ON THE CANVAS Photo-Realistic Charcoal PortraitsON THE GLOBEChiang Mai, ThailandON THE TEAMDitcha Pong Donkeaw, Illustrator & Painter
We spent four days in Chiang Mai, a small-ish city in northern Thailand.
Hannah describes it as “friendly, compact, has everything you’d need, enough to do that you’d discover places regularly, but not so much to do that it’s overwhelming or touristy, impossible to get lost, the community vibe that I didn’t feel in Bangkok.”
We both agreed to live there at some point. We loved getting around the city by bike, the relaxed atmosphere, the fast wifi, and the hidden quiet gems with greenery and space to breathe dispersed between the chaotic Thai streets that line each city we’ve been to so far.
One of the highlights by far was interviewing illustrator Ditcha Pong Donkeaw in a quiet spot underground Chiang Mai’s night bazaar. He creates illustrations so realistic, you have to look twice (or three times) to make sure that they’re not photographs.
Though I’m a certified artist (got a piece of paper from the University of California saying as much, so it must be true), I’ve never been able to draw realistically. Eventually I let go of the notion that artists “should” be able to draw that way and my jealousy that I could not, and focused on my strengths instead..
Ditcha, or Dui for short, really warmed our hearts. Initially shy to be on camera and quite modest about his unbelievable skill, he warmed up quickly and opened up to us about how he honed his talent and what his family thinks of his life as an artist.
What’s your name?
Ditcha Pong, but my nickname from University is Dui.
How long have you worked at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai?
You look really young. Can we ask how old you are?
Not so young! I have small wrinkles. Twenty-nine.
How long did you study art for?
I studied at university for four years. I worked here ever since.
Were you naturally talented with drawing, even before studying?
Yes, as a child I was very good. My dad guided my hand when I was young. He helped me learn.
Did you start drawing in this photo-realistic style, or was your style in the beginning something else?
I drew everything.. acrylic, watercolor, charcoal. Sometimes abstract–if the customer likes it that way.
What kind of customers usually buy from you?
Mainly Europeans but also Americans, Canadians, Brits.
Do all the artists here in the market know eachother?
Yes, we are all part of different companies.
So you’re all competing?
Yes.. that’s why everyone is looking at us, wondering what we are filming!
When you create an artwork for a customer, do they sit for you while you draw?
No, that would take too long. I draw from a photograph.
Do you enjoy drawing still after so many years?
In your free time, do you draw other things just for fun?
Yes, I really enjoy drawing animals, flowers, abstracts. Jackson Pollock, Picasso.. yeah!
Do you give drawings to your friends sometimes?
Yes, especially for birthday presents.
Hannah and I are both artists. I can only do abstract, child-like drawings, totally different from your style. I get embarrassed looking back through old sketchbooks, at the bad quality. Do you get embarrassed too looking back to the beginning?
No, I like it better–there’s so much innocence in it.
Where did you grow up?
A province called Phaie, its 2 hours from Chiang Mai. I moved here for university.
How old were you when you started learning how to draw?
I started studying at 18.
So eleven years now. And you said your mom and dad wanted you to be an artist?
Yes, my dad.. but not my mom. She wanted me to study electronics.
Did your dad push you to be an artist or did he support you in your decision?
He supported me in my decision.
Do you prefer black and white or color when drawing and painting?
I like black-and-white better, its more classic and its easier.
What’s the strangest picture anyone’s ever commissioned you to draw?
Six months ago, a customer had me draw their head in the body of a mermaid.
How long did the drawing we’re looking at take you?
Two days. That’s the average amount of time they usually take.
How much did it cost?
About three-thousand baht. ($100)
Do you like drawing people or animals better?
The bigger drawings for sale in your gallery were made from photographs too? They’re real people?
What do you usually draw with?
Charcoals, chalks, pastels, pencils, lots of different brushes. No water, its all dry. Sometimes I wear a mask because the materials can be dangerous.
Where else do you exhibit your work?
Sometimes I enter contests and show in galleries.
Who are your favorite artists?
T. Tawan Dutcha Nee (very famous Thai artist), Michelangelo, and Da Vinci.
Special thanks to Winit Kumrai for translating.
If you’d like to contact the artist or order a custom illustration, email Ditcha at email@example.com or call +66892612669. You can also visit his studio in Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar.
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