Profile and Techniques of a Vietnamese Lacquer Artist: Tran Bich Thuy

Posted on Fri, 12/14/2018 - 07:37
Vietnamese Lacquer Artist: Tran Bich Thuy


October 28, 2014

Profile and Techniques of a Vietnamese Lacquer Artist: Tran Bich Thuy  

To Tran Bich Thuy is a lacquer painting artist and art teacher at Hue University in Vietnam. Thuy brings her understanding of traditional lacquer painting to a careful and considered contemporary lacquer practice.    Lacquer painting, sơn mai, evolved in Vietnam as an art form separate from lacquer furniture and tableware. Vietnamese lacquer is composed of laccol sap from the sơn tree, Toxicodendron succedaneum.   To receive the painting, a timber board is prepared with a coat of lacquer, one layer of silk and a further five coats of lacquer. Each layer needs to dry before the next is applied, and every second coat is wet - sanded. The process takes over two months.   

To the prepared board, Thuy applies silver leaf, crushed eggshell, and pigmented paint colours mixed with lacquer. The crushed eggshell has a variation in colour, as it has been gently burnt over a flame.    The silver leaf is painted over with lacquer to protect it. The eggshell is wet-sanded until smooth, and the paint colours are built up to the same depth as the eggshell. Sequential layers of lacquer are applied with a wide brush until the desired hue and depth of colour is achieved. Again, each layer is left to dry before the next can be brushed on.     


After 2-3 days, the artwork is wet sanded with various grades of sandpaper, working from coarse to fine. The artwork is rubbed with charcoal powder, polished with one’s palm, and washed again.   As a result of the long time frame and deliberate accretion of layers, the artwork embodies precision, depth and clarity. Details painted in the very first layer glow through the painting with a quiet luminescence.    Thuy describes stories of life in her artwork: the spectrum of emotions, and the search for peace in one’s life in this modern world.  

Contributed and written by: Emma Morris, October 2014