We had the good fortune of connecting with Nina Tran and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nina, why did you pursue a creative career?
Although I’ve always loved art and dreamed of a creative life, I never actively pursued a creative career. In fact, I went down the opposite route in college and studied the sciences, falsely believing that art was reserved for the already-creative, not someone like me. As it would happen, things sometimes have a way of manifesting themselves. At the end of 2014, a friend asked for my help in a onetime DIY calligraphy project. By the time the new year came, the project had developed into a feverish fascination for letters, lead by my curiosity and fueled by my desire to learn. I soon found myself welcomed into a community of letterers and calligraphers online (via Instagram) and in person through guilds and conventions. I felt right at home. In the months and years that followed, a series of seemingly spontaneous events began to unfold before me and I found myself presented with opportunities to share my love for letters — ready or not! “Leap, and a net will appear.” – John Burroughs However insignificant, I am leaping all the time and hoping to experience a more creative life.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Without a doubt, I am where I am today because of the support and encouragement of my mentors, teachers, peers, and students. The work I’m most proud of is the work I do with my students. I enjoy helping them through a challenge and seeing their faces light up when they have a breakthrough moment. It’s my hope that my students learn as much from me as I do from them. They are teaching me new things all the time — like how to be a better teacher, how to explain things more clearly, and where there are gaps in my own knowledge and skills. The work that excites me most is preparing for my classes, learning new scripts and exploring the limits of letterforms. Like any endeavor, this path has its share of challenges and there are plenty of lessons to be learned. The three I find most valuable are: 1) keep things simple; 2) done is better than perfect; 3) communicate clearly and don’t be afraid to say “no”. As a student myself, I find that information is more “sticky” when it’s explained in a clear and concise way without the extra froufrou and unnecessary jargon. Lesson 2 was a particularly difficult one to overcome, especially as a former perfectionist. Of course, this doesn’t mean we can’t aim aim for excellence and good quality work. For me, a big part of this lesson meant learning to let go and accept the human element in any artistic or handmade work. As if that lesson wasn’t hard enough, there’s lesson 3. This lesson taught me to trust myself and to think more carefully about the choices I make. The reality is, I don’t have all the answers and I’m figuring it out as I go — much like motherhood. All things take time to learn and to understand. Mistakes are bound to happen, especially in the beginning. Picasso put it best, “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I my learn how to do it.” If Zig Ziglar were here, he’d add, “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly — until you can do it well.”
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Some of my favorite places are the Santa Monica Pier, the Huntington Library, BCD Tofu House, Kai Ramen, and Taco Llama.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First and foremost, I’d like to acknowledge my family for their unconditional love and support — especially my children, Miles, Emily, and Alyson. They are my greatest teachers. At the beginning of my journey, I was very fortunate to have the guidance and support of my mentors Dr. Gail Madalag, Dr. Joseph Vitolo, Bianca Mascorro, and Paul Antonio. Among friends, colleagues, and teachers, I’d like to distinguish Andrew Hunter, Judy Garcia, David Grimes, Dorothy Lim-Chew, Arlene Custock, Maria Nieves Vindua, Grace Jimenez, Kei Han Goodman, Anne Elser, Sharisse DeLeon, Michael Sull, Sean McCabe, Giovanni de Faccio, Todd Jameson, Suzanne Cunningham, Jelvin Base, Bryan Chabolla, Priscilla Lee, Tia Joy Kim, Younghae Chung, Theresa Kuo, Kristi Darwick, Yukimi Annand and DeAnn Singh for their kindness, generosity, and encouragement. A warm and very special thanks goes out to my enthusiastic and hardworking students from whom I learn and draw inspiration everyday, to Twig & Fig for their support so early on, to the Society for Calligraphy for their dedication to serving our growing community of calligraphers and lettering artists here in Los Angeles, to Paper & Ink Arts, Fox & Quills, John Neal Books, and Smitten on Paper for supplying us all with calligraphy goodies.
Sharisse DeLeon, Dorothy Lim-Chew