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April 2010

Hi-class operations in the 'hood

While enjoying this teeny article about the cost structure behind designer clothes that sell for seemingly unreasonable prices, a little bell went off in the back of my brain as the writer mentioned the Martin Greenfield factory, where they were making manufacturing some designer khakis that eventually sell at Bergdorf Goodman for $550. A quick search confirmed my suspicion: that’s the place across the street from my old loft in East Williamsburg, where I lived for two-and-a-half years. I knew it was one of the few buildings in the area that was still a working factory rather than a dumpy building full of artists in search of cheap space, but had no idea they were doing the high-end stuff.

Sadly, I assume that Tenochtitlan 2000, the tortilla factory around the corner, was not operating with the same profit margins.

[And wow, it's been a long time since I looked at the online slideshow that I linked to in that old post about my place. Damn, I miss that place, even though the loft — and my life — really went to shit eventually.]

Look, it's snowing allergies!

Allergens 2 Allergens 1

Enter the Void

One of the points I try and make when I talk about "bad" type (let's just say it's of dubious quality, for whatever reason) is that a good designer can do brilliant things with almost any typeface with enough imagination and care and balls. And when I say stuff like that, I envision amazing things like this (warning: may cause seizures, but that’s a small price to pay):

[The opening credits from Gaspar Noé's Enter The Void]

Oh Coney, My Coney

The start of Summer always makes me long for Coney Island, especially now that it's so far away and I'll probably never see it again before it finally gives in to all the pressure and becomes something else.

Wonder Wheel

But there's so much to love. If you haven't been there it may be hard to see past the decay and appreciate the real charm that comes from the liveliness of the place, and the visible signs of a long, colorful history. I’ve always had trouble putting my finger on my love for the place, although it's such a goldmine of lettering and kitsch that it's easy to understand what first sucked me in. But it's always been more, somehow, too.

[Coney Island Dream from Joshua Brown on Vimeo.]

Shoot the Freak

Let me pass

passport photos

New passport photos, at last all sorted. Hilariously, there's a place down the street form the studio that does them. Well, it wouldn't have helped to get them last week since I’m still waiting for a paycheck deposit so I can end in the fees for the new passport anyway. And then I just start hoping this all gets fixed before I have to fly to the Netherlands to teach at the end of May.

Oh, and don't get even GET ME STARTED on the headaches that are going to be involved with securing a visa renewal by December. I’m going to be nagging a lot of people all summer long if that shit's going to happen.

Don't be a snob

I’ve been really focused on getting things ready for a talk I gave to the design students at Central St Martins last night, because it was a whole new presentation that required me to really digest and process a lot of ideas that have been simmering on the backburner for a while. The basic point of the talk, which will surely be revised and expanded and edited and given a few more times, is that when you do research about type design — particularly design for unfamiliar writing systems — you need to be incredibly objective and open to all possibilities and examples and things you can learn from them. Maybe you don't have enough understanding to know whether or not your sources and examples are reliable, or maybe you're letting your personal taste be your guide — either way, you probably need to stop and step back and ask yourself if what you're doing is relevant, appropriate, or effective. There can actually be a lot of useful lessons in things that you might easily dismiss (for plenty of good reasons) as being "bad".

Here are my slides, but of course you can't really get the full effect without the 40 minutes or so of me talking about them:

After the talk, there was a great Q&A session with the audience, and then drinks at a pub, and then dinner. It was nice, and a welcome relief from my frenzied pace of late, and very creatively stimulating on the whole to get all all those ideas out of my head and then have clever people respond to them.

Another nice treat was this little booklet that Rathna gave, published by the CSM students she advises on a little side project called Print Matters. The booklet — printed by Hato Press on a Risograph machine, which I now desperately want — was a bunch of short reflections on practice. I was tickled to read that one of them, written by one Ed Cornish, was about stumbling across the same ideas about research in another way.

Print Matters

(Read the rest...)

Raising the bar

I completely adore what my colleagues and pals are doing to establish their up-and-coming foundries like the Type Jockeys and BAT Foundry. Of course, it just makes it harder for the rest of us — all dazzling, charming, and talented in our own ways — to keep up. I’m not as telegenic as I once was, kids.

BAT - Le back office from BAT Foundry on Vimeo.

BAT - La Bonne idée from BAT Foundry on Vimeo.

Filed for future reference

I’m too damn tired to digest this information right now, but I should later so I’m just dropping in the link since you might find it useful, too, if you're a giant type nerd who has to think about these things: The ails of typographic anti-aliasing

The Art of Working Together

I wanted to draw special attention to Jonathan Hoefler's remarks about collaborative typeface design from this Typophile thread, because they are wise, and they give credit where it's due, and because they paint such a clear picture of the kinds of things I love so much about getting to team up with smart, creative people on cool projects whenever I can. (Hi, Ian! Hi, Rathna! Hi, Matt!)

(Read the rest...)

The Land of Oz

I’ve been gathering and sorting images for a talk I’m giving tomorrow at Central St Martins on type design, and how looking at "bad" typefaces and awkward signage and eccentric hand-lettering can teach a type designer a lot. The basic premise is that there are good lessons in there, as long as you can stop fussing about whether it's good and take the time to time to consider what works, despite other problems with taste or style or function.

As I pull stuff together, I’ve found myself teetering on the edge of just doing an entire piece about Cooper Black and Cooper Black Italic, a pair of my all-time favorite typefaces.

ATF Cooper Black Layton Cooper Black

It can be really difficult to appreciate how beautiful Oz Cooper's original designs are, since these types have been so watered down, abused, and over-used for so long. If you go back to the source, you see that these are rich, warm, lively letters. Maybe not perfect for every occasion, but big and bold and inviting. It should be no surprise that they were widely used and eventually widely licensed or pirated for a variety of situations and fabrication methods.

