April 12, 2010

My Baby, She Wrote Me A Letter

I have been musing in my head a lot lately. Sometimes this turns into something productive, sometimes not. But there it is.
One thing I've been considering is the written letter. Not the object, but the letterform itself.

Some people have beautiful handwriting, some do not. It is a true craft that some work on their whole lives. Personally speaking, my own handwriting is terrible. I have stared at paper, pen in hand and tried to will it to make pretty shapes. My hands just don't do this and well, I'm a printer. I can print other people's beautiful handwriting just beautifully. I've found my place in this. But more than just another pretty letter, I've always appreciated how letterforms are everywhere. Sometimes people ask what inspires, and from me, it's easy: signs, grocery stores, labels, books and hand-made things. No secret that this is part of how I've found myself in the work I am doing today and eventually, I'm hoping it will all make perfect sense in the 'big scheme' of things. But I'm digressing a bit.

I used to work at the SFPL with the very talented Daniel Flanagan and Margaret Kilgallen. They understand lettering and typography so deeply that it rocked my traditional world. They lived it. We worked on old books, so we were always coming across amazing samples of true working typography. Not designed for design's sake, but honest design. There was one book—I can't remember the title but it was a history of sign making and lettering. Men (typically) would go to school to learn this very important and very noble trade.

Today, we have computer software and programs to help us put together our thoughts (and yes, I also love this fact). I'm truly thinking out loud here, but it also has me thinking about an article I once read about averyfamousperson and he was talking about 'his journey to success', etc. etc. I'll share an excerpt here:

... Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.

This was Steve Jobs. Yes, a very rough introduction by me but it's a start. This rainy day has me thinking about people's journeys, their work, the work of so many craftsmen and women that has been passed down through so many hands, and basically, how we all land where we are. An introduction of things to come. So go hug a Calligrapher and let me know what inspires you.


Castle in the Air said...

We just has a week long penmanship workshop (Spencerian Saga) at Castle in the Air. What astounding work the students made!!! It was like living a hand lettered dream for 6 days. Flourishes too. It made me wish that more of my work was done by pen and nib and less by computer.

Castle in the Air said...

And I hugged a bunch of Calligraphers this week too!!