Tran Nguyen: A Two Year Journey Crafting “Star Collectors”
Exclusive Interview with Tran Nguyen, 1st Prize Winner of the RAYMAR Traditional Art Award 2021 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize. Interview conducted by Samantha Dexter.
Softness radiates from the women sailing on their voyage. Their delicate features and elegant clothing are enhanced with the silky smooth finesse of coloured pencils and acrylic to create organic, whimsical characters which take center stage. Across the water, sit angular homes crafted with a technical precision that melt into the tree as nature consumes the manmade structures. A golden cage holds marble-like worlds entwined in a miniature solar system. The women propel forward on the hunt for more as their animal companion, a crane, serves to aid them on their journey as “Star Collectors”.
Tran Nguyen is an award-winning illustrator and fine artist. Originally born in Can Tho in Vietnam, Nguyen moved to the United States when she was three years old and currently lives in the state of Georgia. She developed a love for art from her exposer to anime, American animation, and video game art during the 90s. In 2009 she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree specialising in illustration at Savannah College of Art & Design.
Every piece in Tran Nguyen’s extensive catalogue of work is described as having a “soft, delicate quality” to it. She uses a mixed media approach of mixing acrylic paint and coloured pencils within her work. The main focal points include gorgeously whimsical women, beautiful animals, and the natural world and she encases these themes in haute couture. Her artwork has featured on books, wine and beer bottle packaging, magazines, murals and animation. She’s done a variety of client work and has collaborated with companies including Netflix, McDonald’s, Hasbro, World Wildlife Fund and Wizards of the Coast. Alongside her clientele, she has won many awards including multiple Awards of Excellence with Communication Arts, two gold medals with Spectrum Fantastic Art, and many more.
I know it’s typical to say, but I didn’t enter with hopes of winning an award. At most, I was shooting for 3rd place in the traditional art category.
Interview with Tran Nguyen
First of all, congratulations! What was your first reaction when you found out you’d won the Traditional Art Award?
Surprised! I know it’s typical to say, but I didn’t enter with hopes of winning an award. At most, I was shooting for 3rd place in the traditional art category, especially with fierce competitions such as Chie Yoshii and Ed Binkley in the running.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
The competition has been on my peripheral for some time now. I noticed many of my colleagues entering the competition. I found it infectious so I entered my work alongside.
Who are some of the artists who inspire you and your work?
I absolutely love the works of Gustav Klimt, Hayao Miyazaki, Amano Yoshitaka, and Kay Nielsen. So many aspects of their art influences my paintings — their character/ creature designs, approach to composition, and sublime capture of organic shapes and environments. I’m also inspired by other art forms such as fashion design and photography, film, sculpture, and Anime.
I read that “Star Collectors” was created over the span of two years, how do you approach doing such a large and detailed piece of art?
This is my largest painting on paper, and I worked with one of the most patient clients on this commission. It was completed in tandem with other projects throughout the years. At times, I was able to dedicate weeks to it, while in others instances, I would have to go back and forth between project deadlines. Instead of using just my regular 8 round brushes, I switched to much larger-sized brushes and put my wrist into action rather than just my fingers. I would take a step back every so often to make sure the piece worked as a whole. The painting required a lot of patience as I resolved issues that I usually don’t encounter when working smaller.
What’s your favourite part of the painting process and why?
The few days leading up to completion is my favorite part. This is when I wrap everything up and finalize the painting. At this point, I’ve overcome the “ugly phase,” and the remaining task is finessing small details and conducting the last bit of quality control before I sign the piece.
What was the most challenging part of creating “Star Collectors” and why?
I’m not used to spending more than 2 months on a painting, let alone 2 years. There is a lot going on in the piece, which means a lot of time is needed for rendering forms. Keeping myself passionate about it was difficult mid-way through the painting when progress wasn’t as apparent as it was in the early stage. Once I could see that form was starting to take place, my feelings of overwhelm ceased and I was able to tackle each component pragmatically.
What do you love most about using acrylic and coloured pencils in your work?
The two media are the best of both worlds. Acrylics are a versatile medium that can be diluted heavily with water for light washes. I’m very light-handed so this worked perfectly for me. In regard to colored pencil, I would say I’m intuitively a drawer more than a painter. I enjoy having control and precision so the colored pencils fulfill this aspect.
The curve of a woman’s hip, the billowing tail of a snow leopard, or the snake-like formation of a branch. I enjoy manipulating these whimsical forms and accoutrements to illustrate a narrative that bridges all of the above.
Who are some of your favourite brands for acrylic and coloured pencils?
For acrylics, I enjoy using the Golden brand. They also offer acrylic paint in three varying levels of viscosity – heavy body, fluid, and hi-flow. With coloured pencils, I prefer Prismacolor’s Verithins and Premiere pencils. I’m currently trying out more of the Caran d’Ache pencils as well.
Your work focuses on strong, beautiful and whimsical women often paired with animals and nature. What draws you to painting these themes?
They all possess organic, delicate lines in their shape – the curve of a woman’s hip, the billowing tail of a snow leopard, or snake-like formation of a branch. I enjoy manipulating these whimsical forms and accoutrements to illustrate a narrative that bridges all of the above.
What has been a career-defining moment for you as an artist so far?
I recently worked with Magic: the Gathering this past year. As a kid, I played Magic in the early 2000s when Rebecca Guay, Brom, and many other artists, were illustrating the cards. I didn’t know who they were at the time, I was just absolutely enamoured with the art which influenced me to play the game. As an adult, I’m now illustrating my own cards and it feels surreal in the best way possible.
I’m not used to spending more than 2 months on a painting, let alone 2 years. There is a lot going on in the piece.
What do you feel you have gained from participating in the Art Prize?
It’s such a delight to know Brom enjoyed my work who is the judge for the traditional art category. I knew of his art when I used to play Magic: the Gathering as a kid so this is a full circle for my art journey.
Would you recommend the Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
If you’re financially able to afford the entry fee, I think why not? It would only benefit the artist in many ways such as presenting their work in front of an audience that may have never seen their work before.
When you’re not painting, what do you get up to?
I love to travel, but of course, the pandemic hasn’t been conducive to this hobby as of late. I did have the privilege of visiting Iceland for the first time a few weeks ago and it was magical! I also started playing Magic again and am on the hunt for new anime cels to add to my mini-collection.
What’s next for you as an artist? Any big or exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m branching out into the fashion industry and creating luxury apparel items. I have an item that I’m hoping to release sometime next year. I’m also currently working on my second art book. Other than that, be on the lookout for more Magic cards and book covers!