The psychedelic artist.


Although he may have started down the conventional English teaching route, it didn’t take long for Hanoi-based American artist Travis Risner to carve out a more unique niche for himself.


After three years of teaching English, including a two-year stint in South Korea, Travis, 30, arrived in Hanoi two years ago expecting more of the same. However, he soon turned his attention to art on a full-time basis and became a self-described freelance artist.


“At the moment I’m focussing on events, workshops, graphic design and teaching art,” says Travis, “but my main focus is on inspiring creativity.”




“I have no idea why I chose to be an artist. It doesn’t really feel like I chose it,” says Travis. “It just started happening; my initial idea was to create my own colouring book, and that led me into creating these events and workshops.”


There aren’t many people in Hanoi doing what Travis does. Of course, there are other artists; but Travis is one of the very few creating large event pieces.


Much of Travis’ own art is based on spirituality, often resulting in mind-bending psychedelic designs, a style which no one else in Hanoi is doing.


“I started by doing art for music events, such as psych-trance nights,” explains Travis. “It’s the kind of art which messes with your head; it grabs you, tricks you and sucks you in.”


It’s a common theme throughout much of his work; repeated patterns, psychedelic portals creating 3D optical illusions, and images which swallow each other.


“Generally, I think the art I make is not something people have had much exposure to out here,” he says. “It makes it harder to sell, but it also challenges me to create art in a way that local people can appreciate.”


As a result, some of Travis’ work can be found on traditionally-made Vietnamese paper from Zo Paper, and he also tries to implement more Vietnamese and Asian designs into his work.




When he’s not making his own art, Travis leads art workshops. Art Night for Grown-ups has been running for over a year, is usually held at ClickSpace, and has elicited nothing but positive responses.


Travis encourages people to just be creative for the sake of itself, and to let go of thinking “I’m not good at this.” He believes that once people just start doing it, they will find their fear of creating falls away.


“They don’t come to create a masterpiece; but it’s still art,” explains Travis. “Having a chance to experiment without repercussions is a lesson people can then apply to other areas of their life.”


The events and workshops Travis runs are the main things he wants to expand on; his hope is to connect the creative community in Hanoi as much as possible.


“Hanoi is a great proving ground for creative types,” Travis says. “There are opportunities to experiment, and a lot of freedom to explore new things and just do it.”




Perhaps the best example of the strength of Hanoi’s creative community is the enormous success of the Quest Festival — now the biggest music and arts festival in Vietnam.


“I’ve helped at the last two Quests,” says Travis, “setting up art installations and helping to build one of the stages. I give a lot of advice in multiple areas, as far as the art is concerned.”


This year, Travis is aiming to use more natural materials, such as making bamboo structures on which to display art.


“I also want to make a psychedelic art area,” he says. “I want to create art that people can interact with.”




Finding time to meditate daily, Travis has been on a few meditation retreats.


“I try to apply what I learn from reading about Buddhism, and apply it to my art,” he says.


One of his most recent workshops is called Mindfulness through Creativity, also held at ClickSpace, and occasionally at The Secret Garden. The goal of these workshops is to help people break down their creative barriers, and become aware of their own creative process.


“We start out with a little meditation, to calm and mellow people,” Travis explains. “Then we go through really basic drawing exercises, staying aware of things like our breathing while drawing, for example.”


Through these exercises, Travis helps his attendees to stop judging themselves and work through the fear of expressing their own creativity.


“One of the attendees said it was like a combination of meditation, art and therapy,” recalls Travis. “It’s all about learning how you enjoy being creative, and then just putting energy into it.”


The workshops are silent, aside from a few instructions and essential questions.


“It’s weird, people seem to like drawing for fun when they’re kids,” says Travis, “but when they get older, they stop doing it because they don’t think of themselves as artists.”


For more info on Travis’s workshops, click on

Photo by Teigue John Blokpoel


To read the other articles in this series, click on the following links:


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Edward Dalton

Ted landed in Vietnam in 2013, looking for new ways to emulate his globetrotting, octo-lingual grandfather and all-round hero. After spending a year putting that history Masters to good use by teaching English, his plan to return to his careers adviser in a flood of remorseful tears backfired when he met someone special and tied the knot two years on. Now working as a wordsmith crackerjack (ahem, staff writer) for Word Vietnam.

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