‘Even when my mother called me a ‘poor artist’, I kept practicing. I found other teachers who believed in me.’

Whenever she saw me drawing, my mother would tell me to stop. She used to say, “You will only be a poor artist.”

Her life was very difficult. I worked in a hard workshop, so she wanted me to have a “real job” when I grew up.

But art was the only thing I was good at. I failed all my lessons. I couldn’t speak English very well. But I was painting these little watercolors, and it was enough to make my teachers say, “Wonderful.”

The future artist with his colleagues | Honey

When I was fifteen, a program came to our school. They would recruit children to paint a mural in the yard. Ten of us were chosen.

The coach was a man named Arlan Huang. He was a true working artist. He went to art school. But most importantly, he was the first artist I ever met and he looked like me.

Arlan Huang guide
Arlan Huang, mentor | Honey

My father was not around. So I guess I needed someone to stick with. We brought Arlan to his studio in SoHo, and he was like: ‘Wow! You can do this for a living.

We learned about visual storytelling. We learned how to use avatar. Teach us to reach deep inside, to express a feeling. We were just kids, so these were complicated concepts.

The mural painted by the students - futurist artist Cam Mack
Mural drawn by students | Honey

Our mural theme was “Tell Your Story”. At that time I was living in housing projects. So I drew a giant extended hand, with a built exit out of it. It was like: “Look how we live.”

When I finished Arlan told me, ‘That’s good. You’re good.’ Oh my God. That encouragement carried me so much. Even when my mother called me a “poor artist”, I kept rehearsing.

School art project for the future artist
School artwork project | Honey

I have found other teachers who believe in me. In the end, I got a scholarship to the College of Visual Arts. When the envelope arrived at our house, my mom started crying. Not because she was happy. Because she knew she couldn’t stop me anymore.

Even after I got my degree, you couldn’t see the value. You stole that moment from me. She begged me to apply for a job at the post office. It was Arlan who congratulated me.

Artist Cam Mak with his mentor Arlan Huang
Cam Mac with his mentor Arlan Huang | Honey

It was Arlan who attended my graduation. Looking back on my entire journey, there is never a moment that I don’t see her.

We are great friends now. And fifteen years ago, when the United States Postal Service selected me to draw a series of stamps for the Lunar New Year, it was Arlan who offered my first draft.

Respected Actress Cam Mack
Kam Mak | HONY

You can find more of Cam Mak’s work, including the Lunar New Year series, on his Instagram account @kammakart.

Here are some comments regarding the author’s story:

I feel them…My mother was exhausted from the sweatshops and was hoping for some rest and some stability in income in less harsh environments for her son and her son needed a more emotionally present mother. I don’t understand how people here can say that she was selfish but not acknowledging the hard work she did to provide for her child. If you’re mad at anyone, you should be mad at our immigration and employment systems that create these conditions that these two people have to deal with.– Charmaine Daniels

We need to be reminded of the power of encouragement; Everything from practical guidance to sometimes a few words from a teacher, relative or friend saying “You can do this.” Butterfly wings that create a tsunami.– Erin Quinn Purcell

strong. consistency strength. She made us see Arlans in our lives. And for my mom, she only wanted the best for you. And she did the best – what Mama wanted. She achieved what Mama wanted even though the best came from the other side of what she wanted. A beautiful tribute to your mentor and inspiration.– Honorable Henry

About the author:
This story first appeared on the Humans of New York Facebook page and is posted here with permission. For more amazing stories and photography, purchase the book HUMANS by Brandon Stanton.

(If you would like to submit an essay (Reflections on Life), a personal story (inspirational or humorous) or something that you have seen and inspired, please go here.)

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