Order Your Museum and Follow its Progress

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The Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule crowdfunding campaign funded magnificently—thank you to everyone who backed the campaign and the larger number of people who provided moral support and design suggestions!

I’m now taking direct pre-orders for elements of the project. Most museum are now spoken for (about two-thirds of the edition of 100 I’m making), but you still have time to order one, as well as pre-ordering separately the book I’m writing for it, Six Centuries of Type & Printing, which will be typeset in Monotype hot metal and printed by letterpress. The museum and book are in preparation for delivery in January 2020.

Here’s where you can order the various components:

I’ve also created a dedicated site that explains the museum, and a blog that I’ll post updates about its progress to.

The Tiny Type Museum and Time Capsule

Update: The project was wildly successful, and I’ll be making elements of it available for separate order soon at tinytypemuseum.com.

My latest typographic project is now live: I’m raising funds to build up to 100 tiny type museums and time capsules! These little museums will comprise actual historical and modern type artifacts, replicas, and printing samples—like a real museum—and the case and its components will be designed to last for centuries—or longer—like a real time capsule.

The cost isn’t low, but I tried to balance the authenticity and lifespan of the project, to give it substance and longevity, with the budget. I hope you’ll take a look at the main reward of the museum, and other campaign items, which include a book and a Linotype “slug” of type.


Live Podcast Taping at Ada’s on January 23: Life of a Letterpress Printer

Join me January 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 as I host an episode of his podcast The New Disruptors live at Ada's Technical Books and Café in Seattle with three letterpress printers as guests to talk about making some or all of their living in the 21st century by working in the past with techniques, equipment, and type that date as far back as the 19th century and earlier.

My panel discussion features Demian Johnston, Sarah Kulfan, and Amy Redmond, and we’ll talk about their work and practices, and how they make the past mesh with the present, especially at a time when authenticity is highly prized. The event will end with a Q&A and informal discussion. The printers and I will have some of their work on hand and available for purchase. (Note that this live event will be taped for later online audio posting.)

Admission is free and no ticket is required, but space is limited. As an incentive to venture out in the January cold, the first 20 or so arrivals will receive a free pastry courtesy of the podcast, so come early!

The New Disruptors podcast features independent artists who control how their work is made and distributed in a constantly changing creative economy. It was brought back after a hiatus through the support of patrons.

Update:  A great time was had by all!  Photo by    Jeff Carlson

Update: A great time was had by all! Photo by Jeff Carlson

Biographies:

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Sarah Kulfan is a visual designer, illustrator, and letterpress printer. She is the proprietrix of Gallo Pinto Press and Beans n’ Rice where she respectively prints limited edition prints and runs her freelance graphic design business. Sarah thrives working as an independent artist and designer where the flexibility in her schedule allows her plenty of time for opting outside. Instagram: @hellobeansnrice

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Amy Redmond is a Seattle-based visual designer and artist who has been using letterpress as a medium for self-expression since 1998. Her apprenticeship with Stern & Faye, Printers, cultivated an appreciation for traditional and experimental use of letterforms. Amy works as an independent art director and graphic designer, and prints in her studio Amada Press. Her work has appeared nationally in solo and group shows. She teaches at SVC and PLU. She is a 2018 GAP Award recipient. Instagram: @amadapress

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Demian Johnston is the Designer and Pressman at Annie's Art & Press, a letterpress shop in Ballard. At SVC, he teaches both introductory and advanced classes in the letterpress program. His design and illustration work has appeared in The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, City Arts, and Beer Advocate. He is also the founder of the art and music label Dead Accents and a veteran performing musician in Seattle’s underground music scene. Instagram: @anniesartandpress




2018 Creative Year in Review

Last year was hard to top. I had a designer in residence position at the School of Visual Concepts, printed a book by letterpress, traveled to New York for a Kickstarter event, Wisconsin for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum Wayzgoose, and to London to research a book.

2018 started weakly. I got the flu on Christmas Eve, recovered briefly, and then was so knocked out with secondary illnesses that it took me about four months to recover fully. During that time, I was also writing a book, finding new publications to write for, and figuring out what I would do across the year.

