Check out our first SPOTLIGHT on a woman in caricature!
We interviewed Mae Adao, a phenomenal caricature artist, an ISCA award winner, a top shelf instructor, and a founding member of Women in Caricature. Interview was by me, Emma Tipping, on October 8, 2020.
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Women in Caricature: So, you and I are founding members of Women in Caricature! Why do you think it’s important that this group exists?
Mae Adao: I personally think it’s important because as a women I found it really scary when I first started doing caricatures. It’s a male dominated job and there weren’t a lot of women or people of color who did caricatures. I think this group will be helpful for women to become more excited about the work and to branch out. We’d like to build community and grow diversity. Also expand our industry so that it’s not seen as a theme park thing but also as a cool art form.
Women in Caricature: How long have you been a caricature artist?
Mae Adao: Since May of 2010. I grew up in San Diego and had my first caricature job at Sea World San Diego.
Women in Caricature: Where are you currently working?
Mae Adao: Currently I don’t have a full time job but I’m doing gigs for the California Boys and About Faces. I also have my own commissions.
Women in Caricature: what kind of gigs are you doing?
Mae Adao: Parties, but not many because of the pandemic. Most of my work right now is coming from commissions and freelance work, caricature and non-caricature.
Women in Caricature: Speaking of which, COVID has had a huge impact on our industry. How has it impacted you personally, as a professional caricature artist?
Mae Adao: It’s given me a lot of time to reflect on my artwork. Even though caricature was a really big thing in my life, I don’t sweat about it anymore. I had a lot of pressure to be a really good caricature artist and make a lot of money during fairs. Working fairs is a very stressful job and it’s nice to not have the stress. I feel differently about my artwork now because while I can do other stuff, I use my caricature skills to do that work. My caricature brain comes into everything I do, even painting and illustration. Because of COVID I’ve had time to reflect on all that. I’m discovering a lot about myself as an artist. It sucks not to have money but also it has made me grow artistically and personally.
Women in Caricature: What are some of the caricature skills that you continue to use in your studio work?
Mae Adao: In my thought process, for one. When I develop concepts I’m always simplifying. This is the biggest thing that I admire about caricature and I use it in everything I do. Also, knowing how to draw faces which is funny because in my studio work I don’t draw people a lot- I draw houses and environments. But I see the whole world caricaturized! Like houses are not just buildings with 4 walls, it’s a building with a cute little shingling roof, for example.
Maybe I draw houses so much because before caricaturing I studied civil engineering and architecture. I was really into architecture between high school and college. I’ve always been fond of houses. It comes back to women in caricature though because I was the only woman in my engineering classes. I felt like no one took me seriously and I felt really out of place so it caught up with me after a while and I stopped doing that.
Women in Caricature: Your color prowess has been recognized throughout the industry. You’ve won awards and taught workshops and use pretty advanced color techniques in your studio work. Are you able to integrate those color techniques into your retail caricatures, which need to be done quickly?
Mae Adao: Those techniques actually stem from caricaturing! I had to learn how to draw really fast but also wanted to make my style pop visually while not taking a lot of time. So I tried to figure out how to do that. I would experiment with different materials, I would use different markers, paint markers, art sticks. The more saturated the color was the more it would make my images pop. So my color techniques actually came from caricature.
Women in Caricature: So, the need to work quickly in caricature pushed you to innovate and develop a really awesome technique. Are there any other benefits that working quickly as a caricature artist gave you?
Mae Adao: I feel like working quickly makes you improve faster. If you analyze each drawing after it’s done or take pictures to reflect on how you did, that helps. I have 2 speeds- really fast and “I’m going to make really good art”. The fast drawings don’t hold up artistically over time but they still have value because each stroke helps you improve.
Women in Caricature: What are your favorite tools for retail caricature?
Mae Adao: Colored markers. If I’m going fast or working for tips, I’ll use Crayola markers, specifically the purples (magenta and mulberry). For high quality retail work I use Crayola refillable markers with Copic ink in purples and blues. I also like a blend of art sticks and Neo Colors. I use white-out for highlights and shiny sparkling things. Occasionally I will use highlighter colors for accents and paint markers. Oh, and I like POSCA. That’s about it!
Women in Caricature: Who are your favorite female artists in caricature?
Mae Adao: My favorites are
Hitomi Ishihara (@hitomi_ishihara_0v0), Saemee Yoon (@saemeeloveenergy), Ali Thome (@alirthome), Kelly O’Brien (@komakes), Kiko Yamada (@ninjasketch), the queen herself Lindsey Olivares (@lindseyolivares), Marlo Meekins (@marlomeekins), Nelissa Greene (@neligreenart), Betsey Bleed (@betsy.bleed.illo).
Women in Caricature: Your studio work is awesome. You do studio caricatures, pixel art, isometric drawings... anything I’m missing?
Mae Adao: I also do miniatures for D&D on the down low. Instead of dong it under my name I work through another artist. It’s not artwork that’s consistent with my brand and I didn’t want to have to deal with the business side of it. Also, I’m very new at D&D work so I keep my work on the quiet as I build my skills.
Women in Caricature: What are your goals with your studio work?
Mae Adao: My overall goals are to have work that I can produce that is solely for myself- that I love to do. I’d like to find that balance between loving what I do and making money passively with prints and stuff like that. Of course that entails a lot of business work which I don’t like. It’s confusing and it stresses me out. Another goal of mine is creating a new video game. I’ve been working on that on and off since 2016. I’ve been learning coding and also tried to put a team together which didn’t really pan out but I’m still working on it.
Women in Caricature: I would love to see that!
Mae Adao: I would too, haha.
Women in Caricature: Are there things that you get from your studio work that retail caricature can’t provide? Do you like having the freedom to explore other topics and themes, for example?
Mae Adao: Studio work feels like more of a project to me. I get to see my mistakes, sleep on them and then fix it the next day. I also like to take my time and watch movies while I draw. Also experimenting with the different supplies. I still find myself working very fast in the studio, which I think is the pressure of having to post every day. I see a lot of people on Instagram who are posting frequently and I’m baffled by how fast they are producing.
Women in Caricature: There are lots of women working in caricature right now who look up to you and all your artistic accomplishments. Do you have any advice for them?
Mae Adao: Yes! Let me gather my thoughts before I blurt things out... Ok. I would say that if I was at the park again and there was a new female artist who asked me this question I would say, “don’t let other people’s words get to you.” When I was younger I had criticism and rude words said to me from people that I looked up to. Some of it made me feel like, “I’ll show you” but other times it made me shy away from doing what I wanted to do. I would say, just do you, baby. If you want to be the best then go for it. That ambition will get you results. Also, it’s ok to not have that ambition! Do what you really love. Put all your energy into that thing you want to do and you will become good at that thing.
Women in Caricature: Thanks Mae! This was an awesome interview.
Mae Adao: Yes, thank you!
Pics above provided by the artist, and taken from Mae's Instagram account, @mae.adao