Typography Spotlight: Kevin Cantrell

ADC Young Guns 12 winner takes "attention to detail" to an all new level.

It’s a brand new week here on the ADC Blog! Of course it’s a big day here, what with the announcement of the Legacy Series earlier today, but it’s also the beginning of another week of Typography Month, a celebration of all things type and letter design hosted in partnership with Monotype

Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, ADC Typography Month features a daily Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.

First up in the Typography Spotlight this week: a Salt Lake City-based ADC Young Guns 12 winner whose ornate and intricate lettering has earned him the nickname “Queen Victoria”.



Salt Lake City, UT, USA



Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?

I was in High School taking a digital arts class and I distinctly remember meeting someone older than me who was giving some advice. We became great friends (and remain great friends to this day) and he invited me to his house to look at some of the work he was doing in his graphic design program that I would later attend. He was creating an identity piece for a branding class. In the moment I saw the identity work, I knew it would be a defining moment for me. The play of mark and typography immediately resonated with me. I learned he was studying graphic design, and didn’t really understand anything about typography or even the word. But I knew that was what I wanted to do and learn.

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

I went through a graphic design program at BYU that teaches the fundamentals of great design. BYU is known for great typography, but of late has not had a lettering or custom typography class. I actually thought custom lettering and typography was beyond me. But I soon decided that I loved it so much, I had to try. I began with old lettering and typography that inspired me. I taught myself how to replicate the letterforms (all of this after receiving my BFA), and after thousands of hours and hitting my head against a wall, I figured a few things not to do.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?

Well, my old professor calls me “Queen Victoria,” I’d prefer king, but I’ll take it. My style is very ornate and intricate in detail. But I like the combination of intricate details in a modern setting. Most of my interests, for the time being, revolve around intricate ornamentation combined with typography. But tastes mature and evolve with time. I imagine I’ll continue to adapt and pursue other interests typographically, just as I did to get into it.

“Once you get past the gauntlet of process, the rapture takes hold and never lets go.”

Walk us through your usual type design process.

These days I start with a very rough sketch. Depending on the project, I’ll jump on the computer very early in the process, or draw until I’m confident I can replicate the forms digitally. Usually I have to have done it by hand at least once in order to create it digitally. I have a tendency to get on the computer a little too fast sometimes. My attention to detail and attention to detail is sometimes my greatest enemy.

What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?

Really hard question. I honestly don’t know if I have one. I tend to go through phases. Additionally, when I’m designing a custom logotype, I sometimes start with a pre-existing font that has similar attributes as a foundation. So that changes all the time. But I do love Univers (great breadth and depth for extended and condensed letterforms). I tend to start a lot of projects using AT Sackers Gothic just cause the proportions are so square and symmetrical. It’s a good neutral foundation.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?

It’s like asking which of my kids is my favorite. I love S, R, B, Q, &. But that’ll most likely change in a month.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Depends on the day and diet 🙂

The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letter or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.

Not gonna lie, you really have me here. I think our artforms are more related than one might think. Perhaps the arrangement of composition is the best thing I can think of. I solve something typographically, and the ornamentation and filigree all come in after. I will say this, the better one is with type ,the better one is with illustration in general. The proportions all stem from the same golden mean: relationships based on nature.

What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I love writing: fantasy, poetry, anything with good imagery which isn’t too technically based. I find it extremely therapeutic and exciting. I love a period movie or good book. Something with a great world, captivating characters and an engrossing story. I find nature rejuvenating.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world?

Erik Marinovich, John Passafiume (the cheeky blighter doesn’t really show much of his work though!) Dana Tanamachi, Jesse Ragan, Jordan Metcalf, Spencer Charles, David Foster, Jon Contino (who was also featured in the Typography Spotlight last week) Juan Carlos Pagan and Lucas Sharp, and Seb Lester.

There are really so many I admire for various reasons that I could add to the list.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

Time and patience. Time to actually craft something to the level I want while making enough money to support my wife and kids, and time enough to then spend with my family. Patience in taking the time to actually ensure I craft something to the level I want. You might not guess it from the level of intricacy in my work, but I’m incredibly impatient. I want results yesterday.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

Craftmanship, from start to finish. Branding is my obsession. Being a lettering artist and typographer, I get to participate in every facet of a brand and attempt to ensure excellence throughout. It’s a very fulfilling endeavor, but one that sometimes can be a little exhausting :). Once you get past the gauntlet of process, the rapture takes hold and never lets go.