Character Sketch

Why the Illustrator Haleigh Mun Takes Comfort in Carrying a Sketchbook

Drawing didn’t start as a career for Haleigh Mun—it began as a way around her shyness after moving to the States from Korea as a teen. Her art did more than help her communicate, though. It eventually led her to NYC and the School of Visual Arts, where she recently received a degree in illustration. Her splashy, line-filled style is instantly cheering and turns even mundane coffee-shop interactions into a frame-worthy works of art. Here, she breaks down the appeal of pink things, the happiness factor, and what it takes for a self-portrait to really look like her.

Q: How did you land on your style? It’s so joyful!

A. “I am still experimenting to find my voice in illustration, but I believe what I have now started slowly with experiments in my sketchbook. I had a professor, Josh Cochran, in my second year of college who suggested starting a habit of carrying around the sketchbook anywhere I go. I tried watercolors, gouaches, acrylics, markers, collages, and so on before I landed on the colored pencils I use now. They were the best fit for me because it was very easy to carry them around with the sketchbook, to set up and clean up, and to control. The colors were so various and bright. I couldn’t be happier with the medium. It reminds me of my childhood, and that has helped me draw like a child and enjoy any mistakes. I decided not to worry about making perfectly nice pictures and just joyfully draw what I truly love. The style came to me when I found the right medium and just tried to be myself on the paper.”

Q: What are some of your favorite things—or people or animals!—to draw?

A. “A pink dog and a pink person! The fish you see here was never originally one of them. But fresh sashimi was one of the big reasons why I missed my home country. I was so happy when I went back to Korea recently for a vacation and finally went to soraepogu, the fish market. I love drawing anything that makes me happy.”

Q: What’s your drawing setup? Do you always work from the same spot?

A. “My drawing setup changes every day. Sometimes, I draw in a café, my bed in my small room in Sunnyside, Queens, in a park, or even on the 7 train. When I’m drawing, I mostly just listen to Korean dramas or talk to my mom on the phone. Everything really depends on my mood in each day. I draw the best when I am in a happy mood, so I try to do something enjoyable that helps me sit a bit longer. My tools are Prismacolor colored pencils, Bristol papers, a Moleskine sketchbook, and Procreate software.”

Q: What has to be included when you draw a self-portrait? Are there certain elements that make up the “you” of it?

A. “I think the color is especially important. It sets the mood and tone of the drawing, and I make sure every element that I include is meaningful in my daily life. For example, I recently bought three heart-shaped earrings, I always have my phone in my hands, and I like stopping on the street to capture moments. You can see all those in my drawing.”

Q: Who are a few of your favorite illustrators?

A. “Too many to name! Josh Cochran, Mogu Takahashi, Jessie Willcox Smith, Julia Rothman, Kanae Sato, Maira Kalman, Henri Matisse, Norman Rockwell, and so on!”