Combining her childhood passion of painting with new inspiration from seemingly mundane pebble stones, Nguyen Ly Na from the central, coastal province Quang Nam of Vietnam creates stunning stone-studded artworks to tell the stories that touch her heart.
From early on in her childhood years, Ly Na had always shown an affinity to art. Naturally, her career path later in life seemed inclined to artistic pursuits.
After graduating from Quang Nam University with a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, Ly Na was invited to teach at the school’s preschool faculty. Later, she switched to teaching traditional dance for kids at Tam Ky City’s Youth Center in Quang Nam.
Despite all of her other endeavors, Na’s specialty was always painting. She spent all her free time painting on different materials, including paper, fabrics, walls and books.
Na’s journey with the stones started in 2019 after she brought home some interesting-looking rocks after she wandered by a stream.
“Each stone has a unique shape, which is interesting to me. I came up with the idea of making paintings with these stones. I thought of regular paintings on paper or wood and the way colored stones can be incorporated to tell an elaborate story,” Na said.
Endowing the stones with soul
Na started to experiment with the new material, which she found in abundance during her walks.
She picks and sorts the stones based on their sizes, then uses them as a medium to draw and tell stories. Under the handling of Na, the stones are brought to life.
Na lays stones onto paintings to create variation in materials: She recognizes the shape of each stone and finds the right combination to illustrate real-life caricatures such as trees and flowers.
Other everyday materials, including buttons and bottle caps, are also utilized to create exquisite art pieces.
The creative process is not as easy as it sounds.
First, all collected stones have to be diligently cleaned and dried. Next, an outline needs to be created on a blank canvas, which could be made of paper, wood or fabric.
It was on this layout that stones are affixed using glue.
The final steps include the decoration of other materials as well as using acrylic paints, but Na believes that the stones should be exhibited as the fundamental material in these paintings.
Na said she started out with these paintings merely as a hobby: The first pieces were made to be hung in her dorm room, presented as gifts for friends, or used for Facebook updates.
It was through these unplanned channels that people became interested in Na’s art and started placing orders.
“[I] can live with my passion while still making money, so I’m truly grateful,” Na talked about her blooming side hustle.
She has sold dozens of DIY stone-studded paintings so far.
“Each painting is priced differently based on the time and labor required. But most of the time I price them around VND250,000 [$10.80],” Na disclosed.
|A stone-studded artwork by Nguyen Ly Na is seen in this supplied photo.|
Each painting is one of a kind
According to Na, each piece of stone has a discrete shape, which means none of the stone paintings resemble any other.
Her works can be described as narratives on humanity: from nature and daily activities to mentor-mentee bonds and romantic love.
After one year working with the art form, Na has listened to stories from all walks of the human life spectrum from her clients.
She tries to transcribe the sentiments through colors, lines and layout to create unique paintings with encoded stories that only the artist and her client understand.
Out of the heaps of stories, there stands out a few that make a lasting impression with Na.
Once, there was a guy who reached out to her and ordered a pebble stone painting for his lover, who was later revealed to be another guy.
Though being caught off guard, the sincere affection that the client conveyed for his love moved Na and sparked her interest to portray the story on canvas.
Another time, a group of students ordered a painting as a gift for their teacher on Teacher's Day. Na decided to use pebbles to illustrate a flock of birds, where an elder bird is teaching the youngsters to sing.
The painting was completed with rose twigs from a coffee shop where Na sat to create the artwork.
She sees stone painting not only as a passion but also a journey into the realm of the inner self and vulnerability of others.
“In order to create satisfying art, one must listen to the stories of others, distill oneself to others’ sentiments to come up with original ideas to portray the stories,” Na said of her approach.
Outside of her job at Tam Ky City’s Youth Center, Na devotes all her spare time to stone painting.
She is envisaging a small project which involves young stone art enthusiasts, where the art form can be practiced and showcased in a dedicated studio, where passion and livelihood can find an intersection.