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Tipoteca Italiana Fondazione: Rediscovering the past today.

Luckily, not everything has to be hard work. In this day and age, you can’t throw a smartphone and not find a service or process that hasn’t been streamlined for supposed ease. However, there is something very satisfying about putting in a focused effort that has an equal output. A 1:1 ratio, if you will. From an early age its been my version of everyone’s fascination and expectation of instant gratification. With letterpress printing, the amount of effort I put into setting up for a print is usually damn near equal to the success of the final print. I move each weighty block of letter form to the satisfying clicking of lead on steel as I lock them into place. From materials that were once the epitome of strength, there comes a tactile interlude unlike I have ever experienced.

You feel connected to the long lineage of printers that stood in that exact spot, to do the exact act, you are about to do. It can be as reverent of a moment as standing in a church. What is even better is that I am not alone in my ability to wax poetically about letterpress printing. Some can even do it in Italian. I am obviously referring to Tipoteca Italiana, easily one of the three original cradles of letterpress printing culture in the world. Started in 1995 in Corunda, Italy to capture and sustain Italian printing culture since the Industrial Revolution, the Fondazione not only houses a museum, but a working shop that has almost every type of press you can think of and more type cases of wooden and cast type than I could begin to count.

Now, I see where the future of society is going in terms of communication. I’m a designer, I have to. If I want to continue to help shape this world then I have to be on board, which I most definitely am. But I see my extensive knowledge of letterpress printing as just another facet of understanding design, of being a designer. As a designer, how can I know where I’m going if I don’t know where I’ve been?

Thwack, thwack, thwack, click, ding!

The Typewriter. For most of us, it was almost on it’s way out when we were born. Computers were finally starting to come around and while many adults were still comfortable with a typewriter, youngsters were charging forward with technology.

I still remember my mother telling me about her typewriting classes in high school, and how they would have a metronome going to keep people typing at the right speed. Oh, and her nails! Her instructor was always telling her she just had to cut her beautiful nails, but Mom persisted, and managed to keep up with your talon-like nails, which were all the rage at the time.

Or I remember my grandmother had one up in her spare bedroom and she always typed her stories on it to submit to the newspaper. Even though there was a computer down the hall, she only had eyes for the typewriter.

There was something very satisfying about hitting each key and hearing it twack against the paper, making a nice imprint on the smooth and pristine paper. Twack, twack, twack went the keys. Everyone knew when you were typing something up. Spies, be advised.

Now things could get tricky when you made a mistake. Me and the white out strips did not get along. Or when the ink ribbon decided to twist or when the carriage return jammed. They were not the easiest things to deal with: To complete anything it usually involved several curses, some sweat (remember how HEAVY those things were?) and a paper cut for sure. But you were always very satisfied when you finished. Not exactly the same feeling I get on a keyboard…but I digress.

The editor of UPPERCASE Magazine, a “magazine for the creative and curious”, developed this video as a way to raise money for the book entitled, The Typewriter: a Graphic History of the Beloved Machine. They look to still be taking donations! But just perusing the site and watching the video is great for anyone that is a designer, a collector, or someone with an aesthetic eye!

This post would not be possible without Lacy Kelly, who sends me all sorts of wonderful things that I would never know about without her! Thanks lady!

For the love of letters!

The life of a designer usually includes collecting ephemera to some degree. Whether it’s posters on our wall, cards in our desk or matchboxes in a bowl, we usually can’t get enough of it. There is something about the tactile sensation of it all that just draws us in. I am no different. My collections over the years have grown immensely, been cleaned out and started again numerous times. We’re each other’s best historians, simply by purchasing our friends’ work to have in our own collections. The best part is when we can purchase something lovely for our collection and completely help out a worthwhile cause.

