A Leap of Faith: Kevin Cantrell’s Young Guns Success

Designer quits job to follow hand-lettering dreams — right BEFORE winning YG12


March is ADC Young Guns Month here on the ADC Blog! As we head towards the deadline for Young Guns 13 entries, we will be featuring the works and thoughts of Young Guns 12, the latest class to join the exclusive club of young creative professionals. We will also be sharing the thoughts of the judges who voted them in. This way, you’ll have some idea of what it takes to become a Young Gun — and the answers just might surprise you.

Our next Young Guns 12 winner has been popping up quite a bit in ADC circles of late. The was featured during Typography Month back in January, and is highlighted in the latest issue of ADC Magazine, arriving in ADC Members’ mailboxes around the world this week. But none of that would’ve happened without his Young Guns win last year — and that wouldn’t have happened without a healthy dose of faith, both personal and spiritual.

Salt Lake City, UT, USA
Represented by Erik Attkisson: erik@reach.tv



When did you first hear about Young Guns? 

I vaguely recall reading an article about the Young Guns X class a while ago, but didn’t pay much attention to it as I assumed it was an elite group that was probably beyond me and I’d have no chance. By and by, as I began getting more involved in social media, I noticed several designers I befriended discussing it as a new season approached. I decided to cast my lot.

What were your impressions of the competition before entering?

A lot of designers I admired were Young Guns. Seeing the successes in their careers made me wonder if it could provide some opportunities that are really hard to come by in a smaller city. Sometimes, to get opportunities, you have to show people what you’re capable of. I saw this as a chance to show people what I could do. Perhaps it was merely a reflection of trying to prove to myself what I was capable of achieving.

Were there ever any pangs of doubt that maybe you weren’t good enough to join all of the amazing Young Guns that came before you? How did you overcome that feeling?

I’ve always believed I was capable of excellence. I just had to find a way to show it. I think it’s natural to be buffeted by the valleys and crescendos of self-doubt and confidence. Excellence exacts vision over visibility. I didn’t know what I was capable of until I ventured past my limitations. I still don’t know what I’m fully capable of, but I feel that becoming a Young Gun granted me the confidence and assurance that the road I’m on is where I’m supposed to be.

How did you decide which pieces to submit? Was it a no-brainer or did you have to really think about your entry?

I entered twice. The first year I really overthought things. I tried to enter an extreme amount of breadth, so much that about half my work looked like it came from a different person altogether. It was good work, pretty much all of it award winning per se, but not necessarily exceptional work. I think it made my body of work look dissonant. At the time I was trying to decide to remain on indefinitely as an art director at my previous agency, or jump ship and pursue the ornate typography and branding work that I was getting known for. The latter was where my heart was, the former where my insecurities confined me. I decided to lean on faith.

The second time when I applied I only showcased the custom lettering work and branding work that I was trying to pursue. I even took a leap of faith before becoming a Young Gun and left my job. My faith paid off.

“A lot of designers I admired were Young Guns. Seeing the successes in their careers made me wonder if it could provide some opportunities that are really hard to come by in a smaller city.”

What it was it like when you found out you won?

I remember clearly. I was at a car dealership signing my life way on a minivan (yeah, I didn’t ever think I’d be getting one of those). We were expecting our third child in a few months, and I remember receiving the congratulatory email. I literally gave a fist pump, bellowed “yes!” multiple times. All the people in the room turned and looked at me and I replied, “it’s a good day.”

Which past Young Guns winners do you admire most?

Hard to say which ones I admire most as they’re all awesome. But a few…

Jon Contino (YG9) is about as nice as it gets. And he’s done it all on his own. Zero mentors. Zero gimmies. He made his own road. Immense respect for that, and him as a person.

I have to mention Jessica Hische (YG7), as she really inspired me to get into lettering in the first place … she helped me believe that maybe I could do it, and Alex Trochut’s (YG6) work is phenomenal and one of my earliest inspirations.

I also have enormous respect for my good friend and classmate Keenan Cummings (and now fellow Young Gun (YG11) ). Keenan’s story is so inspirational to me, another person who made his own path and is about as nice as they come. A humble, kind, and giving friend, who has a phenomenally gifted with ideas. I remember receiving a letter from him a couple years after we graduated. He sent me a note about several things he admired in me. I’ll never forget that note. Moreso, I’ll never forget the act of kindness.

There are many more.

What have you been up to since winning? Has Young Guns opened up any new doors for you since winning last fall?

I’m currently working on my biggest branding project to date. Under my studio I recently opened, we got to name a building in New York and are currently working on the identity. It’s not every day you get to name a building, and this is one you’ll be hearing about, trust me. It’s going to be hard to miss (I’ll give you a clue, it’ll be in Chelsea, and it’s a huge, green terra cotta, art-deco themed edifice, and will finished early 2016… it’s gorgeous). Hands down this is my best work to date. Hopefully, when a get some more free time, I’ll also get to finish a fantasy book I’ve been working on for 15 years, with a custom language and alphabet. But that’s another life.

What would you tell someone who was deciding whether or not to enter Young Guns 13?

You never know what you’re capable of until you test your limits. I find that having a bar to attain to is a great way to elevate your skill set and vision. I don’t believe being named a Young Gun has defined me, but I believe the journey has given me a more defined direction towards the ultimate goal: becoming more like He who sent us here, and the procurement of His eternal excellence.



DaniloBoer“Judging the ADC Young Guns last year was one of the most refreshing experiences I ever had. The amount of great talent you come across is insane. It’s a great feeling to know that there is a bright future ahead of us.

As a judge, you find yourself falling in love with many of the portfolios you see, and secretly saving their links. All that goes threw your mind is: “I have to get this guy to illustrate my next assignment. I have to call this girl and ask her to draw a typeface for me”.

But, as I kept going, looking at all the entries, something happened. Everything stopped.

And I didn’t feel like I wanted to call that artist, or save their link. The only thing on my mind was: “HOW THE F#*$ HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF THIS GUY BEFORE???”

The name was Kevin Cantrell. And he was doing typography work that most people would need to bleed their hands for 100 years to almost do. And his work felt effortless.

It felt like he was just born doing that. Born drawing this crazy amazing intricate vintage and yet modern type treatments.

I knew that if there was such a thing as Fairness, this was the time for it. He needed to win. It was more than fair. I voted him as high as I could. And, I guess everyone else did the same. Cause, here I am, writing about the incredible Kevin Cantrell. ADC Young Gun 12.”

Danilo Boer



DeaconWebsterCircle“Kevin Cantrell was one of my favourites. The incredible level of craft and attention to detail make his work really fun to look at. Each piece represents a level of patience and exactitude I cannot imagine possessing.”

Deacon Webster




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