SOTY 2015: Visual Artist winner was inspired by the Umbrella Revolution

By Melanie Leung

You don’t have to be good at drawing or painting to win the Student of the Year (Visual Artist) award, just attention grabbing. Just ask last year’s winner, Raymond Wong

By Melanie Leung |

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Raymond creates his art with computers, not paint or ink.

Raymond Wong Yiu-nam may have beaten tough competition in January this year to win the Student of the Year (Visual Artist), but even as he stepped on stage to receive his prize, he didn’t consider himself an artist at all. The young animator never took art at school, couldn’t get his head around Picasso’s work and was such a bad drawer he had to get his friends to do his storyboards. But he did have a head full of ideas and the ability to use the right tools to bring them to life.

“I remember being at the finals seeing all the other students with these huge stacks of amazing artwork, and all I had was my laptop. I was worried the judges would see my work and go, ‘Huh, that’s it?’” the 17-year-old STFA Yung Yau College student tells Young Post.

Raymond was nervous, and he had good reason to be. Having done 3D animation since Form One, he had decided to try 2D animation – which requires different software to make – as his key piece for the competition.

It was a huge risk not to do what he was good at, but he thought that was the best way to portray the competition’s theme, “be inspired”.

“I was in a dilemma. Should I opt for a more stable approach, or should I be more experimental and pursue my artistic vision?” Raymond recalls.

He decided to take the risk. After all, he thought, the worst thing that could happen was he’d be criticised, and he’s had plenty of experience with that. For every video that he and the other members at his school’s animation club produced, they would have screening sessions where they openly critique each other’s work to find ways to improve.

“It was really hard to swallow the criticism at first. I thought my videos were great – it wasn’t until I showed it to people outside the club, and no one understood my story, that I realised that people’s comments would help me improve,” he says. “The [SOTY] judges would be highly critical, so I knew their advice would be important.”

The two-minute video Raymond entered for the competition was an abstract animation that shows symbols representing the different elements that make up a person, such as love and justice. The symbols are linked to one another and in the end they form a globe and merge together. Made during the one-year anniversary of the Umbrella Movement, the video was inspired by the polarised political atmosphere in Hong Kong and conflict around the world.

Raymond had feared that his medium, 2D animation, wasn’t good enough – but it was gold.

“It seemed like the whole world was arguing,” explains Raymond. “I’m not taking any sides. I just wanted to remind people that we weren’t born to argue.”

He admits the clip was roughly produced, but the simplicity of the video and its deep message captured the judges attention and he was crowned the winner. The hardest part, says Raymond, was explaining the concept of the video to the judges.

“I didn’t want to be too well prepared because if the judges suddenly asked something I did not expect, I wouldn’t know how to react,” he says. “I think the best way is to treat the judges as your friends. You don’t need to hard sell. They’d want to know why you do your work more than what prizes you’ve won over the years. Because true art is about moving people.”

Raymond plans on buying a better computer with his prize money. Since winning SOTY, he has been exploring other forms of media, including graphic design and sound production. “I don’t want my ideas to be confined by my ability to use all these different tools,” he says.

First runner up Natalya Ho, 18, has also been exploring different art styles since the competition.

“SOTY was my first art award and it was the first time that I had to think about what art means to me,” she says.

The German Swiss International School student only began painting less than four years ago and, with her abstract block colour art, quickly found commission work. But she soon realised that having a defined style so early on was restricting.

“I’ve only had about a year to explore what I thought represented me, but there are many actual techniques I haven’t learnt,” says Ho, who was inspired to become an artist by her grandmother, fashion icon Joyce Ma. Ho struggled with realism art at first, frustrated by her inability to draw a body properly. But knowing that she could only become an artist by learning the basics, she worked at it and got better. Her main entry for the SOTY competition was an installation art modified from a commission piece she did for Ocean Park, which showed the habitats of endangered animals.

Ho says one reason she stood out from other competitors was because her artwork was so big and grabbed attention. She also formed an overall narrative for all her art pieces to reflect her connection to the city and how she evolved as an artist. “Art is like a response to the world around us, there are no boundaries at all,” she says. “It’s when you go out of your comfort zone, that you stand out.”

The 2016-17 Student of the Year Awards are organised by Young Post in conjunction with the SCMP and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club with support from the Education Bureau

Edited by Ginny Wong