Menacing women with sharp nails float disembodied, surrounded by staggered straight lines and prismatic colors. Their porcelain skin and jaundiced eyes are adorned with tassels, jewelry, and accessories. The images vibrate and the line work acts like arrows that make it hard to look away. This is the ‘⾍ Insect’ series by Hanoi illustrator Lucia Pham.
Pham is fond of sinister imagery but she also embraces the super cute and goofy, as well as the educational. There are collections of idols that she’s dreamt up, series dedicated to the tasty treats of her home, and holiday celebrations too. She found her current style only two years ago, but the five years she spent as a graphic designer played a large role in building her aesthetic. The bold, blocky colors, prolific text, and ornamental designs make her work hard to miss.
“Text and pictograms are very important to me,” Pham says. “Adding text with Asian breath like Chinese and Japanese makes my work bolder and more unique.” She delves heavily into Japanese culture beyond kanji and hiragana lettering, featuring charms, ornaments, hair brooches, and folklore in her ‘⾍ Insect‘ project. Yōkai demons were the main inspiration behind it.
Northern Vietnamese art forms like dông hồ woodcut painting and múa rối nước water puppetry, traditional clothing like áo dài dresses, the lunar new year, and local street food are a big inspiration for Pham. But she emphasizes that she’s not trying to promote anything or make a point. “It’s just what I grew up with, it’s a part of me. Like, I’m a foodie so I simply draw what I love to eat,” she laughs.
Pham doesn’t limit herself to Asian inspirations, either. Her ‘Hideous Teatime‘ series is based on the English culture of serving afternoon tea. Western music boxes, candles, egg cups, and toys pulled from old movies fill the scenes.
Basically, whatever catches her eye gets thrown into the mix. One day that might be long, glamorous nails that she pines after. Another day it might be some creepy insects. “I’m afraid of insects but their body shape and textures are really attractive. They’re almost perfectly symmetrical, with everything in balance,” she says. “The composition works great in my illustrations.”
She regularly works for major clients like The New Yorker, Apple, and Facebook but never forgets to draw for herself, despite the heavy workload. “I always try to do one or two personal projects in parallel with projects for clients,” she says. “They allow me to express myself, but the also help me get more clients.”
Pham’s work is ornate and detailed. It’s full of glittering colors, packed with visual information, and always fun. You can get lost in her work, whether you’re hypnotized by the flashing lights and spiraling shapes, or simply trying to pick out all the imagery buried in her work. They’re engaging even if you don’t know what they’re about, and once you do learn her inspirations, they become even more rewarding.