Dong Ho Painting: The Cultural Beauty of Folk Art

Dong Ho Painting is a traditional Vietnamese art form. This type of painting has unique artistic value and breath-taking expression of the folklore of the Northern region of Vietnam.

An outstanding contribution of Dong Ho Painting is that the thinking of yin and yang art, the art of balancing in painting, and simple drawing have gone beyond the scope of this type of painting, influencing and applying to various types of painting, sculpture, fashion, and ceramics, bringing new creativity.

dong ho painting
Dong Ho Painting. Photo: Bao Bac Ninh

Dong Ho painting village

Dong Ho Painting Village belongs to Dong Ho commune, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh province, 35 km west of Hanoi capital.

Dong Ho’s paintings have a long history, dating back to the 17th century. At that time, the painting village had about 17 big families, all of which had the main occupations of painting and making paintings. The village works in printing and drawing production all year round, and the busiest days are near the Lunar New Year because many people used to need to hang paintings when spring came.

Time has passed with many ups and downs, this traditional painting village has only a few families attached to the profession of producing folk paintings, in which the families of Nguyen Huu Sam and Nguyen Dang Che stand out.

The valuable items of the painting profession are woodblock prints. The village’s artisans still keep 1,000 woodblock prints and restore 500 ancient samples. All are considered treasures of the profession, preserved very carefully.

In addition, artisans continue to invent new engravings with new content to suit the increasingly diverse needs of customers. All are valuable cultural sources not only in Vietnamese art but also in indigenous culture.

If you want to learn about Dong Ho paintings when visiting Hanoi, don’t miss this village!

  • Dong Ho Folk Painting Center: http://tranhdongho.bacninh.com
  • Find out about the Dong Ho painting production facility:
    • Artist Nguyen Dang Che. Tel: 0223865308
    • Artist Nguyen Dang Tam. Tel: 091 3009433
    • Artist Nguyen Thi Oanh. Tel: 0362181135
    • Artist Nguyen Huu Qua. Tel: 0946204698
artist draws dong ho painting
An artist draws the Dong Ho Painting. @levanchu

Materials for making Dong Ho Paintings

Dong Ho Paintings are produced through many stages, using different materials.

However, it can be divided into two basic steps of painting: the stage of creating patterns or carving patterns on wooden boards and the stage of drawing or painting pictures.

Corresponding to each stage, we can see that the material will include the following:

Woodblock prints

All Dong Ho Paintings are printed from wooden engravings. Each color on the picture will have a corresponding woodcut pattern, even the black-color version that creates the basic features of the picture must have a separate copy.

Wood prints can be divided into two types, including basic stroke prints and color prints for pictures. The engraving is done meticulously, and carefully. Usually, the smaller the stroke, the more beautiful it is. So, the artist often uses wood from the Gold apple tree, which has softwood, multi-dimensional grain, and is tough enough to be easy to sculpt.

Woodblock prints play an important role in creating the theme for the Dong Ho Painting genre. To get beautiful woodcuts requires meticulous work from artisans, this stage usually takes up the most time in the production of Dong Ho Paintings.

Creating patterns on wood blocks is a creative work that requires innate talent and high skills in wood carving. So, this work needs the synthesis of creational and practical abilities.

Artists can use pencils to draw basic lines on wood or thin paper. And then, they sculpt each line to have a standard shape.

This work to create a theme can have many variations and unique styles depending on the artist and family making the mold.

making woodcut dong ho print
Making a woodblock to print Dong Ho Paintings. @levanchu

Dong Ho Painting paper

Dong Ho Painting paper is Giay Diep (shell paper), made from a traditional and unique Vietnamese wind paper (Giay Gio). Gio trees are commonly grown near mountainous areas in Vietnam.

To make the picture beautiful, the people of Dong Ho Village added a step of processing wind paper to turn this paper into a typical type of Giay Diep (shell paper).

To create Giay Diep, producers use scallop shells, crushed and mixed with liquid made from glutinous rice flour, plain rice, or tapioca. After that, the craftsman uses a broom made of pine needles to sweep over the paper, creating a bright white paper that sparkles when you leave it in the light.

dong ho folklore painting
Diep paper is the main material for Dong Ho Painting. @tranhdongho.kinhbac

Dong Ho Painting colors

Dong Ho Painting colors are produced from natural materials, so there are limited colors.

Four primary colors are usually used to produce paintings: blue made from indigo or copper rust, black from bamboo charcoal, yellow from crushed “Hoa Hoe” flowers, and red from unique wood or red stones.

