Artist and teacher.


The idea is to keep evolving, growing, and then expanding. One shouldn’t stop at a finished piece,” says Lilly Wong when asked about her work.


An artist and a teacher, she exemplifies what Vietnamese art culture is — resilient and progressing. She has made the most of what she has, followed her heart’s desire, and traced her roots to impart her knowledge and experiences on others.


At a very young age, Lilly loved drawing and painting; but back then it was only a hobby, until a teacher took notice of her work and saw something special in her. She was six years old when she became aware of her gift for the arts.


Born in Hanoi and raised in the UK, Lilly took up a degree in textile design and was taking her MA in fashion when an opportunity came to move back to Vietnam. She flew to Dalat to be a knitwear designer. It was a struggle choosing between being in the commercial industry and pursuing her passion. Still quite confused, she then decided to go back to the UK where she gained a secondary school teaching degree in art and design. She gained a lot of positive feedback from her teaching stint, especially as her students got into the universities of their choosing. This experience became a turning point in her career.


Art and Teaching


Art, in general, can be intimidating. It seems as if art is only for those who have money and innate talent, but Lilly stresses that talent and money leads nowhere if you aren’t doing art with the idea of progress: “You must record; you must document your work. Sometimes the finished piece is never as interesting as the sketchbook or the documentation.”


It is common to see the artist’s original compositions hung or displayed on walls or shelves in their studio, but entering Lilly’s studio is different. Like a proud mother to her child, she hangs her students’ works of art.


“I love seeing their faces glow when they’ve achieved something; no matter how little the task or result may be. It’s all about encouraging and building their confidence to keep them going,” she says. “I tell my students that they shouldn’t be so bummed about perfection.”


No Plans, No Problem


Having her own studio and giving workshops weren’t part of her original plan. To her dismay, her initial plan was met with prejudice and discrimination.


“It wasn’t all a loss. You pick up lessons in life as you go along,” she explains.


Seventeen years of going in and out of the country, Lilly has now settled in Saigon and is building her career as an artist and doing what she does best, teaching. She facilitates workshops like portraiture, life drawing, and stencil printing at different galleries, and has just concluded her first proper workshop at her studio, which is a Japanese dyeing technique called shibori.


Being her own boss has its ups and downs. She shares the pros of not having to report to a nine-to-five job, including being able to travel wherever and whenever she wants.


“Sometimes I just get up and go. I like the spontaneity; it builds character which is why I encourage that to my students as well.”


Being the positive person that she is, the cons don’t really affect Lilly that much. She takes drawbacks and criticisms with a grain of salt, they actually drive her to continue to be better at what she does.


It has only been a year since Lilly moved to Saigon, but her days have been filled with a lot of travels for inspiration, meet-ups with other artists, and conducting workshops and private lessons with her students. She describes it as a roller-coaster ride as she has had to move and settle in different places, and get accustomed to facing each day with no fixed schedule.


From leaving Vietnam to live in the UK and back, Lilly says: “I feel lucky to have gone through the whole ordeal despite the trauma my parents and a lot of people have gone through. It definitely provided me with advantages that I felt that I could only like if I came back here and try to give back to the community.”

Photo by Mike Palumbo


To read the other articles in this series, click on the following links:


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