Mai Ly Degnan

Mai Ly Degnan

(She/Her/Hers) • Baltimore, USA

Biography Interview

Mai Ly Degnan is an illustrator and educator based in Baltimore, MD. Her work consists of bold colors, patterned details, and “slice of life” illustrations that celebrate everyday people in their daily lives. Her work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators of New York and Los Angeles, American Illustration, and 3x3.

Selected clients


Cosmopolitan UK, Norman Rockwell Museum, Harper Collins, Quarto Kids, Alba Editorial, Magic Cat Publishing, Compound Butter Magazine, Vans Girls, American Way Magazine, Kiplinger’s, Time Magazine, Brigitte Magazine, Chronicle Books, Boston Globe, Washington Post, Bust Magazine, Lenny Letter, Baltimore City Paper, VICE Magazine, NPR, Frankie Magazine, The Bark Magazine, La Guarimba International Film Festival, La La Land Australia

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Awards


  • Society of Illustrators 62, 2020
  • Society of Illustrators 61, 2019
  • 3×3 Show No. 16, 2019
  • American Illustration 38, 2019
  • American Illustration 36, 2017
  • 3×3 Show No. 14, 2017
  • American Illustration 35, 2016
  • 3×3 Show No. 13, 2016
  • 3×3 No. 12, 2015
  • Society of Illustrators 57, 2014
  • 3×3 No. 11, 2014
  • American Illustration International Motion Arts, 2014
  • Puchon International Student Animation Festival, 2014
  • MICA Animation Festival 2014
  • Society of Illustrators Student Competition 54, 2012
  • Society of Illustrators LA, Student Competition 54, 2012

Mai Ly Degnan in the Spotlight


Mai Ly Degnan

Your pronouns:
She, her

How do you define your identity? Do you identify with (or advocate for) any marginalized communities?
I am half Vietnamese. I consider myself asian American, and identify with the AAPI community

Where is home?
Baltimore, Maryland

Describe your illustration style in one sentence
My illustration style consists of bright colors, is full of linework, and playfully stylized characters in every situations.

What lights your soul on fire?
I am super passionate about teaching illustration and working with students. In addition to freelancing, I also teach full-time in the graduate MFA Illustration Practice program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (my alma matter). I love working with illustration students, especially because I love getting to see when they grow and explore their styles. There is nothing better than watching students get excited about the work they make. Each student is so unique and different and I feel so lucky I get opportunity to help them on their illustration journeys.

What themes do you enjoy exploring in your illustrations?
I love drawing people in everyday scenarios and finding moments of beauty and joy in things that often get overlooked. Because of this, I often find myself creating illustrations that celebrate strong female characters, body positivity, diversity, and finding ways to capture emotional connections between characters.

What techniques do you use?
I use a combination of analog and digital techniques. I hand draw all my lines in ink using a small micron pen, add shading in and graphite, and then will scan and add color digitally.

How much of yourself and your own story can we see in your work?
I think I put a lot of myself in my work, especially when I am creating personal work. I will take thoughts and feelings I’ve had throughout the day, and relive them with new characters in my illustrations. This can be anything from an annoying pet, mean ex friends, to buying too many plants, or even if its just moments of boredom, I always try to create illustrations that are fun and relatable, and almost always they come from personal moment’s and thoughts I’ve had myself.

Is there an unmistakable thread in your creative work?
I love drawing people doing everyday things. Its a way of celebrating the mundane, and finding moments of beauty and joy in things that often get overlooked.

hat do you want to be known for?
I want to be known for being a good person to my friends and family, and being a supportive and helpful professor to my students.

Which projects excite you most?
Anytime I get to draw people in their everyday environments, I get really excited. I love researching a character and a place, and I have so much fun working hard to bring it to life. One of my all time favorite projects was to draw a 24 hour day care, where I had to draw a daycare, and different moments throughout the day all in one image. It was a super challenging drawing so many little details, but it was still a really fun project because all the characters and interactions I had to come up with.

What is your dream gig?
My dream gig would one day be to both write and illustrate my own children’s book. I’ve illustrated books before, but I have never written one on my own. I would love that challenge one day. I also love surface design, and would adore to do more greeting card and pattern licensing projects.

Where, when and how do you best create?
I am a definite night owl. Late nights in the studio is probably when I create my best work.

How has your style evolved since you started?
My style has definitely evolved since I started illustrating.

What do you find most challenging in your practice or in the illustration industry?
One of the most important but challenging parts of this industry is being open to flexibility and being able to balance multiple illustration projects at the same time. This is especially true as so many of us freelance and work with different art directors, projects and prompts, all with varying turnaround times. Its so important to be confident in your process while at the same time knowing how to stay organized and balance your time efficiently.

How as being an illustrator changed your life?
Being an illustrator has changed my life because I absolutely love my job, both when I freelance and when I teach illustration. It never gets boring, and it was feels so wonderful when you get to see your artwork out in the real world. I am so lucky that I found illustration as a career because no matter what challenging project I get, I always love the process and finding ways to visually problem solve.

Name a tool you can’t live without!
My .005 Micron pen.

Tell us about a project you worked on that was meaningful to you as an artist.
One of the most meaningful projects I’ve worked on was the Martin Luther King Jr. book for the Little People Big Dreams series. I was such a fan of the series for years before being asked to illustrate a book. It was definitely one of the most important illustration projects I’ve ever done. It was my first children’s book illustration job ever, and not only was I just so excited to be asked, but I felt especially so honored that I got to be paired to Dr. Martin Luther King. I loved that project not only because book because its

What would you tell your younger self?
Keep following your gut! Before transferring to art school, I was on a premed track. Back then I was very nervous at the time when I made a career change, but it was definitely one of the best decision I’ve ever made.

Why do you think art speaks louder than words?
Art speaks louder than words because it was the ability to appeal to all kinds of people, regardless of the words people read or the language they speak. Art has the capability of creating and communicating emotion, mood, story, and ideas.

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