Glittering Glass in Vietnam: The Story of Saigon Gold Sign

Saigon Gold Sign's Thien Nguyen on his gilding journey, and the challenges of working in Vietnam.

Sign painter working on a decorative glass panel.
Thien Nguyen of Saigon Gold Sign

Every sign painter has their own story of how they got into the trade. The path to this work is often meandering—full of false starts, abandoned projects, and a search for meaning—until you finally arrive at the door of lettering, and it all clicks into place.

This is exactly what happened to Saigon's (Ho Chi Minh City) Thien Nguyen, an animation director now producing meticulously crafted and highly ornate gilded panels under his side project, Saigon Gold Sign (@saigongoldsign).

Striking Gold

Thien graduated in graphic design in 2017, but only took this course after failing the entry exam for architecture. It was during his time studying graphic design that he learned calligraphy, and his passion for lettering was born—gone was the dream of becoming an architect, and cemented in its place was becoming a sign painter.

In his search for artistic references, he stumbled upon gilding as another application of lettering—and it was his interest in music that really opened things up for him.

“I am a John Mayer fan, so you can guess how I found David's video doing the glass [for his] album, which is my inspiration.”

The Making of John Mayer’s ‘Born & Raised’ Artwork on Vimeo.

Learning Curves

As anyone who has worked with gold leaf knows, it’s a finicky medium requiring patience, practice, and, of course, money to gain expertise. Mistakes are sure to happen, and Thien felt the full sting.

When I first started, on the very first day, I wasted $200 (when my salary at that time was only $300) by letting all the gold leaves fly away when I opened the first gold leaf book... Those [early experiences] were unforgettable moments in my career.”

Undeterred, Thien turned to YouTube to learn more techniques, eventually adding water gilding, silvering, and acid etching to his repertoire. But gilding is his preferred way of showing his lettering work.