Skillshare Audio: How Mimi Chao Created Her Dream Creative Career | Mimi Chao | Skillshare

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Skillshare Audio: How Mimi Chao Created Her Dream Creative Career

teacher avatar Mimi Chao, Owner & Illustrator | Mimochai

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      How Mimi Found Her Path


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About This Class

This class is audio-only, so you won’t see any active video on your screen. Plug in your headphones, take a listen, and let us know what you think!

Plug in your headphones and join illustrator Mimi Chao for a brand-new, audio-only class all about finding your way to a creative life you love!

Listen along as Mimi shares her personal experience grappling with crafting a creative career for herself, stepping into the unknown and leaving behind a steady career as a lawyer in the process. You’ll hear all about Mimi’s dreams and doubts as she winds her way back through her personal history — and discover some tips and advice to apply to your own life along the way.

Mimi shares:

  • Her personal history with creativity and illustration
  • Why she knew it was time to take action
  • How she surrounded herself with the right support
  • What she did to take the first step

Through your headphones as you doodle on your iPad or sketchbook, with a friend over a glass of wine, or on your computer as you clean out your inbox, join Mimi as she recounts the winding path that brought her to the life she has today, and then take a first step of your very own. No matter the kind of creative life you long for, Mimi’s story will spur you to take a step, go after your dreams, and craft the career you’ve always imagined.


Explore more audio-only classes on Skillshare! Hear designer Aaron Draplin answer questions straight from Skillshare students and learn how to set up your home for work-from-home, school-from-home, and everything-else-from-home living with minimalism and sustainability expert Erin Boyle.

Meet Your Teacher

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Mimi Chao

Owner & Illustrator | Mimochai

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Hello I am the owner-illustrator of Mimochai, an independent creative studio based in LA. I'm here to share skills in drawing and mindful creativity. If you'd like to be updated on my new classes, just hit the +Follow button

My guided community is at My shop is at and my portfolio site is at Follow me on IG @mimochai and @mimizchao

