Wandering life is sketchy at best

Artist's five-year odyssey to capture world's street life in his sketchbook

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 7:11am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 8:54am

Itinerant sketch artist Luis Simoes puts the finishing touches to a drawing of a red-brick church with traditional green Chinese roof tiles, and shivers. The day is crisp and sunny, but in the shade the chill is palpable.

"You see, it's not so easy sketching," he says, sitting crouched on a tiny portable stool outside St Paul's Hospital in Causeway Bay.

The Portuguese artist is two years into a five-year journey travelling across five continents, capturing the street life and people he meets along the way in his sketchbook. "I started out thinking that it was to travel and see places. But now the only thing that matters is human contact." Some curious children stop to peer at his sketch of Saint Mary's Episcopal Church, striking up a conversation with the bearded "mountain man". "This happens all the time," says Simoes, 34.

His drawings break down barriers for Simoes, compelling strangers to offer him food, drinks, lodgings and their own stories, whether he's in Croatia or Mongolia, Japan or Siberia.

Each picture in his sketchbook comes with a story.

Watch: Portuguese artist sketches Hong Kong during his World Sketching Tour

In Russia, an elderly woman invited him to dinner and to stay after seeing him sketching a dilapidated old car and motorcycle. She showed him her own sketch of religious idols she'd drawn years ago in Berlin, and asked him to add a final missing idol.

In Korea he met an innkeeper in his late 20s, who greeted him with the words: "I was just waiting for you to come. I wanted to tell you my stories."

And he didn't disappoint, with tales of sneaking into Tibet pretending to be Chinese, and how he'd tried to save money on buying a horse to sneak out through the wilderness, but ended up with a blind one.

In Hong Kong, Simoes met members of a local chapter of Urban Sketchers, an international network of artists who practise location drawing and storytelling. A Spanish illustrator offered him a place to stay, even picking him up at the airport.

But the trip has not all been plain sailing for Simoes. He's been scammed hitch-hiking in Xinjiang and developed tonsillitis in Shanghai. After leaving his job as a motion graphic designer two years ago, Simoes picked up sponsorship for art supplies and travel gear, and set up a monthly assignment with a travel magazine to supply sketches and brief stories of his travels. Once his journey is finished he hopes to publish a book.

He's not sure when he'll move on, but next up are Macau, southern China and Australia. India and Southeast Asia will follow, and at some point, Africa and the Middle East.

Despite eschewing the stability of a job and family life he has no regrets. "Drawing makes me open and humble. I'm not always trying to be the best, and it makes me really happy."