Just because I haven’t posted up any sketchbook drawings lately, doesn’t mean I haven’t been making them. It’s just that all the prerequisites for a blog post (scanner, decent internet connection, and the will to show anything) are so rarely together in the same place at the same time I never get around to it. I’ve been very busy you see, and lots of new commissioned illustrations will be coming out in February. But today I thought I’d put up a mega bumper crop of sketchbook pages from a couple of outings I’ve been on recently, along with misanthropic commentary of how I felt the whole time.
Firstly, I went to Chi Lin Nunnery, over on Diamond Hill. For those who don’t know, it’s an old nunnery that was rebuilt in the 90’s in a sort of karaoke style of 10th century Tang architecture. This gives a really strange impression of beautiful old-fashioned Chinese wooden architecture (yippee!) but with the weird corporate everything-is-perfect-and-glossy look (blah) that everything else in Diamond Hill has.
Now, you might be thinking that this means a very beautiful and clean temple, and you’d be right. So I went down there with a giant sketchpad in hand and began drawing. A monk came over and complimented me on the drawing. A security guard came over and complimented me on the drawing. And then a different security guard came over and told me that drawing was forbidden in the Nunnery. Photography is okay though, so if you’re on your honeymoon in Hong Kong, you and your obese bride can literally sit on the golden Buddha’s lap and pose for selfies. But no sitting on benches drawing in a sketchbook!
I did what any sensible artist would do in that position, and drew small, quick pictures in a little sketchbook, instead of big, slow pictures in a big sketchbook. As the place is really very manicured and, as I say, corporate-ish, it’s also crawling with security guards. The strange thing about the no-drawing rule was that only about half the guards seemed be particularly concerned with enforcing it, and the other half came around and said “oh, what a lovely drawing!”. The one above was particularly sympathetic, but then five minutes later came and told me off, because apparently you’re not allowed to eat at the picnic benches.
The cleaner seemed indifferent to the drawings though, but was on a crusade against any leaf which might fall from the trees and onto the path. Like I say, the place is very manicured, like a kind of hyper-real, artificial idea of what a mountain nunnery in the heart of nature should be. Almost every plant is a bonsai, every tree is artfully lit by a spotlight, and I have a suspicion that even the strangely glossy rocks in the rockeries are somehow artificially moulded and then polished to look more “natural”.
I suppose recreating a 10th century Tang-style mountain nunnery in the early 90’s is an inherently strange thing to do, but its made even stranger for being so artificially “nature-ish” in the middle of one of the most built-up parts of the city. Even the front gate is actually under a motorway.
This experience of being a repressed and censored artist as visitor to an institution much bigger than myself certainly taught my a thing or two, and I resolved to reverse those roles at the nearest opportunity. Fortunately for me, the following two weekends were the FO TAN OPEN STUDIOS, which was an opportunity for the public to come down and see what goes on with, me, everyone else in my studio, every other studio in my building, and every other building in this district. I think that over the four days in total we would have had around 2,000 people in our room, so it’s lucky that the floor of our mezzanine didn’t collapse.
It was also lucky because it gave me a chance to put into practice what Buddhism had taught me, and to repress some budding young artists myself. I made a sign:
Basically the whole event was two weekends where I got steadily drunk on cheap wine while hundreds of students, hipsters, families, professionals and people who just wanted to get off the street came and looked at our work.
This taught me a valuable lesson, which is that there is no one quite like Chinese teenagers for taking photos of everything. I wouldn’t object to a few photos if people ask politely, but I do object someone leaning an SLR literally between me and my sketchbook while I’m trying to work. I feel like we’ve somehow got a generation of budding young artists who are incapable of interpreting an image if it’s not viewed through the screen of a phone. People would take a photo of a drawing on the wall, then look at it on their phone instead of on the wall. If you told them off for photographing a drawing, then they’d just wonder out of the room, rather than trying to take in the piece by looking at it. My small room was constantly full of teenagers backing into one another as they walked backwards to get things into shot. And so, for irony’s sake, I felt compelled to draw as many of them as I could:
In celebration of having survived that ordeal, we went out to Wan Chai for a drink. In The Canny Man (Hong Kong’s recreation of the pretentious Edinburgh pub, which is as accurate and contextually appropriate as the 10th century nunnery) we ran into a stag party dressed entirely in animal onezies.
Now stag parties are an aspect of British night life that I think most people tend to regard with reluctant resignation, they’re unpleasant but unavoidable. In Hong Kong they’re a lot rarer, so they stand out for being just as horrible as they really are. They actually made me embarrassed to be British. I felt like I had to go to the bar staff after they’d left and apologise on their behalf. Still, they make some wonderful drawing material, and I’d have drawn them a lot more if I hadn’t been drunk myself, and worried that they’d beat me up if they saw I was drawing them.
Anyway, the departure of the stag party signalled an end to the weekend’s drawing adventures. Since finishing the commissions I’ve been working on for the last two months, I’ve been doing a bit more out-and-about drawing dotting around town. Here’s a quick one of a bit of Po Lam Estate, which is where I live. Basically it’s where you end up if you fall asleep on the Tseung Kwan O Line.
After a couple of days recovering from the weekend’s events, and teaching in a school too (mad I know!) I ventured out drawing again- the most recent of my drawing adventures. Here are some characters on the MTR. I’m pretty sure the guy on the right was reading an erotic graphic novel.
Flower shops aren’t the easiest things in the world to draw though, on account of just being so busy! So many details, and everything goes so fast. But they’re so fun. Even that little sketch was mentally exhausting. It seems much smaller now it’s on the screen. Here are a few flower-buyers:
And a few flower-sellers: I’ll definitely be back there with some watercolours, as soon as I get the chance. I think I might have mentioned it before, but I’ve always secretly loved drawing flowers! Also, there’s a bird market and a goldfish market near there, so no end of drawing opportunities.
Last drawing of this batch comes from last night, where I was killing time in Lan Kwai Fong. It’s one of the dingiest, tackiest and also most overpriced parts of Hong Kong, and occupies a special place in my heart in being both one of my favourite places to draw, and least favourite places to actually be in.
So that’s all my drawing adventures! Stay tuned for a lot of book and magazine illustration being released next month, and a whirlwind of very rushed drawings over my last three weeks in Hong Kong. Until then…