Artist Highlight: Lili Mikaio

Lili Mikaio and her infectious smile, walk into The Space like a warm summer breeze. The California native recently returned to her roots after some time spent searching her soul in Arizona. While living with her brother, Lili realized that she was good at her management job, but unhappy. She credits her motivation for the recent move as “purely on the fact that I wanted to pursue art full time.”

Two months in, Lili is doing art and, “learning everything first hand,” she says with an authentic laugh that ricochets off the white brick walls.

Lili reflects that although she has always been interested in art such as acting, singing, painting, and 3-D modeling, she lacked the confidence to pursue it head first, and declares, “so I guess I’m giving myself permission to believe in myself.”

Lili admits to being stressed but asserts her happiness. When asked what she is happiest about, she references the overwhelming amount of art she has been able to create in the past two months. Lately, she has been sketching, which is something she never previously had the time to do. Lili has been sketching, inking, and exploring watercolors and states, “I’m not only producing more art but I’m getting to learn more mediums which makes me so happy.” Among the curiosity for new techniques, Lili has also been learning how to market herself better online. Almost all of her art is disseminated through Instagram and Facebook.

Lili explains that her primary art is “vector art,” created using Adobe Illustrator. She also creates hand-drawn, painting style pieces. On the subject of exploration, just the other week Lili played around with watercolor pencils; she learns from the school of youtube, and comments, “The internet is my mentor.”


When asked to pin-down her style, Lili replies, “I wish I actually did have a style.” She shifts into talking about how she is a “mixed-media type of person,” and commends the influence Disney artists have had on the style of work she is inclined to create. Lili name drops Glen Keane, who created the “Disney princess look.” She enjoys Keane’s style of art and the influence his work had on The Little Mermaid. She asserts that the legacy of Keane’s style still permeates 3-D movies being released in theaters today.

When it comes to her own art, Lili says, “I want to be good at realism,” and critiques on her own art as looking too “characterized,” at times. Lili plans to invest in a portrait drawing class to focus her attention on refining the “cartoon-y” nature of her sketches.

When it comes to her next job and financial support of this art journey, Lili states that she can literally do anything from warehouse work, to home improvement retail, to reception and management. Although Lili attended some college, she found she lacked focus and chased the desire to “find how to concentrate,” to her brother’s house in Arizona. Like many people, Lili has a tendency to start many things that fall to the wayside. She is working to apply lessons in responsibility to her new life in California as she works to find a creative career.

A current lesson Lili is working on in her art is, “To be okay with disappointment. I think I can be too much of a perfectionist to where I don’t finish things.” She asserts that making peace with
disappointment makes it easier for her to continue working and exploring in her art. She explains, “A lot of the things I finish I don’t feel are great, I don’t feel its perfect enough, but then I get compliments and then I get people saying, ‘Oh you should keep going.’” Lili concludes, “We’re all our own worst critics.”

Lili has a strong desire to hone her skills to the point where she can accurately portray through her art, what is going on in her mind. In the past, Lili has used her art as a form of processing depression, because, “It’s very difficult for me sometimes to express what might be wrong with me.” Lili uses one piece of art in particular to discuss, a struggle she doesn’t often talk about, “The whole suicide attempt thing isn’t something that’s very palatable to just bring up to a lot of people and it’s not something that you want to bring up often. . .I put it out as though it’s discomforting to everyone, it’s also very discomforting to me.” Lili reflects that Instagram felt like the safest platform to use to broach the subject of mental illness, “If I was gonna try to feel safe in anything to present to the world it was gonna be in my art.” After posting the image, Lili got numerous messages of concern from family and friends which forced her to face her fear of letting other people in. Despite the transparency, Lili still finds that she will, “try to cut things down or shut it down before I worry people too much. “ Lili also admits her flaw of actively putting others ahead of her, “If I could fade into the background, I was okay with that, but if someone needed help, I was like let me help you.”



Lili found out about Smalltown Society when she attended “The Lab” in an effort to find other creatives. Lili credits networking with artists as a significant energy source in making new art. Regarding lessons learned from other creatives, Lili reflects on a conversation she had with Cia Gould, a Smalltown artist, and how instrumental that was in, “learning to call myself an artist.” In claiming her artistry, Lili is learning how to maintain the value she gives to her art. She tells stories of being a vendor at comic book conventions where she attempted to sell her art, often times a piece she would price at $20 would dwindle down to $10 and $5 and then free because, “I don’t want you to buy this, I’m not proud of this.” When discussing lack of self-worth in art and life, Lili reflects, “I don’t know what it is, but when it comes to me, I don’t feel like a lot of things are worth much, but good God I will be there to encourage someone else.”



Lili found a shift in her self-worth when she began putting her art “out there” using the Instagram app, “Something clicked from that. I know it did. And it was essentially just people liking stuff.” Lili comments that regardless of the motivation for the “like” it is still encouraging because, “someone saw this and they still hit that ‘like’ button. So it still meant something to me, and I’ve never had that kind of feedback before about my art.” On the subject of gaining good vibes from social media, in February Lili made a “fan art” drawing of the Valley Folk, a YouTube comedy troupe, and tagged them in the image she posted. To her surprise, one of the members of the group re-posted it, “Blew me away, I was like screaming around the house.” The repost also gave Lili new Instagram followers as the members of the Valley Folk liked her page and widened her audience. Lili continues, “Anytime I feel bad I think about that, like you know what somebody noticed me, you can’t let go of that, and you can’t not remember
that feeling. I have butterflies just thinking of it, it makes me so happy.”

Despite the Instagram community, Lili is still working on putting herself out there as an artist, she often lets her art speak for her presence and doesn’t post many photos of herself or her process. Lili has found motivation in the forthcoming March gathering as a way to get more comfortable with being on camera and being front and center in things. Lili is looking forward to experiencing the Smalltown gathering, “As I’ve gotten older, when I’m scared of something, I just throw myself into it, and this was one of those things.”

Lili will display her art series of drawings she has developed of different characters representing different genres of music, one being “Future Funk Fay,” she graces the Smalltown Society event flyer for the March gathering. Lili and her art will be at the Smalltown Space on Friday, March 9, 2018.