Saigon's aging sign painter

By Tien Thanh   November 6, 2016 | 12:08 am PT
An old bone setter carries on the tradition of hand-painting signs for Ho Chi Minh City businesses.

The hand-painted signs that once beckoned customers to businesses throughout Ho Chi Minh City have slowly given way to cheap, laser print banners. One old artist keeps the craft alive.

His painting shop is located on An Duong Vuong Street, An Lac Ward, Binh Tan District.

Nguyen The Minh, 67, continues to paint out of a shop on An Duong Vuong Street, in Binh Tan District's An Lac Ward.

Advertisement painting won his heart when he passed a shop on Phan Dinh Phung Street during schooling time.

As a young student, he used to walk past a sign painting shop on Phan Dinh Phung Street and dream of doing the job.

Minh said manual advertisement painting was very popular before 1975 in Saigon but has been almost vanishing due to the competition from modern printing technologies. None of his three sons and grandchildren continues his job.

None of Minh's three sons (or their kids) have any interest in continuing his work. The pay varies and a given job may pay hundreds or tens of U.S. dollars, depending on its size and scope.

The old painter said one of the advantages for his work is supporting materials such as wood and steel sheet, are more easily to be found than before.

These days, Minh says he has an easier time finding discarded wood and sheet metal to paint on.


Patience and goodwill are essential to his work; Minh says he never works when he feels rushed or angry.

Clients can choose from a list of font types for their banners before the painter starts the work.

Minh has mastered a whole host of fonts.

He measures an advertisement banner carefully before painting it.

He measures and plots each sign carefully before picking up his paintbrush.

It takes him from one to two days to finish a banner. I love this job partly because it gives me the feeling of freedom in creativity, Minh said.

It takes Minh one or two days to finish a banner. “I love this job partly because it gives me the feeling of freedom in creativity,” Minh said.

His wife, Nguyen Thi Nhan, 62, often encourages him to continue his job. She sometimes buys painting materials for him.

His wife, Nguyen Thi Nhan, 62, often encourages him in his work by buying him paints and brushes.

He can also treat sprain and dislocation, which helps him cover part of his living cost and enables him to be loyal to the painting job.

Minh moonlights as a bone setter, which helps cover his living costs.

A relaxing moment after work.

Minh, in a quiet moment at the end of the day.

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