Back to All News

When science and art collide

He’s set his sights on joining NASA as a rocket engineer, but there’s more to Hengyang (Leo) Li than scientific brilliance.


The recent ACG Sunderland graduate is also an exceptionally talented artist and designer. Not only did he top the world for IGCSE design and technology in 2018, but he has developed a showstopping portfolio of paintings and drawings that are testament to his creative talents.

His most recent body of artwork “Exhausted” investigates ideas around homelessness.

“I looked into this subject because for most of us, we don’t know what poverty looks like,” says Leo.

“I tried to use detailed facial expressions of real homeless communities to express their financial and mental exhaustion. But I also tried my best to express their optimism when facing life’s hardships and their courage when facing difficulties.”

Recreating the emotions of his characters is a key feature of Leo’s work and according to his teacher, ACG Sunderland art faculty coordinator Hayley Carter, it’s an area in which he excels.

“Leo is a very talented young artist who seems to have endless patience while developing and refining his work,” says Hayley. “He has a particular talent for capturing a person’s likeness very accurately, which is extremely difficult. He is so successful with his work because he has excellent critical thinking skills and is a highly reflective learner which enables him to make decisions about his work as it develops.”

It’s clear Leo thinks deeply about his subjects. The development of his homelessness series expresses his view that everyone is exhausted. The wealthy are exhausted from making money, while those in poverty face the exhaustion of just trying to get by.

“In my final piece I combined the face of a businessman with the face of a homeless man, presenting my ultimate idea that every coin has two sides – and everybody is exhausted.”

Fascinated with drawing since childhood, it wasn’t until Year 7 that Leo really began to hone in on his creative practice. Support and guidance from ACG Sunderland have been pivotal in his development as an artist.

“My school has done incredibly well to promote and encourage students like me, especially my teacher Mrs Carter. She has helped me a lot, both physically and mentally, throughout my projects. She has given us a stage to showcase our abilities and she has recognised our efforts. I would never have come this far without her help.”

Leo has loved his time at ACG Sunderland – not only because of the outstanding art department but also thanks to the small class sizes, supportive study environment and strong school values.

“ACG Sunderland is a small community so I was able to forge close connections with my classmates and teachers and get lots of individual help. As well as promoting teamwork, ACG Sunderland helps students build independence and perseverance, which is why its students do so well both within the school community and outside of school.”

Leo is now ready to embark on the next stage of his learning journey, and although he doesn’t intend to turn his art into a career, he appreciates it will stand him in good stead for the future.

“Art is an inseparable part of myself. It helps me relax and distracts me from the hustle and bustle of daily life. But I view it as an interest, rather than a skill which will earn me money.

“I love studying things that are formulaic and am passionate about physics, chemistry and mathematics. There’s actually a strong relationship between science and art. After all, a painting is just a formulated distribution of paint strokes, and different paint colours are just combinations of primary colours!

“My ambition is to study mechanical engineering at Imperial College London and eventually join NASA. Taking art will be advantageous for the design component of my engineering course, so it’s great not just from an interest point of view, but also in regard to my future career.”