Historical renderings

YP cadet Alex Wong

Artist Lorette Roberts tells YP cadet Alex Wong why she loves sketching the city

YP cadet Alex Wong |

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Lorette Roberts loves sketching everyday Hong Kong life.
Lorette Roberts is hardly the first foreigner to be captivated by Hong Kong. But she is unique in using this fascination to put her personal spin on the city by creating sketches of the local culture.

The British artist and illustrator lived in Hong Kong for eight years, from 1997 until 2006. During her time here, she drew things she liked about the city; and her sketches have since been published in a series of books called Sketches of Hong Kong, Sketches of SoHo, Sketches of Stanley and Sketches of Sai Kung. Roberts will be back in Hong Kong for a book signing this weekend.

Her passion for drawing dates back to her childhood. "As a child, I drew before I wrote. I used to draw a picture when I couldn't spell a word," she says.

She first got hooked on Asia, and Hong Kong in particular, at boarding school in Britain. "My best friend was from Hong Kong. I heard so much about the city that I felt like I'd lived there too," she says.

Despite her passion and talent, she wasn't able to study art in college. Instead, she trained and worked as a nurse. Roberts returned to painting after becoming a mother, and published her first book in 2004. Her books have been selling well ever since. To this day, she can't believe she earns a living from following her passion.

Roberts loves history, and is particularly fascinated by Hong Kong's old buildings and villages, which have inspired much of her art - Wan Chai's Blue House and the old neighbourhood of Sai Ying Pun are particular favourites. She was also commissioned to draw the colonial Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Her bestseller, Sights and Secrets of Hong Kong, depicts scenes of old Hong Kong, and shows how old and new Hong Kong merge.

To help with her artwork, Roberts always carries a camera in her bag. Sometimes she takes a quick snapshot to remember the structure of a location and positioning of people, although she is conscious of not being intrusive or of taking endless photos like tourists might. When she has time, she stops to sketch, instead of taking a photo.

"I find that if I'm sketching, people feel very comfortable," she says, whereas taking a photo can put people on edge.

Roberts has a keen eye for feelings and expressions. She remembers when she went to watch the "petty person beater" under the flyover in Causeway Bay.

"I was very [moved] by the faces of the [clients]," she says. "They obviously had some real problems in their lives and their faces were awful."

Roberts drew the lady that day, but not the clients, because she felt doing so would be too intrusive.

Back in Britain, Roberts teaches drawing to students of all ages - one of her classes has an average age of 83. But for younger people who are passionate about art, she advises that they don't stop drawing when someone criticises their work.

"You need to decide if the criticism is helpful," she says. "If it's not, then don't even think about it and believe in yourself. But criticism can also be good for you," she says, adding good can come from the harshness of criticism.

Roberts' love of Hong Kong hasn't faded since she moved back to Britain. She visits the city often; she will be signing copies of her Sketches of Sai Kung book this Saturday at Dymocks book store in Sai Kung between 10am and 1pm.

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