Spinning out ideas Jill-of-all- trades finds many ways to survive as fine artist
by Shirley Hsu , Staff Writer
Spinning in the dark is one of Donna Lau's favorite activities. She teaches indoor cycling, or spinning... Dim lighting accompanied by world music helps her students to focus, she says.
She's also a fine artist, a children's book illustrator, a children's clothing designer, and an animator. For Lau, being a Jill- of-all trades is the only way for an artist to survive in today's competitive world.
After studying advertising design and illustration at Mt. San Antonio College, Lau attended night school at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where she soon realized the impossibility of paying tuition.
While in school, Lau worked 40 hours a week at a gas station, secretly doing her painting homework in a back room when business was slow.
Lau soon realized that to survive, she needed to support herself in other ways, she said. With a $50 loan from her mother, she bought and decorated T-shirts, which she then took to a local park where they sold out.
Buoyed by this modest success, Lau decided to launch her own children's fashion and design company, and "Art is On!" was born.
She soon had a stroke of good luck when she got a bit of unexpected exposure at a New York show.
"My 3-year-old model walked down the runway and then just decided to flash everyone her underwear,' said Lau. "The photographers loved it.'
In addition to children's fashion, Lau makes an adult line of Chinese-themed clothing. She also has worked as a production assistant on the animation "CatDog' as well as a self-described "glorified eraser' for "Dora the Explorer.'
She is now working on a children's cookbook, "Chow Fun' which will include recipes for her mom's Chinese dishes as well as the stories behind the food.
"I realized there were some rich stories behind some of these dishes,' she said and that learning about them might help children appreciate Asian culture, something Lau has only recently taken to heart.
"When I was growing up, didn't have the Asian residents it does now. I dyed blond streaks in my hair, and I would do anything to fit in to the American ideal,' she said.
Now, Lau seems to have an Asian fetish of sorts - her clothing is trimmed in Asian-themed fabrics, and she wants to package a new T-shirt in a Chinese takeout box with decorative chopsticks. And, she is studying Chinese brush painting.
Whether she's spinning yarns about Chinese food or spinning on a stationary bike, Lau insists that versatility is not just essential for an artist's financial survival, but also for mental and physical health.
She has run in and finished six marathons, and is planning to compete in the San Dimas Express triathlon in October.
She also has produced a new "fitness line' of clothing as an alternative to unfeminine workout clothes.
"I was tired of looking like a boy after workouts,' Lau said.
Lau's career choices often have baffled her beleaguered parents.
"I have five kids,' her father said. "My first, she's a civil engineer with the county. My second is a security banker with the Bank of America. My third one is an accountant. My son is a structural engineer. Donna, we cannot tell her what to do. Now I just leave her alone.'
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