“Drawing is a strong universal language… It brings people together with smiles,” according to Chriska Wong, better known as Chriska North Street. For the last two years, Wong has transformed their career from New York-based architect to a Hoboken-based cartoonist, bringing the local community together in the process.
Wong is active on social media, specifically @chriska_north_street on Instagram. From waterfront sceneries to couples with their pets and more, most of their work is featured there, typically in watercolor paint.
Born in Hong Kong in the 1980s, Wong said that growing up there was an important element in making them who they are today. The name “Chriska North Street” combines Wong’s actual name and the street where they grew up.
Wong studied architecture in Hong Kong, then moved to London for their first architectural internship. Afterwards, they worked for an American firm. In 2009, Wong moved to the U.S. to receive a masters degree in architecture at Cornell University.
Though Wong ended up working in New York, they live in Hoboken, NJ and said it is a great community––and one where the illustrations began.
In November of 2020, Wong began drawing the storefronts of Hoboken businesses with a creative medium, calling it their “pandemic baby.” Growing up, Wong watched a multitude of Japanese cartoons, which is one of the inspirations for their style. Combined with their architectural knowledge and details, Wong’s illustrations are truly unique and constantly evolving.
Wong said, “I want people to appreciate small businesses with my drawings.”
Years before drawing storefronts, Wong was interested in drawing cars, which is another one of their passions. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wong drew their two dogs, Kiko and Miso, and began posting it on their Instagram. After gaining a following, people began asking Wong to draw their dogs, later turning into storefronts and more.
Wong enjoyed these drawings, but they said they didn’t want to lose touch with their architectural knowledge. People began asking Wong to draw their favorite businesses, first-date restaurants and other memorable areas, which is how their career and hobby crossed paths.
After a year of drawing, Wong is now a full-time cartoonist. They still practice architecture and have also gotten their real estate license, but their main source of income is through drawing.
Wong said that there is not as high of a demand for architects as compared to other professions and it is dependent on the state of the market. Wong had a goal to make as much money being a cartoonist as an architect, and they were able to surpass that this year.
They also said they use these drawings to connect people without a language barrier. “I think that’s how the magic works because we don’t need to know English or another language… but it connects people by the piece of art.”
One of Wong’s other passions is being an activist, specifically in regards to Hong Kong and citizens’ freedoms, which they want to express in their artwork. Wong said they are thankful for where they were educated and currently live and said, “I think I should take this advantage and draw a lot more, and then bring that message and bring positive energy to everyone.”
Through it all, Wong hopes to connect people. Regardless of the content of the drawing, they want to bring people together. Wong said they appreciate hearing people’s stories about what they want drawn and bringing those memories to life through their artwork.
“I enjoy the process when I know the stories… which is more meaningful to the whole process.”
Not only does Wong like to draw as a career, they said it is a form of meditation.
And the drawings aren’t the only thing Wong is working on. This year, Wong is creating a children’s book that will focus on Hoboken.
Alongside Wong is their wife, Phoebe Man, who helps design their website, and run their business. On the website, patrons can order pre-made artwork. Wong is also available for hire through their website and email.
Main image by Chriska Wong