Posted 18 July 2023
Interview by Frankie Mari
Mention Yangdzom Lama

“Art is for the sake of others and well as yourself”: Artist Yangdzom Lama talks community and real-life connections

Yangdzom Lama believes that no great artist should do everything alone. Often looking beyond social media to find work and connections, she’s picked up commissions by joining a community of fellow artists through Hart Club – an organisation platforming neurodiverse talent within the arts. She’s also begun to sell her ceramics at a local market, where she networks and chats with people about her work. Not one to shy away from an old-school approach, Yangdzom has even managed to find a returning client by sticking up a poster up in her local cafe. Here, she tells us how her work is fuelled by her Himalayan heritage, and why you should value collaboration over competition.

Yangdzom Lama

Yangdzom Lama

Job Title

Freelance Artist



Place of Study

English Literature with Creative Writing, University of East Anglia, (2016-2020)

Selected Clients

Doyenne, Mondo Brewery, YMC, private commissions



Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do as a freelance artist?
I paint, embroider and dabble in printmaking and ceramics. My work is stylised, and often contains animals or animal-headed deities as I have a fascination with the natural world. These figures usually have a symbolic and autobiographical meaning.

What are the main influences behind your work?
I honestly love all kinds of art from across the world. I especially love art that is full of vivid block colours and patterns, and stylised, symbolic figures. Ancient Egyptian and indigenous American art have taken a hold on me, but I will always be heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhist art. This is because part of my heritage is Himalayan, specifically Yolmo.

The Yolmo are a people who came from Tibet and migrated to Nepal eleven generations ago. They upheld their Tibetan Buddhist beliefs and culture, and my grandfather was a lama [a high-ranking Buddhist monk]. My dad used to paint thangkas, which are colourful and intricate religious paintings. I used to watch my dad paint when I was very little, and then I would imitate him by making tiny marks on scrap pieces of paper.

“I will always be heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhist art as part of my heritage is Himalayan, specifically Yolmo.”

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Yangdzom’s artwork, Meltdown Samsara

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Yangdzom’s artwork, The Gharial God of Strangeness

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
I feel my work resonates a lot with outsider art, which I wouldn’t say you need specific training for, as lots of outsider artists are self-taught.

However, it always helps to go to art workshops to learn how to work in different media and use varying techniques. Art workshops are also a really important chance to meet likeminded creatives and explore other people’s ideas.

Yangdzom’s artwork, Yak Goddess Crushing Oppressors

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
It’s not one specific project, but this year I have worked on and completed a variety of personal paintings such as You Don’t Seem Autistic, Purple Universe, The Gharial God of Strangeness and Meltdown Samsara. These works express parts of my experience of falling in love, feeling powerful, vulnerable and being on the autism spectrum.

My art has been shown in multiple exhibitions this year. If I had to choose a favourite, it would be the Hart School Showcase, which took place in early October. The show was a celebration of art made by myself and fellow neurodivergent creatives over the past year with Hart Club, a collective aiming to practice inclusivity in the art world.

Yangdzoms artwork, You Don’t Seem Autistic

How I got here

What was it like when you were first starting out?
At times, it can still feel like I am finding my feet but when I do look at where I am now, I can see how far I have come. I have always made and loved art, but in terms of starting a career, I would say it has been an up-and-down journey.

I began an art foundation at Camberwell when I was 18, but after a term there I dropped out as I found things difficult. A year later, during my first year at UEA [University of East Anglia], I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. It was around this time I began making art with the intention of selling it someday, and the desire to really work on being an artist picked up around my final year.

It just so happened that this was a very difficult time to start a new business, as it was during lockdown. Submitting work for virtual exhibitions was a useful tool, and I came across the wonderful Yakpo Collective a New York-based group who support and exhibit work by Tibetan artists.

I was immensely proud to have work in their virtual exhibition in October 2020 as it was my first time exhibiting work publicly – albeit digital – as well as tying in beautifully with my heritage.

“Before the gallery space closed, Hart School ran workshops with the aim to teach artistic skills in a radically different way to mainstream university courses.”

Yangdzom at a Hart Club workshop

Over half a year later, through an act of fate, Hart Club became a huge part of my life. Hart Club is a collective of artists all seeking to champion inclusivity in the arts. It ran a project called Hart School during 2021 to 2022. Part of its objective was to provide a safe space for six neurodivergent artists as we made our way into the art industry.

The gallery space closed back in March, but before that, Hart Club was able to offer a place with various art facilities such as a kiln, printmaking materials, fabric, paints and clay. Hart School ran workshops with the aim to teach artistic skills in a radically different way to mainstream university courses, and also held events in which our work was exhibited, thus helping us to expand our networks and showcase our art to more people.

