Drawing from passion and glamour
Dreaming of working with luxury brands such as Chopard, Piaget, Patek Philippe, and Zuhair Murad, as Singaporean fashion and lifestyle illustrator Mandy Lau has done? She shares how she left the corporate world to start her own studio from scratch
The best clients are those who value your expertise and what you can do.
Mandy Lau, Fashion and Lifestyle Illustrator
For someone who doesn’t post on Facebook save for the occasional holiday snaps, it may be surprising to learn that Singaporean illustrator Mandy Lau has attracted an impressive 13k (and counting) followers on her Instagram account.
The creative brain behind Singapore-based studio Draw A Story, many of Mandy’s followers are fellow illustrators from all over the world. A self-confessed introvert, the mother of two shares that she’s happiest when she’s working alone to create her art and illustrations.
“It took me ages before I finally posted a picture of myself on Instagram, where I’ve been sharing my work under the brand name “Draw A Story”. When I am creating, I am in my own happy place. But I recognise the power of social media to put my work out there, and it’s also the best feedback channel for me to gauge what works. So I do share a little more about myself now so that people can get to know me better.”
The mother of a teenage girl and 11-year-old boy reckons she has no regrets looking back at her career, although she sometimes wishes she could time travel on a whim. “I would love to go back to the time when they were babies and I can carry them again in my arms again. I do miss such simple joys sometimes.”
Mandy’s personal project on Chanel
TFCS: What was the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Mandy: It is probably when I decided to let my family and friends know that I am becoming a freelance illustrator. Though my family knows that I have a penchant for drawing and painting, I was not very sure what they would think of me doing it as a career. They probably did not even know that there is such a career as a fashion illustrator. As for my friends, except for some of my closest ones, they don’t even know I draw! In any case, all of them were very supportive when I announced my move into illustration, and I am very grateful to all of them for their constant encouragement.
TFCS: What was the turning point for you to pursue illustration as a career?
Mandy: I guess it was when my husband bought me an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I didn’t want to let his money and good intention “go to waste”. I have always liked fashion, not so much as in dressing myself, but more in the creativity that goes into fashion and the use of imagery in fashion branding and communications. I am drawn to the colours, shapes, silhouette, lines, and textures in fashion. So it was very natural for me to gravitate towards this specialisation.
TFCS: How did your love for illustrating turn into something more?
Mandy: I began to imagine my illustrations coming to life, and that sparked my interest in animation too. I have yet to really learn complicated programmes like After Effect, but I managed to teach myself enough to do a few simple animated clips. That helped to tell my stories better.
I have recently also started doing calligraphy, as words presented in a visual form is also such an important component in communication. And I think handwritten calligraphy complements so well with hand-drawn illustrations. Now I am equally in love with both.
TFCS: Storytelling is very much at the heart of your work. What makes a good story to you?
Mandy: I am a very visual person. Even when I read a passage, my mind will usually form a visual image. So my work is pretty much a means to help my clients tell a visual story. A good story should touch something in you, trigger an emotion, a memory or perhaps urge you to want to do something about it. I hope my illustrations can do that.
TFCS: What was the best and worst piece of advice anyone has given to you?
Mandy: Actually, I had been very fortunate to receive some really good advice from other fashion illustrators whom I got to know through Instagram. They are based as far as in London and Chicago, where the scene is much more vibrant. I am very grateful for their generous sharing of their work as illustrators and on dealing with clients. The best piece of advice I was told was not to be obligated to give away my work for free. The best clients are those who value your expertise and what you can do. I can’t remember what is the worst advice I got. I guessed it never registered, because it must have been so bad!
TFCS: Coming from a marketing background, how did that knowledge inform your perspective as an illustrator?
Mandy: To be a good illustrator, not only do you need to be a good draughtsman and have good technique, you also need to be a good communicator. My background and experience in marketing, branding and communications automatically put me in the shoes of my clients and give me the skills to propose the right creative ideas to help them achieve their objectives.
Psst….I think I have a major crush😍…on a lipstick. Not just any lipstick but @BobbiBrown ‘s new Crushed Lip Colour. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be able to do some live sketching at its launch party last week. Thank you so much for having me, #BobbiBrownSg and @insidercommunications. And big thanks too to all the amazing guests who waited patiently for their turn. 💋It was lovely to meet all of you but it felt a little like a 5-min speed-dating session, no? 😆 Swipe to see more. Wish I had some good photos of the guys too…😯 #BBGirlCrush #drawastory
A post shared by Draw A Story Illustration (@draw.a.story) on
Work Life Balance
A typical day starts at… 8.30am, or earlier on days when I have my exercise classes. I read the papers and scroll through my Instagram feed over breakfast. Then I get to work immediately, sometimes doing research for a project or diving straight into a commissioned piece or preparing for a client’s work. I usually have late lunches as I would be so carried away with what I am doing, and it’s usually a simple meal that I cook myself. On those days that my son is home for lunch, then it would be something he likes. I am usually back to work again at about 3pm with my 2nd cup of coffee (a must!). If I’m not rushing out any urgent work, I will try to go for my run along the river in the evening. When everyone has gone to bed at about 10pm, I get to work again and call it a day at about 2am, sometimes later.
Most of the time, I work… from home. With my iPad Pro, I have the convenience of working anywhere. Sometimes, I can be in the living room or even in bed. I know that it is not a good idea to bring your work to bed but I am quite a night person and I like the quietness of the night to draw without any distraction for hours on end.
I don’t really draw in cafes, though it sounds like such a cool thing to do. I feel bad for occupying a table for too long.
3 Tips from Mandy on Building An Illustration Career
1. Be sincere. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, and be enterprising to keep trying out new ways to do things.”
2. Exit your comfort zone. “It is always gratifying to have the clients compliment me on a job well done and tell me that they had enjoyed working with me. The challenges are that some of the assignments are no walk in the park but again I thrive better under stress. In fact, I enjoy it even more when things get a little tough. It makes things more interesting.”
3. Explore bravely. “While you can to a certain extent take the time to know and understand the properties of the different watercolour paints and rely on past experience, you will never really know what will be the outcome. You can get more adept at controlling the paint pigments and water, but (unlike working on a digital canvas), you can never have total control by clicking an undo button. You can correct some mistakes but sometimes, the mistakes are just what would make the art perfect. That’s why watercolour is such a enigmatic medium, at least for me.”