Katrina Centeno-Nguyen

Katrina Centeno-Nguyen

by Rakhee Bhatt

The Calligrapher Who Penned Her Way To The Top & Learned To Embrace Chaos Along The Way

All it took was $10 for Katrina Centeno-Nguyen to forge her own path in the world of calligraphy. Using the money to buy a pen and pack of envelopes to address them for a friend’s wedding, Centeno-Nguyen then discovered that her enthusiasm for calligraphy could translate into a full-fledged career. She opened her firm Calligraphy Katrina in 2007, building a roster of clients that includes fashion brands such as Chanel, Dior, Ferragamo, and Burberry—along with publications like Vogue and cultural hubs like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—who are all drawn to her self-made fonts and unique propensity for doing calligraphy on a variety of materials.

One of Katrina Centeno-Nguyen's popular lettered mirrors
One of Katrina Centeno-Nguyen's popular lettered mirrors

Despite her distinctive abilities at the art form, Centeno-Nguyen never formally learned calligraphy. “We all get a set of cursive lettering grids to follow in elementary school and all of us have different handwriting styles,” says Centeno-Nguyen. “This is how mine naturally came out. I was 19 years old when I was asked by a friend to address her wedding envelopes. After a couple more jobs, I landed an encouraging write-up in a famous wedding blog. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Here, Centeno-Nguyen talks about starting her own business, why she thinks it’s important to embrace chaos in life, and the one fashion item that makes her feel powerful.

The calligrapher at one of her events
The calligrapher at one of her events
Lead Image: Centeno-Nguyen wearing the Milly Mermaid Hem dress

Q&A with Katrina

What inspired you to start your own business?

To be honest, it was by necessity. I was in school and I needed the extra income. As the business started growing and my skills developed, necessity turned into passion and appreciation for myself and my art.

When it comes to doing calligraphy, is there something people would be surprised to learn about it?

There is that notion that calligraphy is synonymous with older people doing the craft, that you need expensive materials to produce beautiful artwork, and that it’s highly “European.” However, there is so much diversity—from Japanese, Chinese, Greek, and Roman—with the younger generations practicing this dying art form. There is also a plethora of materials to choose from such as markers, acrylic, and even spray paint.

You name your fonts after people you love. How did this come to be and do you have a favorite?

It’s a no-brainer that I would name my fonts after the people closest to my heart. Each font has its own unique characteristic that mimics the person it was named after. I will plead the fifth on my favorite font. It’s like making me choose which kid I love best.

What are your materials of choice?

Acrylic for mixed mediums, Hunt 513EF nib for paper, and Yasutomo sumi for ink.

One of the great parts of your Instagram account is that you write out inspirational quotes and mantras in calligraphy. Why is your personal mantra to “embrace chaos”?

There are so many things in life you can’t control. For many years, I have been your quintessential Type A workaholic who needs to know that everything in her life has some sort of structure. While I am still that person, I know that life can throw you curveballs that we can never be prepared for. Somehow, you need to learn to reconstruct and balance at any time.

How do you think other women can learn to embrace the chaos of life?

By accepting all given circumstances. I am currently dealing with depression. A lot of it stems from trying to sort out a balance between work, life, and my soul. I have accepted that I have issues to work on and that it’s acceptable to seek help. Another mantra I use is, “Everything happens for a reason.” You need to remember that as long as you deal with issues with faith, the right heart, and a clean conscience, everything will fall into place.

It's wonderful that people such as yourself are talking candidly about their mental health. Can you tell us more about how you are moving through the depression?

I first had to actually recognize that I was unhappy with my current standings and that I know I could be better. I had to choose my battles and compromise. Even as an efficient worker bee, I had to figure quickly that the balance I had before would not work for my present. I love my job and I would never give that up, but I also wasn’t able to put my kid down to bed because I had a deadline. I worked from home and there’s a stereotype that because I do, that it was easier for me to take care of the baby. Our baby was born prematurely, and I refused to have a nanny so that I could watch her development. All this while still working 15-20 hours a day, maintaining the social media game and all the negatives that come with it as well, and meeting deadlines. I was hysterical and that wasn’t me; I felt like a machine for the first time. I opened up to my family and close friends first that I wasn’t genuinely happy, and then I opened up to my fan base. It was the most liberating feeling. Watching the family I love and business I built getting dragged by my own languish was all the motivation I needed to get my head in the game again. I finally hired a nanny, so I was more productive during the day, which meant I was actually able to get more work done and have the opportunity to have quality time with our baby. I gave up working Sundays because I’m the loon who works seven days a week, and even started taking care of my physical health. I started seeing that the positive energy was making me a more efficient person, and mom, than ever. I still go through times of melancholy, but that makes me human. I just keep my faith and remember the reasons I fight every day.

Do you feel that our society in general is more accepting of mental health struggles?

Not as much as I hope for. Our society, as a whole, is still quick to judge. Mental health in general has been a topic in the media, and there are more platforms shedding light on the struggling population. I also live in a very different community than many cities across the globe. There are many communities that believe voicing loneliness makes a person weak, who shame the ones too afraid to speak, underestimate someone with a physical disability thinking they are incapable of emotions and strengths, or think that sadness should be fixed swiftly, and worse, thinking it is a sign that they need to be institutionalized or heavily medicated. I’m no expert on this matter, but I personally believe that every problem has a root and that needs to be addressed before anything else.

Are there any women you look to for style inspiration?

My mom, my grandma, and Michelle Obama.

How would you describe your personal style?

Timeless, effortlessly chic, and comfortable.

What is your go-to outfit for this season?

You can’t go wrong with a beautiful coat. You can have blue jeans and a white tee shirt, and add sophistication with a beautiful coat.

Are there any pieces in particular that you are wearing right now?

My Prabal Gurung red blazer is my “Boss Lady” secret weapon. It’s such an impactful piece and I feel so powerful wearing it.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited about our lifestyle merchandise for the home and office, which features things like luxurious hand-poured candles—that can even be personalized—to wax seals and ready-made prints. We also have our rental division that is growing by the day, where we lend prop pieces such as mirrors and wood signs with beautiful lettering.


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