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Kam Mak Recap

One major theme behind the Chinese New Year is luck: making way for it and being thankful for it. Attendees for Kam Mak’s talk surely felt lucky, hearing from not just a funny man, but also a humble, passionate and talented one.




Kam Mak arrived early and was quick to make friends. He wandered around Living Arts chatting with us, overjoyed to see his painting of his daughter on our member buttons. Barnes & Noble showed up to sell copies of Kam’s book, and thanks to our partners at Booksmart Tulsa, 20% of the sales came back to ADCT. We all got some great samples from Neenah paper, with helpful info and tools. There were also special ADCT fortune cookies, so everyone could get a little design wisdom souvenir to take home.


One of four fortunes with the custom pins (left); Neenah paper’s giveaway.
One of four fortunes with the custom pins (left); Neenah paper’s giveaway.


When Kam began his presentation, Kam was not afraid to admit his flaws. He showed some of his early work, admitted to charging friends 5┬ó for a doodle. After his family moved to New York’s Chinatown, life was rough. English was hard for him, and gangs were prevalant. Joking aside, Kam admitted “it was art that allowed me to escape that part of life.”


After discovering his deep passion for art and painting, Kam threw himself wholly into art. He worked feverishly to obtain a scholarship for college, and continued his dedication after graduating. This dedication resulted in some interesting purchases, including preserved butterflies and living rats. Kam says it’s always his goal to improve, and says criticism is necessary, as it’s humbling. Kam’s honesty and experience meant that all of us could learn from him, illustrators or not. We also learned a lot about the underground markets in Chinatown, some of which was less than legal…


The fascinating stories of growing up in such a distinct culture are what formed the basis of Kam’s book, My Chinatown. Kam read the short collection of poems to us, while sharing the beautiful illustrations (and the stories behind them). He rounded out his talk explaining his commission with the USPS to paint 12 years of Chinese New Year stamps. We learned some fun insider facts. The new series pays tribute to the previous artist, Clarence Lee by using the icons he focused on in his take on the series. We also learned the origins of the stamp series, and the process behind creating the artwork. Kam was proud of these stamps, saying it’s his chance to share his culture and his story with all of us.


Kam explains the process behind this year’s stamp design.
Kam explains the process behind this year’s stamp design.


As the evening wrapped up, Kam managed to talk to a few more people and of course stuck around to sign posters – and anything else people brought. Kam’s story was fun and inspiring, and we hope you all had fun too. Special thanks to event sponsors Neenah Paper and partner Booksmart Tulsa.

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