My cover artist for the Absinthe Wars series is Cam Anh Nguyen, a freelance illustrator living and working in Hanoi, Vietnam. She’s a very talented young lady and I am so excited to introduce her to my readers and art lovers everywhere. The link above is to her website. She also has a DeviantArt site and a Facebook page.
I’ve set up this page, Cam’s Corner, for her to share some photos and tell us a little about herself, how she lives and works, and what inspires her beautiful art.
Here is Cam in her own words . . .
I grew up in a French villa in downtown Hanoi. My little world revolves around crowded, narrow alleys filled with mobile shops selling household goods and delicious street food.
There are many kinds of street cuisine in Vietnam. There is Phở (beef noodles), Xôi (sticky rice), Bánh Cuốn (roll cake), Nộm (papaya salad with pork liver), Nem Cuốn (fresh spring roll), etc ., but my favorite is Bún Thang, vermicelli noodles topped with shredded chicken meat, thinly sliced fried egg, and herbs, a must-try Hanoian dish.
During the summer, I spent all my time drawing in my mother’s kitchen where I could look out at my father’s small garden. In that garden, I got to know many different kinds of plants, flowers, and insects.
We used to have a smooth luffa tree growing on top of the garden that had sunflowers blooming under the sun. The trees are laden with smooth luffa that were left to dry on the vine for harvest later on.
Beginning at age 10, I was fortunate to be able to study art under Pham Viet Hong Lam – a Vietnamese contemporary fine arts painter. His unique style has been and continues to be an important influence on my work and on my personality, too. Please view his art on his Facebook page.
My cat and my parakeet keep me company during the day. My cat is a year old. My parakeet, É, is a little older. When my cat, Horse Face, first came to the studio, she was very afraid of É. My parakeet ran over and tried to bite her. She was just a kitten and it was the first time she had seen another animal, so she must have been terrified! It’s so funny to watch them chasing each other. Horse Face is now a fully grown, mischievous cat and she is very eager to give the bird a taste of his own medicine. But of course she never hurts É, just tries to provoke him into going on a rampage.
I work in a small studio right next to the house where I grew up. While I work in the studio, I am surrounded by beautiful things that inspire me: a childhood doodle, vintage toys, collected pottery, and books.
More About Me . . .
I’ve lived with my roommates for over a year now. We are very excited to have our first cherry blossom pot this year. Cherry blossoms are the messenger of spring, they symbolize luck and prosperity. This flower means so much to Vietnamese people, like a Christmas tree does to many Western people.
We celebrated our most important holiday of the year, Tet – our Lunar New Year, in February. My family has a tradition of making Bánh Chýng (Chung cake – square rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves) for Tet. My mom asked if I wanted to make the cakes with her this year and I said, “Definitely, yes!” It’s very hard to cook, so people often buy them at the store these days. You have to simmer the cakes at low heat for about 10 hours.
Family members sit outdoors together (you can ask the neighbors to join you) all through the night, taking turns checking the pot to make sure that the cakes don’t burn. The Chung cakes turned out great this year. They taste amazing if you eat them right out of the boiling pot. You can fry Chung cake and it becomes golden and crunchy. It’s usually served with Chả Lụa (Vietnamese pork roll) and pickled onion. My family tried to cook it once when I was still a little kid, but around 2 a.m., I was like, “Mom, it’s too cold, I’m going to sleep now .”
Q&A with Cam . . .
Let’s learn a little bit more about Cam!
Cam says, “Painting illustrations can be very stressful and lonely ‘cause you must sometimes detach yourself from people to submerge in your own imagination, so it’s crucial for me to get out of the house and interact with creative people.”
What’s in your artist’s toolbox?
I have a collection of pencils, mostly HB and 2B. My mom traveled around the world and she brought me unique and funny pencils from different places. Now I have so many that I don’t even have to think about buying pencils anymore.
For sketching and note taking, I use small sketchbooks, the ones that can be found easily in every art shop and are relatively cheap. I can jot down quick notes that pop into my head or sketch things I see when I walk down the street without giving a thought.
