Brush Up!

Thanhthao Van

A printed book highlighting personal hand lettering explorations beyond the typical practices.

Thesis Statement

Words are an essential part of human communication and expression, so by exploring hand lettering beyond its typical practices, in terms of tools and mediums, it pushes for stronger design thinking and creates a more creative outlet.


Hand-drawn letters are known to have existed in several regions around the world thousands of years back. Lettering has evolved immensely since the beginning of recorded human history and is something heavily appreciated in the art and design community today. Two crucial elements in what makes lettering so beautiful and unique, is how creativity and individuality is applied, and this can also be considered as fundamental to a person’s identity as a fingerprint. Messages and stories can be conveyed in numerous ways through expressive lettering, in the form of the mediums and the tools used. Mediums and tools are two factors that can be overlooked in this specific form of art but will most definitely make an immense impact when cleverly and purposefully mashed together. This form of art is most often practiced in a two-dimensional format, with materials such as paper, pencils, markers, paint, and so on, but the purpose of exploring beyond the most common approaches is to be able to think more critically about what message is being told and what kind of expressions are most noticeable. In a more metaphorical way of thinking about this concept, most people will do the bare minimum in order to get by in life, but life is much more enjoyable if you put effort into aspects like your health, family, friends, travel, food and so on. With that being said, expressiveness through art and design has been proven through countless numbers of research studies to positively benefit an individual's mental well-being.

Research Questions

  1. Does hand lettering always have to be two-dimensional?
  2. Do tools and mediums make a bigger impact on the end result of a hand lettered piece or does it not make a difference?
  3. Does hand lettering improve design thinking?


Brush Up! is a printed book that focuses on the importance and benefits of being creative in going beyond the normal expectations of hand lettering, as well as my personal attempts in taking lettering sketches to the next level. I wanted to highlight what aspects of lettering make the art produced almost as individualistic as a fingerprint, which would be the tool, medium, and experience behind each exploration.

Thanhthao Van

Chang Kim—Primary Advisor
Graphic Design Professor, SJSU

Queeny Lu—Secondary Advisor
Calligrapher and artist,
Founder of @travelingcalligrapher on IG

Namphuong Van Kam—Tertiary Advisor
Senior Designer, Wanderlog

Brandon Brown Mary Gutierrez Phi Ho Linh Hoang Brandon Huynh Rachel Lee Hefan Lim En Yu Ma Miguel Morejon Dana Nissan Anela Oliveros Sylvia Ow-Yang Ryan Parajas Karla Peralta Sarah Sauerzopf Chako Shinmoto Tanya Shrivastava Wenwen Su Tianting Sun Hung Tsai Thanhthao Van Effy Wang