I draw people as they are

"Can I draw you for 100 yen?"

That was what little Mondo Okumura asked his musician father's friend one day about four years ago.

And when the Japanese boy attended his dad's concerts, he would sit at a corner asking people if they wanted their portrait done for 100 yen (S$1.15).

He was seven years old then.

Since then, Mondo, now 11, has gone on to illustrate and design magazine covers, and has even published his own book of portraits.

Last Friday, the art prodigy was in town to launch an art exhibition of his portraits at curatorial space K+ at Scotts Square.

It will be on until April 12. Admission is free.

To commemorate SG50, it also features Mondo's drawings of Singapore icons such as the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the Esplanade. The portraits on display are selling for $220 each.

Mondo started drawing portraits when he was three years old.

His father, who goes by the name Bogggey, told The New Paper in Japanese through a translator: "My wife and I went to (art) school so there were always pens and pencils lying around the house. Mondo started picking them up to draw."

When he first started, Mondo said he mainly drew objects like trains and railways.

The soft-spoken boy, who's in the fifth grade of elementary school in his hometown of Fukuoka, said in Japanese: "Now I prefer drawing people. People have their own unique characteristic and I find it easy to detect those features... I try to draw (people exactly as I see them)."

Asked what is his favourite aspect about being an artist, he said: "Getting to meet and draw so many different people from all over the world."

Mondo has had no formal training in art, and his parents do not intend to send him to an art school.

Bogggey said: "I try not to teach him how to draw as well. I want him to be able to draw freely, without the influence of adult perspectives.

"Learning the techniques will make his drawing become very technical and boring. I want him to be able to have his own style."

Mondo's portraits - which include celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Quentin Tarantino, David Bowie and John Lennon - are distinctively quirky, boasting an inimitable line-drawing style.

At a private session at the exhibition's launch last Friday, he was busy drawing portraits of people who had pre-booked a session at the price of $200 per portrait.

Eyes focused on his subject, and with paper in one hand and a black marker in the other, he drew for about three hours, taking about 10 minutes for each portrait. Student Trisha Tan, 11, was his first subject.

She said: "I really like (my portrait), it's very nice and also so detailed. I'm going to hang it up in my bedroom when I go home.

"I'm quite surprised. He's so young but he's already such a great artist."

Despite being fully aware of his son's talent, Bogggey said he does not mind if Mondo eventually chooses a career path unrelated to drawing or art.

He said: "As long as he is happy and does what he loves to do, I'll be happy."


This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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