Renaissance girl

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One of Le Thi Bich Khoa's works titled "Sun and moon sisters"

Painter writer and illustrator Le Thi Bich Khoa, 29, dove into the digital art field back in 2008, when it was still very new in Vietnam.

Khoa's digital art works posted on deviantART, an expansive, worldwide community of artists spanning every medium and subject, under the nickname moonywolf, have attracted a lot of attention.

Khoa has also made a name for herself through two online art forums: idesign.com and zda.vn.

Online commenters and local bloggers have raved about her dark tone and unique style.

The new palette

Khoa began working with digital drawing software when it was still very new. She'd sketch out her ideas on paper then line and color it in on the computer, using specialized software.

She now incorporates the techniques into her job as an editor and comic illustrator at the Kim Dong Publishing House.

But people approach her all the time asking her to create a tattoo or decorative image with them. She didn't mention what she charges, but said her work provides enough for her to live on.

Critics of her work have noted that Khoa's distinct aesthetic style reflect her background as a comic book designer and surrealist painter.

But Khoa herself does not totally agree with that interpretation.

"It is fairly difficult to describe your own artistic tendencies," she said. "When I am drawing, I simply sketch what I like"¦ what flashes through my mind. I think my painting are not surrealist," Khoa said.

Khoa considers herself more closely aligned with Pop surrealism a "lowbrow" counterculture movement which arose in Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

Virtual focus

Khoa held her first solo exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City last year.

But she had been selling her work online long before she made it into a physical gallery.

"I have met some young talents who don't want to popularize their works online. They are partly afraid of being pirated, and being regarded as "˜unprofessional'."

But Khoa said she's doing things her own way. It wasn't the money that appealed to her"”but the prospect of working in the new digital medium that appealed to her, at first.

"Digital art took me on a fresh and interesting journey," she said. "The great combination of modern techniques and traditional fine art approaches provided me with a comfortable space to build my dream. My work meets the demands of those who have their head in clouds but their feet on the ground.

Overall, the work seems easier.

"I don't have to worry about drying paint or managing a messy studio space anymore," she said. At the same time, Khoa acknowledged that the digital medium has its share of problems.

"It has its shortcomings. It blurs the artist's distinct mark and blurs the border between painting and illustrating. Every digital artist has to find his own way to make it work." she said.

Finding her medium

Khoa works as an art editor at Kim Dong Publishing House"”which mainly publishes comics. She fell in love with the medium early, but still finds it limiting.

"I decided to study Japanese and English in university. But the academic environment and etiquettes, which form the frame of language, made me feel hemmed in "” like I was sort of losing my freedom and imagination.

I use writing to convey  thoughts I cannot draw. But there is still some emotion up in the air that I cannot use language to expose. Some stories still remain incomplete," said Khoa.

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