It turned out pretty well in the end.

In the first part of the year, I finished researching and writing London Kerning, and then designed the book and had it printed—and then shipped it out to hundreds of people. I undersold myself on demand and ran out, and then banged a drum to sell enough copies to create a second printing. And then sent those out! (I wrote about the finances of the project in some depth for those interested.)

I had another book underway, too: the letterpress title I printed in 2017 wasn’t yet fully complete. I ran late in the printing, which cascaded into a large delay for Jules Faye, the bookbinder who created an incredible package for the work. I sent out part of the edition of 100 books in 2017, and the rest by April. I had a few unnumbered artist’s proofs remaining, and sold some of those, too. (There are a very few copies left, if you want one! You can also get a single chapter bound in a translucent vellum.)

This year I also updated some of my tech/how-to titles. Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security hadn’t been updated in a few years when it was uncertain what Apple intended for its in-house Wi-Fi devices. This latest edition is more generally focused, especially for readers who haven’t set up Wi-Fi before or are replacing a whole house or small-office network. I also revised A Practical Guide to Networking and Security in iOS for iOS 12. And I wrote a new title, Take Control of Your Apple ID, which is full of tips and troubleshooting advice for Apple’s surprisingly fraught account-management system. I’m currently revising a Take Control title about using Slack for January 2019.

I continued writing for a slate of publications (not including Slate) that include the Economist, the AtlanticFast CompanyIncrementMacworld, and TidBITS. (You can find a searchable list of nearly everything I’ve ever written at my Authory profile, which also provides a feed of new articles.)

My first article appeared in Smithsonian magazine (about 1923 and the public domain) and at Fortune online, where since June I’ve been writing breaking news every afternoon alongside other reporters.

I apparently wrote over 500 articles this year! That comes in part from the stint at Fortune, where I might file two to four stories a day combined with the Macworld Mac 911 column I’ve now written for years, which usually results in me filing three items a week.

Some of the favorite or most meaningful stories that I wrote and which appeared this year include:

  • Why European-descended Americans seem to want to declare themselves Native Americans (for the Economist). This story’s hook was Elizabeth Warren’s exploration of her past in a way that didn’t involved consulting the native community. I was spoke to Rosanne Cash for the story, someone I’ve known for years due to Twitter, as I’d read her father had once claimed heritage—then discovered he was incorrect. She said he was very disappointed, but he persisted in fighting for native rights.

  • The paper that poisoned its printers (for the Economist). This bit of history arose from my London trip in late 2017. For Queen Victoria’s coronation, one newspaper printed a golden-hued portrait—which sickened many involved in its production. Breaking news from 1838!

  • Why the genome of wheat is so massive (for the Economist). I had a great time learning about this topic, and this “Economist Explains” column found its way into a collection of these explainers, called Seriously Curious that came out in late 2018.

  • The Racism Behind One of the World’s Largest Time Capsules” (for the Atlantic). I was slightly obsessed with this story for two years after discovering its detail. The Atlantic helped me birth it. The time capsule at a college in Georgia is like a dark mirror to the monuments aboveground, over which battles currently rage.

  • A First Look At The Spheres, Amazon’s Wild New Corporate Biodome” (for Co.Design). Amazon gave me early access to their new habitat in January, and I broke the news that the company planned to bring a “titan arum” in—a corpse flower—when one bloomed. They finally did so in October.

  • How Facebook Devalued The Birthday” (for Fast Company). My jeremiad on how when hundreds of people know your birthday, the social currency is wiped out.

  • The history of documentation (for Increment). From Noah (sort of) through Chaucer via sewing machines and farm machinery and to the modern era. Article opens with Squirrel Girl’s Ryan North and his dog, Noam Chompsky.

After finishing my residency, I had a lot of letterpress knowledge and research to hand, and decided to restart a Patreon campaign I had tried before. (The previous effort had led directly to the residency.) The new campaign, which looks for recurring pledges of $1 or more a month, provides funds that help me write more about typography, printing, language, and history as they connect. Funds this year gave me the flexibility to travel to TypeCon and give a talk, pay to scan a seminal 1887 book about typesetting races, and buy a high-quality book scanning device so I can turn more public-domain works into resources for the rest of the world.

