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Interview with Andreas von Buddenbrock: ‘The Ink Trail: Hong Kong’

The Making of ‘The Ink Trail: Hong Kong’.

Andreas von Buddenbrock is a Swedish artist known for his detailed ink drawings and the main illustrator of the “World’s Largest Coloring Book,” a Guinness World Record-winning project. Educated at BASIS School of Art in Stockholm and the Savannah College of Art and Design, he has worked in New York and is now based in Hong Kong, where he illustrates under “The Ink Trail: Hong Kong“, published by Blacksmith Books. His work includes commissions for FC Barcelona and Hang Seng Bank among others. Buddenbrock is recognized for his black and white imagery, emphasizing contrast and texture. He often works outdoors, capturing the essence of the environment and its inhabitants.

Andreas von Buddenbrock’s Instagram profile page

What specific moments or influences in your early life do you think shaped your passion for ink drawing?

Drawing has always been a big part of my life, from the moment I picked up a pencil (or a crayon) at kindergarten to this day. Ink drawing specifically was something that came to me later in life; I was 24 and had just started art school (Savannah College of Art and Design) in Hong Kong. I had done my first semester and was travelling during Christmas break when I realized I was already missing the city. So I started making ink drawings from photos I had taken throughout the past few months. Ink drawings had always been a great inspiration to me growing up, however, especially in Manga and Western comics.

© Andreas von Buddenbrock

How has your technique evolved from when you first started drawing to now?

Going from mainly pencil drawing to working with ink was definitely a shift (although I still start off my drawings with pencil), but even my ink drawing techniques have changed over time. In the beginning, I was using a lot of stippling (tiny dots), but nowadays I prefer to focus on hatching (parallel lines). I think my hatching skills have improved over the years as well, just by the amount of hours I’ve spent doing it.

How did you become involved with the “World’s Largest Coloring Book” project?

I was working full-time at an art learning centre called Colour My World in Wong Chuk Hang. They were working with UBS who were the main sponsors of this “World’s Largest Colouring Book” event and I was asked if I’d be up for being the book’s main illustrator. My job would be to first judge artworks made by students at the Po Leung Kuk school and children of the UBS staff and then interpret the seven winning drawings in my own realistic drawing style. It felt a bit daunting of course, but I was happy to take on the challenge. Lucky for me, the original drawings didn’t have to be two by 14 metres like the final spread, but they did need to be of a bigger format than I was used to working on. In the end, the project achieved its goal and took home a Guinness World Record. The ceremony was held at the Central Harbourfront in 2018.

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong
Victoria Peak, Hong Kong © Andreas von Buddenbrock

What drew you to Hong Kong, and how has the city influenced your artistic expression?

I first came here back in 2011 on a weekend trip from Manila, Philippines, where I was living at the time. I immediately loved the look and feel of the city and I told my friend, before we had even stepped off the bus coming from the airport, that I was going to live here one day. The next year I was applying for art school and a student visa and by August I was back. As for Hong Kong being an influence on my drawings, this has come from countless hikes around the surrounding nature and from my observations of all of the city’s shops, restaurants and alleyways (especially in Sham Shui Po, where my campus used to be located).

Time Devours All Things, Lohas Park, Hong Kong
Time Devours All Things, Lohas Park, Hong Kong © Andreas von Buddenbrock

Can you walk us through your typical creative process?

Well, first I need to make a decision of what to draw. I may sometimes have an idea before even going outside, but a lot of times the subject is something I discover during my walks or on the hiking trail. If I’m working in my Moleskine sketchbook (which is the focus of the drawings in “The Ink Trail: Hong Kong”), then I have made a point of always starting out the drawing “on-site”. Whether or not I will do only some or the majority of the drawing there (with a few re-visits) is going to depend on the situation and the location. Regardless, I always take a few pictures with my phone so that I have references to work from later on.

