“To me, as an illustrator, I just record some things and values that I like through illustration,” explains Don Mak. “I hope my work can inspire some people.” While Mak hopes to inspire those in the city around him, his inspiration from the city is apparent in his work. Many of his illustrations are made with a nod to the buildings and culture of Hong Kong, the place where he was born and raised.
A “nostalgic but delightful and dreamy” balance of colors and designs make Don Mak’s illustrations stand out. He takes landmark imagery from the city and infuses them with a warm color palette for each project. In this interview, find out more about the illustrator’s background, favorite home decor aesthetic and how manga has shaped his work.
What’s your background?
My family was from the Canton province of China. I born and raised in Hong Kong and have never left the city for more than three months at a time.
What’s your earliest memory?
Not really sure if it is the earliest memory of mine, but when I was a baby, perhaps two or three years old, I used to stand on the baby bed for dinner, and one day my parents prepared a seat for me at the table for dinner time.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a policeman or a fireman when I was five years old, influenced by the Hong Kong crime movies and TV programs. But when I started doodling, I started being determined to be a painter.
What’s your favorite artwork?
It’s a little bit hard to tell, because it changes over time. At the moment, I like Stepan Zavrel’s picture books a lot.
How do you work?
At the moment, I mostly use water based color such as watercolor, gouache, acrylic and ink. I will mix these mediums. I also use computer to modify my works.
Who or what do you look to for design inspiration?
My inspirations are mostly from daily life. And I always get inspired from ground research and reading.
Can you share with us about your latest project?
I just completed a children’s picture book with another writer about the recent history of Hong Kong. The book is for my daughter who is now almost two years old. Because our city has changed rapidly in the last decade, with some values vanishing over time, I wanted to records parts of Hong Kong’s beautiful scenery and memories for her, to let her see the contrast in the future. The book will probably be published this year. Stay tuned.
Do you have a mentor?
I have had different mentors in different stages. When I was working as a manga book assistant, I worked with Khoo Fuk Lung and Chen Uen who are well-known in HK and Taiwan manga stream especially from 1980 and 1990s, from them I learnt drawing skills. And when I was studying at HKPU, my tutor Esther Liu inspired me a lot in illustration and creative thinking.
What is your proudest accomplishment with your work, so far?
I do not have a particular project that I feel proud, but I’m fortunate that I can survive in Hong Kong as a full-time illustrator, it’s not easy because the living cost is too high here.
How you like to decorate your home?
I live in an apartment, in a tenement house in Yuen Long with my wife and daughter. Our apartment has a vintage teak timber floor and white wall. To match the floor, we furnish our home in wooden colors. Just to keep it looking vintage and clean. I like vintage furniture, and I decorate my home with some local vintage things, such as a colonial crown from an old postbox, and a little wooden coat of arms from the Royal Hong Kong Regiment.
Do you have anything at home that you have a special sentimental attachment to, and can you
share the story?
Few years ago I bought a 1960s Northern European wooden cabinet. I don’t know much about the wood but the aroma filled our tiny living room, and that makes me feel so happy to spend time at home.
How does living where you do affect your art?
The Umbrella Revolution affected me to create a series of illustration about the historical and social changes of Hong Kong from the 1960s to 2010s. The series of artworks is called ‘Hong Kong Story Corner’, each illustration depicting an important historical event in Hong Kong. The works were exhibited at Odd One Out Gallery in 2016. I hope Hongkongers can resonate with the social issues that happened in recent years from my work.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can see more on Don Mak’s webpage.
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