The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum has had a bit of a rough year, in that they have to pack up from their home (an original Hamilton building established in 1927) and move to a new residence. I was lucky enough to make it up to Two Rivers, WI for their last Wayzgoose (a gathering of printers) just this past November. The space is amazing and honestly jaw-dropping. When you walk in, it’s just like coming home. That’s hard to create once, let alone recreate. But they will have to do so in their new space. But to get there they need some help.

For months they have been having events to raise money and awareness to their cause and the response has been incredible. Slowly, but surely, they are getting closer to reaching their monetary goal that it will take to save certainly one of this country’s treasures.

Now I know you might be asking yourself, “I have no idea what letterpress printing is or who these people are. Why should I help?” Let me present it to you this way: Do you like pretty things? Do you need a Valentine’s Day gift for that special creative in your life? Do you hate putting water rings on your favorite table? If you answered yes to any of this, then I have the opportunity for you!

Mama Sauce, an awesome letterpress/silk screen and design shop out of Florida are offering up Love Letters, a set of coasters created by some of the most talented designers and illustrators out there today. To make sure proceeds go to the museum, everything was donated, from the designs, the paper (Neenah Paper & French Paper), and the printing by Mama Sauce. Talk about a set of awesome and passionate people!

So with Valentines Day just around the corner, and these coasters in stunning red, this is not a bad place to invest your money. Those chocolates, roses, and stuffed animals can wait until next year. Give a gift that will wow your special someone and help out a wonderful cause!

ORDER HERE YOUR COASTERS HERE!

Mama Sauce’s friends at Fiction heard of their endeavor and made this wonderful little video to help.

Love Letters from FCTN on Vimeo.

It’s here! It’s here! It’s here!

The title of this post could mean a multitude of things, such as: Friday is here! Autumn (my favorite time of year) is here! My birthday is here! (Yes, today is my actual birthday! Hello 27!) In short, the title means all of these things because they are all true. But what’s really here is even bigger!

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane for a moment. Two and a half years ago I met a lovely woman named Gail Anderson at the HOW Conference in Denver, Colorado. Name ring any bells? It should! She has a career that others only dream about, she has authored/co-authored many books, teaches at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, and travels the world speaking on numerous topics. The words “design royalty” come to my mind…

At this particular conference she was presenting on graphic designers and the things we collect. While her collections ranged from bottle caps and salt/pepper shakers, I was running through my own head of the collections I have. We’re creative people, we can’t help ourselves! It’s during her talk that I realized that she was THE Gail Anderson who had co-written New Vintage Type and New Ornamental Type with Steven Heller. Whoa! I had been in love with the covers and content of those books for ages. I had to meet her without a moment to loose!

I waited until the swarm of people had abated and then I approached her. I think I had stopped breathing at that point. I asked her politely if she would mind signing the book (Incidentally I had a well-worn copy of New Vintage Type at home, but I went and bought another copy so that she could sign it! Total nerd moment!) She graciously accepted. As she was signing (I’m still not breathing), I told her that I wanted to design books and then wanted to see them in bookstores. That’s all I wanted to do. She paused and asked me what I did currently. I replied that I worked for a medical device company. Her reaction was one that I had clearly had many times…haha We quickly moved on…

So I asked her if she would be willing to take a look at my website that I had just put up and give me some feedback. She graciously said yes and we exchanged business cards. After that, everything changed. A couple months later Gail approached me about this book she and Steven Heller were working on about modern type. If I decided to work on it, it would be like an internship: little pay and long hours. I believe my response was was polite and concise. However, in the privacy of my own home, I believe I jumped up, yelled out a “yippee” and did a happy dance!

That was several years ago now, but the product of that chance meeting and me mustering up some courage, has finally seen the light of day. Through countless hours, ridiculous amounts of emails, and the hard work of Steve, Gail, Christine (head researcher and all around fantastic person!) and myself, the editors and staff at Thames & Hudson, world-class type designer Bonnie Clas, plus all the work contributed by awesome and amazing designers and studios around the world, we have a completely beautiful book.

