Artist: Ando Saeko

Ms. Ando Saeko, a Hanoi-based Japanese artist, blends traditional Vietnamese and Japanese lacquer techniques with her highly personal and modern perception of nature and being. Saeko’s original and tantalizing figures are influenced by her extensive world travels. Her work is a startling individual synthesis of emblems, icons and archetypes of cultures from Asia to Africa to Latin America. Saeko’s art creates an exciting tension between traditional lacquer techniques and a modern abstract yet organic sensibility. Although many of Saeko’s paintings depict animals, each also shows a distinct human face. She uses her own quirky style to bring to life the world of nature.

Ando Saeko: Born in Aichi, Japan.  Graduated from Waseda University and worked for Japan Airlines.  She came to Vietnam in November 1995 and became interested in Vietnamese Son Mai (lacquer paintings) and started her career under the tutelage of lacquer painter Trinh Tuan in 1996. As she became more interested in traditional Son Mai, she entered the Son Mai workshop of craftsman Doan Chi Trung. There she learned Son Mai craftsmanship such as processing lacquer and making Voc bases as well as traditional and modern painting techniques.


Visit Ando Saedo’s exhibition

Ando Saedo said about Lacquer Painting

How to make a Lacquer Painting board


 Hal Medrano  from “hanoiscratchpad.blogspot” had telled us about experient in Seako Ando’s workshop

Vietnamese Lacquer Painting (Sơn Mài)

Fifteen years ago, artist Ando Saeko came to Vietnam from her native Japan, and fell in love with Vietnamese natural lacquer painting (sơn mài). She was accepted as a student by Trinh Tuan, a master of the art form, and has been here ever since. Last Sunday morning at Hanoi’s Uzu Gallery, Saeko explained the origins of natural lacquer and how lacquer painting evolved in Vietnam.

The term “lacquer painting” may be confusing; most of us probably think of lacquer as an additive to paint, or as a synonym for “varnish.” I doubt many of us know that lacquer is a natural product made from the sap of an Asian sumac (the Vietnamese species is Rhus Succedanea). The sap is obtained in much the same way as rubber: an incision is made in the bark of the tree, and the resin is collected. The liquid separates as it sits; solids sink to the bottom and the pure resin at the top is skimmed off, mixed with pine sap, and stirred continuously for three days to give it an even texture. The resulting glossy material – processed natural lacquer – is used by artists.

The history of lacquer painting in Vietnam demonstrates this country’s ability to take foreign influences, and create from them traditions that are wholly Vietnamese. Archaeologists have found lacquered objects dating back to the 4th century B.C., but lacquer was used mainly as an adhesive until the 14th century when, using techniques that are believed to have originated in China, it bloomed as a decorative medium. Lacquer began appearing as a glossy varnish on pagodas, wooden panels, palanquins, and other valuable objects, especially those of religious value.

It was the French who helped transform lacquer from a decorative craft into a modern pictorial art form. In 1925, teachers and students at the French École Supérieure des Beaux Arts de l’Indochine (Indochinese College of Fine Arts) began stretching the possibilities of the medium, taking traditional techniques and infusing them with contemporary artistic conceptions. The modern tradition of Vietnamese lacquer painting dates from this time.

Lacquer painting is a laborious process; it may take months or even years to complete a work. The term “painting” is, frankly, something of a misnomer; the medium is as sculptural as it is painterly. The technique of building a painting through layers, and of manually manipulating the surface, is as much a part of the process as the use of natural resin.

The foundation for a lacquer painting is a plywood board that has been covered by up to ten layers of lacquer. The artist may cut into this foundation to inlay crushed egg shells, gold leaf and other materials, or inlay materials directly onto the adhesive surface. Powdered pigments are lain directly onto the wet lacquer; color is built up in layers. Between layers, the artist continually scrapes, sands, polishes, and buffs the surface, to ensure an even finish. Since lacquer does not technically “dry” but rather hardens through the activation of an enzyme, the artist must be aware of ambient temperature and humidity; in less than optimal conditions one may have to wait days before applying new layers.

The result of all this layering, however, is that natural lacquer has translucent, muitidimensional qualities that could almost be described as holographic. Light plays on and under the surface of the painting. In much the same way that light fractures in water, the eyes perceive light and movement at multiple depths. One wonders what Monet, with his waterlillies, may have made of this stuff; it seems perfect for capturing the motile play of light and color that was so much a part of his oeuvre.

To some degree, lacquer may be suffering due to its recent popularity. According to Saeko, 100% of the lacquerware sold in tourist areas – and many of the paintings – is made from artificial, and not natural lacquer. This is because artificial lacquer, made from industrial polymer resins, does not require the same careful layering as natural lacquer; it can be produced quickly and inexpensively. While artificial lacquer lacks the depth of natural lacquer, it is also more brittle, tending to crack as the painting ages. Natural lacquer, on the other hand, ages like wine; colors deepen, become brighter and more true over time.

In other words, a lacquer painting, like the tradition it comes from, is fully and vibrantly alive.

Ando Saeko (
Uzu Gallery (

Posted by Hal Medrano

Source: (interested Blog about Vietnam)


What’s “Lacquer Painting”?

