As a child, Huyen Dinh always had a vivid imagination and loved to immerse herself in the world of Disney movies. Her favorite was Beauty and the Beast, and she dreamed of one day becoming a Broadway singer, twirling around on stage in a beautiful dress. However, as she grew older, Huyen realized that singing was not her strength. Despite this, she still cherished the memories of her childhood dreams and the joy they brought her.
Born in Russia, raised in Vietnam’s capital, and now based in Los Angeles, Huyen’s multicultural background gives her a unique perspective to create art and tell her story.
There’s no question how much Huyen values her Vietnamese heritage. She proudly introduces herself as a "Viet artist" and uses her art to tell stories about her roots. In fact, she still observes many traditions and cultural practices from her Vietnamese heritage, such as ancestor worship and not wearing shoes inside the house. Celebrating Tet is an essential tradition she tries to keep alive wherever she is.
When asked what she misses about Vietnam, Huyen told Vietcetera she misses her parents the most. “As they get older, I return as often as possible,” the young artist said. “And, of course, the food is the best part. Vietnamese cuisine is way more diverse and vibrant than just Pho, and I want people in the world to know that.”
The multi-passion artist has recently dabbled in written words with her book called “How to be a Rule-breaking lettering artist.” That and more of her style and creative process in this conversation.
Tell us what you do, what inspired you to pursue your current field, and how you started.
I’m a lettering artist, illustrator, and author known on the internet for pastel palettes and quirky illustrations with punny messages.
Before freelancing, I worked as a graphic designer for different companies for over ten years.
I was that Asian “good girl” who only followed the path of getting a degree and a stable job, I constantly felt something was missing. I wanted a creative outlet to keep me sane. And that’s when I tumbled on lettering content on social media and found it an interesting visual art to convey my messages.
I’m a self-taught artist – Google is my everything. Every night after work, I would spend 3-4 hours drawing and experimenting. I posted some on my IG personal account for fun and eventually gained many followers.
I was at the mental breaking point at my full-time job, and I asked myself why I had to be miserable every day when I had the control of fixing it by quitting. Having no client list, I saved up enough for two years of expenses and wanted to use this time to reinvest in myself. And the return on that investment is what you see today.
How do you define success in your life and work?
My definition of success has changed over the years. I used to think that success depended on the money I made or my social status. As I got older, I realized that money alone doesn’t mean self-fulfillment. It is just the tool I can use to improve my life, not the purpose. I don’t need to impress anyone. Now success for me is to have a healthy body and mental state of mind.
At the end of the day, if I feel good about my decision, that’s successful. If I make progress, even the teeny tiny one, that’s successful. If my art can make others smile, even one person, that’s a huge success.
How has being a Vietnamese American influenced your identity?
Being a Vietnamese American is challenging at first, to be honest. I felt “too Asian” to fit into American society but, at the same time, a stranger in my home country. My childhood was in Vietnam, but my adulthood happened in the US. Although I’m fluent in Vietnamese, it’s hard for me to express myself in my mother language – I never had the responsibility or the opportunity to do so when I was little. I thought if I got rid of my “Asian part,” I could be more Americanized. I was wrong. I felt more lost.
I was stuck in the in-between until I recognized that I looked up to Asian female figures in my industry because they looked like me, and I could relate to them more. Being Vietnamese American is not something I should keep to myself but highlight. Marcus Garvey famously wrote: “A people without knowledge of their history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.” It made total sense; I can only grow by embracing my Vietnamese roots and American adulthood.
Can you walk us through your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished product?
I approach projects differently, but I would love to walk you through the stickers project I did with Canon that is used on their Canon Mini Print app worldwide. App users can use these stickers to customize their photos in a fun and artistic way.
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How do you use lettering art to convey a story or narrative?
Most of my lettering pieces are pick-me-ups, so I use a lot of pastel colors because they bring a light, soft, and calm vibe to myself and my audience. I want to tell my stories through the lens of a female millennial who finds her way through adulthood and her career path. That’s why you see a motif of cute emojis or characters throughout my work.
In addition, I love adding facial expressions to my illustrations for a quirky vibe. I also include a lot of sparkles and shiny lettering styles to enhance that uplifting vibe. I love puns, so you can see my humor and a touch of my sassy personality through the quotes I choose. I also embrace the beauty of imperfection by using wobbly lines and strokes.
Other artists told me my ugly sketches made them more comfortable sharing their rough sketches. Many Asian female artists reached out to me, showing appreciation for Viet representations in the creative industry.
Can you talk about a time when you had to take a break from your work and how you managed to get back into it?
I just came back from a few months of sabbatical. I got stuck on the hamster wheel of creating content, and I no longer found joy in creating. I took a break to travel and focus on my passion, pole dancing. It helps me to reset my brain and free up my mental space. Now, I’m ready to bring more fun content to my audience. A lot of it I pack in my new book, “How to be a Rule-breaking letterer,” which is coming out in May 2023. You can check it out HERE.
Do you collaborate with other artists or designers?
I am honored to collaborate with CASETiFY, the fastest-growing global tech accessories brand, to create fun self-expression phone cases for gen Z and millennials.
My first collection reminds users to give themselves the love they deserve.
My second collection is about self-reflection. Hence many designs are mirror cases.
You can find the whole collection HERE.
Your artworks convey good vibes and happiness. What do you believe is the relationship between creativity and mental health?
Moderation is the key. I used to think that if I ever quit my job, drawing 24/7 would make me happy, but I quickly realized that only led to burnout. Creativity exists in different forms. When my motivation for creating art goes missing, I would rest and spend my effort on pole dancing. Accepting all the downs helps me appreciate my ups. I learn to give myself more credit when I make progress, even small wins.
What’s in the pipeline that you're excited about?
I’m so excited to finally announce my new book, “How to be a Rule-breaking lettering artist,” which is now available for pre-order. Break the rules, embrace imperfections, and express your unique self through lettering art! This book is for anyone who's felt the pressure of perfection.
Besides the book, I also made The Rule-Breaking Letterer's Workbook: Prompts and Inspiration for Embracing Imperfection and Rule-Breaker's Markers.