I am proud to announce the publication of New Modernist Type by Gail Anderson and Steven Heller.

It’s a heady experience to type that and know that I was part of it. The experiences I had because of this book, the things I learned, the conversations I had, the people I met…Well I will never forget it. I will forever combine my birthday celebrations with the week that “the book” (as my friends and family so fondly called it) was published and was introduced to the world. Thank you to everyone who supported me and kept excited about the prospect of this book. Really, thank you.

This book is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and basically any good bookstore that knows what they’re doing!

I don’t have my official copy yet, but the good photos are coming soon! Plus be sure to check out the acknowledgement’s page…you might just see a name you recognize!

The Typographic Universe: Steven Heller & Gail Anderson

The Living Letter Press gets a visit!

Last weekend I took a fantastic trip to The Living Letter Press (see here) in Champaign, IL. This wonderful establishment is owned by John Bonadies (see here), whom I became colleagues with over a year ago and met for the first time on this trip. The Living Letter Press was established after John started a Kickstart project, raising money for the purchase of presses, wood fonts, inks, and every other conceivable item needed to have a running studio. But the twist is that all of this was used for the awesome ipad app called LetterMPress (see here). But what does one do with all of this amazing type and beautifully running presses afterwards? Start inviting people to visit!

After being invited by John, I was elated! I never turn down a chance to go print, talk to interesting people, and make something brand new! Admittedly, I drove by the studio twice before I finally saw their sign. The Living Letter Press shares space with a commercial printing shop which to me was really great to see: The new and the old, side by side, doing what they do best! The irony was not lost on this blogger.

To someone that would LOVE to own a studio such as this, I believe my jaw dropped when I walked in. With four presses running on motors (one Vandercook SP-15, two SP-20s, and a Chandler & Price) and several proof presses and a Kelsey 6 x 9, this studio can really move!

When I looked to my left this printer’s heart leaped in happiness! A whole wall, full of wood type! And not your run of the mill type either. The fonts that are encased in these drawers are from around the world, including ones from Germany, Portugal, and England. Not to mention all the ones from the US. With work lining the walls, showcasing the use of these fonts, anyone would be inspired within minutes! It was all I could do to pay attention to John as he was talking and not run over and embrace the type!

I knew that I only had a limited amount of time in this studio and had to make the most of it. I got printing right away! The previous week I had discussed with John what he had available for printing photopolymer plates. He said that he had a Boxcar base, which is available only from Boxcar Press out of Syracruse, NY. I “grew up” on photopolymer plates that have a metal base that attach to a magnetic base. But a Boxcar base is very different: They can create a photopolymer plate that is clear, flexible, and adhere to the base with a sticky coating that is applied to the back of the plate. They can create traditional plates as well, but this new technology sounded great to try. Color me excited to test these plates out!

That’s exactly what I did! I had decided that I wanted to print myself a business card, making it official that I am completely in love with letterpress printing and will most likely be so for a very long time! With a little bit of help from John, the Boxcar plate was so easy to position and align with the grid that comes standard on the Boxcar base. Even later, after several runs, the plate was easy to remove and reposition slightly. You can see the base locked up in the image below. The first color I printed was a candy pink and it looked yummy enough to eat! Next, chartreuse! Truly a beautiful color!

I worked in the “work and turn” method, where you run the paper through the press, then keeping the printed side up, turn it and feed the paper into the press again. By working in this method I was able to print more than 600 business cards. I didn’t do the math ahead of time…haha But was more than happy with the results! The image below shows the first run (candy pink) done and ready for me to feed the paper through the press for a second time with the chartreuse. Work and turn, work and turn…

Last, but not least, I was able to print my poster! I was able to dive into those beautiful Hamilton Type Cases and look at the handsomely worn fonts, many of which were over 100 years old. ::sigh:: After a little time, my skills of measuring the wooden type in picas and laying the whole poster out quickly came back to me and in the end it was a thing of beauty!

