Artless art

By Kim Nga, Thanh Nien News

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A class where students of all ages feel free to draw, to tell stories and render themselves is what Do Huu Chi, better known as But Chi (Pencil) has nurtured for years

A workshop in Ve ke chuyen (Drawn out storytelling) course 

You believe you don’t know how to draw? You think you don’t know how to tell a story? You know both, but don’t know how to do them well? This is the course for you.”
With this exhortation, Do Huu Chi persuades people – many of whom have never drawn anything in their life – to come and learn how to draw out their stories.
Chi, better known as But Chi (Pencil), fulfilled his dream last September when he started the first Ve ke chuyen (Drawn Out Storytelling) course.
He is now on to his third nine-day course, which began on February 17, offering an additional section for advanced students besides one for basic skills like on the two previous occasions.
Phong Linh, a student at the first class, says the six-day course taught her how to recognize and appreciate the value of even petty things, which are otherwise thrown away.
“Draw this without looking at it.” It might sound like a trifling test, but it yielded some amazing results. It is about not being bothered by normal standards.
“If I [Linh] look at the paper and draw, I will try to replicate it as much as I can. But when I do this exercise, I just hope the lines are in the right place.
“The most exciting moment is looking at the final drawing; you know, a surprise could be waiting. It could be completely different from the subject at hand, and it’s fun” she wrote in a post on Facebook.
Linh, as well as many other students, accepted Ve ke chuyen is not a class which trains the skill but inspiring and ringing a bell on respecting values.
“No matter how ugly our drawings are, they are your unique characteristics” she wrote.
To Thuy Com, another student, said that she likes Chi’s opinion that everybody is connected to each other somehow.
“So when your story is told, there is always someone out there, who will understand and love it. Especially when your story is originated from the sincerely real emotion.”
30-year-old Do Huu Chi is the founder and lecturer of Ve ke chuyen program. He won the Fulbright scholarship in 2011 and graduated MA from the Sequential Art department of the Savannah College of Art and Design last year.
The tall thin short-sighted artist who love to draw by pencil most told Vietweek before class time that Ve ke chuyen is a more like a method in confirming the relationship between art and human instinct, which needs to be further explored.
“The idea of the class came years ago. I think I understand the youth’s demand, as I used to be one of them. I graduated from Hanoi’s University of Architecture, and I knew that it is not my real wish. What I have learned in the university, somehow, too theoretic to apply. I started to think of an alternative education, in which the students can learn what they love comfortably.
“After studying in America, everything becomes more obvious. The studying in the US is to create human resource for their giant comic industry. They [students] are realistic to hit the mark. I still prefer considering drawing as a fundamental human urge,” he said.
Chi said one of the funniest things of his class is… the fun.
“Drawing in an accessible, relaxed ‘have a go’ way to tell your own stories and playing are what you experience in the course. The student’s background is varied and this affects the way they absorb the knowledge,” he said.
His class always started with relaxing games then workshops, technique presentation and some outdoor fieldtrip. The attendance of some guest orators from diverse jobs like poet, film director besides painters or illustrator, is another remarkable part, since “they can show how to tell a story up to their career’s experience.”
Erasing the thought “I cannot draw” is the second highlight.
“From those very first doodles, the words ‘ugly’ and ‘beautiful’ could be redefined. There is no judgment, mark or test in the course, so drawing wrongly is much better than not drawing. It [drawing] is like learning foreign language and each sketch is like a word. The more you draw, the better you improve.
“I believe that anyone can draw, provided that you love this art,” Chi smiled.
Chi said that his syllabus is modified after each course. This phase usually takes him two or three months. However, the syllabus is ‘the result of my 30-year lifetime so far,’ he said.
Formerly being art director of Nha Nam Publisher, now Chi pursues the work as a freelance illustrator. Chi said he wants to release a comic book about Vietnamese issues, which is ironic and someway, just jocose.
The local censorship is not his concern.
“Actually, it [censorship] is not a barrier. It’s like an ink stain on a painting. People usually keep their mind on it, and forget to contemplate the rest good parts. Walking the line between prohibition and permission is my choice,” he said.
Chi also said that he does not care about the fact, which many experts concern, that Vietnamese comic field does not have a determine direction.
“It is better to call it reader’s tendency or taste, which nobody has any idea of, even the professional publisher I have asked in America. There is always a room for you to grow. We reap as we sow.”
Back to Ve ke chuyen class, Chi said that he finds a lot of potential individuals from his students to collaborate in many projects.
“Ve ke chuyen 365 is our first on-going program. We call for stories, and try to pictorially express them. Each day contains one story, and it could be a good start for releasing a book or an exhibition.”

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