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Q&A with Cyrus Highsmith

Type designer and graphic artist from Rhode Island

I’m Cyrus Highsmith. I’m a type designer and graphic artist based in Providence, Rhode Island.

How did you get started in typeface design, what is your background?

I grew up in rural Wisconsin. I always loved to draw and knew I wanted to be a visual artist of some kind. I thought I would become a painter or a printmaker. After dropping out of one art school, taking some time off to work, I ended up at Rhode Island School of Design in the graphic design department. In order to make the typography I was imagining, I had to make my own typefaces. At first, I assumed that was what all graphic designers did. I didn’t realize type design was a specialty or how deep you could get into it.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path for beginners in learning typography?

A good typographer needs to be a good reader and a good drawer. I recommend that anyone who wants to learn about typography make reading and drawing life long pursuits.

What are the books about typography design helped you to improve your professional skills?

Any major improvements have come from working not reading. However, there are some books that made a big impression on me. Counterpunch by Fred Smeijers, The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn, Letter Letter by Gerrit Noordzij.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you work at your type design studio or mix a few activities?

I work at mostly home and I love it. I get up very early in the morning so I have at least of couple of quiet, solitary uninterrupted hours everyday. My afternoons are free to spend with my family.

I write and draw and do computer stuff up in the attic. I make prints and messier things in a different space. This wasn’t an intentional separation. It just worked out that way logistically.

Who are the designers and typographers, colleagues in Providence or outside you admire most?

Lately, I’m studying the paintings of Kyle Staver. Her sense of space and shape really impresses me. There are many young type designers who I admire for their wit and imagination like David Jonathan RossVictoria Rushton, and Nina Stossinger.