|Quite the collection: Since 2000, Ánh has made thousands of butterfly paintings and has sold them to local and international tourists. VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
by Hoàng Nguyên
“Butterflies have very short life spans. I wanted to find a way to keep their colours forever,” said artist Vũ Thị Nguyệt Ánh, who owns a painting workshop in Bảo Lộc City in Lâm Đồng Province.
Ánh has been making butterfly paintings since 2000 and has sold thousands of her works at her small exhibition space, where local and foreign tourists often stop on their way to Đà Lạt, a popular tourist destination.
“It all started with my love for butterflies as a little girl,” she said.
Born and raised in B’Lao, the former name of Bảo Lộc, which is well-known for mulberry growing and silkworm breeding, Ánh has been intimately familiar with butterflies her entire life.
She became interested in butterfly collection in the school’s lab, and during summer, she earned pocket money by making embroidery paintings.
“At first, I added butterfly wings to the paintings just for fun, but then a customer saw it and wanted to buy it. So I thought this was good as I loved doing it, and I could make money," Ánh said.
|Traditional: Many of Ánh’s butterfly paintings are inspired by familiar Vietnamese images. VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
After graduation, she decided to start her own butterfly painting business, which, she admitted, had little connection with her degree in animal husbandry.
Her mother’s house became her workshop and her family members became her employees.
“Fortunately, everyone in my family knows how to weave paintings,” she said.
Ánh’s paintings are made of only Bảo Lộc butterflies. She has used dozens of butterfly species.
In the beginning, she used entire butterflies in her paintings and learned how to prevent their colours from fading.
Later, she began to use butterfly wings to make typical Vietnamese images of ancient towns, buffalos, bamboos, storks, boats and the sea.
Her butterfly works have been popular with foreigners and locals, who have also placed orders for portraits and images of architectural works.
“To make a butterfly painting, sometimes it takes only a few hours, sometimes months, depending on the size and the complexity of the picture in terms of structure and details,” she said.
Sometimes, structure is not the problem. As all the colours in her paintings are the natural colours of butterflies, she has to keep many butterflies at home.
“I usually choose the colours for the picture first. But sometimes, when I like a specific colour a lot and run out when the picture is not yet complete, I have to wait until I collect enough butterflies to continue,” Ánh said.
|Living art: Ánh breeds butterflies in her front yard to increase her supply of materials. VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
|Landmark: An image of the Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM City made from butterfly wings. VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
|Special skills: Artisan Vũ Thị Nguyệt Ánh, owner of Ánh Kim butterfly painting workshop. VNS Photo Hoàng Nguyên
Apart from buying butterflies from locals, she also breeds butterflies in her front yard to enrich her source of materials.
“It’s very easy to breed butterflies. I just need water, and they can grow by themselves,” she said.
After so many years of experience, she has become a butterfly expert and can identify where a butterfly comes from by looking at its colour.
“Butterflies have many different colours. Even on the two sides of their wings, the colours are different,” she said.
“The lower part of their wings can be more colourful than the upper part. So they fly up high to show off their beauty, just like people love to show their best features.”
Encouraged by her family and friends, Ánh has shown her paintings at exhibitions and fairs in the province and has won several awards, including the Việt Nam’s Quintessence award in 2005.
The Lâm Đồng Province People’s Committee in the same year gave her the official title of artisan in recognition for her creative work.
In 2010, Ánh Kim butterfly paintings were recognised as one of the province’s key arts and crafts.
Her paintings can also be bought in Hà Nội and HCM City, with prices ranging from a few hundred đồng to dozens of million đồng. VNS