“The architectural elements provide a layer of richness to the drawings.”

Architect and Illustrator, Isabelle Lam

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Today’s artist is our second to the last artist before the podcast goes on HIATUS! Isabelle Lam is an architect and illustrator whose work presents the artistic quirks that brand the students of the Bartlett School of Architecture. Her work effortlessly spans across both digital art and architecture, cultivating a hybrid of aesthetics and underlying messages which weave her work together. Please enjoy this short but worthy read with Isabelle!

Please introduce yourself

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, spent 11 years in the UK, and have moved back home two years ago.

I completed my undergraduate degree at University of Bath, and later graduated with a masters from the Bartlett School of Architecture. I am currently a full-time Architect who enjoys drawing outside of work.

I wanted to interview you because I love the warmth and depth of your illustrations, along with the colours. I feel you’re bordering the edge between architect and illustrator (hence you qualified for the podcast hehe). Can you tell us about your art journey until now?

I have always enjoyed drawing and I did that a lot for fun when I was a kid. I however stopped drawing in my leisure time when I started doing Architecture in uni — I did only Architectural drawings and visuals for school. It was not until the work-from-home period of the pandemic when I picked up the hobby of drawing again.

I started off with creating a gift piece for a friend. I realised I still enjoyed the process a lot, and was encouraged to start posting on instagram to see how my interest could turn into something more meaningful.

You created a project for what I’m assuming was your end of year show at the Bartlett, titled ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. Can you tell us a bit more about that? The inspirations behind it, the references you used, the preparation that went into creating these final pieces? I noticed you also have a project ‘Portable Utopia’ — how did that project help in creating Moonrise Kingdom?

The project is inspired by the film ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ directed by Wes Anderson, in which twelve-year-old Sam and Suzy fall in love, pack up and run away. They reach a secluded cove and create a little world that seem to be their idea of Utopia.

This story formed my initial thoughts of utopia, which is manifested by the project “Portable Utopia”. It led to my further studies on the topic and shaped my final project- a network of recycling centres and prefabricated temporary floating homes that implements policies of anti-consumerism, pro-democracy and philanthropy.

After months of working on the project, a 3D model of the design had been developed and that was pretty much all I needed for the final drawings.

In fact, let’s talk a bit more about the Bartlett -the students are known to create very artsy, illustrative pieces. What practices and teachings do you think the university teaches which help students to be more creatively free?

The school encourages students to think outside of the box. In my unit, we were encouraged to tell stories through architecture, and taught that anything can inform spatial propositions- fiction, history, politics… this way of thinking was to me greatly eye opening!

How has your architectural background helped you in your illustration?

Some of my drawings are a combination of architectural models and illustrations. I think the architectural elements add depth and provide a layer of and richness to the drawings.

A lot of the people I have interviewed actually have architectural backgrounds (including me haha). Would you recommend illustrators or artists to study architecture, even if they don’t take the architectural route? Why or why not?

I would encourage people to study architecture only if they have a strong interest in the subject, especially if working in the architectural field is not their goal- it is a demanding and long journey afterall!

You have lived in both HK and the UK. How does culture play a role in your practice?

When working on architectural projects, my cultural background allows me to take references from both the East and the west, and broadens my understanding of the need of users of different origins.

There’s a marked visual difference between your personal illustration and your architectural illustration — do you prefer one over the other? Do you think it’s okay to have different styles?

I think it is ok to have different styles, I enjoy exploring different things with different projects. I do not have a favourite — Though I would describe a lot of my works rich in colours — I am particularly interested in experimenting on my use of colours as well as drawing composition.

What work would you like to do, and how would you like to grow as an artist in the future?

I would love more opportunities to collaborate with other brands and work on product and space design. There is not a solid plan for the future but I hope my art would connect me with more people!

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