The Vietnamese art of lacquer painting

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  Fabiana Mesquita (R) and Cassia Lopes complete their first works

A small school that teaches lacquering in a lane off Hanoi's Dang Thai Mai Street has become a favorite place for Fabiana Mesquita and her friend Cassia Lopes.

"It is just an amazing art," Fabiana says to explain why she attends the classes.

"I've been to some Asian countries but I only knew about it when I came to Vietnam. So for me the art is uniquely Vietnamese and studying it is one of the best ways I can learn about Vietnam."

The Brazilian came to Hanoi in 2007 with her husband. Now she stays at home to take care of her baby and goes three times a week to the class.

"I've been learning for three weeks and I am completing my first work, an abstract painting."

Fabiana and Cassia are among the first students at the school opened recently by artist Tran Anh Tuan and a German friend, Elke Riter, who was one of his students.


1. After forming an idea about the painting, the artist sketches out the patterns on the surface of the wood.

2. The patterns are then bordered by red-brown or black lacquer. For some patterns, the artist can attach eggshells, mother of pearl, or other materials by using a graver. For some other patterns, the artist paints lacquer of different colors before laminating or strewing gold or silver (using gold/silver sheet or dust, depending on the artist's conception).

3. The painting is then covered with a wet woollen blanket until it dries. Then it is polished with grindstone and/or sandpapered.

4. After that, the artist adds one or two more layers of lacquer to obtain the desired effect. Hence, to complete the process of painting, the artist uses three to 10 layers of lacquer.

5. Finally, to finish the painting, the artist uses varnish to coat the surface of the painting and allows it to dry before polishing with charcoal and ruffled hair.

"I thought of [starting] a lacquer painting school long ago, and Elke Riter helped me do it," Tuan said.

"[She] was in a lacquer class at the Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts where I was teaching. She told me that she loved my teaching methods and many of her foreign friends would also be very interested in the art. So we decided to give it a go."

To prepare for the school opening on April 14, Tuan and Elke worked hard to complete dozens of works to serve as reference materials for students.

They were both surprised by the large number of foreigners registering. The two divided
the students in different classes based on their skills: those who knew the basic techniques were placed in intermediate classes and beginners in elementary classes.

Tuan also teaches children who can choose whatever material they like lacquer, oil paint, water colors, or synthetic colors.

"For children we want to offer a fun and relaxing space to exercise their artistic side, and a place for playing and relaxing at the same time," he explains.

He adopts a similar method with the adults, acting more as a guide, showing them the basic steps, and explaining the general rules of sketching and applying colors.

"This is an art, so we need to let students freely show their creativity," he explains.

"My [aim] is to instill confidence in their skills, showing them it is not a complicated art and they can surely master it if they have a passion for it."


No. 5, Lane 9/2 Dang Thai Mai Street, Hanoi
Phone: 098 808 2447

Fee: VND300,000 for a three-hour-lesson plus materials used in the class.

Tuan has an interpreter to help him answer every query from students who are of various nationalities and attend the classes for different reasons.

Each class is held two or three times a week, on weekdays or weekends, mornings or evenings, depending on the students' and teachers' schedules.

Besides giving lessons at the school, Tuan is also planning to organize some extra activities for his students like trips to lacquer villages and exchanges on lacquer painting.

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