For drawings that need more precise techniques, I use thick paper, like Strathmore Bristol smooth paper. I love experimenting with all kinds of tools, new mediums and materials, but my most basic toolbox always has 2H / HB pencil, kneaded erasers, mechanical pen, click eraser, water soluble pencil, water soluble pastel, oil pastel, and acrylic. I also often use a scanner. Once I have something with which I feel satisfied, I scan it in, then refine it and finalize it on my computer.
What are your favorite artist software tools?
I spend most of my time using Photoshop and my Intuos Wacom tablet. I can’t imagine working without them!
I noticed you have done some animated movie work? What are your dreams in that area? Do you see yourself working on animated films?
I learned about animation one semester when I was in college. I was the concept designer for my team. I love animated movies (who doesn’t?) and have always wanted to draw for a studio like Laika where they make masterpieces like “Coraline” and “The Boxtrolls.”
Do you have a library of inspiration books? What are your favorites?
I have a bunch of old books–my ever-growing collection of art, typography, and design. No matter how many times I read them, I always find something new and interesting. By analyzing the decisions made by designers in the past, I can understand the reason why they failed or succeeded and learn from their experiences.
My favorite book is Sennen Gahō by Machiko KYŌ. The book, in two volumes, is a collection of her “1 page on 1 day” short comics. Her comics are not like others, they barely have any conversation and focus on trivial stuff in daily life (slice of life).
How do you keep yourself organized?
Since I am a freelancer, which means I get to be my own boss, I discipline myself by waking up early, sitting down and creating a to-do list for the day before having breakfast. It makes me feel like I have a goal to achieve at the end of the day. I keep all my ideas, to-do lists, sketches, etc., in my notebook.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be calm and be patient. – my Mom
I have always been a stubborn person. I do what I want and often was bad tempered when I had to listen to other people’s opinions. I quit class if I didn’t like it. I can’t wait for anything for too long. I fight with my little brother over some stupid things. Sounds very childish, right? Well, I know. My mom had to tell me to calm down, to be patient because things are not always bad, you just have to wait a little bit more and try a little bit harder. And I must think when my head is clear because you can’t make the right decision when your head is exploding like a volcano.
Thanks to mom, I finally grew up and became a better version of me – a person who knows how to listen to others and doesn’t get angry when things don’t go my way. Now when I have to deal with life on my own, so many times her advice not just saves me from depression but also helps me build relationships with other people.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
A few years ago, I used to think: “Five years from now I must be famous, or I must be this, I must be that…” But now, I don’t really think that way anymore. I just want to try my best in everything I do. The next illustration must be better than the last one. So if I keep moving forward, maybe in the next five years I will be at least five times better than I am right now. Who knows what life will be? Whenever I look back, I realize that the me I am right now is what I always wanted when I was 18, which is living on my own and making money from drawing all day. My life is like the song, “What you are” by Jewel: “Everything I hope to be I already am.”
I can’t predict the future but I know it will be great as long as I can do what I want and work hard for it.
What famous artists, designers, or craftsmen inspire you?
My favorite artist of all time is Moebius – Jean Giraud (French comic book artist). His artwork inspired many artists around the world. The first time I saw his amazing works, I got goosebumps and immediately knew what drawing meant to me and that I really want to be great at art.
My other – still living – heroes include Ta Huy Long, Yuko Shimizu, Bobby Chiu, Will Terry, Victor Ngai, Lynne Chapman, and many others.
What do you do for fun outside the studio?
I go to my yoga class every morning, not just for fun, but I think it’s my best time outside the studio. Yoga keep me healthy after long hours working in front of the computer and helps me feel calm and confident about myself.
The next thing must be going to the bookstore, especially a very old one. I take some of the money I have after a project to buy books. And sometimes, with luck, I find some used Russian picture books with beautiful illustrations, with the price at half my lunch.
If you could have one magic power, what would it be?
I wish I could transport to whatever location I desire by just thinking about it or having the Anywhere Door ( Doraemon) with the same power. I want to see the world. Till now, I’m mostly traveling by books, and I’m still loving it * ha ha *