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It all began with simple black-pen doodles on her daily commute on the MTR from her home to Diamond Hill and her work at her Aberdeen-based NGO. In the spring of 2022, 25-year-old Charlotte Lui saw her artistic hobby to kill time on her one-hour-long train travel across the city blow up on Instagram.
The artist behind the viral doodle Instagram account, Moving Drawing, Charlotte brought her artistic skills she matured in her visual arts degree at Baptist University on the MTR to sketch figurines and the daily musings of people travelling on the city’s train lines.
“I don’t have time for drawing at home,” Charlotte told The Beat Asia in an interview., “I just move the space to the train, every day take out my sketchbook, and draw people on transport to pass the time. No one cared what I did. Everyone watches their phone, and no one watches you (laughs)!”
The sketches began in earnest fashion, drawing on the fanatical interpretations of unknown commuters’ personalities, sketched wearing face masks and in comical statures. In summer 2021, Charlotte began to sketch streetscape scenes of Hong Kongers beyond the MTR: on ferries, trams, crammed in small shops, and on hobbled streets, however, with a sustained interest for the wackiness of the MTR.
It was in winter 2021, where Moving Drawing had nurtured only a few thousand followers, that Charlotte reached out to the admin team behind @mtrsleepers, Hong Kong Instagram’s sardonic catalogue of sleeping commuters in their absurd scenarios, for inspiration sharing his photos to use in her sketch scenes on the MTR. The past half year of 2022 and a collab with MTR Sleepers has brought Charlotte from unknown artist to the latest hot topic on Instagram, amassing more than 40,000 followers.
“[MTR Sleepers] were very welcome to us, very happy to use their images that they supplemented, giving me inspiration [for creating my sketches],” Charlotte said. The artist would use the images posted on the Instagram meme page and implement her style and hysterical features.
A picture posted by MTR Sleepers of a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt lounging outside on a beach chair besides an MTR toilet is remixed with a fountain of unknown liquid pouring into his gaping mouth. A man wearing Yeezys and puking on a bus is scolded by a woman for sitting in a priority seat. A young girl napping in a supermarket bag is portrayed by Charlotte surrounded by MTR “witches” using their spells to awake the child.
"I see the MTR Sleepers [posts] and see what my imagination and creation can do.”
As a source of inspiration and light-hearted humour, Charlotte explained that seeing the MTR sleepers in the famous Instagram account makes her “quite miserable for Hong Kong people.” She said, “we're all so tired on the train. Just like me, I’m one of them because I'm tired on my way to work. But when I start to draw [the sketches], I feel Hong Kong people are miserable, but sometimes they are funny too.”
Charlotte uses a very simple black bold line medium to bring her sketches to life, leaving out colour. “Our city is very crazy already, no need to add more colour because it’s not an important element in my drawing.” She prefers to keep human faces simple, rather elongate and re-shape their elusive bodies and include animalistic characteristics in her sketches to mark her own identity.
“I include ducks in my sketches a lot because when we wear masks, we cannot see our faces. I want the animals to bring character and see their faces. Normally when I draw Hong Kong people, people will not notice the characters in the photos, so I will depict some animals that have their characters behind them.”
Whilst some sketches and accompanying IG reels recording the research and sketching process do deviate beyond her MTR muse – Mong Kok shopping markets, Sha Tin prayas, outlying island beaches – she said her focus is set on documenting the absurdity of the MTR and its sleepers. “I am an MTR sleeper. It is part of me and part of the memories of Hong Kong.”
Her favourite scene to draw, she said, was her first collaboration with MTR Sleepers: the infamous, black-suited drunk man asleep in an MTR rubbish bin.
Speaking with The Beat Asia on her viral success, Charlotte said she feels touched by the support and love received from her sketches. “People know me from my IG reels, particularly my first one where I drew a quick sketch of a mother and daughter hugging each other on the MTR. I approached them and gave them the sketch; they were very appreciative. The reels are what touches [my followers’] hearts.”
"There is a lot of noise about my drawing and that’s good, but I want people to have a deep conversation about the drawing. When there’s a huge number of fans, I cannot talk with [all of] them. But I feel very thankful because they always send out the message that I [am doing] a meaningful thing for Hong Kong.”
“Because of the virus, Hong Kong people are very upset. I was so shocked because I do a little action that makes the world feel different.”
Continuing her funny work on her Instagram page, Charlotte no longer works at the NGO in Aberdeen, committing to her art full time and branching out with merchandise and practicing oil painting for future commissions to local galleries. She joked that her next collaboration will be with LKF Meltdown, Hong Kong’s Instagram account for the drunk and sleepy for the buzzing party district.
“I just want to make people laugh and hope I can do that every day!”
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