Also this year, I restarted the podcast The New Disruptors. I produced almost 95 episodes between 2012 and 2014 about creating work independently in the new economy with new models and tools. A number of people asked me to bring the show back, and a Kickstarter in mid-2018 gave me the funds to do so. You can listen to old and new episodes via the Web site or by subcribing to the podcast feed.

I gave a few talks and presentations this year, and you can watch me speak about my year in review of my SVC residnecy, which covers lots of aspects of my work and the history of printing. I also edited up this talk I gave about London and type history at Ada’s Technical books mid-year.

Thank you to everyone who participated in and supported this great year!

The Passing of Roland Hoover, a Design Mentor

Roland Hoover, 1929–2018 (photo via  APHA Chesapeake Chapter )

Roland Hoover, 1929–2018 (photo via APHA Chesapeake Chapter)

Just got the news yesterday that Roland Hoover, a design mentor from college passed away at the age of 89. He was a letterpress printer and designer, known for his fine book and other printing. I knew him as my boss at the Yale University Printing Service where he was the University Printer. He was cranky and demanding, but generous and supportive—you know: a designer!

I learned an enormous amount from him, but my big failing was not studying letterpress printing with him. I thought at the time letterpress was going to be relegated to re-enactments, because of the end of metal-type production and spare parts. I’m so glad I was wrong, and we’re living in a renaissance of craft letterpress printing. (I wrote last year for Wired about why that’s happening.)

Very little of Roland's work can be found online, largely because most letterpress work is in limited editions and handed from person to person or retained by libraries. In more recent times, a lot of letterpress posters and cards can be purchased online, but Roland's work was often perishable or commemorative. Here's a notable piece celebrating Gutenberg.

The printing service was an oddball thing that I worked at as a senior and then for a year after graduation, running its "imaging center," which was what the typesetting department had effectively become. (I had a staff of one: a man 45 years old than me who was the onsite proofreader. I didn't need to do much supervision! Poor Walter, getting a 21-year-old as a boss!)

Roland's role was twofold: To run the place, which had a full offset printing plant and a photocopying and supply arm, and also a print broker arm of in-house staff that arranged for the many larger projects and books (not Yale Press ones) to get printed around the region; and to set a design tone and style for the university, producing and commissioning work as needed, and sometimes designing and printing posters himself. Roland was far better at the latter, and not terribly interested in the former, but had a great "lieutenant," Joe Maynard, who retired a few years ago after decades of service to Yale. Joe taught me a lot about business and negotiation.

Roland and I had a pretty solid relationship, even if I’m sure I drove him nuts. He had little interest in desktop publishing, and I already had five years' experience by 1990 in using PageMaker and then QuarkXPress nearly every day. But we made it work. He was interested in great typography, and so was I, and he taught me a lot of intricacies in thinking about design and how things look on paper. He appreciated the ability to turn ideas into type, but he didn’t always like the type that could be make or the composition that could be set at that time.

I also worked closely with Frank Tierney, the staff designer, and Roland on the re-creation of Yale College diplomas, ones awarded to undergraduates. For decades, a local printing firm produced diploma blanks by letterpress, and kept a Monotype hot-metal system alive mostly for Yale to set all the student names. I believe it cost $70,000 a year to print the undergraduate diplomas (about 1,200 a class at that time), and the outside printer wanted to or said it was going to dump its hot-metal system. We worked to transition to laser printing. This involved design testing and sending resulting work to the college library’s preservation department for age and heat testing to simulate conditions after 300 years. It passed. I spent a lot of time in spring 1991 feeding blank diplomas through a large-format Linotype-Hell laser printer. My Yale College class, 1990, received the last letterpress-printed diplomas; starting in 1991, they were laser printed (and I don’t know if that persisted nor how it’s done today).

