By Karmen Yip
Every weekend, Charlotte Lui Cheuk-nok draws passengers in the MTR with a few notepad-sized papers and a black marker.
“I usually finish a sketch within four MTR stations. I have to complete the sketches fast so that I can give them to the passengers I drew before they leave the train. It always gives me an adrenaline rush because I am competing against time,” she says.
She sees giving sketches and bringing smiles to commuters as a motivation for her to continue drawing commuters every weekend.
“I feel satisfied immediately after I successfully give the sketches to the passengers. I am especially exhilarated when it comes off as unexpected to the passengers and brings bright smiles to their faces,” she explains.
Lui, an alumnus who graduated from the Academy of Visual Arts of the Hong Kong Baptist University in 2019, started drawing the lives of MTR commuters when she started a new job last year.
“I used to spend four hours commuting to work every day. The long and draining commute made me realise that I did not have any spare time to draw so I started sketching people in the MTR during the commute,” the 25-year-old artist says.
Spreading positivity with artworks
At first, she only posted the artworks on Instagram page “Moving Drawing”, which was created in March 2021. In January 2022, she began giving sketches to commuters with inspiration from Devon Rodriguez, an American artist who draws subway passengers in New York.
“Many friends sent me Rodriguez’s videos and suggested me to give my sketches to Hong Kong commuters. So I gave it a go and began giving my sketches to the commuters earlier this year when the local pandemic situation improved,” she adds.
Lui hopes gifting sketches to commuters can spread positivity to Hongkongers.
“A lot of Hongkongers feel stagnant and depressed after the political turmoil in 2019 followed by the pandemic. I wanted to cheer locals up through my art by giving my sketches as gifts to weekend commuters,” she says.
“I have always loved spreading happiness through my art and I find sheer joy through gifting sketches to other people. It is always an unforgettable experience whenever I meet and give sketches as presents to Hongkongers,” she adds.
Her Instagram page gained visibility after a video of her drawing a train cleaner went viral. The post has received almost 80,000 likes and 1,000 comments on Instagram.
“I posted the video in June 2022. I passed by a train cleaner who was working in the MTR on a busy day. She was sanitising the escalator handrail and I wanted to appreciate her hard work, so I gifted her the sketch,” she says.
In her sketch, a girl gives thumbs-ups with both hands to the cleaner. The artist also wrote “Thank you” in Chinese and English on it.
Feeling astonished to see her artworks gaining popularity on social media, she says, “I was lost and uncertain about what I should do in the future before the video came out. Then that video suddenly went viral and it opened the door for me to become a full-time artist.”
The illustrator has now garnered over 75,000 Instagram followers and collaborated with brands like Mirabell and the MTR Corporation.
“Humans incorporate all sorts of emotions through different life experiences so I use drawing as a cathartic outlet to express my sentiments. I did not anticipate so many people will notice my art,” she says.
She credits Man Pak-lap, her art teacher, as a crucial contributor to her project’s success.
“Mr Man has been my art teacher since Form 6 when I was 17 years old. I started taking his art classes when I was preparing for my high school art diploma exam,” she says.
“He welcomed me into the world of art and introduced the habit of drawing a sketch every day. Mr Man also reminded me not to get easily defeated by criticisms. His teachings have been constantly helpful throughout my artistic pursuits,” she explains.
Not all kindness is accepted
Although Lui’s drawings are happily accepted by many MTR passengers, she was turned down by a few.
“I was once rejected by a Northern Indian family. They just ignored me when I handed them the sketch and they waved their hands to signal they were not interested in keeping the sketch,” she says.
The millennial says she was shocked when rejected because she never expected such a reaction.
“I was confused by why they rejected me, so I felt a bit upset after the incident,” she says, adding that she posted a video about the incident on her Instagram account.
“A person who knows the family messaged me on Instagram and told me that the family had just arrived in Hong Kong from Northern India. He said the family does not know English and is not familiar with the Hong Kong culture so he told me not to blame them for the rejection,” she explains.
The Hong Kong Baptist University graduate who majored in painting and printmaking says she reflected on how she should approach passengers after being rejected.
“I might not express my intentions well, so some people may be confused when I give them my sketches. They may have misunderstood that I was asking for money for the drawing and were not sure that the drawing was for them to keep,” she says.
“I am more careful about what I say before approaching passengers so that I can express my intentions more clearly,” she explains.
Looking into the future
Lui aims to maintain her habit of drawing a sketch every day and continue spreading joy to others. But her long-term goal is to become an oil painter in Hong Kong, drawing with paint brushes instead of a black marker.
The full-time artist says she hopes to draw more oil paintings and share them on her Instagram page – “Moving Drawing” to reach her long-term goal.
Despite having a clear future goal, she has some doubts.
“Van Gogh’s art is only appreciated by others after his death but not when he was alive. So I do not know if I can become a successful oil painter in my twenties since painters usually become renowned at a very old age. That is why I have the perception that it takes years of practice to be a good enough painter,” she says.
“I am not sure if I will be a recognised painter very soon, but I will paint every day and fulfil my promise to myself,” she adds.
The aspiring painter thinks that Hong Kong artists should not think too much when creating art.
“Art-making itself is a healing process. If you do not feel happy when you draw, it will be harder for your artworks to impact a wider audience,” she explains.
In the near future, Lui says she wishes to draw subway passengers from other countries when she travels overseas.
“I hope to reach a global audience by travelling elsewhere and draw commuters in other countries. Since my act of giving sketches to commuters was inspired by Rodriguez, it will be fun if we can draw portraits of each other in the subway someday,” she says.
Sub-edited by Felicia lam