One wouldn’t expect to go to the austere Penny’s Bay government quarantine centre in Hong Kong for artistic inspiration, yet flautist Olivier Nowak rediscovered his childhood love of painting when he was locked up in the facility without his instrument. Now he is in the middle of producing his second illustrated storybook for children based on Hong Kong’s public transport. In October 2020, the Frenchman and his wife, clarinettist Lau Wai, faced a terrible predicament when they and fellow members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra were suddenly ordered into quarantine after a colleague was found to have contracted Covid-19. Their son, Leonard, was only three years old and Lau was six months pregnant. “We were worried we would pass it on to our son if we’d caught the virus, but we couldn’t work out how to leave him at home either because he might have been exposed already. So we took him along to Penny’s Bay,” Nowak says. The family all tested negative and now look back on their experience at Penny’s Bay as the time when they found a new way of spending time together, without music, the internet, books or usual daily routines. Nowak and Lau both left their instruments at home because they knew they wouldn’t be able to practice when confined with their son in a small space. Instead, they grabbed fairy lights to make the room more welcoming, and painting materials. It had been a while since Nowak last painted. “I always liked art lessons at school. In fact, I used to draw little landscapes of the south of France and would try and sell them to family members at Christmas! But I dropped it completely when I took up music seriously,” he says. Online music lessons have taken off since the pandemic, but do they work? During the two-week quarantine at Penny’s Bay, he decided to create cartoons that showed a Hong Kong Star Ferry travelling around the world. At first it was just a fun way to teach his son geography. But he soon realised he had craved making things with his hands. “Of course I play the flute with my hands but when I play, or when I teach, it is more cerebral than manual,” he says. And so The Picturesque Adventures of Wandering Star, The Little Star Ferry was born. Using a pen, watercolour and crayons, Nowak sent a little Star Ferry off from Victoria Harbour to see the rest of the world, which brought the family a certain vicarious pleasure. “Wandering Star” went to Macau, Singapore, Tokyo in Japan, Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, Saint Petersburg in Russia, Venice in Italy and other cities that Nowak had either been to or still dreams of visiting. Since then, he has linked the pictures together with doggerel verse (in English and French) and started on a new series. “I feel as if I am living in a time loop. Once again, concerts are cancelled, my son is not going to school and we cannot travel easily,” he says. A major difference, of course, is their daughter, who is now a year old. For the new series, a Hong Kong tram departs from its usual Hong Kong Island route to go on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Paris Métro, the Ghan track in the Australian Outback and other exotic routes. Nowak says he is not drawing to compensate for the lack of musical activity. “I mostly think I drew the ferry’s adventures because I have now, with my kids, an audience for these things. Before being a father, I was using my free time reading, reading, reading. I spent 15 years satisfied with books,” he says. Now when he grabs bits of free time he draws or makes festive decorations that find an immediate audience: his family. “I clearly had that desire to do something with my hands for a long time, but without anybody to watch it, the motivation to act was just not there,” he says. He is not going to give up his day job just yet. “Musical activities will hopefully come back to normal soon. This is a cool hobby for retirement.” In response to comments asking where Olivier Nowak’s books can be bought, the author regrets that they are not for sale.