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The former colleague and now inventor

‘I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.’

Ms Ngoc Hanh and I met for the first time at Sun Flower Media company where we both were art directors for different publications. Fast forward and we are both on different paths and still share the same ambition. To see our creations blossom.

Ms Ngoc Hanh founded Mimimi.com.vn and she sells a product to help you clean your helmet without damaging the washing machine.

She wanted to have a quick and effective way to clean helmets and they are now available for sale online.

The English version can be found here: http://mimimi.com.vn/en/

Mimimi_Web

Please take a look if this is of interest. Product pictures were done in our studio and for those of you that follow our blog, please take a look at our new, main portfolio website at www.madsmonsen.com as we finally updated our site. For our lacquerware and custom lacquer orders, please visit oanhmadsvn.com

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Souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and what to buy as a memento

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

SGN by SMM – Matrix Colour, coaster set in lacquer.

Traveling to the Far East. The sentence has a magical sound to it. The magic spell can either come apart or be carried on. It all comes down to choices we make. Observing. Reflecting. Participating. When I travel I like to take breaks by the roadside and sit and watch the world go by. The size of that world is in a direct relationship to the size of the town I am visiting. Needless to say, a small road stall in the middle of an unpaved country lane brings a few people passing by within an hour or two. More people pass by your eyes in less than 30 seconds in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

On my travels around Vietnam I made an observation regarding the markets, in particular the souvenirs stalls. They were all selling more or less the same products. It presented a challenge as I have a traveling habit. I like to purchase something that I believe to be unique to the place I am visiting, or something that represents that place. I collect mementos. I also capture what I see with my camera. I behave as an average tourist.

Then I had an idea. That was one and a half year ago. I set out to produce my own souvenirs, my own mementos, to share with fellow travellers that wish for something different. Last month that idea became a real product available to purchase at selected stores in Ho Chi Minh City. The product is photographic lacquerware. Vietnam is famous for its lacquerware and I combine the traditional Vietnamese craftsmanship of lacquer making with photography. A modern souvenir gift wrapped in the old traditions of lacquerware. Handmade in Vietnam.

I truly recommend you to take a look at it at a nearby store. The product images do not do them justice as the colours are richer than they appear on the images. Each item has a base layer of silver foil and we print the image on top of the silver base. Then the lacquer coatings are applied by hand. The whole process takes up to six weeks from start to finished product.

Currently, we have a dining set range and a small coaster set range available for purchase. Images of the products are available online at our webstore or you can see the products on display at our selected retail partners in Ho Chi Minh City. For international shipping we can handle that through the webstore. For direct purchases, please visit one of the retailers or inquire with us directly if the store is out of stock.

Our products are stocked by Ginkgo Concept Store, 254 De Tham Street, District 1, HCMC and Studio Co, 4 Le Van Mien, Thao Dien, District 2, HCMC. For a full list of authorized retailers, please visit our lacquerware website as it took less than a month after we launched for copycat products to surface in the local market.

Promo_small_set

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SGN by SMM — Our first lacquerware collection by Studio MadsMonsen

SGN by SMM gift set by Studio MadsMonsen.

SGN by SMM gift set by Studio MadsMonsen.

2013 has been a busy year and Studio MadsMonsen can proudly present SGN by SMM, our new product range in lacquerware. Traditional Vietnamese handmade craftsmanship fused with Norwegian photographic vision and obtained British design skills.

This is an unique gift set featuring famous motifs from SGN, Saigon, or Ho CHi Minh City, as the official name is. More designs will be announced shortly as well as wall prints to be introduced in near future.

Currently, our products are available for purchase through our web store at Studio MadsMonsen or through our studio here in Ho Chi Minh City. Selected retail stores will soon be added.

We also produce, upon request, customised items, both for corporate and private clients. Please inquire for further details.

This is a very exciting milestone for us at Studio MadsMonsen and your support is much appreciated.

Gift box by Studio MadsMonsen – SGN by SMM

Lacquerware coasters by Studio MadsMonsen –SGN by SMM

 

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The Circle of Life, Art Direction revisited

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, HCMC edition, February 2013 issue, cover photography and design by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Word Magazine, Hanoi edition, art direction by Mads Monsen

Just off the presses, Word magazine’s HCMC and Hanoi edition for February 2013 are now available. It took the team a lot of work to make it happen, but we did. Regular readers may notice the design changes that we rolled out for the February editions. Yes, I am involved in magazine design again. For those who know my work as a photographer, it may come as a surprise that I also do editorial design. The ones who knew me from my period as art director at Sun Flower Media (SFM) were equally surprised that I also do photography. To me, design and photography is my Yin and Yang.

After I left SFM in 2008 and set up Studio MadsMonsen (SMM), I was involved with the editorial design of Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam Magazine in 2011. Editorial design samples can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549798800/

Now, in 2013, I am involved with the editorial design of Word Magazine, both HCMC and Hanoi edition. Editorial design samples can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thuvamads/sets/72157632549911976/
Also added below a few selected samples for the first blog post of the year, and with that, I do hope to be blogging at my weekly rhythm once again. Happy New Year! Chuc Mung Nam Moi! Godt Nyttår!

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

Editorial spread. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

12_fashion_01

Fashion spread 1 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

12_fashion_02

Fashion spread 2 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

12_fashion_03

Fashion spread 3 of 3. Photography and design by Mads Monsen.

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The ice cream store and why a combo is better than a single strike

Advertising for Nia Bella ice cream store. Photography & design by Studio MadsMonsen.

A combo is better than a single strike. I realised that when playing karate kid arcade games. The combo move was always better than the single kick or punch. Advertising agencies often have an art director/copy writer team. A killer combo of visuals and words. They realise that the team can be more creative than an individual.

