We had the good fortune of connecting with Maple Lam and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maple, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think risk taking is a natural part of life. Some take more risks than others; some take higher risks than others. Honestly, there is a right or wrong in the number of risks one takes – it all depends on the individual’s level of tolerance. The great news is, we can always assess the level of risks involved, consider the pro and cons, and develop a plan to balance the opportunities versus the risks. I was an event and exhibit designer in a design firm for seven years before switching over full-time as a freelance author and illustrator. The switch was a huge risk: freelancing means an unstable financial situation for a long period of time. To prepare for that, I made sure I was extremely financially responsible when I was working full-time. (Reading a few books on finance early on can go a long way.) I gave my company a one year notice prior to my planned departure so that I could help them hire and train the next designer for the transition. We parted in great terms, and I periodically freelance for the firm when help is needed. I enjoyed the time I worked as a designer, but I am also happy to make the switch to become an author and illustrator, for that’s where my passion resides.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
It was a zig-zag type of journey in terms of my art career. I always loved to draw, but I didn’t know how to bridge that into a career when I was young. In college, I thought I would be a concept artist, as I assumed I enjoyed watching movies and playing video games. Turns out, I didn’t enjoy it the way concept artists in the industry enjoyed it. (I did get a wonderful art education in the process, all of which is tremendously helpful later on in my career.) What I truly enjoyed was reading books, from history to astronomy, from wordless to graphic novels. And yet, I didn’t put two and two together until much later, when I began noticing the amazing artwork and illustration in picture books. Picture book storytelling is a very unique art form, from pacing, to page-turn, to how the art and the text work with each other. I learned through reading and studying picture books everyday. (I still do!) It’s definitely not easy, as book publishing is a very slow process. But the journey along is also filled with gems. I get to bounce ideas with my agent, my critique group, my illustrator friends, my editors and art directors, etc. I’ve learned to be patient and enjoy every step of the creative process.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There are a lot of places I would recommend! There is Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra. It’s a tiny gallery with a lot of great rotating illustration exhibits. A great ice-cream place called Fosselman is also nearby. The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has a strong art selection, and after seeing lots of great art, we can walk down Old Town Pasadena, where we can also get unique ice-cream at Wanderlust Creamery (I really like ice-cream!). Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo has the best sushi in town, and their sashimi lunch on the weekday has huge portions! West LA has a lot of cool shops to check out, from vintage to all the streetwear brands on Fairfax. The Griffin Observatory is a fun place to hike. Wi Spa in Koreatown is a great place to spend an entire afternoon for relaxation. Biking at Venice Beach and walking down Abbot Kinney after is always a great way to spend the day. JPL in La Canada offers a free lecture every month, and we get to hear some of the top aerospace scientists discuss their latest work in person! Walking down Honolulu Avenue in Montrose is great, and we can grab coffee and ice-cream and visit one of my favorite indie bookstores: Once Upon A Time. It’s the oldest children’s book bookstore in America. I LOVE Los Angeles. It’s a very spread-out city with lots of hidden gems! The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to give my shoutout to SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Before I joined the organization, I had very limited knowledge of how the children’s book publishing industry works. Attending conferences and workshops gave me the necessary knowledge of being a children’s book author and illustrator. More importantly, I met many talented creatives there, and over time, we’ve become lifelong friends. We support each other through the ups and downs of our creative journey, and I cherish that tremendously.