Artist takes model approach to history

August 01, 2021 - 09:37

Self-taught graphic designer Michael Angel is passionate about Việt Nam’s history and wants to spread his love to everybody.

By Bảo Hoa

While it is always good for the younger generation to know about their country’s past, getting them hooked on history is invariably a challenge.

History classes are rarely what students look forward to, and visiting museums to see historical artefacts hardly gets their blood running either.

As an antidote to this, a self-taught artist in Thái Bình Province is sharing Việt Nam’s history in a way that appeals to everybody, including teenagers and young adults.

Going by the pseudonym Michael Angle, the Vietnamese graphic designer makes ball-jointed dolls and toy figures that resemble historical characters from different periods of history.

Inspiration for the project came as he was doing restoration work on an ancient figure.

“The idea came to me when I was restoring some paintings and statues of General Phạm Tu, which are now being showcased at a local family’s ancestor worship house in the south,” Angle told society and culture website Urbanist Hanoi.

“The historical materials and stories I read inspired me to start a project named SSEN DOLL, and I think of it as the start of a passionate journey to bring historical, mythical characters to history lovers through figures, cards and souvenirs such as T-shirts and phone cases.”

WONDER WOMAN: Michael Angle's illustration of Bà Triệu, a Vietnamese warrior who led a resistance against the rule of the Chinese Eastern Wu Dynasty in 248 AD. Photo courtesy of the artist

The artist took to social media to showcase his work, and has a Facebook page where he posts his sketches and designs for the dolls and toy figures.

Ball-jointed dolls have spherical joints that allow them to be more flexible than other types of dolls, according to Angle.

“These dolls are modelled on the human bone structure, and they have joints that can be moved to create different postures: sitting, standing, bending their arms or legs, dancing, even doing some yoga poses,” he said.

“The majority of the dolls are made in the three Asian countries of Japan, South Korea and China. Now they have started to be produced in Việt Nam.”

Excruciating detail

His designs showcase familiar historical figures like the heroic warrior Bà Triệu, Emperor Quang Trung, General Lý Thường Kiệt, or mythical folktales like the love story between Trọng Thủy and Mỵ Châu.

The paintings show great attention to detail, as Angle studies each period of history carefully before drawing the characters’ clothing, headwear and weapons.

FACT-BASED: A sketch of warriors under the Trần Dynasty (1225-1440), with details based on historical artefacts.

“Every job has its own challenges, and the biggest challenge of my project is the process of sketching historical figures,” he said.

“To be able to draw this type of figures you have to have a certain understanding of the place, time and cultural characteristics of the period they lived in. You want your reconstructions of them to be as close to the real thing as possible.

“At the moment there are some groups that focus on making the cultural essence of the historical periods widely known, which is useful for my team because we can join them, learn from them, and even ask for feedback.”

His work was born out of a passion to spread his love for Vietnamese history.

“I take inspiration from historical, mythical heroes and traditional cultures because I want to bring my products to people who care about history and are interested in knowing more about it. This is a long journey which I hope, with my humble ability, can convey and spread my passion and love for my origins and my country to others,” he said.

ANECDOTE: A depiction of the tragic love story between Trọng Thủy and Princess Mỵ Châu in 208 AD.

The young artist works with a team but does not see them on a daily basis. Most of his creative process is done manually, especially the sketches, which he puts into a computer for colouring.

“The process starts from making sketches of the characters, creating wax models and moulds, to making their clothes, armour and accessories. All of these stages are done by hand, machines and equipment are only there to provide support as I want the products to be as refined, detailed and aesthetically-pleasing as possible,” Angle said.

His project has been ongoing for more than a year. The dolls and figures are in the making, and Angle hopes he will be able to show the manufacturing process through videos and images in the near future.

“The project is small-scale and there are still a lot of challenges ahead, but I have had some initial achievements including a good, consistent number of followers on the project’s Facebook page,” he said.

“If there is a message I’d like to send to young people about Việt Nam’s history, it is that I hope those who are passionate about history can overcome their own challenges to live with that passion – do something in your power to spread that love despite the many difficulties you may face.”   VNS

Check out these sketches by Michael Angle:

Emperor Quang Trung (1753–1792)


General Lý Thường Kiệt (1019–1105) under the Lý Dynasty


Emperor Trần Nhân Tông (1258–1308)