The giants' faces are difficult to paint because we haven't actually seen giants."
A benevolent Buddha beams down at the visitors to the quiet temple in Kampong Chhnang province.
The mural artist painting new icons onto a blank wall of the temple pauses occasionally to choose a fresh palette from several bottles of brightly coloured paint standing on a bench.
Adorning the other walls are paintings of cruel giants’ faces and and other depictions of Buddhist legends.
Norn Saran, a temple painter in Tuol Ksach village in Kampong Chhnang’s Rorlea Paear district, said he learned his trade at the Macha Tep private school in Battambang.
Although he was trained as a billboard painter, he developed his skills painting the interiors of temples.
Norn Saran’s father is a taxi driver and his mother is a housewife, while his younger sister works in a garment factory. Through his work as a painter, Norn Saran earns money to help support himself and his family.
The artist can turn out one to two square metres of mural per day, at a rate of US$10-$12 per square metre.
Because of his family’s poverty, 27-year-old Norn Saran was forced to terminate his education in the sixth grade, before being ordained as a monk at 18.
“To continue my studies, I learned from the preah trey bey dok [the tripitaka, or Buddhist scriptures] after I was ordained as a monk,” Norn Saran said.
“I can paint many Buddhist scenes, from the Presage Dream to Nirvana.”
But sometimes painting a Buddhist epic can require a degree of creativity.
“The most difficult painting for me is the scenes of Buddha defeating the giants,” Norn Saran said.
“The giants’ faces are difficult to paint because we haven’t actually seen giants – so I have to use my imagination.”
“Painting is not a difficult job for me because it is what I enjoy doing,” he explained. “But it is hard getting work because I’m still inexperienced.”
He said that although he hopes one day to be known as a famous painter, he would also like to open his own billboard painting shop.
But because of his low income, Norn Saran said at the moment he is simply trying to save money.
“I’ve heard the Ministry of Labour needs people to work in Korea, where they pay a lot more, so now I am trying hard to learn Korean to apply to work there in April,” he said.
“However I don’t want to leave my home country if I can earn more money in Cambodia.”