Roland inspired my interest in the typeface Albertus, designed in the 1930s by Berthold Wolpe. Roland had a font (or more than one) in metal, and admired it quite a bit. When it came time for my senior project, I wanted to design a font. He and Greer Allen (the previous university printer who lived nearby and was in regularly with projects) suggested reviving Albertus, which at that point wasn’t available in any good form digitally. Greer also had known Wolpe—I’m not sure as well, but one of Wolpe’s kids recalls Greer and his wife Sue visiting when he was a child. (Monotype released an incomplete version that was derived from phototype; it wasn’t until last year that Toshi Omagari’s Monotype revival of Albertus, called Albertus Nova, fulfilled the face electronically.)

I took their advice, and named my version Furioso after the poem Orlando Furioso—Roland the Berserker. It was meant as a compliment, and I got plenty of great feedback from him as I worked up the font for decades. Roland’s inspiration led 30 years later to my trip to London last year and the book London Kerning, which is partly dedicated to Wolpe and Albertus, and which led me to meet Toshi, the revival designer, and Wolpe’s youngest son, Toby, a fellow technology editor and writer.

Roland was a tremendous influence on my creative life, and while I hadn’t been in touch in decades, I still regularly think about the advice he gave me, and use it in my practice.

California Case Dreaming

I’m working on designing a small reproduction of the California job case, the classic compartmentalized drawer designed to hold a full font of metal type. Below is a first pass, and I’m working my way through prototypes.

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Patrons can read the whole story (and get early access to buying one) at my Patreon campaign.

(For those in the know: the job case never included the layout guide within the compartments, showing which characters go where. For the version I'm making, however, I'll be engraving those to make it more meaningful to the non-metal-typesetting eye.)

Type Geek Lanyard

Back when I started out in typesetting, production, and graphic design, we used X-Acto knives, wax, and layout boards to put the pieces together for printing. And we all, every one of us and every shop, had a variety of measuring tools that we used all the time. The type gauge and the line gauge were key ones!

As the paste-up era ended, and we moved into full pagination output and then ultimately eliminating most or all intermediate steps between digital design and the press.

But this year, in which I've spent hundreds of hours in a letterpress shop, I remember how useful it is as a designer to always have measurement tools nearby. Also this year, I met the folks at Buttonsmith, a local worker-owned, unionized, made-in-the-U.S. company that produces buttons, magnets, lanyards, and reels both in mass quantities of their own designs and custom one-off or larger orders.

Ah ha! I felt like there was something missing I wanted for myself, and so I designed it. I worked through a few of prototypes and several digital revisions with Buttonsmith to get to the desired results: a type-geek lanyard. It's a silky soft set of rulers (inches marked to 1/8th, picas to 2 points, and centimeters to 5 mm) with some handy type and leading measurement tools as well.

I made a small batch for the School of Visual Concepts' Wayzgoose yesterday—an annual printer and general public meet and greet and marketplace—and have lanyards left to sell. (Don't use these while printing on a letterpress, of course, but they're great for all other times!)

You can order directly from me, and if I sell out, I'll take pre-orders for a new batch: $15 each plus shipping, but contact me if you'd like larger quantities.

Dash-dash it all! Apple’s bad beta decision on em and en dashes

Terrible news. Apple is replacing the long-running convention of typing two hyphens to obtain an em dash or “long dash.” That is, if you type --, many places in the interface in which autocorrection is enabled or third-party software takes advantage of autocorrection, it’s turned into —.

Instead, two hyphens become the shorter en dash, or –, which you may never have heard of if you’re not a print or Web designer or otherwise interested in the intricacies of formatting things. To get an em dash, you will have to type ---, a convention that also appears in TeX, a mathematical formatting language developed by Donald Knuth.

Update: In the release version, Apple contextually replaces -- with — (em dash) to connect words when you type with or without spaces on either side. If you type a number and two hyphens, it turns into a – (en dash).

Why is this terrible news? Some have argued with me on Twitter that it’s more logical: - for hyphen, -- for the longer en dash, and --- for the longest em dash. You type more hyphens to get a longer dash.

