Art of Drive: Viet Nguyen Motorcycle Sketches

Interview: Geoff Baldwin.

Our Art of Drive series interviews artists, designers and photographers to find out what inspires them.

I used to think that Instagram was just a place to see photos of food, but it’s quickly become a great resource of moto tidbits and inspiration. A few months ago Luke sent me the Instagram profile of Viet Nguyen Art and I’ve been following Viet ever since. A toy designer by trade, Viet’s personal artwork of sultry female riders is always a welcome addition to my following feed. So when it came to planning out some features for issue 5, an interview with Viet was one of the first things to make the list.

Hi Viet, Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? 

Just another artist/designer living and working in LA. I like to spend my free time staying active, mountain biking and enjoying the outdoors. I’m really into the gasoline culture, I guess it’s all a part of growing up in Southern California.

I saw that you're a toy designer. How did you get into the toy industry?  

I went to Otis College of Art and Design and they have a Toy Design program, it’s basically Product Design. Growing up poor, my brother and I used a lot of imagination and creativity to make a lot of the things we played with, so it just felt like something I would be good at. I went through the program and interned at Mattel (Barbie, Hot Wheels), which happened to be located just a few miles from campus, and when I graduated from the program, they hired me. I ended up working there for eight years and then just recently left to work for a smaller toy company, Spin Master, out of their LA office in Culver City. I like the smaller company, as a designer you have a bit more freedom to be creative. I enjoy the work, it’s a fun industry and since a lot of toys are entertainment based, the things you work on change quite often.

When you design a toy do your sketches usually translate directly to a finished product?

There are many different processes, and every project has different requirements, but for the most part, I put together a design definition sheet that includes everything from verbal description of features to turn-around drawings with dimensions. Much of the modelling is done in Hong Kong and China these days and the more detailed you are with the description, the better the models will come back as what you had in mind. It always takes multiple rounds of back and forth with engineers here and overseas to get the final tooling model ready. Then there are other things like specifying colour chips for paint, etc. It’s actually pretty involving and this is where the Pin Up art becomes a nice break from it all.

Are there any toys out there you've designed that we might know?

I am currently working on Dreamworks’ How to Train your Dragon 2 toys. When I was at Mattel I worked on a lot of DC comics properties like Batman and Superman action figures.

So I assume your Pin Up art has no relation to the toy designing?

My Pin Up art started as a way for me to get away from daily nine to five work.  Drawing girls is completely different from action figures and monsters and the boys stuff that I have to do all day long, so it’s a nice change just to clear the mind and get refreshed again. I also find it really challenging to draw or paint females, so it keeps the skills sharp. When you draw male figures or creatures and make a mistake it kind of just adds character and people judge you more on the technical aspect of it, but make a mistake on a female face or figure and everyone will see it, I think everyone just has a natural eye for beauty and can just tell when something is off, even if we don’t know what it is. The other challenge I love with drawing the girls is how to make them sexy without overly sexualizing them. I like my girls to look like they’re tough, I like to show that these are girls who ride the bikes, not just pose on them. I think a lot of people who follow me on Instagram like my art for this reason, at least that’s what I tell myself.

You mentioned that you don't want to over sexualise women in your art. Is this something you think happens too often?

I don’t know if it’s something that is happening too often, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of that kind of Pin Up art that I like, but there has to be some cleverness or style behind it, otherwise it feels just like an easy cop out.  What I was trying to say was, it’s more like the difference between how a female artist would draw sexy vs. how a male artist would. I’d like to think that my art would fit somewhere in between, I guess it’s partly also a reflection of the type of girls I find attractive.


Do you think there's any chance one of your female riders could become immortalised as a toy or a vinyl figure one day?

It’s actually awesome that you asked this, I’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a series of biker girls and their motorcycles, just trying to find the right style for it, I am in the industry, so I am familiar with the manufacturing and production side, it is a very real possibility, maybe I could even use Kickstarter or something like that to fund it.

Motorcycles and riding gear appear in a lot of your work. Are you a rider yourself?

Yes, I am a rider. I started later than most, around the age of 28, but like anyone really, I have always loved motorcycles just really didn’t get a chance to ride one, but when I finally did, I was bit by the moto bug hard. It is so much of who I am as a person now.  In the past few years the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done have all been through my motorcycle. I have a 2006 Triumph Bonneville by the way, not great at any one thing, but the bike is perfect for everything if you know what I mean, it’s just a fun bike.

Where can our readers see/buy more of your stuff?

This is actually the part I need to get together, when I started my IG account, it was just to throw up my personal art and it was just a way to keep me drawing and painting, I never knew it would get the response it has from the motorcycle community. I don’t have a website or anything yet, but working on it. I’ve sold a few prints and original paintings just through people emailing me. I am trying to set it up so that I have a few different prints available to sell and in the mean time I will just be working on original paintings.

This article first appeared in Tank Moto issue 05.
See more of Viet's work: @vietnguyenart