Vietnam lacquer has attained a superior position in this field because of its sophistication and meticulousness when it comes to attention to detail and quality of finish.
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Lacquer ware is quite famous in some Asian countries such as China and Japan, but Vietnam lacquer has attained a superior position in this field because of its sophistication and meticulousness when it comes to attention to detail and quality of finish. The difference lies in the technique used by the Vietnamese craftsmen and women in applying the lacquer and the materials used, and also the skilled craftsmanship of the lacquer ware artist.
The first traces of lacquerware were unearthed hundreds of years ago. During the Dinh dynasty (930-950), the Vietnamese knew how to use the latex of Rhus Succedaneum to plaster boats; Then in turn through the Le, Ly, Tran dynasties there is evidence in many remaining antiquities of that time, wooden statues etc that are decorated with gilded paint, that this traditional form of decorating was being passed on from generation to generation …
In the early 1930s, the first formal classes of Vietnamese artists studying at Indochina Fine Arts School explored and discovered many more special materials such as eggshell, snailshell, bamboo roots … which would enhance the already tried and tested traditional decorating skills.
They sought to incorporate these materials into the lacquer technique and create a new unique lacquer technique, and from there create truly valuable, lasting and beautiful lacquer paintings.
Creating images with crushed eggshell, painting pigment over gold and tin foil and adding sand to lacquer were all techniques developed by those first students. The metallic color often found on lacquerware, for which Vietnamese craftsmen are rightly famous, was first developed by artists experimenting with many innovative techniques.
After the reunification, the art of Vietnam lacquer was slowly dying out in Vietnam. But since the 1980s, the government has recognized it as a vital part of the country’s heritage and history as well as a cultural and economic force and has encouraged the business community to invest in the craft. As a result, we see a resurgence of lacquerware and a proliferation of Vietnam lacquer products.
Vietnam lacquer products use a lot of materials: paint, color and other materials. Here are some popular ingredients such as:
Paint: extracted from Rhus succedaneum tree, in addition to using betel oil and turpentine …
Color: traditional lacquer uses 2 basic colors: black and red. The resin of the Rhus succedaneum plant, if used in a ceramic pot, it is reddish brown in color. If you use an iron basin, it will become a hypotenuse because of the reaction with tannic acid
Other materials: eggshell, clam shell, snail shell, scallop powder, gold and silver …
Nowadays, industrial paints have been successfully fabricated to replace traditional Vietnam lacquer because there are many advantages, especially it’s ease of use in the production of paintings and the colors are extremely rich.
Bundle of objects
Traditionally objects to be painted are made by using plain paper, which is made of wood, so although this seems like an unlikely material it is actually very tough and more durable than fabric.
Every Vietnamese lacquerware usually goes through 20 stages not less than 100 days of work, regardless if it is a large picture or just some small lacquerware pieces such as bowls or even coasters. There are actually 3 kinds of lacquerware: Mother – of – pearl, eggshell, painting or any of the combination of these three.
First of all, however, we must select the suitable wood for every Vietnamese lacquerware: rose, cherry or walnut wood for the furniture, screens or jewelry boxes, ebony for statues; jack fruit wood for boxes, bowls, plates and plywood for paintings. The wood then will be filled with a layer of natural lacquer which gradually seeps through to a core of wood to make it harder and protect against any rotting by insects.
The raw lacquerware is also covered with a piece of paper or gauze to prevent any cracks or curving of the shape. Handle the sheets carefully, prolong the life of the object to be painted, each lacquer painting has a life span of 400-500 years.
Still the raw material will bear 5 more layers of lacquer to hide the gauze and to reach the necessary thickness.
However, in between each layer of lacquer, the lacquer artist must wait until the lacquer is dried and then rub it in water before starting the next layer. The work will be repeated many times (some times up to 15 lacquer layers or more) until the lacquerware becomes totally smooth.
When the item is lacquered, the maker of the items must first attach and paste the coloring materials for the work such as: eggshell, pieces of nacre, gold, silver … then coat with paint, then flattened, and finally followed by color.
Grinding and polishing
Because the varnish has been colored to paint, the gloss sinks in the color core to create a deep depth of the painting, so after each drawing, it must be sharpened.
Up to now, the principle manual method of final polishing, using crushed charcoal or chicken liver stone has not been replaced with any modern methods, as truly traditional made lacquerware is not allowed to be coated with varnish.
That is the unique point of Vietnam lacquer painting. The refinement of a lacquer painting depends greatly on the final polishing stage.
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