My process of drawing always starts with a rough pencil sketch that then becomes a slightly more refined pencil drawing. After that, I will outline my drawing with fine-liner ink pens (usually Micron) of various thickness before erasing and getting rid of all of the pencil lines. Lastly, I’ll go over and shade with a thinner ink pen (sometimes adding more details free-hand), as well as adding some dark contrasts using a Zebra brush pen.

© Andreas von Buddenbrock

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had while sketching outdoors in Hong Kong?

It’s hard to pick just one! However, one that stands out – which I mention briefly in the book – was when I was out to sketch the ruins at the Old Lei Yue Mun Quarry. I was just about to head back home when two big dogs came running towards me through the high grass, barking loudly. Both me and another person who was passing by suddenly stopped in our tracks and I reflexively pointed the tip of my umbrella towards the two dogs, ready to defend myself. When they were only a few metres away from us, they quickly stopped, turned around and ran back into the bushes. I had no idea what had just happened. All I could feel was the adrenaline running through my body as I continued my walk back home.

How do you balance the natural landscapes and urban architecture of Hong Kong in your work?

Good question. First of all, Hong Kong is probably one of the best examples of a city that merges the two perfectly. Nature is always nearby and the steep hills and peaks towering behind a lot of the cityscape just make for some stunning visuals. When it comes to my sketchbook-work, I tend to vary my drawings between urban subjects and nature, although when I get a chance to combine the two in one drawing, that’s even better. As for “The Ink Trail: Hong Kong”, I decided to split the book into three parts: city drawings, nature drawings and the overgrown ruins and abandoned buildings which can be found all around Hong Kong – if you know where to look. Of course, there’s a bit of nature to be seen in several of my city drawings, and vice versa.

So Lo Pun, New Territories, Hong Kong
So Lo Pun, New Territories, Hong Kong © Andreas von Buddenbrock

Of all the sketches you’ve done in Hong Kong, do you have a personal favorite? If so, why?

It’s hard to pick a favourite, especially because many of the drawings are dear to me due to the experiences I had making them, but one I really loved doing and am happy with is of the old army battery ruins in Yau Tong, up on Devil’s Peak. The whole scene just felt like something out of a story book or a classic adventure movie and the memories I have of making it – hiking up the peak several times and snivelling in the unusually chilly November weather – has stuck with me. I even used it as the header image for the final chapter of the book.

Lamma Sunset, Lamma Island, Hong Kong © Andreas von Buddenbrock

Do you have favorite places that you return to in different seasons or times of day to sketch, and how do these conditions change your artistic approach?

As you have probably noticed, many of the drawings in the book were made along the hiking trails around Braemar Hill on Hong Kong Island and around Yau Tong in Kowloon. They’re some of my favorite places to hike, but because of their sometimes steep hills and dense forests, I rarely visit them during the summer months. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being uncomfortable when the situation calls for it, but during that specific time many of my drawings still tend to be focused on the open water or indoor places like the city’s well air-conditioned museums.

As for time of day, a lot of my drawings tend to be made in the late afternoon. Honestly, this has more to do with my bad habit of getting started on hikes later than  planned. Because of this, I always carry a head-lamp in my backpack for when I inevitably have to trek back in the dark.

What is your next project, and can you share any details about what we can expect?

There are several things on the horizon. For the past couple of years, I have been working on a series of larger drawings focused on Hong Kong’s small businesses, such as the tiny electronic shops, car mechanic services and convenience stores around Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Currently, there are eight entries in the series, and I’m looking to make more. Eventually, these might end up in a book of their own. I’m also compiling other drawings for a second art book based on my sketchbook-work abroad, though I’m afraid I can’t reveal much more than that, at least for the time being. Lastly, I will keep making commissioned art for clients while continuing creating new sketches to be shared with my followers!

© Andreas von Buddenbrock

Photos and illustrations courtesy of Andreas von Buddenbrock

Last Updated on 2024/04/19

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