How did you go about landing your first clients and commissions?
Lots of people found me through word of mouth, or me showing my work online. Most people go on about how social media seems to be the only way to gain clients. But I once stuck a poster up in a local cafe and it brought me a returning customer; I was pleasantly surprised.

Also, thanks to Hart Club, I’ve completed a number of commissions. For example, another Hart School artist, Serafina, and I collaborated with female-led skate brand Doyenne to create unique designs for a T-shirt collection based on the autistic experience.

“Most people say that social media seems to be the only way to gain clients. But I once stuck a poster up in a local cafe and it brought me a returning customer.”

Yangdzom wearing the T shirt designed by themselves and Serafina for Doyenne
Yangdzom’s artwork, Deer Goddess Comforting the Ignored Lady as featured in Yakpo Collective’s virtual exhibition

What would you say your biggest challenge has been along the way?
My biggest challenge is self-promotion, especially because social media is not my strongest talent. It can be tricky working on building up marketing skills when all you want to do is make art. Finding opportunities to bring my work to art markets has also proven difficult, but it’s all a learning process.

Recently I’ve had a stall at Salisbury Sunday market in Queen’s Park, and have found it an enjoyable and satisfying experience. It’s an extra chance to promote my work through business cards, networking and chatting with people curious about my creations. I also enjoy working on my website and writing blog posts about my art.

I began writing blog posts as a way to briefly explain the meanings behind my artworks as well as the making process. It’s a wonderful way to connect with my audience and I feel touched when people tell me they have read what I’ve written and found they resonate with it.

“Recently I’ve had a regular stall at Salisbury Sunday market in Queen’s Park. It’s an extra chance to promote my work through networking and chatting with people.”

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Two of Yangdzom’s ceramics that she has taken to market stalls

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If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Tibetan Buddhist art is definitely in my top three. I love how intricate and busy the thangkas are, I love the postures of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas – which are enlightened beings who stay in the reincarnation cycle to help others gain enlightenment – deities, etc. I love the colours, the symbolism and the fact that looking at this kind of artwork in that culture is viewed as a form of meditation. This is hugely inspiring for my work as so many of the figures I have painted and stitched come from this art style.

Animals are an interest of mine, especially cats, frogs, deer and birds of any kind, as well as prehistoric animals. I have a book called The Story of Life by Ruth Symons, and I think the illustrations by Katie Scott are exquisite. The book details the story of life on Earth since its beginnings.

Frida Kahlo and her paintings also inspire me. She was very open, honest, and sometimes vulnerable in her artworks, and that’s given me the confidence to paint and embroider certain things that I’ve experienced in my life. I particularly love her painting The Little Deer and I have a postcard of it on my wall, which I often find myself staring at.

“Frida Kahlo and her paintings inspire me. She was very open, honest, and sometimes vulnerable in her artworks.”

Frida Kahlos artwork, La Venadita (The Little Deer)

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Social media has been a wonderful way for me to connect with other artists, collaborators, or people who like and support my art. It’s an important tool for building a community and it’s just very useful having an online presence where you can show your work, your creative process and let people know of any upcoming events.

A lot of people have advised me to make Instagram reels or get a TikTok account. And yes, it’s true that these things can certainly be useful in showing your creative process. While I’m not ruling these things out, I certainly am not rushing into trying to do anything I might find stressful or pressuring. What I have learned in terms of social media is that going at your own pace is so important for maintaining a calm state of mind and personal happiness.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Like with so many other artists, I must have multiple jobs as I am not able to support myself wholly through my art. Creatives have a valuable position in society, and so I definitely think it is problematic that so many of us find it difficult to support ourselves solely from doing what we love.

That being said, I am of the belief that adaptability is a virtue, and learning new skills can be really enjoyable. I currently have a job making fresh pasta for a family-run Italian restaurant called Ida, which is great for an artist as working with dough is very tactile and I find working with food to be inherently creative.

I am also studying Five Element Acupuncture through a school called FEAT, which I believe complements my art, as it is therapeutic and observant of the natural world. It feels like acupuncture will influence my art and art will influence my acupuncture studies. I cannot wait to qualify in a couple of years’ time so I can build my own practice and help heal people.

Is there a place in your city that you’ve found helpful or inspiring to your practice?
Kew Gardens, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful spots in the world. It’s nature and art and curation all in one, and provides such peaceful walks that I think are so important for harbouring creative ideas. Plus, I have an obsession with birds so it’s a great place to go birdwatching.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Collaboration not competition! There’s no such thing as one magically talented, gifted, precious genius who does every single thing by themselves.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Going on from the advice above, building a community with like-minded and different-minded people is so important. It offers a chance to practice inclusivity, gain new ideas and to create close relationships. There’s nothing like a community where others offer you love and support, and you in turn offer love and support to them. It’s this that drives us to make art: it’s for the sake of others as well as your own self.

Interview by Frankie Mari
Mention Yangdzom Lama