I quickly decided my colors were going to be teal with silver. Very simple and very elegant. Or at least that’s what I hoped! It was a simple poster of only two runs, seeing that this was my last day of printing. It was very nice to print with the wooden type after the crispness of the photopolymer plates. Each letter can hold its own story and and character. I knew that when I found the “AND” I had happened upon something of beauty. She certainly had her own personality. She was willing to work hard, but was a little obstinate in printing in her entirety. In the end it took a little make-ready to get some corners to print, but we came to an agreement. Mutual respect between printer and type. The final imprint looked good!

After two days of printing, roughly 20 hours of print time, I was as happy as a kitten with a saucer of milk! I drove home with a grin on my face that lasted for days. The opportunity that John offered me was amazing! So I have to give a BIG thank you to John for allowing me to come and visit, use his fantastic studio, and create some amazing work! I can’t wait to return and I’m already planning my next project!

A “press worthy” new addition to the family…

I am very happy and proud to announce that I have added a new addition to my family: a absolutely beautiful Sigwalt Press! Affectionately known as Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt (The street he was found on + name of press and since he’s an older fellow, so Sir was added as a form of respect), I purchased him a few weeks ago at a sale in Zion, IL at a Platen Press Museum (pictures to follow in a later blog post!) I had been dancing around the idea of owning my own press for several years now, but the funds were just never there. With a little change of financial luck and steadily putting money away in my savings, I finally did it! With the help and direction of several friends who have already taken the leap into purchasing presses, I headed North to see what I could find and find something I did!

When it comes to table top presses, historically, most people recognize the name Kelsey as a major manufacturer. In truth, there used to be many manufacturers of table top presses, but in the end Kelsey bought out most of the smaller companies. John Sigwalt held out though. Sigwalt migrated to Chicago in the early 1800s at the age of 16. His initial foray into business was with sewing machines, but after the devastating fire of 1871 destroyed his factory he started selling a ticket printing device that he had invented.

That little machine that eventually grew into larger production was called the Sigwalt Press and came in two different varieties: The Chicago and the Nonpareil. The differences between these presses dealt with the arm location, either at the side or directly in front of it. Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt is a Nonpareil, which later became known as the Sigwalt “Ideal.” I won’t even get into what these presses used to go for, but it will make you cringe at how cheap they were. However, cheap isn’t exactly the adjective I would apply to Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt…haha But it’s completely well-spent money.

Sigwalt Press: Chicago (front lever)

Sigwalt Press: Nonpareil (side arm lever)

The last thing to note is that the Sigwalt Ideal is a platen press. The same concepts of letterpress printing still apply, but I was “raised” on cylinder printing on presses such as a Vandercook. So while I’m definitely part of the letterpress world, I’m foraying into a new area of letterpress printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement, but will have to work for now!

So welcome my Sigwalt Ideal (Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt) into your hearts as I have done and you might just be lucky enough to get a print from him!

But are you really a graphic designer?

My week has been, amongst other things, slightly consumed with making a design test for graphic designers that are interviewing for open positions at my job. My wonderful copy writer really got the test started by writing out things that are important to a designer and skills a designer should have. Then it was my turn to really drill down into the test and make sure we were using the right terminology and finally actually making the test. I even had a fellow designer Laura Rings take the test to make sure it could actually be passed by a graphic designer. By the way, she passed with flying colors.

So the question begs, what makes a graphic designer? There are people out there that have never gone to school for it, but have a tremendous portfolio of work. But then you also have people who did go to school, but even comparing between them, there are noticeable differences between their creative process and technical skills. Once again I ask, what makes a graphic designer?

While many answers may come flying at me via the comments section after people read this, I don’t actually have an answer. The answer all depends on who you talk to on a certain day, at a certain time. But I do offer up something fun to entertain you: A test that sees if you really do know your stuff when it comes to typography and specifically kerning. So follow the link and test your skills! I promise it will be entertaining! Be sure to post your results in the comment section!

