Typography Spotlight: Spencer Charles

ADC Young Guns 12 winner specializes in "mind-made lettering"

Another day, another feature for ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month! Put that way, it sounds like a chore, but the truth is that it’s been a lot of fun showcasing talent to the world, and we trust you’re getting as much out of it as we are — maybe even more.

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.

Our next superstar to step into the Typography Spotlight is a Brooklyn-based ADC Young Guns 12 winner who isn’t afraid to eschew sketchbooks and go straight to his computer 



spencer_charles_headshotSPENCER CHARLES
Brooklyn, NY, 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 remember being really interested in lettering and typography in high school when I read Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware.

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

I’ve had some great mentors over the years who have introduced me to the many different avenues of typographic expression. Working for Louise Fili was a big turning point, her mentorship and direction was very critical in my growth.

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

‘Mind-made lettering’. I lean pretty heavily on the computer, mostly because it’s the tool I’m most comfortable using, and I think it has informed my process quite a bit.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that lettering is just a field made up of failed illustrators and failed typographers.”

Walk us through your usual type design process.

I’ll grab a piece of paper if I don’t have a computer at my disposal, but I generally prefer to go right into Illustrator to start drawing. I love the bluntness of vector lettering, and I feel like it quickly exposes the flaws in composition and form.

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

My favorite text faces would probably have to be Adobe Jenson and Adobe Garamond.

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

R or S. The way they are expressed across the range of typographic and lettering styles is fascinating. They are difficult to do well, but when they’re done well, they sing.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Why fight when they work so well together?

The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer 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.

Sometimes I get the feeling that lettering is just a field made up of failed illustrators and failed typographers. But in all seriousness, it’s all part of the same spectrum of visual expression; I think the similarities are more striking than the differences.

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

I enjoy drawing comics. I love architectural lettering, and would be a stonecarver in another life.

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

My mentor in college was letterpress typographer David Wolske, who’s experimental use of wood type never ceases to amaze me. I also really love my girlfriend Kelly Thorn’s work. Jessica Svendsen’s conceptual typography makes me incredibly jealous.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

Not getting trapped by habit, and trying to find ways to grow and reinvent your work.

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

Being able to make letters and words express a feeling or an idea is incredible, almost like magic at times.