Painter Do Lenh Tuan is popular because he has not only designed many famous stamps but also brought “new life” to old stamps by sticking them to form pictures of landscapes and portraits of famous people, many of which feature Uncle Ho.

Tuan is always busy in a small room in his house, deep inside Quynh Lane in Hai Ba Trung District of Hanoi.
He loses himself among bottles of glue, brushes and boxes containing cuts of paper, which may be considered rubbish at first glance.
But looking at the boxes a second time, people may realise that they contain used stamps, an important material to form Tuan’s unique pictures.

Painter Do Lenh Tuan works on a picture of Uncle Ho made with old stamps. 

Every day, he spends many hours carefully cutting small stamps. Some he cuts into pieces as small as finger nails, some as small as a peanut, some he needs only the same size as a bean or even a grain of rice. Then he puts glue on one side of the stamps with great care and carefully sticks them to the picture.
From time to time, he turns the whole box upside down to search for a suitable stamp, cutting a tiny piece from it to stick to the picture.
“Such a tiny piece is important as its colour is suitable to this part of the picture,” he said.
Through his skilled hands, the picture featuring Uncle Ho marching with soldiers is gradually formed.
In the picture, the image of President Ho appears in green khaki clothes, grey hair, with a high forehead, bright eyes following the soldiers’ marching steps to the front.
Only when seeing Tuan working with the stamps, one can feel the enthusiasm he puts in each picture.
Tuan said after graduating from the College of Industrial Fine Arts in 1985, he spent several years working different jobs before being recruited to work in the Stamp Company as a painter.
In the past 30 years, he has drawn thousands of stamps of landscape, animals and famous people.
In 1995, when the trend of making pictures from stamps spread, he was assigned to make pictures from expired stamps.
“It’s a challenging task with different stages,” he said. “Firstly, one should select the picture model to work on, then select stamps of suitable colours.”
The painter started to select stamps for the background, and stamps for different parts in the picture.
Tuan said selecting the right stamps with the right colours is very important as it decides “the soul” of the picture.
He makes 60-70 pictures from stamps a year. Some pictures take him 2-3 days while others take up to a month.
“The bigger picture it is, the longer time required to make it,” he said.
He received orders from companies to make pictures from stamps as souvenirs.
Beloved Uncle Ho
Mentioning pictures of Uncle Ho, Tuan has made some 500 in total including pictures based on file photos of President Ho in Viet Bac Military Base, Uncle Ho in Border Campaign, President Ho at the Presidential Palace’s Garden, Uncle Ho reading a newspaper, President Ho Chi Minh and President Ton Duc Thang and hundreds of Uncle Ho’s portraits.
Tuan said pictures of Uncle Ho are the most challenging ones.
“He is loved by everyone, so it’s a great pressure to feature his image,” he said. “If I don’t do it carefully, people will find mistakes in the pictures.”
He said he cannot rush as many pictures of Uncle Ho he has to make again and again.
“I should feature his vivid face, gentle eyes, his nose, his beard, high forehead and wrinkles on his forehead,” he said. “The President should look natural, simple and noble as his characteristic. It requires hard work to select the right colours.”

A picture of Uncle Ho working in the garden of the Presidential Palace in Hanoi by painter Tuan. Photo

“In only the shadow and light on his forehead, I had to choose and cut small details from hundreds of stamps,” he said.
Hundreds of pictures featuring Uncle Ho require hundreds of colours and different stages. None of the pictures looks like one another as they are formed from different stamps.
“Whenever I finish a picture of Uncle Ho from stamps, I find inspiration for new meaningful artworks,” he said.
Tuan said he actually spent much time reading materials, watching documentaries and looking at photos of the President. He has even talked to people who had the chance to meet Uncle Ho to understand more about the President.
“The process of trying to understand Uncle Ho has left unforgettable memories inside me and my feelings to the late President have grown naturally,” he said.
This year marks the 130th birthday anniversary of Uncle Ho, so he has received a large number of orders for Uncle Ho’s pictures.
“I feel happy as many people like pictures of Uncle Ho I make from stamps,” Tuan said. “It means the job I have done in the past years has a certain meaning.” VNS
Phuong Lan

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