HK Magazine Archive

Street Talk: Kay Cheung, urban sketcher

Freelance illustrator Kay Cheung co-founded a local urban sketching group called Sketcher-Kee to record some of the changes taking place in the city. He tells Joanne Lee about his artwork and how he feels about Hong Kong’s rapid development.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:47pm

HK Magazine: When did you start urban sketching?

Kay Cheung:
When I was studying graphic design in university, urban sketching was part of basic aesthetic training. I stopped for years but have picked it up recently in response to the rapid changes taking place in some of the older districts.

HK: Why do you draw on carton paper instead of in an ordinary sketch book?

I sketch on used materials on purpose. Drawing on carton paper can give an aesthetic meaning to seemingly useless materials. Also, I personally think that carton paper is beautiful. It may be because my family ran a tuck shop in a primary school when I was a child so I was surrounded by cardboard boxes. I started drawing on carton paper during the Umbrella Movement. People donated resources to the Occupy sites and a lot of cardboard boxes were left over.

HK: Why are your sketches focused on old districts and stores?

Old districts have been disappearing really fast in recent years. The Urban Renewal Authority and property developers “renew” the districts by bulldozing everything. Things that you are familiar with and give you a sense of belonging can change completely within two years. Although we may not be able to preserve them physically, we can at least record them in a personal way.

HK: How do you choose which old buildings to sketch?

We usually go to districts with buildings that have distinct features. For example, Central, Sheung Wan, Sham Shui Po and Sai Ying Pun all have interesting communities. Also, we will go to places where we know demolition is to take place, like To Kwa Wan.

HK: How do you feel about the rapid development of the city?

: I feel helpless, angry, yet appreciative. By appreciative, I mean of the old society: for example, the beauty of the old districts and arrangement of the streets.

HK: What’s the favorite sketch you’ve ever produced?

A sketch of a store in Choi Hung Estate is one of my favorites. Kwun Tong has been through big changes in recent years but Yee On Street still preserves the old Kwun Tong elements. The sketch includes part of my childhood memories.

HK: Have you learned anything surprising about Hong Kong while sketching?

During a recent visit to To Kwa Wan, I found there are around three to four bing sut [traditional restaurants] selling egg tarts and red bean ices that I wasn’t aware of. I studied in To Kwa Wan for four years and thought I knew the district well, but I was wrong!

HK: If all of the historical elements disappear, what would you sketch?

If there were no more historical elements in Hong Kong, that would be terrible. I wouldn’t want to draw buildings with regular windows like IFC. Those structures have contemporary architectural beauty, but they’re aloof. I like lived-in buildings with human warmth. I may go to Taiwan or Macau, where historical elements can still be preserved.

Learn more about Kay Cheung and Sketcher-Kee at