Starting out as an apprentice, I realised the perception amongst my peers was to get a “proper” photography degree if you wanted to succeed as a commercial photographer. An apprenticeship was ranked lower. When I started on a photography degree course, I realised that I would spend my time and money on something I already knew very well. I still remember my evaluation meeting with the head of photography department where I raised my concerns and realised that the only thing they had taught me was a split toning technique for black and white printing. I realised that I was in the wrong place.

I asked my graphic design tutor, as we had a weekly two hour graphic design class as part of the course, which school she would recommend for me to apply to, as graphic design was something new and it had caught my interest. I received a list of names, some I heard of, some I hadn’t. Then I asked about a school that I had a friend of mine attending. She looked at me and then told me flatly to forget about that one, I would never get accepted there, it was out of my league.

I could have listened to her, but then I would not be where I am today. I realised that nothing is impossible if you really want to achieve it. I managed to arrange a meeting with the other school. I was given a chance. I got accepted. I still remember the expression of her face when I told her that I got accepted at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design. Gobsmacked is an understatement.

Graphic design and photography. That is a good combination. I am grateful that I ended up with what Isaiah Brookshire calls a +1 skills combo.

Those skills are handy when your business partner propose that you invest and start up an ice cream brand.

Naming a business is similar to naming a child. Being a parent I already know how time consuming that process can be. On the other hand, a very tight deadline puts the brain in creative hyper drive and delivers faster than mother nature. Thus, Nia Bella was born. Prematurely? Maybe, born nonetheless and screaming for a logo. Time for a coffee break. Armed with a Artline pen and a drawing pad, various options were tested and discarded until one was deemed worthy of exploring.

Concept drawing. Giving a gift and cartoon cuteness galore.

Concept drawing. Deciding on shape, working on element options.

Concept drawing. Final route to explore further.

Only when I had a direction worth exploring, it was time to put to use an iPad application that another graphic designer introduced me to, Paper.  I realised that it eased up the colour exploration and design process tremendously. Once the overall look and feel of the logo had been achieved I could email myself the result.

Paper in action.

Only then it was time to start Illustrator and do a refined vector version as seen implemented on the business card image.

Nia Bella business card.

Now it’s time to enjoy a scoop of ice cream, that I just realised. As our slogan says: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”

 

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Duyên Dáng Việt Nam – Charming Vietnam, the new magazine

It started with a phone call. Most of the time it just does that. A ring. Some vibrations. Then a “hello”, as a command line interpreter, spelling out “Hello World”

It was an old colleague of mine. In need of some help. Design help. They had a new project, a magazine, and they wanted a different direction and thought of me.

I was humbled and flattered, it would be my third magazine to art direct and my first since I started my own studio. In the three years since I left my art director position to focus on photography, the studio has moved on from providing initially editorial services to a full service production house for advertising campaigns.

Want us to photograph only, yes, we still can do that. Want us to provide talent/wardrobe/props et al, yes, we can also do that. High end retouch services, yes, that too. Need a video, yes, we have a collaboration team to help us out on that, just like we did here for Mindshare Vietnam

Life seems to go in circles. I started out as an art history student, getting lured into the student newspaper as a photographer. Securing an apprenticeship with a commercial photography studio before setting up my own studio collective. Moving to London and studied graphic design at St.Martin’s. Working both as a designer and a photographer before moving to Vietnam. Art directing magazines and running an in-house photo studio for almost six years. Setting up my own studio again and now back into editorial design, expanding again, we just hired an in-house designer and are designing “Charming Vietnam” on a monthly basis.

Like Yin and Yang, my career is interlinked with design and photography. For the first issue I was commissioned to do the fashion article. I became my own art director. One of the things in life that you will only realize the hard way, is that besides from trying to make darkroom prints at night when you are exhausted after a full day work is 99% a waste of time, is that multi tasking is overrated. Focus matters.

So on the day of the fashion shoot we arrived at the showroom of the designer. That was our venue. I had been given “The Quiet American”, 1950’s as reference. That translates into vintage feel.

The showroom on ground floor was long and narrow. Not many angles to work and fortunately not the place where we were going to shoot. We headed up the stairs. More space and more people. On a set it can easily build up to be quite a crowd, however, this was clearly the wrong kind. Construction workers. Cutting metal bars and welding the bits together made any rave party look and sound like a quiet church teatime session.

I had two areas with daylight access and approaching rain clouds on the horizon. About an hour, an hour and a half tops, to cover eight outfits. Initially ten, however, we only had six pages at disposal, so eight leaves enough room. As a layout designer, the more options, the better. As a photographer, limited time plus limited suitable working angles to make a coherent look and feel equals less outfits to shoot.

Sometimes it is good to be your own boss.

We managed to finish off the session as the rain started hitting the building and swallowing the ambient light and it was time to wrap it up as a photographer and start making selections as an art director.

Once I had narrowed down to 2-3 images per outfit, I could start working on the page design. It is a puzzle without a visual reference to follow. The bits are put in place and moved around until they feel right. Sometimes it is easy, other times it takes a lot of time. I finished the first option, not completely happy and having learned my lessons the hard way in the darkroom, I left it at that. At the point of creative fatigue.

Continued the next day. Reworked the flow and order again and again until I this time, felt confident that this was how it was going to be presented. Left it again for the next day. Still the same feeling. Did not change it more.

Here is the session; six pages spread.

Spread 1 of the fashion story

Spread 2 of the fashion story

Spread 3 of the fashion story

 

Here is the poster for the cover, taken from the fashion session.

Charming Vietnam cover poster

Here are sample spreads of the layout.

Inside spread 1

Spread 2

 

The best part, our client is happy and took us out on celebration lunch today, yay!

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