“Lacquer Painting” came from the traditional Vietnamese technique of lacquerware

 Ando Saeko’s artical about Lacquer Painting

 Lacquer Painting_ Seako Ando    Nowadays very few artists follow the traditional Vietnamese technique of lacquer painting: son mai (lit.’Lacquer Sanding’). Indeed, the world of lacquer is in transition as many artists now opt to use artificial lacquer.

rtificial lacquer requires only minimal sanding, a process which is integral to son mai. In the process of son mai, the lacquer is applied inlayers of different colour and varying thickness. Through sanding it is possible to bring underlying layers back to the surface. The artist must thus control the thickness of lacquer in order to create the desired colour and texture .

After the painting and sanding is complete begins the lengthy process of polishing. The surface is polished firstly with human hair and then with the fingers or palm of the hand, using a low abrasive powdered charcoal.

atural lacquer is a living material and hardens through a chemical reaction with humidity. A natural lacquer artist’s work is restricted by climate as only humid conditions with certain temperature enable rapid hardening of the substance. During the dry season an artist may have to wait a few days for this process. However, if the lacquer is caught by the dryness then hardening could become impossible. Only by understanding humidity and the condition of the lacquer can the artist gauge the outcome. Timing is crucial to the whole process:Colour may initially be concentrated at the surface. But will become brighter, purer and more true with time – one of the joys of natural lacquer. This is in contrast to artificial lacquer which produces instantly bright colours but lacks depth.
The foundation for lacquer painting, the board(voc), is constructed from wood with several coats of lacquer to provide strength and ensure a flat base. (How to make a Lacquer Painting board )  The lacquer(son), the sap of sumac, is initially milk in complexion. This raw lacquer is mixed with the sap of a pine tree and stirred for about three days using wooden tool or an iron rod, forming brown(natural) or black colour respectively-the only two natural colours. The addition of pigment can produce a full spectrum of colour.Besides pigment, the lacquer artist may also use egg and river shells, gold and silver leaf, all of which can be applied as larger pieces or in a powdered form.Source: Saeko Ando Website

How to make a Lacquer Painting board


How to make a VOC (Lacquer Painting board)

VOC ( Lacquer Painting board ) is carefully prepared as described below to acquire a smooth surface so that any indents of the board would not affect the subsequent painting. In addition, it also protects the board from warping and getting moldy from humidity.
This process is very similar to paving a road where construction commences with coarse layers and finishes with a fine surface layer.

  • The process illustrated below is typical although this varies from village to village, craftsman to craftsman and, depending on the quality of the wood being used, some steps may be omitted or repeated.

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Raw Vietnamese URUSHI
Raw lacquer
making a VOC 01

making a lacquer painting board

  • Fill in any indents in the board with a mixture of raw lacquer and sawdust using a spatula.
making a VOC 02

making a lacquer painting board 02

  • Adhere cotton cloth to the face of the board using raw lacquer.
making a VOC 03

making a lacquer painting board 03

  • Before the lacquer dries cover with a large amount of sawdust which is worked into the surface to fill the uneven texture of the cloth.
making a VOC 04

making a lacquer painting board 04

  • Use sand stone to smoothen the surface.
  • Mix raw lacquer with sawdust and fine silt.

    Mix raw Lacquer with sawdust and fine silt.

making a VOC 05

making a lacquer painting board 05

  • Apply a mixture of raw lacquer, sawdust, and  fine silt using a wide spatula.
making a VOC 06

making a lacquer painting board 06

  • Sand again.
  • Mix raw lacquer with fine silt

making a lacquer painting board 07

making a lacquer painting board 07

  • Mix raw lacquer with fine silt and apply using a wide spatula.
  • making VOC 08

    making A lacquer painting board 08

  • Sand again. ( Repeat steps 8 and 9 until surface is sufficiently smooth.)
making a VOC 09

making a lacquer painting board 09

  •  Apply pure raw lacquer using a wide brush.
making a VOC 10

making a lacquer painting board 10

  • Wait until the raw lacquer is dry, and use the same mixture as that under step 8 to fill any indents caused by the brush.
making a VOC 11

making a lacquer painting board 11

  •  Sand again.
Processed Lacquer

Processed Lacquer

making a VOC 12

making a lacquer painting board 12

  • Apply processed lacquer using wide brush.
making a VOC 13

making a lacquer painting board 13

  • Sand until the surface is smooth using finer sand stone.
Source: Saeko Ando Website
about What’s “Lacquer Painting”?

Artist: Nobuyuki Tanaka

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Nobuyuki Tanaka, a contemporary sculptor who works in lacquer. He is from Tokyo and currently teaches at Kanazawa University of Art.

Images Source: Copyright (c) 2003 – Nizayama Forest Art Museum All right reserved.

Text Source: Lacquer Tour in Kanazawa by Caroline.

Kanazawa Creative Tourism Project organises tours of Kanazawa that allow us experience the city’s creative side and visit places usually inaccessible to tourists.

This tour  is focusing on urushi (漆), or lacquer. Ishikawa-ken is well know for its lacquer-ware.

Images of Characterization of Asian and European Lacquers Project

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read context in Characterization of Asian and European Lacquers

Compilation and Evaluation of Test Data on European Imitations of Asian Lacquer: The Getty Museum 6

read more in the original source

Study of Objects from the Getty Museum and other Institutions: The Getty Museum 5

read more in the original source