Nguyen Trung Kien, who has taken a gap year to indulge his passion for painting, turns stones into works of art.
Kien, 22, is sitting in his room at home in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai District painting intently on a stone. The room doubles as his studio, where he works with a few other artists.
On a stone the size of a palm, flowers bloom and a tranquil Buddha and colorful fish gradually appear in his skilled hands. The architecture student at a Hanoi university also receives commissions to create wall paintings and decorative items, but his most impressive works are the stone paintings.
“Kien’s products are soulful, and attracting people at first sight,” Nguyen Tuan Anh, a customer who has bought several pieces, says. “It is hard to believe this is the work of a person in his twenties.”
Kien devotes serious thought to the crafting process. “Painting the Buddha requires me to remove all thoughts,” he says. “Just a little noise will stop the work right away.”
He closes his studio for a few days when the neighbors do an activity that creates noise.
A piece of stone painting by Kien. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia
His success is underpinned by a lot of struggle. When he decided to take a year off from university to start his business, he faced objections from his parents. “One day my parents were shocked to receive a letter from my university saying I had failed in many subjects. I told them about my ambition to delay my studies and start a business, but my parents disagreed and cut off financial support.”
Penniless, Kien did what he could to make a living. Sometimes he painted for VND20,000-30,000 ($0.86-1.29). Once he received no orders for three months.
One day without money to buy food, he was sitting by the river and looking at the stones on the bank. That was when the idea of painting on stones struck him. He immediately began to paint his first picture of a sleeping Buddha on a stone.
It took him five days. When he completed it, Kien discovered the stone absorbed water and so had to dry and fixed the details the again. That took another two days.
When Kien posted the picture of the work on social media, some people were interested and asked to buy it. After that dozens of people texted orders to him, and overnight his works became popular.
Nguyen Trung Kien paints on a stone in his studio. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia
Kien had to travel to the northern mountains to look for stones, since they were rare in Hanoi. He chooses stones that are smooth and durable. He painted on several sides of the stone, and so he chooses pieces with quite flat surface.
“A stone is as precious as gold to me. If I choose a stone that is not beautiful, certainly the work will not be valuable.”
He then scrapes the stones until they are clean and covers them with a layer of base paint. The white base paint concocted from a type of specialized paint is the most important layer. Unlike canvas, the stone has a rough surface. Therefore, without a good layer of base paint, the picture will fade quickly.
Kien first sketches the picture with a pencil before starting to color it with 3D paint. Each painting takes one to five days.
After finishing he arranges a neat background with sufficient light to photograph the work and upload it on social media. Kien’s paintings are beautiful,” Le Linh, a painter himself, says. “He also invests in elaborate designs and packaging.”
Kien also teaches many young people. He next plans to take his products to other Southeast Asian countries.