. The concept is simple, but I had so much fun with the colour, mood and lighting. This piece was so entertaining for me to paint because I first put together a mood board for inspiration and then just started to paint what came into my mind at that moment. I love going into the canvas to just start creating without the stress of planning because it makes the experience fun instead of tedious and draining.

Talk us through your workflow. How do you develop your concepts and ideas?

If I am working on a personal painting, I like to scribble on the canvas until I get an idea of what I want, then I start painting without planning that much. However, if the artwork is for a client, I do extensive research before starting with any illustration or design. I still try to keep aspects of the workflow when I work with clients, so I also do lots of improvising because it’s fun.

Do you have a favourite piece to date? If so, why are you so fond of this particular piece?

I have created lots of pieces in my life, but for some reason, I really love this particular piece (below). I love the colour and the expression in her eyes. It might be just a cute simple portrait, but I love it!

Is there anyone’s work that you particularly admire?

My favourite artists are Artgerm, Loish, Guweiz, Ilya Kushinov and James Jean.

Character design is a big part of your work. How do you plan each character, and how you’ll communicate their personality?

If I am designing characters for a client, my research takes up to one hour. Next, I plan the silhouette, the pose, the design of the outfit and the character’s personality. I then experiment with different colours for every element, and finally, in the end, what I pay more attention to is the anatomy and the design overall. If I don’t get this right, the character falls apart!

Where do you go for inspiration?

Pinterest, photos I take in real life, video games, Manga, Anime and artists I admire.

And finally, what’s the ultimate dream for you?

Quite simply, I want to buy a big house with a nice yard where my dog can play. The house will have three rooms or more, so my family and friends can visit! Also, my ultimate goal is to have this awesome terrace so I can have barbecues and parties with my loved ones.


To see more of MK Joe’s work, you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.