Submitting his artwork to the contest in hopes of gaining experience, Thai Tuan was bowled over to learn that he won the first prize. The painting of a street vendor carrying the whole Hanoi in baskets was sold at an auction for US$8,000 (about VND185.6 million).

Dang Thai Tuan and his award-winning artwork. Photo courtesy of the painter. 

Dang Thai Tuan, 22, Hanoian fourth-year student majoring in Information Technology is the creator of the painting “Hanoi’s Street Vendors” which won the first prize in the “Ha Noi is…” Illustration Contest, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in collaboration with the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).

The evocative theme “Ha Noi is…” inspired young artists with unconventional and refreshing ideas integrated with a personal touch to portray their own unique Hanoi. The city has been illustrated in digital paintings, silk painting, collage art, and lacquer, among others.

The idea of the whole capital carried by a street vendor

The winner of the contest, Dang Thai Tuan, bagged a cash prize of VND10 million (US$438) for his work ‘Ha Noi Rong’ (Hanoi’s Street Vendors), depicting the cultural landmarks of the city such as the Temple of Literature, One Pillar Pagoda, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, among others being carried on the shoulder of an animatronic street vendor.

According to the organizers of the contest, the painting has brought the most idyllic and familiar nuances of Hanoi into modern life.

Sharing about his brainchild, the IT student recalled that he learned about the contest “Hanoi is …” at the end of August 2021, when the young man was busy with his studies and many personal projects.

 Thai Tuan (in orange shirt) took a photo with some of the winners of the “Ha Noi is…” contest at Institut français de Hanoi – L’Espace in August 2021. Photo: L’Espace

“I had no inspiration to create at that time, so I didn’t register,” Tuan said and added that only two weeks before the submission deadline, when his personal projects had been completed, then he decided to sign up for the contest, before rushing to complete his artwork on time.

Tuan had quite a headache brainstorming the idea. Hanoi is a broad concept. For him, Hanoi can be ancient historical sites, or stalls serving such dishes as rice stick noodles with grilled pork or with fried tofu and shrimp paste. It can also be the activities of Hanoians, or simply a power pole with entangled wires.

The young guy admitted that he was not able to define Hanoi with a single image. He believes that everything in Hanoi, however small or large, has a common feature deep down: simplicity.

So, he chose simple and rustic images that are the most typical of Hanoi as the main inspiration, and the idea of a female street vendor who “carries the whole of Hanoi” came to mind.

“I came up with the idea of drawing a woman shouldering a carrying pole, and inside the baskets, there are monuments, food stalls, roads, and cultural traits of Ha Noi people,” Tuan shared.

The time the fourth-year student drew this painting coincided with Hanoi’s social distancing period due to Covid-19 in 2021, so there was practically no street life for him to observe. The young man growing up in the capital could only rely on his memories and Google to draw the first strokes.

Still, he got off to a start since the painting encompassed numerous details, especially historical relics that Tuan had never drawn before. It took him a few days to take a closer look at their structures, as well as spending a lot of time to obtain a suitable layout.

“Because I had to draw a fairly wide and long image, it was rather difficult to find a good perspective. I sketched a few different options, and in the end, I chose a bottom-up viewpoint,” Tuan said.

Visitors to the exhibition entitled “Ha Noi is…” organized by UNESCO in collaboration with the Ha Noi Department of Culture and Sports, Institut français de Hanoi, and Vietnam Local Artist Group (VLAG). Photo: L’Espace

Despite many difficulties, he completed the artwork in time for the contest, thanks to his talent and passion for painting from a young age.

In the first year of university, Tuan worked as a graphic designer for some small startup companies to earn extra income. Then, he bought a new iPad and started learning digital painting or painting using digital tools. As Tuan shared, painting has been his hobby since childhood; in the past, he often drew his favorite cartoon characters. Gradually, his drawings were no longer cars, animals, or plants, since he became able to draw large, colorful still life.

After a period of practice, finally, the work that the IT student found his finest was born – “Banh Chung” (Vietnamese traditional glutinous rice cake). “I tried posting it to an online design group, and it unexpectedly received a lot of support.” Since then, Tuan started working in digital painting.

Support children affected by the Covid-19 pandemic

“Hanoi’s Street Vendors” is not Thai Tuan’s first digital artwork, but it contains many difficult details, including ones he had never drawn before.

When the painting won the first prize, Tuan was so happy as his sleepless nights had paid off.

The painting was then put up for auction with a starting bid of $3,000 at the program “Fundraising Dinner – NFT painting auction”, organized by Blockchain Huh Global Investment Fund in Hanoi in February 2022. After several rounds of auctions, the painting was finally pegged to $8,000 in May, roughly 2.6 times more than the original valuation.

 The latest artwork by Tuan – “Once upon a bridge in Vietnam” 

Tuan said that when he was invited to the auction, he didn’t really expect his work to sell for a lot of money. After seeing the opening bid, he was astonished, and even more amazed at the successful tender of $8,000.

“I used to do paintings for sale, but this price is dozens of times higher than the average price of my paintings,” Tuan said.

After the painting was sold, he donated half of the prize money to support poor children affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The other half is for him to create the next artworks that promote the beauty of the capital and of Vietnam internationally.

Thai Tuan is collaborating with a number of art and fashion brands and websites. In the future, Tuan wants to experiment with some new methods in order to broaden his drawing experience.

Along with that, the 22-year-old will carry out several personal projects to introduce Vietnamese culture and people among international friends through paintings, which he also wants to auction so that he can support community service projects.

Below are some digital paintings of the young artist: 

 The painting entitled “Lan may” or an animatronic shopping bag. 
 The artwork: the Hanoians
“Cot dien” – A Hanoi power pole
A stamp inlustration – “The Phan Dinh Phung Street”