Expressive Language and Art

By Sydney Prusso

 When we speak, we speak using facial expressions, tones, and notes. Not only that, but we can sing! Our bodies are a perfect vessel for expressive language. On the contrary, when we write, we are limited in our expressions. Generally, the exclamation point is the most popular emotion we can type or write. But even that leaves too much room for interpretation. Too many times have I sent an email with far too many exclamation points in an attempt to sound like more than a robot, while the recipient might find me just plain…abrasive. (Thank god for emojis. I can’t wait until they’re considered professional enough for work emails. I like to think they’re the missing link to the lack of expression naturally built into written English.) But that's where expressive typography and hand lettering come in to play.

Expressive typography is the art of highly visual text where the text itself can become imagery. Designers can play with the juxtaposition of what the words say and style of the words themselves to support the message or even create an entirely new meaning. Hand lettering is the illustrating of words from scratch, similar to graffiti, which lets the artist have total control over the meaning and feeling of the text. (Not to be confused with calligraphy, which is the art of beautiful handwriting.)

For example, take the phrase “Let it Be.” Although this piece may not add anything obvious to the phrase, it adds a melody. Similar to how we might sing words to convey a feeling, the words “Let it be” here are illustrated in a symphony of loops and curls and colors to create an entirely different meaning to the viewer than just the words themselves.


My artistic journey as a designer has gone through many phases. (I like to think of artists and designers as being in relationships with their current interests.) At the moment, my artistic love lies in the art of hand lettering and pieces such as this, “Let it Be.”  I started my journey with painting and drawing in high school and several ARTS By The People workshops. In a graffiti workshop, I loved learning about all the fun and expressive ways to handle typography. That ABTP workshop that I took at 14 years old influenced my love of lettering to this day at 22. I love to call to experiences like that when I do my design work now. Here’s a picture of me at that workshop.


Next time you see some cool graffiti or lettering, remember its creator is just a singer who is more comfortable working with their hands.

Enjoying the Process

By Jean Choe

I can’t paint. I am not an artist.

This is the response I get very often when I teach senior art workshops. Many students are intimidated by the thought of creating something. They are also afraid of not being able to produce something good enough. I totally understand how they feel. I myself sometimes feel afraid when I am faced with a blank piece of paper. 

I try to remind them that everybody can be an artist. I suggest them to focus on the creative process itself – making lines with a pencil, adding colors, watching watercolors blend into each other, making marks with a brush, etc. It is ok to not produce something perfect. 

I believe there is beauty in everything we create. So I try to point out what they are doing great and provide encouragements. At first they didn’t believe in my compliments. They thought I was just saying it. Nonetheless, I kept doing my job – to find out what they are good at. It is a surprising experience to see that at some point they start to believe in my words AND themselves!

Sylvia, a student who comes to my art workshop at Lester Senior Housing in Whippany, used to say that she cannot paint. After a few months, she stopped saying she couldn’t, and  instead was proudly showing around her paintings to colleagues. Millie, another student at the workshop, also was hesitant to paint in the beginning. Now she is confident with her brush strokes. Every time we paint, she looks forward to showing it off to her grandchildren.

It is a big joy to see my students learn to enjoy the process of creating. And it is a great reminder to myself too!


February 2019

Jean Choe