Thanh Huynh is a talented Vietnamese food illustrator who has made a name for herself by creating stunning artwork using watercolor that captures the beauty and essence of Vietnamese cuisine.
As a kid, Thanh already knew the path she wanted to take. “Growing up as a Vietnamese child, I had to answer the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? many times. I didn't give it much thought and quickly responded, I want to be an artist.”
Her childhood was filled with memories of her father's artistic talents and love for storybooks that fueled her passion for art. After graduating from the University of Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City, Thanh honed her skills in various painting mediums and took art classes that provided a solid foundation for her future artistic endeavors.
“Before embarking on my current career, I began painting to create art that interested and fulfilled me personally,” said Thanh. “As many artists do, I sometimes struggle to develop new ideas. In these moments, I remind myself of the essence of art: it is a reflection of life. I slow down, observe, and seek inspiration in my daily routine. Once I begin painting, ideas tend to flow naturally. I've found that when I paint from the heart, my audience can also sense the passion in my work.”
Aside from illustration, she has a love for creating things with her hands and finding joy in capturing the beauty of nature through painting and artwork. She is also passionate about promoting a healthier lifestyle by crafting nutritious recipes to share with others.
“In the long run, I aim to hone my cooking skills and craft nutritious recipes I can document and share with others. Whether it's through publishing a cookbook or creating online recipe guides, my ultimate goal is to inspire individuals seeking a healthier lifestyle.”
In this interview, Thanh talks about being a female artist in Vietnam, her creative process, and how noodles and rice dishes are particularly challenging to illustrate. She also shared her favorite projects and her goal of incorporating more nutritious recipes into her artwork.
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How do you define success in your life and career?
Success is balancing my personal and professional life while pursuing my passions. In my career, success means creating something that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also serves a practical purpose and positively impacts the lives of others. My ultimate ambition is to attain a state of mental and physical well-being, experience genuine happiness, and live a balanced life. If my art can offer valuable tips and inspiration to individuals pursuing a similar path, that would be great.
What message do you hope your art conveys about Vietnam and its culture?
Many of my clients have approached me with the desire to preserve their family recipes. It's fascinating to see how each family's traditions and methods vary depending on their region and personal touch. As an illustrator, I've found that art is a powerful tool to convey the intricacies of each dish and the cultural significance behind it. I've enjoyed sharing my knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine with foreign friends, curious about our dishes’ history and ingredients. Through my work, I can promote the preservation of culture through the food we consume daily, which is beautiful.
How do you capture the essence of Vietnamese cuisine in your illustrations?
Vietnamese food is a work of art with attention to detail that'll make your taste buds dance! Every dish has a unique story, whether it's the family recipe or regional flavors. When I illustrate Vietnamese cuisine, I highlight every ingredient and flavor that makes it special. With so many herbs, spices, and sauces, my goal is to make your mouth water just by looking at my drawings.
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Can you walk us through your creative process?
Whenever I encounter new material, I wonder what can be made with it. I enjoy turning ordinary objects like pebbles or driftwood into something that looks unique. Similarly, when I draw, I like observing chefs or moms carefully prepare ingredients for a meal. I am always impressed by their skillful techniques.
I love browsing a local market, looking at and buying fresh produce. When I look at freshly harvested vegetables, I often feel like drawing them on paper to capture their natural beauty. For me, being thankful for food is the source of my creativity.
Are there any particular Vietnamese dishes more challenging to illustrate than others?
Drawing noodles and rice dishes can be difficult due to their intricate details. I need to concentrate on avoiding confusion while drawing each strand of noodles or grain of rice. Watercolor art primarily highlights the materials used, and creating a lifelike image can evoke a “delicious” feeling in the viewer.
How do you balance your illustrations’ visual appeal with the ingredients’ accuracy and cooking methods?
Regarding the visual aspect, I strive to achieve a healthy balance between a dish's realistic texture and natural colors. For instance, Banh Xeo has numerous stunning colors and textures. The crispy golden crepe filled with fresh vegetables and herbs and complemented by chili, garlic, and pickled daikon/carrots is truly a masterpiece of culinary art. My role is to capture all the diverse textures of the dish on the plate while providing the viewer with a realistic representation of the various dishes found throughout Vietnam.
Is it hard to be a female artist in Vietnam?
As in many other parts of the world, being a female artist in Vietnam can be challenging due to traditional gender roles and societal pressures. However, the art scene in Vietnam is evolving rapidly, and many talented female artists are pushing boundaries and breaking down barriers. Despite the challenges, these women are making a name for themselves and paving the way for future generations of female artists. While there is still work to do, the growing community of female artists in Vietnam is a promising sign of progress.
As an artist in Vietnam, I don't perceive any gender-based limitations. In my opinion, a woman's sensitivity can enable her to experience a wide range of emotions, making the process of expressing ideas through painting more captivating.
Can you describe a project or art that represents your best work and why?
One of my proudest projects is a cookbook I created for a Vietnamese family in the United States. This project allowed me to compile the most popular Vietnamese dishes into a book. It also made me realize how some Vietnamese dishes are incredibly resilient, as they can evoke the comforting feeling of home even when enjoyed from halfway across the world.
Are there any Vietnamese food illustrators you admire or draw inspiration from?
Some years ago, while at a restaurant, I stumbled upon a book on food illustrations by Le Rin on one of their shelves. I was blown away by his skill and deeply impressed by his attention to detail in every illustration. Since then, I've become increasingly interested in this emerging field of art. The more I've explored it, the more valuable insights I've gained. I'm grateful not only to Le Rin but also to the broader community of artists around me, from whom I've learned so much.