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?

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!


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

Ernst Haeckel: The man who did it all…and did it well.

Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel is an 1800s German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, zoologist, physician and artist. This was a man that was able to take all of his interests and do some very rather impressive things with them. The part that interests me most is that he is responsible for discovering, naming, and depicting thousands of species around the world. It’s one thing to be able to discover these new species, to see them for yourself, but quite another thing to be able to bring those images to the masses.

The multi-color illustrations of animals and creatures of the sea by Haeckel, in my opinion, are some of the best examples in the world. This man’s attention to detail (most likely brought on by his other interests in biology and the medical world) seems unparalleled to me. There were no computers, no quick digital photographs to come back to for reference. This man was in the field, taking sketches and getting detail that a camera would be lucky to capture, especially if the subject was moving. When his images were put to the test, using 21st century technology, they easily stood the test, even at a microscopic level. Talk about being good!

While most of his images were published separately, you can now find books with his complete illustrations. My favorite are of his underwater sea creatures. They’re simply breath-taking! I marvel at both the man’s skills and capabilities, but also that species such as these exist in nature. Can you say passport please!

While Haeckel is not a graphic designer, nor did he even remotely profess to be, he had an air about him that makes me think he might have appreciated meeting one. The best graphic designers that I know live very full lives. They have multiple interests, know everything about their own discipline (read: eat, sleep, breathe), but also have knowledge and interest in disciplines that affect their’s (photography, video, illustration, letterpress, etc). They are not only focused on what is in front of them but they use ALL their knowledge to influence their work and be as connected to the world as they possibly can. With computers and internet, that’s not necessarily hard to do in today’s world, but Haeckel had none of that, yet still managed to do more than most. In short, he was no slouch.

So be inspired by his work, take a page from his book of life and continue to have multiple and varied interests. Then if you can combine all this…well then you might just make a name for yourself!

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!

Polymer biaxially-oriented polypropylene technology aka Money!

I’m hoping that the title of this post makes you scratch your head, make a weird face, and ask yourself, “What the heck is she talking about?” Because it should! I was out last night with friends and co-workers and for the first time in my life, I learned about plastic money or polymer biaxially-oriented polypropylene (BOPP for short). I specifically learned about the Australian version of this type of money. We had a charming Australian amongst us who was more than happy to talk about home!

Being the inquisitive person that I am I kept bugging my Australian counterpart to see this money he spoke of, some part of me not quite believing him. Sure enough though, in-between karaoke songs, out of his wallet came some of the most colorful money I had ever seen. They’re really quite beautiful! Then he mentioned the plastic part and showed me that you can’t even tear them in half! I think I yelled, “Nooooooo!” as he attempted to tear the money. But there the dollar (aka banknotes) remained, all in one piece if only slightly bent where the attempt on it’s life was made.

Before the use of polymer money, Australia had paper money just like the rest of us. But due to an increase of counterfeit 10 dollar banknotes, the government started to get concerned and decided to make the switch in 1988 to commemorate the bicentenary of European settlement in Australia. While there was a switch-over period, all bills are polymer now.

Now that we have the history, let’s get down to the fun part, such as color choices and imagery! Each bank note uses what I would define as suites of color, with each note specifically tending towards a dominate color, making it very easy to recognize denominations. As for imagery, after talking to my Aussie friend, it ranges from the Queen on the 5 dollar banknote to other figureheads in Australian history. Then add to that secondary, completely detailed images and then place all of that on complex, swirling patterns and you’ve got yourself something that is not only beautiful, but a warning/deterrent to anyone thinking that they could easily forge one of these banknotes.

Now if talking about beautiful colors and fantastically detailed drawings haven’t gotten your interest yet, I’m about to make it worth your while. When was the last time you were able to see through your money? I don’t mean holding your money up to a light and seeing the somewhat incoherent image of a president swirling around between paper fibers. Actually see through your money, like a window? The answer is you haven’t because that’s just not possible with paper money, but with polymer, apparently anything is possible!

