Cindy Ng, a former schoolteacher, says the Orthodox Church is very accepting of female painters. Photo courtesy of ucanews.com

Hong Kong's first female icon painter helps people get closer to God

By 
  • November 13, 2016

HONG KONG – People think that Christian icon painting is the preserve of male painters and that only Orthodox Christians can create a good icon. But in the Diocese of Hong Kong, icon painter Cindy Ng has decided to set the record straight.

"The Orthodox Church accepts woman painters. In fact, I am in their internal Facebook group and they sometimes invite me to join their liturgy talks and share my work with them," Ng told ucanews.com.

Ng is a former schoolteacher. It was when she was studying for a master's degree in fine arts education in 2005 that she became interested in religious art and started to study icons.

She drew her first icon, St. Magdalene of Canossa, in 2007, and began giving talks and teaching people how to use the icons for prayer and meditation.

To become Hong Kong's first female icon painter, she read plenty of Scripture and prayed continuously. She recalled how it subtly changed her life and also helped her recover from a serious hand injury sustained in 2007.

"I did not like to show my weakness to others after I was injured. But now I have the courage to share it with others, particularly with patients with chronic illness, to let them know how I relied on my faith," Ng said.

Her teachers, Lino Wong Wing-kuen, a Hong Kong Catholic icon painter who lives in Italy, and Benedictine Sister Esther Pollak, who comes to Hong Kong every year for her annual icon workshop, are major influences on Ng. She also receives instruction from Orthodox and Protestant pastors.

"I feel acceptance and communion with the help of pastors from three Christian churches," Ng said. "They make me understand that icon painting is not just for oneself but also for a prayer tool for others," she added.

It is a challenge to draw icons while strictly following a tradition.

"It is not because we are old-fashioned. The aim is to pursue the truth, love and the goodness of God. It is a way to pass on our faith," Ng said.

It takes at least six weeks to complete a painting because the icon creator must understand the audience for which it is intended, spend time in prayer and research the saint's life and spiritual views.

In a commercialized city such as Hong Kong, it is difficult for artists to make a decent living and the same holds true for new icon painters such as Ng.

"I feel blessed for having many Catholics supporting me by helping me buy expensive paints and drawing boards that have to be ordered from abroad," she said.

Ng also finished a Chinese translation of the book "Meditations with Icons for Children and the Young at Heart." Pastors from three Christian churches helped write the preface and proofread the copy.

"I hope the book can contribute to Christian unity and lead children and young people towards God," Ng said.

"Hong Kong people live stressful lives without much chance to be quiet. Icon meditation is something that can help one calm down quickly by looking at God. It is also a self-healing practice when used with other tools like music, writing and dancing," she explained

When Ng led an icon meditation gathering in May, a young participant shared that he often thought he could overcome life's challenges using coping skills he learned, "but now, from the icon, I can feel God's presence and it is he who is leading me. It gives me motivation to bring God's love to people around me and to evangelize."

Seeing people change encourages Ng to draw more. "If someone wants to learn icon painting, I am very willing to share my knowledge as I also received it free from my teachers. I would like to see more people become workers for God," she said.

The scarcity of icon painters in Hong Kong has brought many pragmatic questions to Ng. Someone once asked her if her profession can "make big money" or help them "become famous."

"The basic principle of being an icon painter is to realize it is not for oneself and not for fame. One has to empty oneself in the service so that the Holy Spirit can get into one's heart and guide us to create a fine prayer tool," Ng said.

"There is no personal style in icon painting," she added. "No matter the design, the colors, gestures or symbol of the faith, there are very strict and high standards so that people can feel the goodness of God through the painting."

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Icon painter Cindy Ng is showing the way. Well done.

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