Wongchayuth “Yaa” Sukhowattanakij, 60, is keeping Thailand’s tradition of hand-drawn movie poster art alive. While most cinemas switched to printed posters decades ago, Yaa continues to produce watercolor artworks, though he now has a very different clientele. In this interview, he recalls the ups and downs of his five-decade career. 

How did you become a movie poster painter?

It started in secondary school, when I was 15. Back then there were no printed posters, only hand-drawn. I replicated them with colored pencils. My teachers were unhappy with me, but then I won our school a trophy in a drawing competition. After that I became more serious, studying other poster artists at work in the stand-alone cinema Trang Rama. One day, I was offered an opportunity to learn the craft from Go-Tek, a movie poster maestro. He later passed me on to another master artist, Thongdee, in Bangkok. After finishing my studies with Thongdee, I returned to Trang to become a real movie poster painter.

How long have you been doing this job?

Around 45 years.

Why do you still keep doing it? 

Because I care. I see the aesthetic value of what I’m doing. And it’s not only me, there are others out there who also care and don’t want hand-drawn posters to disappear. Nowadays, these posters are rare. I’m the last one in Thailand doing this work. I won’t give up. I’ll continue painting to keep the art alive.

Who are your customers?

Nowadays, my customers are those who regard these hand-drawn posters as a form of art. Cinemas no longer use hand-drawn posters because the printed ones are easier and cheaper to produce. 

Do you have a favorite piece?

Yes. It’s a work by maestro Thongdee for Thai film Great Friday (1975). 

What makes it stand out from the rest?

It’s such a complicated piece. Thongdee has a very unique and fine brushstroke, especially in the characters’ hair, and that makes his work difficult to replicate. Every detail is vibrant and beautiful.

You also design some of the posters? 

Yes. I don’t do that except at a customer’s request. Most of the requests are for James Bond posters. I love designing them because I love the films. 

Is it harder than replicating the actual posters?

It’s different, but it’s not rocket science. I have to understand the story, the characters, the iconic setting. Once I get it, I can do it. Clients always come with ideas, and knowing what they want is helpful for me.

What is the difference between printed and hand-drawn posters?

It’s about the feeling. Printed ones are made by machines and hand-drawn ones by humans. What disappears from the printed ones is the uniqueness of each poster. They look real, but are all the same. Each of the hand-drawn ones, however, bear the painter’s own style and signature. When produced by different painters, the hand-drawn posters show more diversity in their art and design.