When Words Become Art

When Words Become Art

Ashburn artist turns letters into "cooligraphy."


Daniel Nie


The word, Raven


The word, Change


The word, Communism


The couple, Linda and Dan


A more traditional work of art, Love, Peace, Hope created by artist Daniel Nie.

Artist Daniel Nie, 52, of Ashburn, specializes in a modernized form of calligraphy which he coined "cooligraphy," where each character of the alphabet has meaning. He turns words into hieroglyphic designs or picture logos by organizing the letters into meaningful symbols in relation to the other letters.

For example, using ink and gouache, a French paint, he'll take a

couple's names, say Linda and Dan, and intertwine the letters to make a "visual poem" inside a seven-inch circle. It keeps him in the wedding and anniversary business, as the works can be used on cakes and napkins, wall hangings, pendants, letterhead logos, tattoos — you name it. The work is steeped in an ancient Chinese method where each character of the alphabet has meaning.

"I can do a lot through my creativity and create a beautiful design that has a story," he said. "I can make a little flower or a musical note if they are musicians."

ORIGINALLY FROM Shanghai, China, Nie grew up under extreme

communism in the 1970s. But today's China is completely different with its modern highways, capitalization and globalization. He said if you stepped into Shanghai City today, you will see McDonald's signs and Kentucky Fried Chickens, and everyone carrying cell phones. To illustrate this change in his art, Nie draws the word "communism," but interjects it with a McDonald's arch for the "m" and a dollar sign for the "s."

"The same communism becomes a capitalist motif," he said. "I encourage people to use a new mentality, a new way of approaching an old convention or subject."

Now a U.S. citizen, Nie closely followed Barack Obama during the

Election and was particularly excited about the theme of change. "I try to tell people that art is trying to convey a message. I'm trying to say look from a different visual territory."

He adds, "As an artist, I would encourage people to think outside the box. To think of something else."

He said he uses his art form to express a question, inviting people to think. "I try not to give an answer," he said. "I try to get people to think of current affairs through my art.

"This is a challenge for us to rethink. I invite people to rethink a

different way," he said. "Maybe we can create a more harmonious


NIE HAD A full scholarship to Wake Forest University, graduating with an art degree in 1984. He was the first student from mainland China to graduate from the U.S. He received a master's degree in fine arts from American University in 1987 and worked as a teacher in community colleges and a private school in North Carolina. He studied classical art with traditional landscapes, still lifes, portraits, working on all mediums, including Chinese watercolors, oils and acrylics. Today he is a full-time artist and gives private lessons.

Nie and his wife Linda, also from China, have a daughter, Sarah, 21. Visit his Web site at www.DanielNie.com.