An added security feature has been added to the Australian banknotes called simply enough “transparent windows” that was introduced to polymer money in 2006. On each banknote there is literally a small window that can be shaped like anything and with the absence of ink, the clear polymer shows through. Of course everyone held it up to their eye and looked through. Naturally…haha

Besides learning about something new, the reason the Australian currency attracted me like a moth to light, is that money is a completely utilitarian object. We use to as a tool and mode of function but really nothing else. Some people collect coins and other currencies, but for the most part it sits in your wallet, purse, or pocket until you’re ready to part with it in exchange for something better than some pieces of paper. And while I also understand that all the colors, images and intriguing parts of the money is to deter forgeries, they could just as easily have made the money ugly, but still have the same security features. But countries continue to make their money colorful and interesting. My hunch is that if you have to look at it every day, you might as well make it the least visually offensive you can make it!

I tip my hat to you Australia! Keep up the good work!

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!

Paper because…

As I was thumbing through my newest installment of National Geographic I came across the most intriguing ad. Being a graphic designer in marketing, I tend to look at the ads, even when I would rather ignore them and get to the good facts about some bizarre island that can’t be found that breeds a type of bird that has never been seen but that likes to sleep upside down. I truly love National Geographic. But I digress. I came across a rather simple, but colorful ad that with two people looking at a map, clearly dressed for the outdoors, with a headline that said, “Paper because a lot of places worth going don’t get a signal, and hopefully never will.” Whoa. That was simply my first reaction. I just couldn’t believe that here was an advertisement that wasn’t directly trying to get a graphic designer or office interested in their paper products and more importantly, it wasn’t in an industry magazine such as HOW, Communication Arts, etc. I was thrown for a happy loop!

As the shock finally wore off, I saw the logo in the bottom right hand corner. The ad was for Domtar Paper (here). Admittedly not my favorite paper company, but dang it, if this ad wasn’t turning my thoughts around. So as usual, I donned my research hat and starting poking around trying to find out more and Domtar was completely prepared. The ad I saw was only one advertisement of a whole campaign to battle the “go paperless” statement that seems to appear on anything paper or that could appear on paper, such as emails or bills. Well, no wonder. The “go paperless” campaign has been put forth by technology based companies to push their products, so it was only fair that the paper companies have the same chance to fight for their products. I applaud them, especially with something so creative. They have made Paper an entity on their site. There is even a letter from Paper to the audience, reminding them about how many great times they’ve had together and that they’ve been together for so very long. All very true statements.

Their website goes even further than just helping their audience fall back in love with paper. They have made some very poignant and rather socially pointed ads (see here) showing how leaving paper behind and going completely forth with technology based forms of communication might indeed be hurtful to society, both socially, historically, financially, and environmentally. Then, making sure that they’re not getting too serious with their cause, they have made some very funny short videos (see here) likening paper to drugs, what would actually happen if paper was rationed, and then taking it even further that is the world goes completely “paperless” what would you use to…um…take care of things in the bathroom.

Here is one of my favorite videos…

It is no secret that I love paper. For years now I have been collecting everything printed ephemera from books, menus, postcards, gift tags, signs, and just sheets of paper from around the world. It’s a fascinating concept to me that something that is so seemingly fragile can last for a thousand years. I recently heard a startling fact that the Library of Congress put forth. They stated that in 100 years all of the current, digital archives that they have will be corrupt and no longer useable. Say what? Yet the Gutenberg Bible, which is not even the oldest form of paper in archive currently is 562 years old (give or take a decade) and is still in near perfect condition. Hello people??? I’m not sure we need much more proof than that that paper is not something we should be getting rid of anytime soon. How are people, 500 years from now going to know what life was like during this time if there is nothing to find? I’m just not entirely sure we’re completely thinking to our future with this “go paperless” concept.

