Off the Page, with Gracia Lam and the Spot Illustration

Gracia Lam, by Gracia Lam.
Gracia Lam, by Gracia Lam.

Off the Page is a regular interview series produced by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Today we’re chatting with illustrator Gracia Lam, whose work has been published in Maisonneuve, The Walrus, More, Corporate Knights, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic and others. At last year’s National Magazine Awards, Gracia won both the gold and silver awards for Spot Illustration for two pieces of work published in Maisonneuve, the first illustrator ever to achieve that distinction.

NMAF: The spot illustration holds a special place in the makeup of a magazine. Diminutive, often playful, sometimes underrated in comparison to larger elements of artwork. What do you think makes spot illustration such a fundamental component of a magazine story? 

Gracia Lam

Gracia Lam: I think that spot illustrations are a splash of colour within a sea of text, constructing direction or a break for the reader’s eye. Within a confined space, it is carefully conceived to enhance the content of an article. It assists in the creation of tone and mood, and is used purposefully to amplify a reader’s senses and experience.

NMAF: You achieved an unprecedented feat at last year’s National Magazine Awards, winning both the Gold and Silver medals in Spot Illustration for two different works published in Maisonneuve. The jury awarded gold to your spot illustration accompanying a story called “The Elite Yellow Peril,” which is a very evocative work. What was your creative vision for this piece, and was it created specifically for the text or did you have a broader idea in mind when you created it?

Gracia: I often describe my two-dimensional pieces of illustrations as a short film. In film, the story is narrated through multiple frames and over a time period; my illustrations reveal the climax of a story in one frame.

My vision for the “The Elite Yellow Peril” was to create a connection with the viewer that is immediate and impactful. To achieve this, I created an illustration with imageries and representations as closely related to the text as possible.

NMAF: The article that featured your Silver winning spot, “The Tar-Sands Trap” dealt with the highly controversial, nationally debated topic of the Keystone XL pipeline. As a spot illustrator, how does your level of awareness on the associated story influence your creative process? Before you begin working on an illustration, how does your familiarity with the topic guide your conceptualization process?

Gracia: When working on any assignment, I allow the story to directly inform my creative process from conceptualizing initial sketches to final colourization. During the first read through of the assignment, I take notes and highlight bits and pieces of writing that round up the theme.

For “The Tar-Sands Trap” article, I needed to familiarize myself with specific elements of the story such as its location, the visualization of its landscape and environment, and the pipeline.

When the Art Director gives me complete freedom, I approach the conceptualization process with how I think the mood should be represented—which is to portray the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline as a danger to the community.

NMAF: Your work has appeared in a large number of magazines, including many National Magazine Award-winning publications. Is there a “Gracia Lam” style that is boldly consistent throughout your work in various publications? And what is the process of adapting that style to align with the vision of the art director or of the textual part of the story?

Gracia: My visual language is created using mixed media, combining hand painted and drawn elements along with digital execution. I love to delight the audience with wit by reimagining everyday objects, mundane environments, and familiar situations with visual puns.

The process of adapting that style is mainly through practice. I am grateful that throughout my career I have been given many opportunities on various topics and stories from business and finance articles to science and health stories. These challenges allow me to identify my strengths and edit out my weaknesses, so each project contributes to the gradual tightening and refining of my work and portfolio.

NMAF: You swept the Spot Illustration category at last year’s gala, taking home both the Gold and Silver awards. Before that, you had been nominated three times since 2010. Winning both top spots within a single category is no small feat. Can you describe the difference in transitioning from nominee to two-time winner? What effect have the awards had on your career since last year’s ceremony?

Gracia: I was absolutely blown away by last year’s awards and want to thank the judges who recognized my work. I have always been excited to be nominated alongside many known names in the field—many of which are my peers and idols. The transition from nominee to winner is humbling because winning any award from the NMAs had been a goal. Since the awards last year, I have been working proficiently to improve on each piece to be on top of my own game.

Gracia Lam is a National Magazine Award-winning illustrator, born in Hong Kong and raised in Toronto. She likes to reinvent everyday objects and mundane environments.. To view more of her work visit GraciaLam.com

Special thanks to Leah Jensen for conducting this interview with Gracia Lam. To view more nominated and winning work, visit the National Magazine Awards online archive at magazine-awards.com/archive.

Check out more of our Off the Page interviews with National Magazine Award winners, including illustrators Byron Eggenschwiler, Roxanna Bikadoroff, Jillian Tamaki and Selena Wong.

The nominees for this year’s National Magazine Awards will be announced right here on the NMA blog on May 4. This year’s awards gala is June 5 at the Arcadian Court in Toronto. 

Vote for the Manitoba Magazine of the Year

The annual Maggie Awards, which are presented by the Manitoba Magazine Publishers’ Association, are coming up on May 28, and magazine lovers are invited to help select the Manitoba Magazine of the Year with a People’s Choice Award.

The finalists include:

Vote here for the Manitoba Magazines People’s Choice Award.

The winners will be announced at the Maggie Awards gala on May 28 at the Viscount Gort Hotel in Winnipeg. The nominees and information about the Manitoba Magazines Conference will be announced soon.

