Spotlight on William Lum
A serendipitous story led William Lum to discover his artistic passion later in life. After finding his biological family, which just so happens to include the late watercolor master Dong Kingman, he took to the medium almost immediately and has since honed his skill through self-learning and participation in various artist’s organizations. Painting from the simple beauty of what exists around him, Lum’s work—aside from his commissioned pieces—incorporates a moment he’s personally experienced. Inspired by the children’s story Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, he’s even set a personal challenge to not stop creating until producing 1,000 paintings. “Even a painting [that] I don’t see as a good one provides lessons on how to do better the next time,” he shares. “From that perspective, even a lousy painting is good; you can’t lose, so keep painting.”
HLB: How did reconnecting with your birth family lead to your own artistic discovery?
WL: I was adopted when I was an infant and finally discovered my birth parents at 40 years old. The discovery was all the more exciting as both families possessed an interesting and rich heritage dotted with notable figures. My world expanded exponentially almost overnight. My father told me he had an uncle who was a famous watercolor painter. I didn’t know anything about [the medium], so the name Dong Kingman meant nothing to me, but it piqued my curiosity about the genre. I found a cheap watercolor set and painted my first piece at the fire station where I worked. Another officer walked up, looked at the painting, and said, “That looks great!” I thought he was just pulling my leg, but that’s how I got started.
HLB: Some consider watercolor challenging. What do you love most about it?
WL: I took to watercolor like a duck to water, and with no formal training; I just started painting. Later, I read books and studied techniques, and it just felt right to me. I know any new medium can be difficult, but for me it’s been a comfortable and rewarding one. I enjoy challenges because they push me to constantly strive to improve—I’m never totally satisfied with my art.
HLB: Where do you seek inspiration?
WL: When I’m out and about, I look for notable things that catch my eye: bridges, buildings, people, scenery, streets, plants, or animals. I tell people I would paint a pile of garbage if I found it interesting. They might think I’m kidding, but I’m actually serious. There’s no specific place that I go for inspiration; inspiration follows me, not the other way around.
HLB: How do you push through self-doubt?
WL: I think about it briefly but essentially ignore the thoughts and push on with any challenges that arise. If you thought about every single muscle you use to walk and had doubts that you could do it, you probably wouldn’t be able to. At this point, I know if I start a painting, there’s a 100 percent chance that I’ll finish it.
by HEATHER L. BECKER
Artist photo by Dante Fontana. Artwork photos courtesy of William Lum.