Forging a personal path with Huyen Dinh

Walking into lettering artist and illustrator Huyen Dinh’s world is akin to entering a cotton candy paradise. Her work is typically rendered in a pastel palette with soft, undulating lines, featuring characters ranging from animals to fruits bearing faces. She incorporates inspirational messaging and puns that often up the cute factor.

This aesthetic is not limited to the proverbial page upon which she designs — it’s also a part of her physical realm, crossing over into her taste in decorating and the clothes she wears. “A lot of people tell me I look like my art. So I think who I am as a person impacts my art a lot — it’s so personal to me,” she explained. “My art is about expressing my point of view and my feelings.”

On screen from her Mid-City home in Los Angeles, Dinh sits in a sun-kissed room with pink walls wearing a sweatshirt she designed with graphic text that reads, “Professional Overthinker.” The inspiration came from an inside joke with a friend about Dinh’s overactive mind. She took the idea and morphed it into a sticker and, later, a sweatshirt. The process of pulling from life is something the artist does regularly.

“Lettering for me is kind of [like] journaling, so any time I go through certain experiences that evoke feelings, I write them down in a note on my phone,” she offered.

Despite how intertwined her life and her work appear to be, design wasn’t Dinh’s initial path. While she drew for fun as a kid, she originally studied accounting, and noted that her Vietnamese heritage did not encourage pursuing a career in art. But her studies didn’t bring her joy, so she switched her focus to graphic design, bridging the gap between studio art and more readily marketable skills. Having put in 10 years working for companies ranging in size, she eventually made the choice to go freelance in late 2019. Stepping outside of expectation was an important part of her journey. Having studied calligraphy, for example, Dinh decided the formality of the medium wasn’t for her.

“With calligraphy, you have to have a very good technique, which I practiced, but I’m not very good at it. [There are] a lot of rules that you have to follow. Throughout the process of learning it, I realized that I don’t really enjoy following all the little rules like that.”

Conversely, lettering provided more space to defy convention, allowing for irregularity that calligraphy didn’t.

“It’s given me more freedom to create, so that’s why I like how imperfect it looks,” she reasoned.

Her book How to be a Rule-Breaking Letterer, published in May 2023, furthered these ideas. While a lot of the available books on lettering focus on technique and skill, Dinh was more interested in the personal, both in terms of style and story. She has met many people who have expressed an interest in pursuing lettering but have been intimidated by their perceived lack of skill. She wanted to encourage fun and exploration.

“In the book I teach about, you know, the foundation of lettering,” she pointed out. “But then, after learning all those rules, I'll show people how to break each rule, so then you can create your own style.”

Given her own relationship to knowing the framework of something like calligraphy and choosing a more exploratory form, this approach comes as no surprise. Her lettering style, which can often appear bulbous, wavy, and irregular, acts as a fitting example of stepping out of the expected form.

“Teaching style is more stress free,” she suggested. “You don’t need to be the best lettering artist out there, you just need to be different and, as long as you enjoy the process, that’s all that matters.”

Her sense of encouragement appears in her collaboration with Adobe Express Print, as well. The tagline she incorporated into her design offerings for the project reads “Start Where You Are.” The phrase draws on her own experience of feeling that specific circumstances were necessary to begin producing worthwhile work. Whether it was having the right materials or a question of time, Dinh had some resistance to simply creating in the present.

“Before I started my lettering account, I would wait until I had like this perfect pen to draw so I could post it all. I was always waiting for that, you know, perfect moment to do that thing,” she recalled.

“I had already bought, like, a very good set of pens and everything and I still didn't create with it, so after two years of having a set of pens sitting in my drawer I decided, OK, I’m going to start right now with this pencil and just a piece of paper, which is how I started my account.”

Dinh also suggests part of this surrender-to-the-moment mentality required shedding her fears around scrutiny from a potential audience.

“I would just like doodle something and I started posting without thinking about who’s gonna see it, what people are gonna think. So you should start now where you are with what you have without waiting for that perfect moment with anything in life.”

This creative mantra appears in playful bubble lettering surrounded by a collage of anthropomorphized characters (rainbows, fruits, clouds) and icons, anchored by her signature pink and lilac color palette. In her own business, Dinh prints for a variety of purposes, including thank you cards, hangtags, packaging, and stickers, all of which can be done with Adobe Express Print.

In the coming year, she plans to create a new line of characters inspired by her dog, Bibo. “He’s my muse,” she laughed, lifting a fluffy, white cloud of fur to the screen. Bibo makes perfect sense in the whimsy of Dinh’s visual language. “I’ll focus on drawing him, but still anchor it in a self-love, self-care kind of messaging,” she suggested. She also hopes to bring her teaching to in-person workshops, knowing well the value of community and connection for creative people.

Every few months, Dinh hosts a local artist meetup event where her community can get together. Given the isolation commonly felt by freelancers, she says it’s important that creatives can connect, share their experiences of navigating that reality, and find support.

“I think doing art, I think the community is very important,” she asserted. “You have to be able to connect with other artists, learn about their stories, and it kind of gives you more inspiration or inspires you to create more.”

With the warmth she emanates and the charm of her design universe, Dinh seemingly will have no issue bringing more creatives into her orbit and empowering them to build their very own worlds.

Are you ready to start your own project? Click here to explore Huyen’s curated collection and start creating with her templates made in partnership with Adobe Express!

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