Last update: 07:00 | 13/01/2018
Vietnamese designer Dang Thi Bich Ngoc has won the 2017 Graphic Design Awards of the USA (GDUSA) for the first time with a set of four posters featuring characters from an ancient Tuong (classical drama) play entitled ‘San Hau’.
Graphic designer Dang Thi Bich Ngoc
Surprisingly, the designer made the posters on Truc chi (bamboo pulp paper) – an art form combining the handmade paper making process and the principles of graphic art, which has been newly formed in Hue.
Designer Ngoc granted an interview to Weekly publication of Nhan Dan (People) Newspaper in which she highlighted the process of creating the work as well as her passion with traditional art forms and Truc chi arts.
Q: Why were your graduation thesis and the work that won the GDUSA Awards related to traditional art forms, such as ‘hat cua dinh’ (singing in front of a communal house) and Tuong?
A: Although no one in my family pursues a traditional art form, my grandparents are very fond of listening to Cai Luong (southern folk opera). My grandmother had a small radio, so she and I always listened to the performances of traditional arts. As I grew up, I still often search for new songs for her. While applying the ideas of traditional themes in my design, I listened to, enjoyed and learnt more about traditional art forms.
Q: Where did you enjoy the Tuong play ‘San Hau’ for the first time? Can you give us your initial impression? How many times did you watch it to understand the main characters, serving for the design?
A: Actually, I have never enjoyed ‘San Hau’, as well as other plays, on the stage. I have only watched them on the internet. Learning about the Tuong art form, I learnt that ‘San Hau’ is one of the classical plays. I was very impressed with the performance and the artists’ make-up when I enjoyed it for the first time. Therefore, I read the story about the play and watched it four times to absorb its plot and significance, as well as the development of the characters’ personality. I was most impressed by the segment in which Khuong Linh Ta was beheaded by Ta On Dinh three times but he still grafted his head to continue fighting, showing his patriotic spirit.
The colourful make-up of the four generals who are the main characters of the play is very close to the graphic language that I am pursuing.
Q: However, was it difficult for you to portray all of the impression and emotion in a set of four posters?
A: After reading and watching the play ‘San Hau’ many times, I had to annotate and make diagrams to analyse the character lines according to the personality and spirit of each person. In addition, I found more information about how to draw the faces of characters in the Tuong performance in general.
Well-known graphic designer Nguyen Tri Phuong Dong, the mentor for my project, gave me comments and instructed me on how to compare and analyse characters as well as find the opposition and interaction among the characters. After that, I summarised the story and used one or two keywords for each character in order to easily imagine them. I continued to work with teacher Dong to learn about many issues related to background textures, gestures, and facial expressions to make the image of characters sharper.
Q: It is known that you only came to know ‘Truc chi’ graphic arts during your process of finishing the graduation design. Why do you have a great passion for this art?
A: Truc chi is the combination of handmade paper making and traditional graphic techniques, which was founded, researched and practiced by painter Phan Hai Bang and his partners. The techniques of Truc chi are very sophisticated. Truc chi works can be felt by the surface effect and the light-shining effect; therefore, the application of this type of art is very high and its variability completely depends on the aesthetics and creativity of the designers.
While learning about Truc chi and enjoying the marvelous works by artists pursuing this art form, I thought that it would be wonderful if my project on Tuong art was created in the Truc chi form. In addition, I had opportunities to meet with many young people who have the same ideals as me at the Truc chi garden in Hue city. I learnt a lot from them.
Q: GDUSA is the annual award of one of the leading design magazines in the US. How did you prepare after deciding to participate in the competition?
A: During the process of protecting the graduation project, teachers uploaded the images of students’ designs to a social network. Therefore, graphic artist Nguyen Tri Phuong Dong knew about my set of posters promoting Hat cua dinh under the Truc chi art form. He helped me to realise my shortcomings and told me that my work has potential: a unique national identity. He also explained the topics and contents in combination with the Truc chi graphic arts, and I created the set of posters featuring the characters in the Tuong play ‘San Hau’ for the awards.
Q: What do you think about the major that you are pursuing after receiving this award?
A: Graphic design is an open-minded occupation which helps designers to improve their creation and find a style towards modernism or tradition or the reconciliation. Receiving the award, I understood that if designers study traditional national arts with a great passion as well as to find ways to combine them with suitable graphic form, they can be confident in the international arena.