Click for kerning test here!

Name that font! Go!

Fonts have gone a little crazy. It seems like anyone can take a stab at making their own font these days. Then they put it out there for people to use, over and over again. Then someone takes it and makes a bastardized version with only a small change and it has a whole new name. It’s sometimes very hard to make sense of which font is named what.

Now think about fonts that weren’t even made with a computer in mind. There is no uploading a named font file to your computer that archives the newly arrived font. Nope, all you have is a block of type high wood with a letter lovingly carved out of it. There is no stamp to identity it’s name and you only have one of them. No other letters to compare to find similarities and differences. All is lost, correct? Happily the answer is no! Not all is lost!

There is a wonderful blog called Letterpress Daily that is run by a former educator/friend of mine, David Wolske. I have never met another person so in tune with a letterpress machine and specifically the letter forms used to print on them. Each post he puts a wonderful picture of the wood letter and then the printed version. It makes me grin ear-to-ear every time I see it! This blog not only educates printers, students, and enthusiasts, but gives you an archive to start your own investigating work of finally figuring out what the heck that wood font is called that has been sitting on your shelf for years! I bet if you sent him a picture, he might even know what it is named!

At this rate, you might never get through all of his posts, but then that just means you always have something entertaining and informative to read each day!

To view his website, click here!

What type are you?

I’m always one for play-on-words and that’s exactly what a well-known design studio used in their holiday greeting.

As graphic designers we are taught that choosing which fonts to use in a piece is a big decision because a font can say so much with so little. Being the fanciful person that I am, I feel that each font has a personality. You have the big, heavy macho types, the dainty and feminine types, the memorable and unmemorable types, the flashy, the luxurious, the hard worker, and the list goes on and on. Each one makes a statement. Combine the statements and you can get quite the conversation going before even reading what the letters spell.

While I might have once thought that I was insane to think that fonts have personalities, I am apparently not alone and in very good company. Pentagram, perhaps one of the most well-known design studios, came up with a great holiday greeting for their clients! It’s a test with only 4 questions about what kind of person you are (disciplined, traditional, progressive, etc) and ends with the outcome of what kind type (in this case font) you are most like. I was Emotional, Assertive, Traditional, and Disciplined which equals Pistilli Roman. I loved it! It’s the exact kind of font that I would have been attracted to instantly! Even if you’re not a design nerd like myself, you’ll enjoy taking this test!

So take the test and see what type you are, both emotionally and font style.

Take the test here.

Leaving on a jet plane…

Okay, not really. But I am taking a little holiday this weekend! My parents and I are heading out on a road trip, which in distance might not be trekking across America, but in terms of fun it’s going to be of epic proportions!

Many of you probably know this, but I like to take photos. Often on my trips I take copious amounts of photographs of nature (flowers, leaves, trees, even blades of grass), but I also like to take pictures of interesting fonts. There are so many signs out there that have the most interesting and intriguing fonts: Some manufactured/applied vinyl letters, but many are hand drawn/painted onto whatever surface they can find. Diners usually have some of the best fonts/signs that often take on a sculpture affect (see image below). It’s fantastic!

Gail Anderson, a friend, colleague, and all around design guru has no problem capturing awesome and interesting fonts. On her Tumblr site, she not only captures fonts from around her where she lives in New York City, but also when she travels abroad to fantastic locations such as her most recent trip to Italy. Any one person’s knowledge of fonts is challenged when viewing her fantastic pictures of fonts because it shows that there are people all over the world, who are not involved directly with graphic design, who are creating these beautiful and sometimes breathe-taking fonts (total design nerd moment…haha).

So take a look at her site here, get inspired, grab your camera and hit the road looking for the best fonts you can find. If you find any particular delicious ones, please feel free to contact me and I’ll post it on the blog with your credits!