2015 National Magazine Awards Gala to be held at the Arcadian Court in Toronto on June 5

The National Magazine Awards Foundation (NMAF) announced today that this year’s 38th annual National Magazine Awards gala, presented by CDS Global, will be held on Friday, June 5, at a new venue—the stylish Arcadian Court in downtown Toronto. [Version française]

Originally opened in 1929 and long cherished as one of Toronto’s most dazzling and dynamic event spaces, the Arcadian Court is managed by Oliver & Bonacini Events & Catering, which will cater this year’s gala, and sits in the heart of the city’s thriving Queen & Bay bustle. Featuring more than 8000 square feet of contemporary gala space, the Arcadian Court was recently named Best Ballroom in Canada at the Bizbash Event Style Awards.

“We are thrilled to welcome the Canadian magazine industry to this exquisite new venue for the National Magazine Awards. Our annual gala attracts more than 500 of Canada’s best magazine publishers, editors, artists, journalists, marketing and sales teams, and other members of our industry from across the country. We look forward to celebrating with you this year at the Arcadian Court.”
— Joyce Byrne, president of the NMAF

Tickets for the 38th annual National Magazine Awards go on sale on May 4, the date on which the NMAF will announce the nominees for awards in 43 categories recognizing the best in Canadian magazine publishing, writing, photography, illustration and design from 2014.

This year’s Master of Ceremonies will be announced in May. The date of the 38th annual National Magazine Awards gala is Friday, June 5, 2015.

Visit magazine-awards.com for information about the gala, awards and nominees.

For sponsorship inquiries please contact Barbara Gould, NMAF Managing Director, at staff@magazine-awards.com.

Illustrator Jillian Tamaki to launch SuperMutant Magic Academy, new book based on webcomic

Four-time National Magazine Award-winning illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s latest book, SuperMutant Magic Academy, hits stores on April 28, and the celebrated artist will appear at the book’s official launch event in Toronto at The Central on Markham Street.

An ongoing webcomic since 2010, whimsical and poignant and delightfully honest, SuperMutant Magic Academy the book is a compendium of the webcomic updated with new material including a forty-page closing story, and is published by Drawn & Quarterly.

Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating.

 

Perhaps best known today for the Governor General’s award-winning book, This One Summer, Jillian’s work has appeared in The Walrus, The New Yorker, More and other magazines. She teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

In our 2012 interview with Jillian, she talked about the process of building a portfolio as a magazine illustrator as part of a purposeful career path in illustration. “It’s incredibly advantageous to be able to do editorial work when you’re starting out, because it’s one facet of the industry that regularly takes chances on new talent.”

Check out Jillian’s new book and, if you’re in Toronto, join her at the launch of SuperMutant Magic Academy on April 28.

And check out Jillian’s award-winning magazine work at the National Magazine Awards archive.

7 Things We Love on Cottage Life’s YouTube Channel

Canada’s reigning Magazine of the Year, Cottage Life, delights its readers with great storytelling, photography, DIY advice and other essential things for your cottage life.

The magazine’s broadcasting arm, Cottage Life TV and the Cottage Life YouTube channel, expand that mandate with everything from how-to guides for food, style and entertainment, to just plain outdoor fun. Here are some favs.

How to make a floating hot tub
DIY “Brojects” regulars Andrew and Kevin show off their innovative craftsmanship with an amphibious hot tub that floats in the lake. They almost can’t believe it worked!

Make your own all-natural bug juice
Ever read the label on a bottle of bug spray and wonder if you should just take your chances with the black flies? Try putting these 6 ingredients together:

Great smoked trout
Among the many great food preparation videos, this one takes you from the catch to the plate, via a regular propane bbq, with that most familiar and delicious of Canadian freshwater fish, the trout.

Bring in the Canadian Shield
A guide to creating a granite shield for your stove with Canada’s national rock.

Canoe on wheels
Because what if you need to hitch a canoe to your bicycle for the next portage?

Make your own beef jerky
Why not? It’s actually pretty easy.

How to make a zipline
To deliver beer from the cottage to the picnic table, obviously. Not so much a detailed “How-To” as it is “Hey, look what I did with my spare time.”

Discover more at the Cottage Life channel.

The nominees for this year’s National Magazine Awards will be announced on May 4.

Sheridan College Graduate Illustration Show: April 16

The soon-to-be graduates of Sheridan College‘s Bachelor’s of Illustration program will present their annual show in Toronto on Thursday April 16, at 99 Sudbury Street.

Entitled “Colour War,” the exhibit promises visual delight and all fans of illustration–especially magazine illustration–will want to check it out. The exhibit will also be available for public viewing on Friday April 17.

More information at Sheridan Illustration.

What’s on Canadian Magazine Newsstands in April

Welcome to April, the month of Easter and Earth Day, Pesach and primroses, hockey playoffs and opening-day pitches. We stop wearing Canada Goose and start planning patio parties. We crave spring fashions, healthy menus, and weekend escapes. And everything we need to know is held in the pages of a magazine.

Here’s just a sampling of National Magazine Award-winning titles on newsstands now. Happy spring reading!

Image via WikiCommons.