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The Q&A: Gracia Lam

By Peggy Roalf   Monday November 17, 2014

Q: What are some of your favorite things about living and working in  Toronto?

A: I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto. After graduating from college, I’ve lived and worked in Europe and Asia for extended periods of time. When I was in Hong Kong, I needed to wake up in the middle of each night to check in on projects. I currently live in Toronto, and being in the same time zone with clients is big an advantage to my sleep cycle.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus in the computer?

A: I usually have two sketchbooks at all times. One for commissioned projects and the other is for personal work and daily inspirations. All of the work that I create is a combination of painted objects, textures, and drawn elements that are brought into the computer for execution.

Q: What do you like best about your workspace?

A: I am currently sharing a studio space with two talented illustrators and designers. The best thing is board game night, which happens every Thursday. Friends are invited to join in as we aggressively try to manipulate, cheat, and deceive one another to win.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My chair. I recently purchased a proper Herman Miller office chair and it had dramatically changed my working experience. I feel less fatigue at the end of the day, and I don’t have to see my chiropractor as often.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: I have always loved the process of reading a given story and conceptualizing ideas from specific words into images. Being able to invent new visuals dialogues that offer unexpected twists or elements of surprise is a thrill I chase after.

Q: What was the strangest or most unusual assignment you’ve taken? What did you learn from the experience?

A: Murals are very unusual to me, because I am used to the format of printed books and magazines. I’ve had a few opportunities to work on large-scale wall art, which entirely changes my habits. Because of time constraints, I need to push myself to focus on the big picture instead of refining smaller details.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: I collected Garfield comic books when I was very small and adored his dark and dry sense of humor.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: I really enjoyed a book of poems by Donald Hall titled Without. It is a kind of diary on the days leading to losing his beloved wife—who suffered from leukemia. I loved it because it is a poignant record of his inner moods of grief and mourning.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: I’m currently taking silk screening classes and I think it would be a good challenge to see what I can do with those techniques and how it might change my work.

Q: What was the last art exhibition you saw and what did you take away from it?

A: I saw an exhibition of Canadian artist Alex Colville last weekend and learned his profound relationship with his wife of 70 years, Rhoda. She is often the female body portrayed in his paintings. It was compelling to witness Colville’s continual and loving devotion even through the passing of time and old age until the very end.

 Q: Where did your idea for your current book project originate?

A: I’m writing and illustrating a book called Audrelane Park. It is a series of illustrations that synthesizes children's playground games to the games that adults play, narrated through the story of a romantic relationship between two women. It is a book that quietly uncovers how human beings never grow up.

Q: What was the most difficult part about getting from idea to finished art?

A: The most difficult part about it is just finding the time to work on it because it is an entirely personal project. I try to work on it in between projects, or waiting for responses from clients.

Q: What advice would you give a young artist about applying to an art school or college?

For me, art school taught me many things about illustration and prepared me well for the industry. I was raised in a small town where art didn’t matter a lot and am grateful to be able to submerge myself in an institution with people that aligned with my interests. I met great artists and peers that I admired and was taught by instructors that continue to be my mentors today. I think everyone interested in art should give art school a chance. If you find out that it’s not for you, that’s not a problem.

Q: If you could be anywhere but where you are now, where would that be?

A: I would probably be in Hong Kong where my family is currently living.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: I grew up in a big and tight family with very close relationships. Having any kind of supper with them will be spectacular.

Gracia Lam: I am an illustrator living and working in Toronto. I hae worked for a diverse range of clients such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and The Walrus. My work has also been awarded by institutions such as American Illustration and ADC Young Guns. I aspire to delight the audience with intelligence and wit by reimagining everyday objects, mundane environments, and familiar situations with visual puns.

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