Meet Noble, a Hongkonger who works in the IT industry and has a passion for sketching, with some of his art pieces travelling as far as Lectoure, in the southwest of France. If you happened to be in the areas of Wanchai, Sai Ying Pun or Sheung Wan during the Chinese New Year earlier this year, chances are you’d have seen the original paintings he did for some of the old shop shutters. Initially participating in the project as an artist, he never expected the appreciation of the locals in the neighbourhoods - among the oldest in Hong Kong.
His reminiscence for the good old days of Hong Kong is by no means the only thing that many would find an emotional resonance with, but his decision to focus on the now, despite all the madness that is taking place in Hong Kong as well: “The rapid changes in society makes it feel as if this is no longer the city I grew up in. If I must be completely honest, I’m pessimistic about the future of hong Kong. But I try not to get bogged down in the negativity of it all. Things that I do, like sketching, hiking and jogging are helpful in relieving the pessimism pent up inside. There’s very little I can do with what’s happened already, why not focus on the good things that I can make happen?”
When and why did you start sketching?
It all began in 2014. I’ve always been interested in drawing and I’ve been drawing since a young age. Three years ago, I did a portrait and the model introduced me to a group of sketching enthusiasts. It was nice to find a sense of belonging in that group, where everyone would motivate each other - there was a lot of encouragement going on, as well as exchange of skills and ideas. We were actively organising sketching activities, and that provided me with a way to further practise my skills.
Tell us about the shutter painting project?
Earlier this year, the Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation organised a community project which asked artists to paint the shutters or door fronts of old iconic and independent stores in Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan and Wanchai. I happened to be among the artists they recruited. So we would have a chat with the shop owners, learn about their history and business, so that we would have a better idea of how to paint their shutters. The purpose of the project was to reinvigorate the community by introducing colourful elements to the shop shutters, which were rather rusty.
I remember one of the local residents coming over when I was painting the shutter. They were extremely grateful to what we were doing to the community, giving it a new face, in a way. The Hong Kong Youth Arts Foundation is planning to collaborate with the Conservancy Association to introduce a guided tour of said areas, now given a facelift.
Which shops’ shutters did you paint?
I was assigned the shutters of two shops: the long-established undergarments brand Lee Kung Man in Wanchai, and a goldfish shop in Sai Ying Pun; other artists were assigned to pain the shutters of tofu shop, grocery store, and a place that specialises in the bamboo steamers used for dim sums.
The owner of Lee Kung Man was fairly specific with what he wanted on the shutters - it’s an esteemed brand, after all. He is from a younger generation, and he wants a more youthful image for the brand. So I incorporated the artistic concepts of Henri Matisse in my painting of a few dancers; the deer, joining in the dance, is really part of the brand’s identity as the ‘golden deer’ is the name of its line of high-quality undergarments.
The greatest takeaway from this project?
I learnt a set of different painting skills from fellow artists, and it was gratifying to learn the extremely positive response from the locals and netizens, as the posts were uploaded and shared on social media platforms.
What are the best things about Hong Kong in the eyes of an illustrator like yourself?
Diversity: the juxtaposition of the old and the new in Hong Kong is simply amazing. The people as well - all these people in such a high-density city who have their own stories. There was this once when I was sketching on the street in Yuen Long. It was very crowded, but pedestrians were respectful to me, someone sketching the street scene, to the extent that they would leave space for me instead of bumping into me.
In August last year, two of your sketches were displayed at an art gallery in Lectoure, in the southwest of France.
I got to know this French artist called Camille Levert, who has been based in Hong Kong for a few years. From her observation, Hong Kong, despite its hustle and bustle, also has a quiet, therapeutic, and rustic side. She wanted to show these sides of Hong Kong to the people in France, and so she got me and a few other artists to put in paint the lesser-known aspects of Hong Kong, to be displayed at an exhibition called ‘Hong Kong Lentement'.
That time sketching in Kyoto, Japan?
I was at Arashiyama, sketching a bridge, when an old lady approached me. We got into chatting - she with the few words of Mandarin she knew, and I with the limited Japanese I speak. We connected on Facebook, and she would comment on my sketches. I’m glad I’m able to show people the world over the various aspects of Hong Kong through my sketches.
You have recently started food sketching - what’s that about?
Among the sketching enthusiasts I hang out with, there are some who are interested in architecture, some are more interested in sketching food. Food sketch was never really my thing. I think it’s best to eat the food when it’s served hot and fresh! My friends who do food sketches would order an additional serving of food just to be used as the object of their sketches. But somehow I began to appreciate the beauty of food sketches, and onto the bandwagon I hopped!
Food sketch is more challenging than environment sketch in the sense that extra effort is paid to portray the texture of the food. My most recent food sketch of a pizza was manageable, thanks to the contrast of colours enabled by the tomatoes and green peppers.
What’s the best thing about being yourself right now?
There are many unpleasant things in the city we live in right now - urban sprawl, materialism, you name it. I often reminisce about the kind of life I had when growing up. It was much simpler, there was less everyday stress, and there were fewer constraints. Happiness back then was indulging in a bit of street food in Sham Shui Po, but most of those mom and pop stores are gone now; what was once easily affordable are no more. The rapid changes in society makes it feel as if this is no longer the city I grew up in. If I must be completely honest, I’m pessimistic about the future of hong Kong. But I try not to get bogged down in the negativity of it all. Things that I do, like sketching, hiking and jogging are helpful in relieving the pessimism pent up inside. There’s very little I can do with what’s happened already, why not focus on the good things that I can make happen?