Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Lam Ka-hang of No Paper Studio
“More and more of our city’s cultural relics, street signs and architecture are slowly vanishing from the city, and it is these very things that are invaluable in keeping our culture alive and so it should be preserved with care. Through my work, I truly hope that I can contemporise traditional art and make it cool for youngsters to connect with our culture in a new way.”
Artist & Founder of No Paper Studio
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Lam Ka-hang but I go by Hang Zhai! I am the Founder of No Paper Studio, which started in 2017.
You mentioned in an interview that you always loved drawing as a child and that your mother really nurtured your artistic talents. In what ways did she support you?
Ever since I was in primary school, my mother has always supported me in my hobby. From an early age, she could see that I was much more interested in drawing characters on a textbook than reading it so she enrolled me into art class. She told me that even if I was practising it as a hobby, I needed to take it seriously. Hence, I started taking calligraphy classes and then gradually moved into watercolour painting and acrylics. My mother has always supported me in pursuing my creative path since day one and I am so grateful for that.
You specialize in graphic design but how did you think of drawing film posters. Can you tell us what your fascination is with this craft?
I have always loved art for as long as I could remember. When I first started to show my work in public, I opened a Facebook and Instagram account so I could upload my own artwork. At the time, I was still in an exploratory phase in which I uploaded sketches of people and celebrities rather than film posters. It was not until Wonder Woman came out that I had the idea of creating a film poster that incorporated elements of Hong Kong’s nostalgic golden age cinema into a modern film, fusing together the old and the new. I recall uploading the artwork without thinking too much about the number of views and when I went in to check my account the next day, I realised how many likes and shares were accumulated from that one post alone. It was interesting to see how many people resonated with this post and through this experience, I was able to find my own sense of style. Nowadays, my artwork extends beyond film posters; I draw everything that inspires me as an artist – from sports to people.
All of your work is created on an iPad. In this digital age, would you ever consider expanding into other areas of media such as gaming, cartoons, etc.?
After middle school, I studied graphic design and that was my first encounter with designing digitally, using a stylus. At some point, Apple came out with the iPad and I was instantly sold by its state-of-the-art tools and functionality so I decided to try it out for myself. It took me about a year and a half to learn how to properly use it and make digital acrylic paints look real on iPad and now I absolutely love it!
What does a day in the life of Mr. Lam Ka-hang look like?
My work hours are very similar to those who work a typical 9 to 5 office job. I generally wake up at 8AM because that is when my daughter wakes up so we need to feed her. Then I would get ready, make breakfast and start my day at 9AM. I’ll either be working on client work or if I have some spare time, I will work on personal pieces that I can post on social media. My work schedule is very flexible and sometimes I will complete all my work in the morning so I have time to play with my daughter in the afternoon.
What does “Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
To me an urban explorer is someone who steps outside their comfort zone and genuinely enjoys discovering new things. It does not necessarily have to relate to travel; it can be exploring new ways of perfecting your craft. I consider myself an urban explorer because I enjoy finding new ways of communicating my thoughts and ideas through art. I am always in search of different colours and textures that will help me better express what I want to say to my audience.
The Golden Age of Hong Kong Cinema
Can you sum up what your artistic style is?
To sum up my artistic style, I would say it is humorous, nostalgic, and colourful.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I have always had a fascination with film posters because it always tells a story in just one glance. The characters, colours, typography, film title and slogan instantly tell the viewer what the film is about so I have always enjoyed this vivid sense of storytelling. And if you take a deeper look, you will always find easter eggs planted in the film posters to arouse your interest without giving the full plot away.
Can you share with us the creative process of creating one of your art pieces?
Many people may not know this but a lot of research goes into my art. For instance, if I am inspired by a film, I will watch the film and select specific parts I find meaningful or funny and incorporate them into the drawing; these can be certain catch phrases or humorous scripted lines that I think people in Hong Kong will resonate with. From there, I will think of how I want to depict the messages through my drawings in a cheeky way. Once I’ve decided what I want to draw, I will lay it out on iPad by sketching it with a pencil tool before adding in the colours. I generally add in the typography last. Back then, I used to incorporate simple AI fonts into the art piece but now I like to draw it out myself as it allows me to mold the typography in a way that further conveys the story to the audience.
There is a lot of humour injected into your pieces. Was that your intention? What other feelings or thoughts do you want to convey with your work?
At the end of the day, I just want to make people happy and smile with my art.
If you had to choose one favourite piece of work that you have created in the past, which one would it be and why?
My favourite piece would be the project that I did for the iconic State Theatre located in North Point, in which I was commissioned to do before the theatre was to close. It holds such cultural value in Hong Kong because it is a landmark theatre in the city that has ran for 68 years, showcasing some of the most famous local films of all time. For this project, I created a massive wall mural showcasing various celebrities and iconic characters in Hong Kong cinema throughout the ages, all sitting together in the State Theatre. It was such an honour to be a part of such a meaningful project, which took several months to create!
How do you think your work can help preserve the culture of Hong Kong?
Having reflected on my work up to this point, I would say that it is a true representation of Hong Kong. It infuses elements of old and new, as well as East meets West. It was never my intention to do so, but having been born and raised in Hong Kong, naturally my experiences in this city and the way I view the world has shaped my artistic style. By incorporating all these elements into my pieces, that is how I keep the Hong Kong culture alive.
Why do you think it is important to keep Hong Kong culture alive?
More and more of our city’s cultural relics, street signs and architecture are slowly vanishing from the city, and it is these very things that are invaluable in keeping our culture alive and so it should be preserved with care. Through my work, I truly hope that I can contemporise traditional art and make it cool for youngsters to connect with our culture in a new way.
It is fair to say that traditional poster art has been lost in this day and age so it is so refreshing to see that you are breathing life into this space again. On this topic of preserving art and culture in the city, is there anything you would like to wish for people to know about this type of art in general?
Firstly, through my art I would like to make people happy and laugh. Secondly, I wish for people to understand this traditional style of art and learn to appreciate the work of other similar artists that have come before me.
Given the existing circumstances, what do you do to explore now that traveling is not permitted?
Our city has so many places to explore and now that we are not able to travel, I enjoy taking trips to places farther away from the city and to areas I rarely get the chance to visit prior to the pandemic like Cheung Chau and Yuen Long.
What destinations are on your bucket list?
I really miss visiting Japan, in particular Tokyo! I have always wanted to go to Yokohama as well so I can visit the Gundam Factory. I have heard great things about it!
Films are a great medium to transport us to some magical place far away from our daily life. Are there any particular films that inspire your work?
To be honest, I am a huge fan of Marvel comics but prior to that, I really enjoy watching Stephen Chow films because they make people laugh and feel good. Through my own work, I hope to share joy with others.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Wonder, Beautiful, Opportunity