Families Welcome

The trouble seems to come from the quality of reproduction in the may ways of adapting the design for signage, iron-on letters, labeling machines, etc. A lot of the subtlety of the outlines get lost in all this translation, and the spacing usually goes to shit, and then suddenly this friendly letter is just saying "FREE MUSTACHE RIDES" on someone's shirt or advertising a 99¢ sale and all the charm is lost.

Confectionary Cooper

But it's still there, just waiting to be used well. As much as I hate flying with EasyJet, for instance, I quite love all that orange and Cooper Black they use. And I still totally have a jones for iron-on Copper Black lettering, especially if it's flocked.

Cooper Black iron-ons

I really should just do an Oz Cooper talk one of these days, I suppose, and just get all this out of my system once and for all.

Bitch, please

You'll have to pardon the whining, but sometimes a guy just needs to let it all out, OK? Here, in no particular order, is a brief list of bad things that happened yesterday:

Thankfully, Ian made me a nice cuppa tea and some dinner while we had a productive, encouraging chat about upcoming projects for The Colour Grey, so really helped me relax before I came home and fell asleep. (And sleep is good because that’ss when things go away for a few hours and I like that.)

Makin' Comics

Before stumbling my way into design and typography while working on my high school newspaper — and discovering that I loved doing that stuf A LOT — my goal in life was to draw comics, which was how I passed quite a lot of my free time and a significant chunk of my time in math and science class before that. (Note: I wasn't especially good at drawing comics, but I loved it.)

My desire to focus on comics as a profession gave my to a more intense interest in type, but I still dabbled with illustration for a while, and certainly my love for reading comics remained strong. As a designer, too, I’ve always been intrigued by how comics function visually, and how they have their own ways of being narrative. So when I stumble across good advice from talented comic artists, I always take note.

I while back I came across this piece about Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work, an incredible short guide to effective composition, drawn up by an industry veteran and apparently in unofficial circulation for years. It's a gem. (Small version here, but you owe it yourself to check out the bigger version.)

Wally Wood's 22 panels

Just recently I also came across Bill Griffith's Top 40 List on Comics and Their Creation. These are brilliant, but are more about the practical realities of working as a cartoonist in comparison to Wally Wood's tips, which are more about the comics themselves. And even though a lot of Griffy's advice is very specific to his model for working, they're smart and practical and sardonic, which I always like.

Bill Griffith 1-14Bill Griffith 15-24
Bill Griffith 25-35Bill Griffith 36-40

Each of these should be considered treasures of the comics form, and contain lots of wisdom for anyone working in a visual medium. Learn them. Consider them. Live them.


Passport 100415

Today's passport photo, capturing 39 1/2 years or so of stress and strain. Of course, there's always some kind of TREMENDOUS HASSLE lurking in the background every time I need to take another damned one of these, and today is no different. I don't even have the consolation prize of good drama or anything, just another round of unexpected bureaucratic hassle. I love living over here, but all the passport and visa and tax and money issues give the whole experience a never-ending tinge of stress, and I'll be happy one day when it all settles down.

But for now I have to go find someplace that takes the kind of passport photo which is valid for US passports, which naturally have totally different specs than any photo booth available in the UK, so that I can then go to the US Embassy — who are currently in possession of my passport, claiming it's too damaged to have new pages added to it — and get an early renewal, which means I'll also be saddled with the hideous new chip-enabled passport, for the low, low price of $100 — which I'll have to scrape together somehow. After that, I'll have to find out how to transfer my UK visa into the new passport, which will no doubt involve more photos and more outrageous charges. Another day, another emergency, another fee.


Screw it. I tried to work out a system for integrating my Twitter posts with the posts here, but it just wasn't working. It was hard to set up just right, a pain to mess with all my RSS feeds, and the whole thing kept breaking anyway. It just wasn't worth the hassle of getting it right, and I just don't have the time to deal.

Even worse, the whole attempt did nothing but encourage a growing bad habit of ignoring this site and spreading my wisecracks around elsewhere. There are a number of things that bug me about places like Twitter of Facebook becoming de facto repositories for my online activity, which is why I was trying to integrate my postings a little better. For one thing, I like having all of my stuff on my site, where it can be managed and archived on — or deleted form — my server. It's not just that I’m a bit of a nerdy control freak about my data, but after years of cultivating this space, I don't want to surrender my online presence to the vagaries, presentation, and terms and conditions of another environment.

The thing is, though: all the action is over there now. The age of blogging as I once knew it is pretty much over, and online social interaction happen less and less across a ragtag network of personal sites, and more and more in sprawling social networks with a pretty tight control over how things work. This is hardly a recent development. Rather, it's been deteriorating for quite some time. The barrier for entry is much lower on social networking sites, so of course people flock to them. And it's easier to devote your energy to sites where content arises out of smaller, easier contributions from a larger group of people, rather than spending time writing, reflecting, or preparing visuals on your own site, and then trying to draw people to it to comment and interact. The ups and downs of my posting habits certainly prove that.

But I still believing in having my own place here, just as I’ve had for over a decade now. Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Thingbox and whatnot maybe the village squares where I lounge and chat with pals, but this is still my home, and still the longest-running single thing that I’ve accomplished. I don't want to give up just yet and fully turn myself over to the wide open spaces of those other sites.

I want you to join me here, and I want to keep finding reasons to keep this going.


This is Dave. He's been my best friend for slightly over 20 years now. He's awesome.


(From here.)


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