Samantha Cheung

We join calligrapher and mural artist Samantha Cheung in her Pearl Island studio to talk creative process, and how she weaves nature into her life, work and home.

Describe a day in your creative life…

I start my days with yoga and meditation, to make sure my mind is calm, then some household chores. Later in the afternoon, I usually start working, begin drawing and writing calligraphy – all my practices. In the night, I cook dinner, then continue with my drawing.

Where do you find inspiration – who or what helps you create?

I know it sounds very cliché, but I am mostly inspired by love – not just the love with your partner but love in general. Your love and your passion towards life, towards nature, towards people, your family and friends, even strangers.

What are the main themes in your work?

My work normally has something to do with nature and the people around me. I moved here to be closer to nature. By looking at the sea, the mountains, the trees, it gives me a lot of inspiration. It’s through nature that I find peace: I calm my mind; express my feelings, my emotions and thoughts; and pour them into my artwork. I also like to talk about the stories that I hear from others and my own stories – what I draw and what I write is very personal.

“It’s through nature that I find peace: I calm my mind; express my feelings, my emotions and thoughts; and pour them into my artwork”

Tell us about your creative process. What’s your starting point?

My creative process starts with conversation: it’s usually through a connection with myself and others that I have the inspiration to create something. For example, when I get emotional, when things happen in my life that change me in a way, I will turn these experiences into art.

When I’m creating murals, on the street, I usually talk to the people around me, observing my work. I’ll transform all that they tell me about their life or what they think about my artwork and hide them as little details and stories on my wall. It’s amazing how we connect with others. To me, that’s the meaning of life: to be connected to people and to be connected to oneself.

Who or what encouraged you to become a mural artist?

I first started as a calligrapher. After a couple of years, a client approached me to draw a wall – I loved the idea of having a bigger canvas, the ability to tell more stories through a larger piece. My artist friends were so supportive and encouraging, teaching me the basics, like what pens to use, how to get the right proportions, and how to do it quickly, efficiently.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the difference between writing calligraphy on paper and creating a mural artwork. It’s been a turning point in my creative career. While it’s beautiful to pursue the art of calligraphy, create the perfect lines and beautiful flourishes, there’s so much more for you to explore and create in a mural. You’re allowed to turn stories into something more subtle.

Acanthus leaves are a recurring feature in your work. What first drew you to ornamental drawings?

Acanthus leaves are a form of ornament found on a lot of European architecture – you see them hidden on lampposts, on balconies or the façades of certain buildings. When I first started travelling, I noticed acanthus leaves walking around different cities. I found them so versatile, elegant and beautiful, and I thought it would be wonderful to put them into my artwork.

“I collect wildflowers from all the places I’ve visited. The stories are all preserved from the moment I dry and press the flowers – it’s my way of remembering where I’ve been”

When did you last feel connected to nature?

I feel connected to nature every single day. The sea’s just right in front of me – it’s become a vital part of my life. When I come home after a long day, I sit in my garden, and just look at the sea and listen to the sound of the waves at night. It helps me feel so thankful and grateful for all that I’ve had in my life and all that’s still to come. I also collect wildflowers from all these places I’ve visited. The stories are all preserved from the moment I dry and press the flowers – it’s my way of remembering where I’ve been, and what happened during the journey.

How do you create an inspiring home or workspace?

My studio is very important to me. It’s my first time living alone, and there have been a lot of new challenges. Music is essential because where I live is very quiet; when I am alone at night, I find it very important to have music around me. It’s also a form of inspiration. I like to put a song on repeat while I work on a piece because it keeps my emotions at a constant state – not a stable state. It’s more about keeping that emotion going throughout a piece of work.

Have you ever experienced creative block – if so, how did you overcome this?

I come across artistic blocks a lot, actually. Sometimes, I just stop drawing and start talking with people. This really sparks my creativity. My other approach is to force myself to draw and just keep drawing. It’s the fear when faced with a piece of blank paper or a blank canvas, and thinking: What am I going to do with this? I feel like, if you just start drawing, somehow something will happen.

What work has had the most impact on your creative journey?

The mural I did for Hong Kong Walls in May 2021 was a major breakthrough. It was the biggest wall I’ve ever worked on. I divided it into four sections – spring mornings, winter afternoons, autumn evenings, summer nights – and added in little stories of connection. For example, spring mornings was about a friend who was always busy making money, but when I asked him what would make him truly happy, he said that what he wanted to do most was to farm and grow his own vegetables. I painted this section just for him, with farmland and farmhouses in the background.

I called this wall The Treasures because it looks like a treasure map. I’ve hidden all these little details, poems and lyrics, the things that touch my heart. Right in the middle, for example, there’s this line that changed me a lot. It’s from D. H. Lawrence: “We’ve got to live no matter how many skies have fallen.” I bring so much detail to the wall because I want the work to be something that requires you to stop and look, you gradually discover more and more.

What does 2022 and the future hold?

I feel now that I’ve discovered a new way to express myself – not just through calligraphy but also through drawings, illustrations and mural art – I want to be able to articulate myself better with imagery than with words. To do this, I need to practice. I just want to draw.

Follow Samantha’s creative journey @woodnink