Now before I get an onslaught of comments about being environmentally friendly, and recycling, and not wasting, I completely agree. We as society need to be responsible paper users. Do you always need to print that email? Probably not. If a child makes one small mark on a paper, should they just throw it away and start over? Nope, just turn it over or heaven forbid you erase the mark with an eraser. On a pencil. Remember those? Anyways, that’s a whole other irk of mine. There are ways to continue to use paper and trees and be responsible about it.

So in a world where the pressures to completely forget about paper, I truly applaud Domtar Paper for attempting to inform, raise questions, and entertain me with their new campaign. They can count one more among their supporters. My name is Abigail Steinem and I’m a paper lover. Hail paper!

The communications we take for granted…

This whole post developed this week because my car radio/cd player has died. I currently don’t have the money to replace it and the songs on my iphone were getting a little old. At first I didn’t like the silence. It bothered me. But as the days passed and I got more used to it, I started to notice more things around me, such as the traffic signs. The speed limit signs, the exit signs, the no turn right signs, etc.

Of course my curious mind started wondering where the font had come from, why that particular one had been chosen, who had designed it, and then I started wondering how we had even started using road signs (I do love my history!). So I got to researching and found out some interesting history!

As you could have guessed, road signs used to be extremely simple. The earliest road signs with actual wording on them date back to the Romans, when they would place stones throughout their empire simply stating how far away Rome was from that point. These stones were known as milestones. Stones to mark the miles. They were a bit ego-centric, but the monolith stones did the trick. No one ever got lost going to Rome.

During the Middle Ages, after Rome had fallen, the directional signage expanded. Now at intersections, there were multi-directional signs showing the path to several hamlets, towns, and cities. Just as the world was increasing in size, so was the need for their signs to be more specific and offer more options of destinations.

For the longest of time, the first two options worked, with no real need to change them or expand upon them. They actually worked all the way up until the invention of the bicycle of the 1870s. This was no ordinary bicycle: it had an extremely large front wheel and a rather small back wheel. For the first time, other than a horse and carriage, people were moving relatively quick, compared to walking from place to place, which was still a major mode of transportation. It is due to this new invention that cycling organizations started to erect signs that were more specific than just distance or directions to a location. These signs included information about upcoming steep hills, loose gravel, and a myriad of other things, warning these cyclists of possible dangers. Here we have the birth of the modern road/traffic sign.

From here traffic signs went the way of most communications on a large scale: standardization. With the invention of the automobile, it became even more clear that signs were needed. In the early days, when automobiles were mixing with carriages and bicycles on roads, it was often disastrous. There were no speed limits, no lanes of traffic. It was a bit of a nightmare. At this point signs had gone from being made from wood and stone, to cast iron that were then painted. This made them more durable and easier to write on with the new set of standard alphabets put forth by the FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) in 1945.

The pamphlet published was called Standard Alphabets for Traffic-Control Devices. It broke the acceptable and useable fonts into the follow: Series A, B, C, D, E, E(M), and F. Font Series A is the narrowest and Series F is the widest. Series E(M) is exactly like “E” but is slightly modified (thicker strokes) to allow for infusing reflector disks for high visibility at night. In 2004, lowercase letters were added to all Series A-F, allowing for easier visual legibility.

At this point I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How could their possibly be this much information on one seemingly small topic?” Simple answer: I am a research hound. I love digging up information on topics you might not even think twice about, but also because there is a story to everything. I didn’t even drill down into the use of colors on signs and signage in other parts of the world, where words often aren’t even used so that they have a more universal usability. The writings on signage is endless and one that I will probably continue to research, even after this post is done.

Perhaps I piqued your interest in signs? Taschen, a German book publisher was also intrigued by signs from around the world and created the book 1,000 Signs which can be purchased from Barnes & Nobles.. This book is filled with signs from everywhere ranging from cows being abducted by aliens, to simply what a stop sign in another country looks like.

So check it out and enjoy!

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!