For many, expressing how they feel is much easier through a creative medium than it is through words. That’s certainly true for Hanoi-based illustrator Lucia Pham whose portfolio, while remaining bright and bold in colour, swings between various topics depending on her mood. “When I feel happy, I paint things that are lovely, sweet, with cheerful and bright colours. But when I feel tired, anxious, or sad, I also use illustration to show it, with things that are a bit weird, scary,” she explains. “Because I’ve always wanted to be a carrier of positive energy, it’s actually a bit difficult to say it or show it in a traditional way. So I use an illustration to say how I feel today,” she continues. While a cathartic process, it’s not all about personal expression for Lucia but also about connecting with others, something she believes illustration has the ability to do beyond other forms of communication. “Sometimes words don’t make us feel, but pictures do.”
A familiar tale among illustrators, Lucia was first introduced to the medium through manga and anime and while growing up would while away the hours copying her favourite characters as well as she could. She also recalls an extracurricular school her parents took her to in her pre-primary years (“In Vietnam, it is very common to send children to institutions that help them write better.”) where she witnessed a calligraphy class. Unsure of exactly what drew her to the subject, she simply recalls how she “always wished to participate”; there was innate interest within her. This eventually led her to study graphic design at Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts, and she worked as a graphic designer up until two years ago when she made the switch to full-time, freelance illustration.
When summarising her creative practice, Lucia describes it as a process of discovery. She’s a restless creative and is constantly searching for new challenges, be it a concept or technique. This is particularly true when it comes to colour. “I love colour,” she tells us, “and always want to discover more colours that suit my aesthetic thinking.” Just one example of how she relishes the opportunity to change things up within her work, she adds that no matter what changes she likes to “keep something that is mine, so that people can recognise me wherever I am, in any crowd.” And it’s certainly working, as Lucia’s portfolio is nothing short of distinctive. Her characters feature angular facial features and large eyes and are often set amongst a disordered scene where objects and colours collide. It’s this combination of elements that makes Lucia’s drawings so recognisable.
Thematically, she incorporates all manner of subjects but often leads with female characters in humorous, larger than life scenarios. “I love portraying and showing weird, outrageous, and slightly creepy human expressions,” she adds. “I’m also obsessed with patterns.” Elements of Vietnamese culture also pop up wherever Lucia can squeeze them in and she sees each illustration as a new space to be personalised through her aesthetic and perspective. “I create my own little world, a bit chaotic and alien at times.” In one piece titled Five Fruit Tray, she chose to illustrate New Year’s Eve in Vietnam through a still life featuring “burning incense to worship ancestors, and Joss papers, or ghost money.” This year was the first NYE she spent alone, she tells us. Despite this, she still went to the market and prepared everything as she would have with family or friends, arranging a beautiful scene in respect of her ancestors. This is just one example of her attempting to recognise the beauty in traditional Vietnamese culture, she explains, something she has overlooked for a long time. She, therefore, sees translating elements of her culture into illustrative forms as a major priority for her going forward and something she wants to dedicate more of her time to. However, branching into 3D in the near future is also on the cards. In the meantime, she’s got her head down on several commercial projects and is looking to explore new themes and perspectives within her personal work too.
Lucia Pham: Devilitte (Copyright © Lucia Pham, 2021)
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.