By: Melissa Stevens
Do you dream of having a career in the creative industries? Here’s how one woman went from the business world to best-selling author after studying at SCAD Hong Kong.
With an early childhood spent in a tiny cubicle apartment in a Wong Tai Sin temporary settlement after her family fled from the mainland to Hong Kong, pursuing a creative career was not an option for Libby Lam, despite a love of art.
Libby’s imagination and a few treasured hand-me-down picture books provided an escape from the hardships her family endured as they established themselves in a new city and had her dreaming of being an artist. However, expectation came into play upon her graduation from high school.
“As the eldest in my family, I was expected to replace my father as the primary breadwinner after graduating from university, so I took the ‘mainstream’ route to further my studies,” she recalls. “I attained a Master’s degree in Psychology and an MBA, and took up jobs in blue-chip and multinational companies on a stable income with a progressive career path.”
A chance visit, however, to an open day at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2010 proved a turning point for Libby. She turned her back on the corporate world and started studying – a move that would lead to her becoming a best-selling children’s author with her book, Crispy Children.
Turning over a new leaf
Libby says while her love of art endured while she worked in an office job, she still did not seriously consider the possibility of a creative career until after the birth of her two children.
“After becoming a mother, I delved into the fantastic world of children’s literature and re-discovered my passion for children’s books,” she says. “Coincidentally on the career side, I realised I’d already successfully checked all the boxes I set for myself long ago and was financially secure enough to make a change in life. Just as I was wondering how I might take the first step to be a children’s book artist, a millennial in my team signed me up to a SCAD Open Day in the fall of 2010.”
Attending the Open Day proved to be a turning point for Libby. After discussing her interest in drawing for children’s books, she was introduced to the Dean and a list of suggested courses was created for her. From there, she took the plunge to return to study. Rather than being daunted by the classroom, Libby described the experience as “absolutely fantastic!” – “I found it the best antiageing formula, simply to mingle with young classmates and to learn to see the world from their eyes,” she says.
Libby undertook a variety of creative, non-degree courses, including illustration and sequential art. It was while she was studying that the idea formed for Crispy Children, which she worked on guided by her SCAD professors. The story, which examines the question of why good people do bad things, was published last year.
While it was a passion project, it was not without some pain, Libby concedes. “It was an intensive seven-month process to finish a full-coloured 42-page picture book, which included the manuscript, character design, story board, colour render, typesetting and cover design. Throughout the entire process, I received guidance from the professors at SCAD which ultimately helped me achieve my dream in a much shorter time-frame.”
The next chapter
Following publication, Crispy Children became an instant bestseller in Hong Kong last November, an experience Libby describes as “humbling”. The book followed two others that she had also brought to fruition during her time at SCAD. She published Checklisted Beauty in 2015, and My Best Friend Sunny in 2016.
Libby admits it did take some adjustment to move from corporate leadership to being a student again, but she continues to draw on her skills honed during her former career.
“While I had to unlearn in order to transit from the business world to my art studies, one quality I acquired that served me well at all times was my project management skill. Being able to juggle my primary role as a mother while bringing my picture book projects to fruition required diligence and time management,” she observes.
Libby is now working on two book projects – one is a picture book about gratitude that will be a sequel to Checklisted Beauty and My Best Friend Sunny. The second is a non-fiction project featuring the childhood stories of “home-grown extraordinary women” from different professions, with the aim to inspire young girls to dream big.
“I constantly surprise myself by how my children’s books pursuit has taken me to new territories I’ve never imagined I would go,” Libby says. “My life is no longer bound by office desks, meeting rooms, annual leave and airport transits, but has opened up to a whole new creative world where my two daughters can participate and take pride in.”
See more in our Living in Hong Kong section!
This article first appeared in the April/May 2018 issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.