Kevin Adams, designing with a message
Independent lettering artist Kevin Adams shares his beginnings, inspirations, and messages.
TYPE Magazine: How and when did you become interested in type design?
Kevin Adams: My first experiences with type design were at the age of ten; I would draw the logos of my favorite cartoons, video games, and sport teams on a piece of paper—I think these influences are the very backbone of my style of lettering and type design.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that I really started to study typography and lettering as artforms. Jessica Hische’s Daily Drop Caps and Lauren Hom’s Will Letter For Lunch opened my eyes and expanded my imagination about the impact of letterforms.
TM: Have you had any mentors or role models in the type design field you would like to acknowledge?
KA: I didn’t have mentors in type design in the traditional sense. My immersion into type design came through attending Type Thursday New York which attracts local letterform lovers hailing from all disciplines and levels of expertise. I was immediately welcomed in spite of limited formal experience with type and letterforms.
Through presenting my own work and participating in critiques, I gained a great deal of constructive, thoughtful advice from my colleagues. This has been powerful for me as I built my confidence, knowledge, and momentum.
TM: What is something you have on your “type design” bucket list, something you want to accomplish before the end of your career?
KA: I would love to have my work appear in an issue of Communication Arts; especially the Typography Annual. The rush of getting to see my work in print next to people and projects that continue to inspire me would be awesome. Striking a few more items off of my type design bucket list is what drives to me to get better every single day.
TM: Some type designers regard their work as more-or-less dispassionate tools; others regard their work as extremely personal. How do you regard your designs?
KA: My work always feels personal to me. I have used my work as a vehicle to talk about subjects such as equal pay for women, mental wellbeing during the pandemic, and the importance of actionable allyship. These are all important issues for me.
My biggest joy is when I get a note from someone who appreciates the critical conversations I try to foster through my work.
TM: To what extent has your identity affected your career as a designer?
KA: I cannot escape my identity and hope I successfully embrace my Blackness in my work. Through art, I convey a message of black pride and use new ways to articulate the Black experience. Blacks in America have always made valuable artistic contributions to this country’s culture—that legacy inspires and motivates me. My work’s validity is confirmed by my own interests and aspirations.
TM: How have you felt about the reception to your work?
KA: From a superficial level, I think the reception to my artwork is fairly positive. However, my work is part and parcel to my existence as a Black man in America.
I have been publicly critical of the art and design world in light of the civil unrest in America. We as artists cannot only demand justice from law enforcement or elected officials; we must also demand it from ourselves and from the spaces in which we work. Anything less than that I find concerning.
Artists from all walks of life have privately told me they agree with many of the points I raise. I am grateful for those who have shared their platforms to create change. Unfortunately, the best that too many of them could offer was tacit support, for fear of falling out of favor with art directors and agencies. This paradigm needs to change.
TM: What will the world see next from you?
KA: On top of my normal client work, I am looking for new ways to empower and uplift others through the my art. Human rights and social justice issues are still very important to me; they continue to infuse my personal projects.
It still excites me to use type in interesting ways—but if I can create art that can also build awareness or raise funds for deserving causes—that really motivates me.
In addition, I want to find ways to let more young people of color know that they can have fruitful and meaningful careers in type design and lettering. It is important to me the next generation of artists is more diverse.
Lastly, I am working on completing my second typeface, which is a hybrid of art deco and a condensed sans-serif gothic.