Mail Ly Degnan / How Illustration Changed My Life

Mai Ly Degnan


Illustration has been an integral part of my life since I was a child, and it has always been my favourite artistic medium. I carried a sketchbook and micron pens everywhere I went, constantly doodling and drawing to express myself. As a college student pursuing a degree in biology, taking my first real art class was a turning point that led me to pursue my passion for illustration. After taking multiple art classes, I eventually switched my major and pursued a BFA in Illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and later an MFA in Illustration Practice at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where I now work as as a full-time professor.


One of the aspects of illustration that I find most gratifying is its ability to connect with a wider audience beyond myself. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had as a freelancer and being represented by Anna Goodson Illustration Agency, which has allowed me to pursue my passion for illustration as a career.  The best pieces I create are those that allow me to incorporate the subjects I love to draw, such as strong women, meticulously patterned interiors, and everyday scenes. Through my illustrations, I strive to support and empower young girls and women, helping them feel confident and strong in all aspects of their lives. I am half Vietnamese, and as a person of mixed heritage, I understand the importance of representation. My work is always infused with themes of diversity and celebration of different cultures, and I continually push to include characters in my illustrations so that everyone can see themselves represented.  



When it comes to my own process, it always starts off with lots of brainstorming, list making, thumbnails and sketches. Once a sketch is chosen, I use a light box and ink my drawing. From there, I bring the inked drawing into photoshop and color my images digitally. I work pretty much 50/50 with traditional linework and digital color. My favorite kind of line is when it is done by hand. I love micron and graphite (that has definitely stayed with me my whole life). The tediousness of a super detailed and intricate drawing is my favourite part of the entire process. Color takes a lot longer for me to figure out so I like working digitally because it allows me to be flexible when experimenting and choosing my colors. 



For me, illustration has given my life purpose and provided me with a sense of fulfillment that I never thought was possible. As both an illustrator and educator, I am passionate about empowering students to find their own markets and voices within the world of illustration. Seeing my students’ joy and satisfaction when they create something they are proud of is the most rewarding part of my job. Ultimately, I believe that illustration has the power to connect people and make the world a more vibrant and inclusive place, and I am honored to be a part of this creative community.