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September 2007

Getting a little maudlin

We just had the first of the going-away parties, exactly a year after I got here. It's only starting to dawn on me that I’ve finished, and I suspect it will be a few more days before it hits me like a freight train. In fact, I think it will be the first morning that I wake up and realize I have nothing to do, which hasn't happened in months.

It's been a pretty extraordinary, fortunate, difficult, stimulating year. It's been easy enough to live in another country since I feel like I’ve been doing exactly what I should have been doing all along.

People keep saying things that remind me that I haven't really mentioned my plans out here in the open yet. So far, all I know is that I’m staying in England at least another year. By January I'll know if funding has come through for a three-and-a-half year job doing research here at the typography department, and if that doesn't come through then I'll probably put in to stay and start a PhD next year. (Because if it isn't my destiny to become a doctor of typography, I don't know what else it could be.)

In the mean time, I don't have a job yet, but I can get a one-year visa that will let me work anywhere until something stable comes along. I’m going to try and do freelance work or short-term projects for the next few months. (P.S., that means you should give me paying work if you can! Those student loans won't pay themselves.)

And right now I’m elated that I’m done, scared about what comes next, and sad that my friends are trickling away.

I am so wasted!

It's sadly typical that I’m down here in Brighton staying in an awesome little hotel that boasts of being a rock-n-roll party spot, and I’m up in my room proofreading my dissertation about math while I nurse a raging headache that I got from gulping down a thimbleful of juice that had a drop of alcohol in it.* I am not hardcore.

in my room

* Seriously. The glass was like a test tube with 2 inches of liquid in it, and my super-prude senses couldn't even tell there was alcohol there. Still, it's probably about as much as I had in the last ten years altogether, so my head hurts.

Whoops! Yay!

I just realized that I made plans to head down to Brighton for this year's ATypI conference on Thursday, not Wednesday like I’d thought. That means I get an extra day to work on my dissertation before the typogeekery and the celebrating/schmoozing/job hunting begins. An extra day! I’ve never been so happy to be an absent-minded idiot.

On your radio

divine_interviewmag.jpgBBC Radio 4 had a nice little bit about fonts this morning, which you can listen to through internet magic. The font stuff happens a little way into the show (so a bit of patience is required, although the rest of the show is pleasant enough) but the nicest touch is at the very beginning — a clip from "Alphabet Rap" by Divine. It's like a market researcher was looking for a unique way to combine my obsessions!

Just like I love fonts and typography in general but can't stand a lot of individual fonts, my deep-seated love and appreciation for Divine and the rest of the John Waters family often struggles with a lot of Divine's recordings. Still, they always make me smile.

Oldie but a goodie

The Big G from the NL dug up this old Guardian article about the MA Typeface Design program here in scenic Reading. Not a bad summary, to be fair, although the days of class numbers being "strictly limited to just 10" are over now. We were the guinea pigs for an experiment in having a larger class this year, which was a source of occasional difficulty, but I also have to admit that I wouldn't have wanted to lose any of the folks in the group. I’m already getting a little maudlin about our little family scattering to the four winds in a couple of weeks.

By the way, graduation is December 15 if anyone is thinking about a visit.

The Alphabet Thesaurus Nine Thousand

For sheer typographic exuberance, it's hard to beat the old specimen books published by Photo-Lettering, Inc., a now-defunct phototypesetting outfit that flourished for about 50 years in New York. The Photo-Lettering library was massive, mostly made up of a mind-boggling array of display fonts. They called their specimen book an "Alphabet Thesaurus," arranging it as guide to the various themes and styles of the fonts in their library.

Photo-Lettering specimen

At a quick glance, you might cringe at a lot of stuff shown in the books, but I’ve always thought that the big problem is that they offered a lot of fonts that were horribly abused by the people who used them over the years. Every time I take a close look at the letters themselves, they're pretty incredible: novel, lively, well-drawn, and filled to the brim with personality — even the goofy ones. Considering some of the great lettering artists who contributed to their stock, it's not such a surprise.

Photo-Lettering specimen

The books are not completely painless, however. One of the big features of photocompositon was the ability to squeeze and stretch and skew and otherwise distort fonts stored on film masters, and the pages that show off that ability really make it clear how few typefaces can withstand that kind of torture.

Photo-Lettering specimen

House Industries owns the Photo-Lettering collection these days, and they've been working for a few years now on a tool for ordering custom settings of display type rather than the typefaces themselves, a return to the model used by the old type outfits like Photo-Lettering. I’ve seen demos now and then, and it's clear that it's a massive amount of work to sort through, digitize, and engineer all the fonts in that collection, but I still salivate waiting for the chance to play with them once and for all.

Photo-Lettering specimen

(More photos of the book at Flickr.)

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