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Meet Kim Van Vu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kim Van Vu.

Kim, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I’m a graphic designer and lettering artist. I’m originally from Vietnam, and my parents immigrated to the Bay Area when I was six, where I pretty much grew up my whole life.

I recently came to LA last year for a temporary position and mainly because my partner got his dream job in animation. So the transition has been tough because I didn’t already have a set support group or path in mind for being in Los Angeles. There’s been a lot of figuring out if LA is a place for my dreams and what community do I fit in here, especially since I didn’t have a desire to work in the entertainment industry.

Growing up, I was lucky to have art be encouraged in the household. And as an immigrant child, I always wanted to figure out ways to communicate and connect with the world around me. I think it was this desire with art and communication that led me to study graphic design and visual communication in college. There, I got a taste of the amazing ways I could use the letters as a creative medium.

But as a blessing and a curse, I quickly landed a job illustrating apparel for Old Navy out of college. It was a great job for six years, but I had gotten comfortable, and once I made the abrupt move to LA, I was suddenly faced with the reality that I had strayed from why I got into design in the first place – communication and lettering. So I had to start over in a sense and find my way back to my original passion – the art of letters.

I started dedicating hours to teaching myself anything and everything I could about lettering and typography. I watched online tutorials, read books, attended calligraphy and sign painting workshops – I even went on a solo road trip to attend a workshop in Arizona.

I also began posting my work online, attended local shows, talks, pitched pop-ups at local coffee shops – making connections by letting anyone and everyone know what I loved to do and what I can potentially do for them with lettering; I was determined to not waiver from my goals this time.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I would say it’s been more like a roller coaster than a smooth road. I think two of the main struggles have been fitting in and fighting through insecurities with social media. I was trying to figure out if there was room in Los Angeles for a niche lettering market. Los Angeles to me was where people come to have their entertainment dreams come true; I didn’t see how a lettering artist could fit in here.

However, I was fortunate to reside in Los Feliz. It’s a pretty hip neighborhood, but very welcoming to diverse forms of creativity beyond entertainment. There’s an appreciation for local and small name makers here; this allowed me for opportunities to share my work – like with the lettering pop-ups I would host at local cafes in the area. Then there’s social media. For the most part, I’m self-taught when it comes to lettering. It’s tough putting work out there only to see that you’re competing with a million more experienced artists. How could I break through the noise and have my work be seen? It took a while, but to counter this fear, I just really had to lean in even harder to what I loved.

It’s scary to put yourself out there, but I found that the more that you do, the more you’ll be able to find the right people who will love and support what you do – it’s how you can truly find your community. Then as I began to open myself up more, I saw everyone as less as a competition but as a resource where I can learn from and connect with.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I’m a freelance graphic designer and lettering artist. With design, I work with clients on branding, marketing, and packaging. Lettering is a specialty I’m obsessed with. With that, I’ll work on a diverse platform of mediums. It can range from custom painting on products such as cards or luggages to painting large scale mural installations. With my digital work, I will create lettering for editorials, apparel, social media, marketing campaigns and more. It can really be just about anything. My art allows me to be versatile for many projects and I love it.

One of my favorite things I’ve done was a mural of empowering words for a local gym that helps kids counter bullying. I could see the confidence the mural brought to the kids, and that made me so happy. My purpose with lettering is about finding creative ways to bring joy to people.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Erik Marinovich is someone I really look up to in the lettering community. He is as talented as he is humble. I admire everything he does, from his prolific body of work to his generosity in sharing his knowledge to aspiring artists.

Joy Cho of Oh Joy! – I had the great opportunity to work with Joy for a couple of months, and it was life-changing. She runs a design studio and lifestyle blog here in Los Angeles. She’s been a big influence for me by being so authentically herself. Working with her, I was able to gain insights on how she approaches design, pitch to clients, and in how she leads and interacts with people in such a genuine, fun and welcoming way.

Then there are my best friends, Hillary Bird and Melanie Picardo, and my wonderful partner Isaac Orloff. They’ve continually played a huge role in where I am today. They’re my cheerleaders, always having faith in me at times I had no idea what I was doing. They’re there pushing me when I feel like I’m making bad work and there for me for the breakthroughs. It’s really important to have a good support system, and I’m very lucky to have them in my life.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jelena – https://www.instagram.com/jelabela/
https://www.instagram.com/the_confetti_project/

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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