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1. Introduction: I was deep into my second year at the law firm and we were all pretty miserable. I remember most of our conversations with my co-worker group of friends would always be complaining or griping about work. Then, like a sign, Forbes Magazine came out with this survey in 2013 of the unhappiness jobs in the US. Corporate lawyer was ranked number 1 on top of all the other jobs in the nation. Combined with my desire to do something more creative, it was definitely a sign for me to try to get out. The way I describe it is what I do now is the dream job that I didn't know that I could have. When I was younger, I always loved drawing, I loved reading, I loved making up characters and I just didn't know that it could be a job. But when I think about what I do now, what I love about it is being able to visually express feelings and stories. It's not necessarily just that I love to draw, but I love to create things that other people can resonate with. When someone tells me that I made them feel better or made them cry, that is, to me, the most rewarding part of drawing and illustration. Welcome to Skillshare Audio. I'm Mimi Chao an author illustrator with a studio based in Los Angeles. Today's lesson is about taking that leap of faith and doing a complete career transition. Yes, it's scary, but it's possible. In this class, I'll walk you through how I did it and what I wish I knew when I started. 2. How Mimi Found Her Path: [inaudible] to ask a young Mimi, I would have definitely wanted to pursue something artistic from the start. I always love drawing, and reading, and making up characters growing up. But I was really, really discouraged by my dad in particular. As many people with my background might know, at the time in families such as mine, the only approved careers were basically doctor, lawyer, and engineer. My dad really wanted me to be a doctor, so he thought I was going against the grain when I decided I wanted to pursue law. An artistic path was really looked down on, I had no role models who I could relate to, no friends or relatives with a creative career. This is also before the time of social media, so I didn't even have virtual role models, especially not anyone that looked like me. Looking back, I was really figuring out a lot of things on my own. When I realized where my career was heading, the more I thought about it and the more I became independent, which I think is a critical part of it, the more I realized that this wasn't aligned with who I was and didn't take advantage of what my true strengths were. For me, one of the pivotal moments was realizing that I had achieved what society had told me and what I thought the whole time, what success was. Then realizing that I was still really unhappy in my career. Up until then, I was always climbing that success mountain. I had the next goal to achieve from college to getting into law school, to securing that law firm job. Then after excelling in academics and doing what I felt like I was supposed to be doing, at 25 years old, I had a six-figure salary, I had a window office in a downtown high-rise, my own business cards and a secretary, and the sense of immediate respect when I said what I do. Those are all things that I was told like that's what success looks like. There I was at the top of the supposed mountain and I found that I was miserable in terms of my career. In terms of actually pursuing illustration, what's funny is, I didn't even know that you could be a freelance illustrator when I left the legal field. I was already 26 at the time and I didn't even know that was a job. Growing up, I thought if you did art, you're either an artist like Monet or you worked at Disney. In my mind, I was like, "Well, I'm definitely not good enough to work at Disney, so there is no art job for me." What happened was that, as I was looking for potentially an outside legal counsel job or just something in law that was closer to the creative field, I stumbled upon the world of design agencies. I found this agency that was small to mid-size that I really like the work that they were doing and I convinced them to take a chance on me. I remember I was at a photo shoot for one of our projects, and someone I worked with noticed a drawing in my house. They were like, "Oh, you draw." I was shy or just felt like it was silly to admit that my dream would be to make a picture book. It just seems so out of reach at the time. It wasn't until I was talking with a girlfriend of mine who is a musician. She was really encouraging me to pursue this. I was like, "Well, I can't because I have to make a living." She said, ''Well, do you have any savings from work?'' I was like, "Yeah, but that's for a rainy day." I never touch my savings. She said, ''Well, maybe this is your rainy day.'' That was when I thought, well, maybe I can give myself six months and just see where this can go and learn as much as I can and focus on this. I think a lot of people have this romanticize idea of like one day you just like walk into your office and you throw everything on the ground or [inaudible] and say, I quit. But it really wasn't like that at all, especially for my personality. It took me a good two years to financially plan it out and really decide to make a change. It seems from maybe talking about it now you just say that in a couple sentences and it's like, well, it happened and that was easy, but it was really hard. From the inside it seemed really impossible because it's hard to imagine a life outside of this bubble that you're in. Everyone you're surrounded by, because of course you have your professional circle, thinks you're crazy to consider giving it all up. At this point, I was on my way to make this big life altering change, but it's not that I just stepped out of my high-rise office as a lawyer, picked up a paintbrush and then settled down at my studio and started to make it as a successful illustrator. There was a lot that I had to learn before I got there. For me, what that meant is figuring out my own school in a way. In my mind, I was like I have six months, so it's almost like this timer countdown. I was like I have to make the most out of the six months. I planned, I guess you can say, a school curriculum for myself and signed up for two evening classes at the local art school to teach myself digital painting, which I had never done before. Which is so crazy to think about now because that's all I do. Also a class on how to make children's books. Because in my mind, that was my dream and I wanted to figure out how to do it. In the transition from life at the agency to becoming an illustrator, obviously the first question that would come up is, well, should I go back to school? Should I go to art school? It just wasn't an option for me at the time. I couldn't afford to go back to school full-time. Even the thought of not making a salary was already such a huge risk to not make a salary and go into debt was out of the question for me at the time. I decided to focus on how to tailor what was available out there in a way that would be financially feasible to me. I saw that there are a lot of great resources online. I had always been good about just googling things and learning how to do things myself and I applied that here too. There's a lot of benefits to being self-taught. I realized from meeting a lot of friends or acquaintances that did go to art school, that it creates this whole different level of stress. The reason why that happened was because the school environment just created so much pressure on them. When you're surrounded by amazing artists, it's easy to discount yourself. You're like, "Well, I'm not as amazing as that person, so I'm probably no good." When really, it's just that you're concentrated in this little bubble where everyone's really good. Of course, it becomes super relative. Versus me, I'm just often in my own world, I don't really have any art friends. I didn't have any expectations of myself to produce amazing art, and so the pressure and the level of self-doubt was different. The benefit of that for me was that I organically or naturally just developed my own way of doing things and my own style. There is no one right way to do it. If your circumstances lead you down one path of the other, you don't have to keep looking back over your shoulder like, the grass is greener on the other side because there are pros and cons to the path that you are going down, and to focus on the pros and how you can