Need a little inspiration for gifts this festive season? Why not something ultra-personal, made with your own hands? Here are five great craft workshops where you can create something truly unique. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Zen In Lighting
Hungarian mother-daughter team Marianna Bajczi and Kitti Zabo are the brains behind Zen In Lighting, which conducts day-long gourd lamp making workshops.
A self-taught artist, Marianna has been making gourd lamps for five years, experimenting with various styles, including Cuban, Hungarian and Indian.
The gourds, glue and lamp bases are sourced from a Vietnamese family. Each workshop starts with getting to know your gourd, Marianna said. Workshop participants are encouraged to feel the weight of the gourd, smell it, connect with its form and decide on a front and a back.
“I learned from artists in India that they harmonise with their materials before they start,” she said. “It helps with focus.”
Once you’ve gotten to know your gourd, it’s time to clean out the flesh and sand the outer surface. Then you can begin designing your lamp. Marianna has many samples and sketches for inspiration, and will assist with modifying a design so it’s suitable for a gourd lamp.
The design is drawn onto the gourd with a pencil, and then it’s time to start drilling. Marianna has three different-sized drill bits, and drilling always begins with the smallest.
The workshops are VND3 million per person, which includes tuition and all materials. The class runs from 9am to around 4pm and at the end of the class you’ll have made your very own gourd lamp, which will be mounted on a wooden light fitting.
Marianna says people don’t need to have any particular skills to take a workshop, they just need patience and creativity.
A little studio down a little alley in Binh Thanh District offers beginner and advanced pottery classes for adults and children.
Pottery teacher Nguyen Dan Thy teaches the Bien Hoa style of Vietnamese pottery, a technique perfected in the Bien Hoa pottery village in Dong Nai province in southern Vietnam that features designs carved into clay. The carved patterns, often flowers, are then glazed in different colours.
Thy’s partner, Cao Thi Hong Loan, is De-form Pottery’s glaze specialist. “I focus on doing the glaze because my background is chemistry. I was working in a laboratory for five years,” Loan said.
A maximum of five students can take a class in De-form’s little studio, but the pair offer regular workshops for up to 70 people at Family Garden in District 2 and Childhood Garden (Vuon Tuoi Tho) in District 7.
The classes in the De-form studio range from clay play classes (VND280,000 for two hours), pot, cup or bowl making (VND500,00 including baking and glazing) to a basic ceramics course of eight two-hour classes (VND2.2 million).
“We use traditional tools because we want to introduce people to the Bien Hoa method of decorating,” Thy said. For those wary of carving, the studio has traditional hand-made stamps that can be used to imprint patterns into a piece.
De-form has its own kiln, so what’s made in class can be fired once a week, usually on a Sunday.
81/12 Huynh Man Dat, Binh Thanh District
Wine and Canvas
If there’s anything better than creating something with your own hands, it’s doing so with a glass of wine by your side.
That’s the thinking behind the monthly Wine and Canvas workshops held by VinSpace in District 2’s Thao Dien.
The three-hour workshops used to focus solely on the art of painting on canvas, but this year many different forms of art have been taught during the workshops, including painting on leaves, sculpting clay busts and hanging paper sculptures.
Vinspace Studio Director Hong Anh Pham said the workshops being planned for 2018 would continue to be a variety of art forms.
Canvas and Wine workshops are attended by a mix of expats and locals, and men and women. During the workshops, there’s free-flow wine and snacks, and lots of friendly chatting.
VinSpace is Ho Chi Minh City’s first boutique art studio, opened by Malaysian artist Shyevin S’ng in 2009. The studio has a range of international practicing artists, including sculptors, printers and textile designers, who offer tutoring and workshops throughout the year.
Hong Anh said Vinspace’s Tuesday afternoon portfolio classes, where artists can work with an instructor to develop their artwork, were becoming very popular.
Children’s art classes are held on Saturdays, with morning and afternoon classes.
The next Canvas and Wine workshop will be held on December 14.
6 Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
Spin and Gogh
Spin and Gogh is a new concept in “adult entertainment”, according to founder James Kershek.
It’s probably not the type of adult entertainment you’re thinking of, though. Unless you’re thinking of fun no-pressure pottery and painting classes, with a spot of alcohol and small plates of tasty food.
James, a former financier, took up pottery after his doctor told him to find a hobby to lower his stress levels. “It’s very addictive,” he said.
A pottery session usually takes two hours to spin or shape the clay, dry it with a hairdryer and trim it.
About seven days later, after the piece has been bisque fired, you can return to do the glaze. The piece will now be ready for the final firing.
“We cater to first timers, kids to all the way up to people wanting to make pieces to sell,” James said.
Spin and Gogh imports its clay and glaze from the US to ensure the highest quality.
“What we are trying to do is provide an alternative for adults who want to try something artistic but who don’t want to make a long-term commitment to a whole course.”
By the end of this year, Spin and Gogh’s restaurant will be operational, and early next year painting “dates” (not classes) will begin, with a heavy emphasis on the Van Gogh-style of painting, and a glass of wine during the three-hour session.
212 Tran Van Tra Street, Panorama Complex, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City
Calligraphy and Coffee Trail
Saigon Street Eats founder (and AsiaLIFE’s managing editor) Barbara Adam met calligraphy master Duong Minh Hoang by chance four years ago and fell in love with his art work.
Earlier this year, Barbara began offering Calligraphy and Coffee Trail tours so non-Vietnamese speakers could learn more about thu phap (Vietnamese calligraphy) and the chan phuong style that Hoang teachers in his small studio in District 3.
Hoang is one of Vietnam’s youngest calligraphy masters, who has studied the art form for two decades.
Participants meet in front of the Opera House at 8.30am and then share a taxi to Hoang’s studio. The workshop begins with a small tea ceremony and a discussion, with the assistance of a translator, about the history of the Vietnamese language and how it’s written.
The workshop then moves on to the art of calligraphy, with Hoang explaining how to hold the brush and how brushstrokes should be performed. Participants spend time practicing brushstrokes before choosing a word, either in English or Vietnamese, to practice and perfect.
The calligraphy practice is punctuated by a procession of Vietnamese coffee and traditional and non-traditional snacks and the final stage of the workshop is painting a small souvenir to take home.