From these four basic colors, the artist can transform to create various colors, dark and light as they want.

dong ho painting vietnam
Using a few colors, but the painting is attractive. @tranhdongho.kinhbac

Dong Ho Painting production process

There are many stages to make a beautiful Dong Ho Painting. However, it can be divided into the following steps:

  1. Step 1: Produce woodblock prints, colors, and Diep paper from wind paper (as mentioned above).
  2. Step 2: Mix colors depending on the type of painting and the subject.
  3. Step 3: Prepare to print, put the paper into a stack of about 100 -200 sheets for one printing time.
  4. Step 4: Print the picture, the worker uses a pine needle brush to dip it into the color pot to get the color and then sweep it evenly on the cover (the cover is made of ordinary paper).
  5. Step 5: Take the woodblock pattern and roll it over and over on the color surface.
  6. Step 6: Put the wooden board on the paper, adjust it to be balanced and accurate, and press the printed board firmly into the paper.
  7. Step 7: Take the woodcut with the printing paper attached, then use a fine sponge, local people often use a loofah, to rub it evenly on the paper. The purpose of this is to allow the color to penetrate evenly on the surface of the printed paper.
  8. Step 8: Remove the printed paper from the printing woodcut, bring it to dry in a cool place for a while to let the color dry, and absorb firmly into the paper.
  9. Step 9: When the printed picture has dried, continue to print other colors in turn. Repeat the steps 8 and 9 until all the colors on the picture are fully printed.

Previously, almost all the coloring steps on Dong Ho Paintings used woodblocks. Today, many painters in Vietnam and Dong Ho Village also use the method of coloring and drawing more strokes to create a variety and richness in colors and lines for the picture.

Despite the renovation, the expression and unique beauty of Dong Ho Paintings have always been preserved and adhered to. Therefore, Dong Ho’s paintings always have their own charm no matter how they are done.

dong ho traditonal painting
A painting of Dong Ho style. @yunachan_108

The expressive meaning of Dong Ho Painting

Regarding the content, Dong Ho Painting shows the daily activities and labor scenes of the people of North Vietnam, and depicts the image of animals, thereby expressing people’s wishes in daily life and spiritual life such as describing the character of the 12 zodiac animals.

Depicting a dream about a harmonious life between people, animals, and nature. The balance is according to the principle of yin and yang (like the picture of Hung Dua – picking the coconut). Wishing a life of abundance, happiness, and harmony between material and spiritual (like the picture of Dan Lon Am Duong – the Pigs). Wishing for a good society, bringing good meaning to everyone, and contributing to enriching the spiritual life of Vietnamese people.

In terms of artistic value, Dong Ho’s paintings are valuable for home and office decoration, especially for beauty during the Tet holidays. The lines, though simple but attractive, contain lots of meanings, from which it is easy to apply beauty to many ceramic and fashion products.

In terms of artistic theme, Dong Ho Paintings can be divided into 7 typical types: worship paintings, congratulatory paintings, historical paintings, story-telling pictures, dialect paintings, landscape paintings, and paintings reflecting human activities.

Most people hanging Dong Ho Paintings wish for a harmonious family life, full of love, a prosperous, warm, and happy life.

traditional painting dong ho vietnam
A class of the frog teacher. @thanhtu2407

Typical Dong Ho Paintings

With the diverse development and creation of artisans, Dong Ho has thousands of paintings with different meanings.

However, popularizing and becoming typical symbols of Dong Ho Paintings include the following typical works:

Yin and Yang Pigs” have a very strong expression, but also soft. On each pig, there are yin and yang circles, which are a way to tell the wishes of people that is the harmony between earth – sky, human -animal – nature. The desire for abundance and proliferation of life is like the crowding of pigs. In short, the picture brings happiness, affluence, and a happy and harmonious family.

dong ho painting the pig
The pigs’ family. @damductu

“The Peacock Spreading Its Wings” symbolizes nobility and prosperity. The image of a peacock is a symbol of beauty and strength, many people believe that hanging peacock paintings in the house will ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to the owner.

peacock opens wings dong ho painting
A peacock opens its wings. Photo: tranhnamdinh.vn

The painting “That Dong” (Seven Children) usually has outstanding pink and red colors, very warm. Painting creates a feeling of freshness and joy on spring days. The peach tree is full of fruit, and the children are healthy, it is the wish for a lot of luck, a full, prosperous life, and plenty of children and grandchildren.

seven children dong ho painting
Seven children. Photo: tranhnamdinh.vn

The painting “Ly Ngu Vong Nguyet” (Carp Looking At the Moon) shows the desire to succeed in study, fame, and career. The desire for the image of a carp comes from the belief from folklore about carp crossing the heaven gate to turn into a dragon, like a student overcoming difficulties to achieve success.

famous dong ho paintings
Carp looking at the moon and Picking up coconuts. Photo: Internet

The painting “Hung Dua” (Picking Up Coconuts), is indispensable in the outstanding collection of Dong Ho Paintings. The look is simple, but gentle, containing the meaning of family reunion, harmony, sharing, and helping each other in life.

rat wedding dong ho painting
The Rat wedding. Photo: Internet

The painting “Dam Cuoi Chuot” (The Rat Wedding) is highly featured in Dong Ho’s collection of satirical paintings. The rat who wants to take the bride must pay tribute to the cat with fish and birds. Expressed that obstacles are always in life, not as easy as everyone wants, but often there are many funny obstacles.

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    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.