turn those into your strengths is the best way to move forward. If you are going down the route of being self-taught and skipping the school path, it does mean that you have to be really diligent and organized in your learning. When I was figuring out how I would approach the six months that I gave myself, I gave myself projects, I drew what I liked, but I incorporated the skills that I was trying to learn into those particular lessons. For example, I made chat stickers and I learned how to vector. I bought a book on learning how to vector in Illustrator. That was a big learning curve for me. Speaking specifically about drawing, you do have to learn anatomy and you need to learn about light and shadow, how to render and basic color theory. Because even if you're trying to ultimately draw very stylized people or objects, you need to learn the basics in order to figure out your own version of that. If you take the shortcut, which I tried to do because I was like, six months, I really need to get there as quickly as I can. It doesn't work out because you hit this plateau where you can only either imitate other people style or stay stuck in this amateur style of not really understanding the bones of what you're trying to do. I remember as a kid you see Picasso and you just think that's how he painted his whole life. Then being surprised as I was older and seeing some of Picasso's earlier work where he can draw amazing realistic portraits and paintings. That's why he says, ''You have to learn the rules to be able to break them.'' I think that's very true. I would say some basic tips are to start with why? I think this is the fundamental thing that any journey or project should start with. What is your why? Write it down if you need to so that you can always remind yourself when you fall down a rabbit hole or start to feel despair. Remember that everybody sucks at first, and you just don't see it especially nowadays. I think unfortunately, our current culture is very immediate rewards based. Even things like time-lapse, I think are fun to watch but creates this false sense of, people just produce these masterpieces in a minute when really it takes many thousands of hours of practice to get that good. That should be something that's championed rather than something that is discouraging. I want to spend some time talking about some common pitfalls or challenges that I faced along the way and how I dealt with them. One of the biggest challenges that I encountered was fighting against a tendency of feeling never satisfied. That constant idea of not enough. So for example, as soon as I leveled up in one particular skill area where I would have earlier been very impressed with myself or that kind of art. By then, I would be like, well this isn't good enough. I need to be at the next level of skill. Whenever I achieved any goal, I would be happy, of course. When I made my first picture book, I was very happy. But by the time it happened, I was already looking at the next big dream. I couldn't really fully enjoy my current wins or really be satisfied with my present. It's the same thing with numbers. Right now, everyone is very focused on numbers and statistics all the time. Like your following is 10,000 followers a lot to you right now. Well, when you have 10,000 followers, so then you're going to think, 100,000 followers is enough. When you have a 100,000 followers, then you're going to think like a million followers. It's just it can never end if you let yourself go down that rabbit hole, and I could feel myself being that kind of person, and I didn't want to be. When you're going through these challenges, it feels really hard. I'm not going to try to sugarcoat it. It's hard. A lot of comments that I already received like, "This is really hard. I feel like giving up." I would like to say it's not about making it easier, it's about changing your perspective on what hard means. Because what's wrong with hard? Why have we been taught to want everything to be easy and simple? Why do we have so much fear and self doubt and resistance about our ability to do hard things? I think when we turn it around into something like I went to avoid this hard thing, it's more about how do I take on this hard thing and being excited about that. That's a great way to overcome a challenge. I would say this shift in mental perspective and developing mental strength and resiliency, is actually the core lesson that I keep coming back to over and over again. Whether it's changing our perception about fear or understanding what really matters to us and whose opinion really counts, those are all things that have benefited me the most throughout this journey and helped me cultivate and nurture the type of career that is true to me. I feel like throughout the past 8-10 years, I've had this Wizard of Oz experience over and over. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, basically, there's this Wizard of Oz that the main character Dorothy and her friends are trying to meet because he's going to grant all of their wishes. He's supposed to be this very all powerful, intelligent, amazing wizard. At the end, you realize it's just this guy with special effects going on, and it's like a fraud. I would say that has been a true metaphor in a lot of my experiences in life where I idolized or put something on a pedestal, only to get to see behind the curtains and realize, it's not all that it was made up to be or actually that's not what's important to me at all. When I first started to experience that, it was extremely discouraging. It was this feeling of like, well, what's real? Everything is hopeless, or you can become very cynical, very easily if you go down that mental path. But now, I see it as opportunities to go back to myself and gain more insight. One thing that I really want to share and that has only become more clear to me recently, is how to deal with these things in a healthy way that goes beyond just being creative or doing what you love. I think that so much of our current societal issues, including things like finding work that we love or just being happy in our lives is actually about having the right mental perspective, which can be cultivated through being mindful and a practice such as meditation. Now, I see my mindfulness practice and my creative practice as going hand in hand and something that I share as an integral part of my journey. Because what I found was without it, I was going down this path where I was doing what I loved, which was amazing, but I was actually still dealing with very similar mental stresses of feeling unsatisfied and not being present. I always tend to overthink a lot of things by nature. I think a lot of introverted creatives can relate to that. I had to break down a lot of these ingrained beliefs and learn to shift my perspective on things. To me, the reason why it's so effective is that the practice of meditation and mindfulness in itself is all about being present and enjoying the moment, being grateful for what is, and being part of the flow rather than trying to struggle against it. All of this helped me with the specific challenge that I mentioned earlier. It also gave me a much stronger and authentic sense of direction in what I wanted to share through my work and how I wanted to be as a person. I think the biggest takeaway is being true to yourself. That's a very vague concept. I would break it down into spending time with yourself through a meditation or mindfulness practice to first understand what is unique to you. What are your strengths? To me, my story isn't necessarily just about finding your dream creative job but finding what makes you specifically feel alive, something that brings you joy. That's going to be different for everybody. The common thread is that we all have that thing. It's not about copying someone else's story to the T but to incorporate some of those general practices of understanding how you can utilize your strengths and your personal situation to move yourself towards a place that you feel that your life is fulfilling to you. This lesson wasn't necessarily a step-by-step approach to leaving a job and becoming a creative but more of my personal journey on how to find happiness and fulfillment. That's it for today. I'm Mimi Chao, thanks for listening to Skillshare audio. If you enjoyed this lesson, make sure to check out my other classes on my Skillshare page. Finally, I'd love to hear about your personal journey. Feel free to share in the comments in the class discussion section.