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Phuong Nguyen

Phuong Nguyen

Meet illustrator, animator, and art director from Vietnam, Phuong Nguyen.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an illustrator, animator, visual storyteller, art director from Vietnam. My main focus is on animated filmmaking while I do many side projects to explore different aesthetics.
My name is Quynh Phuong, in Vietnamese, it means ‘fragrance of epiphyllum’.
I have fond memories of my parents’ heavy pots of epiphyllum oxypetalum (Queen of the Night) on the rooftop, there my parents would bring me and my sister on moonlit nights to watch the flowers bloom. My bittersweet childhood is an inspiration for many of my artworks.
Nowadays, most people call me Phuong or Pipou.
When I was 17, I came to England and spend 4 years there on a bachelor’s degree in illustration at Cambridge School of Arts.
Right now, I’m doing my master degree in animation at Gobelins l’Ecole de l’Image in Paris.
I just finished a summer internship with Studio La Cachette, working on a Netflix series called Primal, directed by Genndy Tartakovsky.


Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.
I have many cities in my heart: Hanoi (VN) is my childhood and adolescence, Cambridge (UK) is my inner peace, Saigon (VN) is a hometown I never had, and Paris (FR) is a new world I’m still exploring.
Hanoi and Saigon would be wonderful places to live in if it’s not too polluted. Most of my dearest friends are there and it’s always a great joy to see them. The food is scrumptious and affordable, the rent is not too high, I consider these a privilege. In recent years, it has become more and more exciting and satisfying to be an artist in these cities, thanks to development in arts and cultural spaces.
Paris has a lot to offer to people from different walks of life and the vibes from different districts can be completely different. People in Paris are creative and very expressive. However, the vibe in the metro is hostile and people are wary of each other, so I cycle instead. I go to school here, but I don’t live here. I live in a small, quiet city with an easy daily commute to Paris. My home is only a few steps from a forest and I have a garden to grow vegetables. I share this space with my boyfriend and our three cats. I appreciate the geographical distance from Paris, it’s like I’m living in another dimension.


What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?
I think that to be able to appreciate a place wholeheartedly, you have to acknowledge the spectrum of its living conditions.
In Hanoi or Saigon, it’s easy to see that the cities are heavily polluted and most people busy themselves with mundane tasks. Censorship is heavy in every way that it can be really demanding to be an artist. And yet, I see people strive to appreciate life, from small acts of kindness to daring social change. Being affordable to live, both cities attract many passionate, young creatives. They share everything they have: skills, knowledge, resources. It’s the constant effort to express themselves that renders people resilient and unknowingly philosophical. For a visit, you may appreciate the delicate cuisine and the cheap booze, but having a strong sense of community is key to long-term living here.
In Paris, there are many wonderful places that are accessible to the public. Workshops and art classes are plenty but expensive. Like most European cities, it is rich in history, arts, and culture. What I really appreciate the most here is clean air, drinkable tap water, and freedom to express. However, sometimes Paris can be very hostile.


I think that to be able to appreciate a place wholeheartedly, you have to acknowledge the spectrum of its living conditions.

Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.
Hanoi: courage, craftsmanship, community
Paris: intellect, inspiration, identity


