We sat down with artist Natalie Hui to talk about what she loves most about Hong Kong, her favourite neighbourhoods, and her creative collaborations across the city.
I was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to Canada at a very young age. I flew back every couple of years to see family. Coming from suburban Toronto, I was fascinated by the hectic pace and cultural vibrancy of Hong Kong. Last year I graduated and decided to start my career here – I was driven by the slow Canadian economy and a desire to spend more time with my grandparents.
I find the summer heat in Hong Kong quite unbearable. You can often find me taking shelter indoors at various art and book stores. I’m most attracted to the cluttered chaos and rich local culture found in Hong Kong’s street markets. My favourites are old tong lau (shophouse architecture), narrow backstreets and all sorts of old stores from decades ago.
I love the retro vibe of traditional Cha Chan Teng (Hong Kong style cafes). And of course, the milk tea and pineapple buns they serve there. Everything from the light fixtures, floor tiles to the cutlery seem to be from an older time. Plus, it is heartwarming to see the interactions of the owner with long time customers.
My favourites areas to visit are Wan Chai and Shum Shui Po. I also enjoy bike riding along the trails around Sha Tin. In my spare time, I enjoy leisurely walking around street markets or older neighbourhoods to search for antiques and new inspiration for my illustrations.
As a child, my mom would patiently teach me how to draw. Together we would dream up creative projects, like giant cardboard houses or picture books. I later attended a regional arts high school which developed my technique and critical thinking. Illustration was just a hobby picked up during my university years as a way to unwind the heavy workload. It’s only recently that I have begun to seriously explore my potential as a professional illustrator.
The visual impact of art is a powerful tool to stimulate conversation and inspire change. I hope to convey positive social values and promote a cheerful outlook through my illustrations. Every project I take on uses my skills to tell a story. Whether it’s to bring awareness to topics such as social diversity, autism, learning disabilities, environmental protection or positive parenting.
The act of creating art is also important. A recent study found that Hong Kong is the number one city in the world for not knowing how to smile. Children are raised in a highly competitive setting here and have to deal with a lot of stress. Creative extracurricular activities can help release tension by encouraging children to use art as an emotional outlet. I think parents can also be inspired to communicate with their child through art.
At the end of last year I established my business as an illustrator. My artist name is “chikatetsu_n”. It means “subway” in Japanese. This is a coincidence as this month I partnered with the MTR for my first solo exhibition under MTR’s “Art in MTR” programme.
This is a great platform for local artists to gain exposure to the general public. I want my illustrations to speak to all walks of life. My exhibition is called “Next Stop: Your Dreams”. I particularly like the idea of using subway as a metaphor for our progress on our life journey, with each station representing a milestone in our dreams. I believe sharing your journey with others is a big contributor to personal growth. This exhibition is a colourful message of hope and encouragement. A small reminder to smile and keep going.
I try to take on projects that give value back to our society. I am working with a local city playgroup to bring about a connection with nature and with cultural diversity. All the illustrations and activity sheets encourage children to broaden their perspectives and explore their potential. I’ve also worked with a centre using art as a visualization tool for young people with autism. And I’m putting together a picture book with a local school. The initiative aims to creatively showcase their boarding school programme for disadvantaged boys and highlight their support for students with learning disabilities.
Fuelled by my love for old and unconventional Hong Kong architecture, I am also working on a series that documents old street-side newspaper stands, pawn shops, small makeshift vegetable stalls, and so forth. I want to capture and celebrate all the minute details that make local Hong Kong so fascinating to me. Using my background in architecture, I’m also hoping to annotate each drawing. So it would give more insight into the era and cultural significance of each building. I hope to eventually publish this collection.