THE RAWTYPE’s Le Quoc Sy Is Rewriting The Rules With His Guest Mix

Times change. Traditions fade. But occasionally an artist will delve back into the past, pick up an old-school artform, and imbue it with a feeling of freshness. Like THE RAWTYPE’s Le Quoc Sy. This artist, with his distinctive shock of hair that’s somewhere between Jack White and Malcolm Gladwell, is building a name for himself for his hand lettering.

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

Like many creatives The Dot Magazine has met, THE RAWTYPE’s Le Quoc Sy credits his career to coincidence. “It really was an accident,” he shrugs acceptingly. “After graduating from university, I worked as a graphic designer for an agency in Hanoi designing banners, posters, print publications, advertisements…” he remembers. That meant frequently exploring typography. And when that became boring, creating his own type, “and I found a way to sketch and draw different and unique typefaces that I could use in my work.”

Things got serious in 2013. That’s when Le Quoc Sy founded THE RAWTYPE, “a personal lettering project”. At first, the project produced printed T-Shirts. Then, he took the profits and bought books and art supplies to learn more. 

Le Quoc Sy, hand lettering artist and THE RAWTYPE founder, is bringing his love of lettering to everyone.

By 2016, he opened his first workshop “to bring lettering to everyone”. And in the years following that, hosted classes and workshops in Hanoi and Saigon. But it’s not been easy, he warns us. Resources to learn from were scarce. “I found and translated web pages on the topic and asked academic friends to help translate some of the more niche words for me,” he smiles. “Tools were hard to find too. Many times I made my own pens and brushes to practice with…” 

It was pretty lonely too. But slowly a small local community emerged. “I have found a few companions, although each of them lives and works in a different place…” he nods. 

Hearing all this, we’re surprised he didn’t quit. “I just love letters,” he explains, “they’re everywhere and I want mine to be beautiful and to light-up their location; a billboard, a package on a supermarket shelf…” He’s still a graphic designer, and so type is still integral to what he does. And maybe the immersion in manually creating each distinctive letter is an escape from the pressures of commercial deadlines. “Maybe…” he concurs, “but I have this fear too, that one day I will also tire of it as much as I did computer font.”

“So, when I finish a piece of typography, I’ll take some time to rest making sure I don’t touch it anymore and I’ll switch to jobs that have nothing to do with design. Maybe I’ll put some music on, or take a few photos, meet friends, or spend time with my family doing wonderfully mundane things like cooking or doing housework. Then, when I’m refreshed I’ll return to the letters…”

Intrigued by the interface of making hand lettering and listening to music we asked the graphic designer and artist more about his art…and favorite music.

Le Quoc Sy at the Hanoi café he opened two months ago.

Seven years since the start of THE RAWTYPE, which special memories stand out?

Most memorable is probably a trip to Saigon in 2019. There I attended a workshop on gilded typography by two Americans which let me learn and practice with an entirely new material. The trip broadened my horizons…and my circle of friends. I met a lot of people who share my passion.

Some of Le Quoc Sy’s hand lettering, including his cold brew labels for his cafe, Bien [center].

What’s the source of your creative inspiration?

There are many ideas out there. Especially in this 4.0 era. You can find countless inspirational things on the internet, but every time I need to improve my ideas I often find it in books about word art. I have collection. I’ll idly browse them in my downtime. I prefer it. I’d rather turn pages of books rather than scrolling with the computer mouse.

It’s also important for me that I don’t consider this a job in the traditional sense. There’s that old saying, something like: “If you love something, don’t make it a job, because it won’t be fun any more.” So, I also really think see myself as an artist or an art-word designer. Playing with words is just a hobby.

Plus there’s caffeine! I am a lover (which means I’m an addict) of coffee, this beautifully non-alcoholic beverage that helps me work and create. My job mostly involves freelance projects, so I often go to cafés to work. Finally, I decided to open my own, Bien. That was two months ago.

What do people around you think about what you are doing?

I’m not too bothered by that. Everything I do comes from who I am. 

Most people praise my work, there are occasional critics, but most importantly, I’m introducing this art form that has been around for a long time to a new generation learning to design.

What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?

Careful, attentive and inevitably because of these two things I’m also a perfectionist…

“I’m careful, attentive and a perfectionist,” Le Quoc Sy admits.

And how about this mix? Tell us about the ten tracks you’ve chosen?

First, a song about families: “Messi” by The Fur. Specifically, it’s about old-age and loneliness.  I’m not near my grandma right now, so every time I listen to this song, I really miss being at home with her, being with her, caring for her. 

Following that, The Little Monster’s “Yesterday” reminds us time goes by so fast. And we should cling to the beautiful, pure memories of childhood. I listen to this song on every long trip, sitting on the plane or in a car as the comfortable feeling created by the song washes over me. 

“The Ultracheese” by Arctic Monkeys is another song I really like. Although the lyrics aren’t light or fun, I still want to include it in this playlist because I’m a fan of Arctic Monkeys. And after that, “No Man’s Land” by Sunset Rollercoaster. Sometimes we’re so intensely packed together that we hardly have space to breathe. This song is that breathing space. 

Then another song for whenever I feel stressed or tired, Bach An’s “I’m Alright”. It’s like words of consolation and encouragement to me. When my mood is at its worst, I also use smoke to relieve my stress, people often say that medicine is bad for your health but good for the mood…and just like that, I “Let It Go ”. As James Bay’s song implores me to. 

ADOY’s “Wonder” a perfect track for walking or cycling round Hanoi.

ADOY’s “Wonder” is a song is perfect for walking or cycling around the city, very Hanoian pastimes. I often listen to this song while cycling around West Lake and it gives me a relaxing feeling that contrasts with the exertion of pedalling. Another good track for slowing down is “Slow” by Sunset Rollercoaster.

Finally, “25” by The Fur. It’s a simple song but it brings a lot of inspiration for me. There is a message I want to borrow from the lyrics to share with The Dot Magazine’s readers. 

“If you keep silent you’d never get the thing you wanna get. Until your body is discovered in the backyard of regrets…”

Photos by Khooa Nguyen


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