Writer-Illustrator: Sang Lam

Posted on September 9, 2020

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I worked with so many talented artists as a high school English teacher, and I am always delighted to watch them learn and grow as artists, thinkers, and humans over time. Today’s guest post is from a former student, Sang Lam, who sent me her senior thesis project, a delightful picture book titled Way Back Home.

When I left the classroom in 2019, it was time to leave behind the hundreds of student projects that I had collected to use for instruction with future students. But I couldn’t just toss the whole pile into the bin; I looked through them and remembered….

When I was done remembering, 98% of the pile went into the bin, but I kept some that were just too good to toss–and you never know–I might want to use them for instruction in a writer’s workshop….

One of those special projects that I couldn’t bear to toss was Sang Lam’s comic. The assignment had been to demonstrate understanding of characters as archetypes in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis in a comic. I had been using Lynda Barry’s idea of making comics as a way to understand narrative structure in a simplified form–as we enjoyed the complex storytelling in Satrapi’s work. This assignment asks students to combine literary analysis with their knowledge of comic conventions. Demonstrating understanding of literary concepts in comic form allows students to recognize the power and function of a few basic conventions of the genre. For Sang, the exercise allowed her to shine. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but I held onto something that will now become known as “the artist’s early work,” and I’m excited that she agreed to write a guest post. 

As soon as I saw Way Back Home, I was curious about Sang’s writing process (writing process is my jam), and she graciously indulged me with the piece that follows. Thank you, Sang!

Be sure to check out Sang’s current work in the links at the bottom!


The Struggle to Find a Story

I am happy how my thesis turned out despite the many nights when I wanted to give up and burn the whole project. It was refreshing to create illustrations just for myself, not bound by  restrictions from a client or a school assignment. It was exciting to spend a whole semester and focus every ounce of my creativity on this limitless project. 

On the other hand, having no restrictions made it extremely difficult to narrow down a topic and start a story. I felt responsible to ensure that this project reflected everything I’d learned from four years of art college.

As one of a small number of visual artists in high school, I never had a problem making my art projects stand out. Then, when I started classes at an art college, it was clear to me that I was so behind! Everyone already had these crazy skills to draw elaborate creatures and incredible world-building sketches in five minutes, while it would take me days. I was so blown away by how talented everyone was. 

But I didn’t lose hope! I believed that a good story could make my work stand out until I could catch up on my painting skills. I knew that with a good story, I didn’t need to be the greatest artist to reach an audience. After the first two rigorous years at Ringling College of Art and Design, focusing on the fundamentals of art, my illustrations started to improve. 

Then I ran into a different problem: my storytelling wasn’t catching up with the visuals. I had found my style, my palette, and my audience, but I struggled to find a compelling story to tell. 

Good stories are hard to find, and bad ones stick out like sore thumbs. I began to consume countless stories and take storytelling courses. I learned that there are many formulas and rules to follow, but the spine to every good story is interesting character dynamics and interactions. A cliché story can be appealing with an odd pairing of characters who wouldn’t interact with each other in normal circumstances. A few of my favorite movies include Parasite, Spiderman, Doctor Strange, Spirited Away and The Last of Us. I studied them closely to learn about storytelling.

I found that one way to start a story is to build a protagonist first. They can be a cliché, a person you know well, or a relatable person. Their companions can have contrasting personalities, but under a specific circumstance, they are forced to stick together. Like in the movie, Parasite, the Kim and Park families stick together despite being the exact opposite. They both benefit the other. One gets the money, and the other gets the service. The contrast between the two families makes every simple, day-to-day interaction unique and captivating. I am still learning about storytelling, but this is one trick that helped me get started. 


When I was an exchange student at Adrian High School in 2016, ms. eddy allowed me to tell a story visually in her English class. This is when my passion to pursue art was reaffirmed. 

I graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 2020 and currently paint background illustrations for animated series for Netflix and Echo Bridge Pictures. I also freelance on a variety of projects like music videos, games, and magazines. I also have an Etsy shop where I sell my work. You can find my work at the links below:

https://www.sanglam.com/

https://www.instagram.com/sanglam_art/

https://www.etsy.com/shop/SangLamDesign

Feel free to reach out and say HI on Instagram! Thank you ms. eddy, for letting me share my stories. 


Thank you, Sang!

And Thank You, dear reader.


lisa eddy is a writer-for-hire, researcher, educator-for-hire, youth advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com