How a 12-year-old Diocesan Boys' student's art takes him all over the world to win awards and experience the kindness of strangers


He's not even a teenager yet, but Kenny Lau is already an international award-winning painter. So where does his inspiration come from?

Nicola Chan |

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Fresh-faced, bright-eyed and wearing a red jumper, 12-year-old Kenny Lau Kin-gi seems just like any other boy of his age. But give him a palette and paint brush, and something magical happens.

The painting prodigy from Diocesan Boys’ School has won more than 100 international awards since the age of four, including the Patricia Field Award (Division II), part of the ninth Annual Nakamura Keith Haring Collection International Children’s Drawing Contest held just two weeks ago in Tokyo.

And this coming Saturday, Kenny is due to receive yet another award in Tokyo; he is among the nine top-ranking winners – the first ever from Hong Kong – of the eighth Kao International Environment Painting Contest for Children.

In between his jet-setting and award ceremonies, Young Post visited Kenny at his parents’ Simply Art studio in Jordan last month. There, he has his own little corner where he thinks up and brings to life his masterpieces, while his parents run workshops for other young artists.

Kenny's art has given him the opportunity to travel all over the world and meet lots of people he wouldn't otherwise meet.
Photo: Joshua Lee/SCMP

Brought up by parents who are both artists, it’s probably no surprise that Kenny caught the creative bug. But he feels no pressure to follow in his parents’ footsteps; painting is just something he loves to do – and he is never short of inspiration.

“My inspiration comes from [my] imagination, which is fuelled by either the themes of the competitions I join, or any topics I’m interested in,” he told Young Post.

Kenny also told us the most memorable experience he’s ever had as a painter. It happened at the 34th Small Montmartre of Bitola, a five-day on-site painting competition held in Macedonia two years ago.

On a very humid day during the contest, the then nine-year-old was painting with watercolours beside Lake Ohrid, one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes.

The Great Migration by Kenny Lau.
Photo: Iris Lee

“I had completed the first half of my first painting when there was a sudden heavy downpour. My painting was smudged and washed off by the rain.”

Unsure what to do, Kenny panicked. Luckily, a local fisherman appeared and invited the boy to his boat.“He even put a quilt on top of me to keep me warm. I was very grateful.”

Within five minutes, the rain had stopped. But no sooner had Kenny hopped out of the boat and waved goodbye to the fisherman, another downpour began. He was alone with his wet brushes and blotted painting – until yet another friendly local came to his rescue.

“An old lady who ran a cafe nearby asked me to pack all my things and invited me to her cafe,” said Kenny. “We chatted until my watercolour painting was dried, then I resumed my work by observing the lake from the windows.” He added the cafe owner praised his work, and gave him “many words of encouragement”, and, even better, “a cup of hot chocolate”.

Bitola Main Street, Macedonia.
Photo: Iris Lee

Despite his battles with the Macedonian weather, Kenny won the Best of the Day award. What’s more, he went on to win the Best Individual Award, the top prize in the contest.

Kenny works hard to ensure originality and to “not repeat painting ideas”. Apart from books, films, and art exhibitions, he draws ideas from “the nature or street views during [his] daily commute”.

Even when he’s travelling, he takes along his easel, brushes, and paint so he can capture the unfamiliar surroundings.

“Very often when I’m dining outdoors in a foreign country, I’ll start painting while waiting for the food, [then later] spend about two months finishing it.”

Kenny loves watercolours the most because he thinks they’re “the most challenging and tricky to handle”.

“If you mess up a part of an oil painting, you can simply add another layer on top to cover it up because the colour is solid. But water colour is more transparent, which means you need to have very good control of how much water you’re using”.

Asked if he has a role model he looks up to, the virtuoso shook his head, but admitted that he’s always been fascinated by the life stories of artists throughout history, including Leonardo da Vinci.

“Although he lived in the Renaissance period, he was already envisioning ideas of the 19th century. I am amazed by his creativity and unique mind, and the fact that his thinking was so ahead of the time,” said Kenny.

“My dream is to be as innovative as he was one day.”

Edited Charlotte Ames-Ettridge

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