I’m a 27 years old freelance illustrator living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I work as an illustration duo with my partner, Quang. We work under the penname: Kaa. Our jobs are mostly picture books, illustration projects, and comics.
Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) is the largest city of Vietnam. It’s a developing city which is always crowded and busy with millions of people and vehicles. HCMC is an eclectic mix of old and new, featuring elegant colonial architecture together with contemporary modern Asian and international structures.
Living in this city gives me a sense of modern life. Always busy catching up the newest trend and yet HCMC managed to keep its style. It still retains the uniquely Vietnamese feel with the hustle and bustle of the local markets, incessant horns and local vendors on every street corner. The best thing here is the local people, friendly and helpful but not into everyone else’s business. The worst thing is the lack of nature view and parks.
You can be a stay at home freelancer or working in any creative agency without any trouble. There are lots of creative agencies and advertising, animation or comic companies popping up here. It always has room for young people to join in. And if you choose to be a stay at home freelancer, nobody cares enough to ask what you are doing with your life (laugh).
The best thing here is the local people, friendly and helpful but not into everyone else’s business.
I got my first freelancer job at an illustration studio when I was a first-year college student. I was studying to be a teacher but always wanted to make my hobby, drawing, into a career. I started to learn everything about art and illustration myself with great help from other artists around me, which I never dare to take for granted. When my partner and I got our first picture book published and won an Asian Prize for it, we decided to start our own studio and are still working it out until now. It has been 8 years.
I was born in a family where nobody has any experience in art or a creative career. My mother, a true Asian mom, wanted me to be a teacher, get married and have a “stable” life like the other girls in the hood. Art is seen as too risky for a normal girl. I listened to her and went to the college of her choice because I didn’t want to make her upset. However, I’ve managed to start working as a freelance illustrator and designer and support myself without putting her in any financial debt. When I turned to become a professional illustrator, my family eventually felt happy for me. I think they are proud of me now.
Art is seen as too risky for a normal girl. I listened to her and went to the college of her choice because I didn’t want to make her upset.
I’m working on various picture book projects, most are for Western publishers. I’m also preparing for me and my partner’s second book, which we will write and illustrate ourselves. We will tell the story of our country in a fantasy point of view.
This is the hardest question. If I have a chance to choose, it would be Atelier Sento – a French duo (Cecile Brun and Olivier Pichard). Their works (comic, video game, graphic novel) always make me feel happy to read and play.
Vietnamese women, especially Ho Chi Minh city women, are the strongest women I have ever met. The typical Vietnamese woman is extremely family-centric. Like my mother, her life revolves around the family where the husband is in the core and the children surround the core. A ‘’good” woman will sacrifice herself for the family, placing her husband above her children, followed by her children, followed by her parents and siblings, and finally herself last.
They are too strong and feminine at the same time. They can build a house, drive a business career, raise the children themselves without any other help from a man. That’s what I respect about them. However, like other millennials, I still consider myself as a kid and never have enough strength to be like this.
Vietnamese women, especially Ho Chi Minh city women, are the strongest women I have ever met.
There are many of them. Actually, most of my favorite illustration artists in Vietnam are women. I always looked up to their works and their lifestyle. Until now, I have made friends with them and we start to help and challenge each other in work and life.
I think there are no challenges to being a female in the creative industry, at least that’s what I see in my country. If you are good enough, everybody will respect you regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, straight or gay, young or old. That’s the good spirit of Ho Chi Minh city’s people: no matter who you are, people only care about what you are doing. Yet we also have heard some negative words from others if you only care about your career and not your family. It is a fact that every woman has to face, not only in tgethe creative industry.
Try to do the best you can do in your job. Take advice from other people and make your own mark. Don’t be scared to share your works with the world. Don’t be afraid of failure. Your talent will be noticed if you tried hard enough. There is room for everyone.
Photos courtesy of Killien Huynh.
March 20, 2019