How did you start your career in art?
When I was a little girl, I was always inventing and tinkering with objects, painting and drawing, making stories. I knew from the start that I am a creative.
I got to know many older Vietnamese artists on the internet. One of them got me my first job when I was 14 years old, designing a lucky money envelope for the Lunar New Year for a children’s book publishing house in Hanoi. I made a bold move by putting my watercolour drawings on the design and though my drawings were refused, I received some important encouragement from the art director.
After that, I attended many art classes and tried to obtain diverse artistic skills but struggled for a long time to find what I wanted to do in the creative industry. Every artist I knew at the time seemed to have settled to a certain position, normally editorial or graphic design. I chose to study illustration at university, but I still wanted to try many things. I was not satisfied with a job title and a neat CV. My freelance illustration jobs were good, though, and I met really awesome clients. However, there was something else underneath making pretty drawings that I wanted to grasp.
Somehow, while traveling, reading, meeting people, keeping on painting and teaching myself animation, I came to a currently satisfactory answer. I guess, being an artist is an organic way of life, my creativity should grow with myself and be something I aspire to. Knowing that made me immensely more honest and confident in my work, more open-minded, professional and co-operative. Naturally, I was presented with many opportunities to work in diverse fields: music, theater, fashion, live-action film, photography, body arts, computer game, augmented reality technology,… As soon as I realized the importance of storytelling in all artistic mediums, I decided to pursue a career in animated filmmaking. Not having previous experiences in this field, it took me 3 years to get into Gobelins, one of the best animation schools in the world. And now I’m collaborating with really talented and interesting people while attaining diverse skills to tell stories through the animation medium and learning all tasks in a production. It’s fast-paced, it’s precise, it’s chaotic, it’s amazing.


It’s fast-paced, it’s precise, it’s chaotic, it’s amazing.

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?
Absolutely. For my family, it’s been obvious that this is what makes me most happy. There had been a moment when my parents had some doubt about me pursuing a seemingly superficial career, it was another challenge for me to prove myself. My brother understands and shares some artistry with me too.
As for my close friends, they trust my artistic intuition. I have many older friends and most of them are not artists, but they made great efforts to give me access to books, materials, resources, and activities to expand my curiosity. They don’t attempt any superiority on me and respect my opinions.
I did not settle in my comfort zone, thanks to my family and friends.


What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

In general, I feel that if I’m doing something but not learning something new from it then it’s time to move on. Right now is not the case. Animated filmmaking is a wonderful storytelling medium and I am super excited about it. As for other people, there can be nothing I do that somebody hasn’t done before, no story that hasn’t been told before. But by telling my version of the story, I’m contributing a different perspective to it. I feel that by evolving each day, I am exactly where I want to be.


I feel that by evolving each day, I am exactly where I want to be.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?
I think it would bring me intense happiness to work with J.K Rowling. I grew up with the magical world of Harry Potter books. They were with me when I was a lonely kid, then a depressed, confused teenager.
I also want to collaborate with the Monty Python comedy group. What a giggly delight it would be!


How would you describe the women around you?
They are human, having the same abilities and desires as everybody else.


Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

Because I grew up in a kind of misogynistic environment, I had some notions about where society thought women should be, and I detested them. I regarded the arts as a non-gender-specific field, a safe place to be free of gender discrimination. Because of that, when I saw a piece of artwork I liked somewhere, I did not want to think of a man or a woman behind it, I wanted to imagine an artist. Not until I was in high school that I grew out of this. At this moment, I got to know many talented female artists, many of them are my age. I became comfortable among them and learned a lot from them.


I regarded the arts as a non-gender-specific field, a safe place to be free of gender discrimination.

Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?
I believe there is. Statistically, even being in one of the most open-minded professional fields, the difference in men’s and women’s salaries are still biased towards male workers. I think the solution is open communication. Don’t think it’s a taboo to talk about how much money you make.
However, despite that, this is still one of the most open-minded professional fields. Studios, clients… don’t care about your gender, your age, your background… They only care if you are skilled, hardworking, resourceful, great with teamwork, and have a good personality.

I think the solution is open communication.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?
Yes. I hope someone, not only young women, can find some value in my advice:
– Take care of your physical and mental health
– Have fun, experiment, explore
– Learn discipline
– Develop your visual language, symbols, craftsmanship
– Learn storytelling skills
– Write a lot
– Read more
– Open up to collaboration
– Value your time
– Share your vision, your skills
– If you have to defend your decision, do it respectfully
– If you have to not give a fuck, do it respectfully



Photos courtesy of Phuong Nguyen.