Studio Blog

Running The Studio

It all started with a resume I received.

The applicant found my studio from a post on Xiao Hong Shu titled “How to Make Money with Illustration.” He thought it was hard to make a living as an illustrator, but the comments had people recommending our studio as one of the job opportunities in Malaysia that specialize in illustration. I felt honored but then kind of the sense of sorry hits me.

We have been a lean studio for quite some time, and that’s my strategy to keep the studio sustainable. The truth is, doing pure illustration in Malaysia is pure passion—the market is not large enough to sustain a big agency. Sometimes, I feel sorry that I am not able to accommodate the dreams of young illustrators who want to draw for a living.

I’ve had young illustrators tell me they want to start their studio when they are more experienced. But in my mind, starting a studio is not about having a few teammates or producing extremely good work. It’s about paperwork, paying salaries, sorting out taxes, managing company secretary tasks, and dealing with hidden charges like software, bills, and company meals. Starting a studio is running a business. My job scope has nothing to do with art; it’s about empowering my teammates so they can illustrate without worrying about all the boring stuff—the numbers, the strategies.

Sometimes, I feel exhausted running a studio because I no longer draw as much. I started the business because of my passion for drawing and creating. However, my job scope has switched to client meetings, training artists, strategic planning, and networking. I even co-organized the KL Illustration Fair to cultivate the culture of using illustration commercially. All of these are crucial for my studio’s future. At the same time, I am doing my best to ensure we are profitable so I can issue bonuses to my team. Even if it’s just half a month’s bonus, I want to reward my teammates financially as much as I can.

What keeps me going is seeing a lot of studios that started by doing what they are passionate about—motion graphics, illustrations, artistic visuals—but throughout the years, they gave in to money or survival and pivoted to regular agency matters. Some pivoted to artist agencies where they just outsource illustration work to artists and get commissions out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, these are the proper way to scale a studio, they are my definition of “profit making studio”, however I don’t see myself running a studio in that sense. Perhaps I am still young, and there are still romantic notion of running a small business like a cafe, I still want to run a small, lean studio that does big things, creating great work.

I will keep the lights on as long as I can because I am not doing it for myself, because now I know that having a studio that still runs and specializes in illustration is a symbol for all the artists out there—a symbol that illustration can still make a living, a symbol for young artists to keep their dreams alive.

For that, I will keep going, whatever it takes.

Lai, 2024.

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Behind Our Studio

Founded by Book of Lai in 2015 and currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The studio who illustrate every forward thinking voices, vibrantly.

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