My rejoinder is twofold. First, most people rarely use an en dash, although I’d like to increase that number. Second, a billion people have learned that typing -- leads to a long dash. I may be exaggerating the number, but given that Microsoft Word,* Pages, and other desktop software performs this substitution silently, it’s a widespread convention being overturned.

I’d therefore argue this is inefficient, confusing, and inconsistent. If one wants an em dash, one is now forced to type or tap three characters rather than two. It’s confusing, because typing two hyphens will no longer produce the expected result for those paying attention. It’s inconsistent, because it’s unlikely that nearly every other piece of software in use other than TeX that offers an autocorrection for -- will change its behavior to match Apple’s.

The long dash also has a particular visual identity that provides the eye with a cue to take a long mental pause, one that's not nearly long enough with the en dash.

If you're not familiar with the difference among these dashes, the simple explanation for standard American usage is:

  • A hyphen, -, separates words in phrases, as in “least-used product” and is used for line breaks in books and other matter. (There’s an exception for some compounds; see below.)
  • An em dash, —, is used to set off a phrase—one in the middle of the sentence—that’s not quite a parenthetical, but it isn’t so germane as to be set off by commas. It’s also used as a sort of pause to emphasize something—something important at the end of a sentence. 
  • An en dash, –, separates ranges for dates, numbers, and quantities—like 9–5 and January–August. It’s also used for certain kinds of connections, directions, and contrasts, such as standing in for “versus” in Lincoln–Douglas debates or in place name pairing like Alsace–Lorraine, where both are separate places being referred to together. (You can read a more elaborate explanation here.) 

The inestimable Butterick’s Practical Typography, which you should memorize, has more typographic detail. On a Mac, type an en dash as Option-hyphen and an em dash as Option-Shift-hyphen. In iOS, long press the hyphen and pick the option to its right for an en dash and to the right of that lies the em dash.

This change appears in the beta release of iOS 11, so it may not wind up in the final version later this year.

A few miscellaneous em notes

What makes this more confusing is that in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, typographic conventions shifted, and an en dash with a full word space on either side is frequently used instead of an em dash! Thus our English-speaking cousins have no complaint. My * above references that Word turns [any character]--[any character] into —, but if you type [space]--[space], Word follows the non-U.S. format and changes the hyphens to an en dash.

An em was traditionally the width of the height of a font, forming a square metal piece, which roughly corresponded to the letter M in that font, and is a standard unit of typographic measurement. An em dash eventually became as wide as a H rather than an M. An en was once exactly half an em. Spacing in metal type was measured as X to an em, like “3 to an em,” or as X-em spaces, meaning three of those spaces added up to the same width as an em.

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An em dash often has a hair space (anything less than 5 to an em) or slightly larger on either space to set it off from text. A manual from 1887 notes, “In using an em dash, a hair space should always be placed on each side of it in book work, which gives it a neat and clean appearance in print.” It may be set these days with no spacing at all or a full word space, neither of which looks right to me in print, but works better online.

The Atlantic ran a story in 2016 that misidentified the en space. The writer mistook the en space (2 to an em) for any word space. The proper word space in metal-type days was 3 to an em for normal text.

Typesetters in the olden days were paid "by the em," meaning they were paid a fee for how much they set in a given font, no matter the size, which caused all sorts of complications.

The past was also full of bad jokes.

The past was also full of bad jokes.

In older usage, three em dashes in a row indicated a redaction, like omitting someone’s name in the press. This survives as a Unicode character (&#11835)! (Unfortunately, not every font has the glyph, so you may not see it in the next paragraph.)

In a sentence, it might appear as, “Mr M⸻ of Green Bay told Miss B⸻ of Bowling Green that the check was in the mail.” I found a wonderful example from 1852 of someone speaking aloud the term “three em dashes” either due to a typesetting error (a direction to the compositor to use three em dashes was misunderstood) or as a verbalization of punctuation.

From A  Manual of the Typewriter: A Practical Guide to Commercial Literary Legal Dramatic and All Classes of Typewriting Work  

From A Manual of the Typewriter: A Practical Guide to Commercial Literary Legal Dramatic and All Classes of Typewriting Work 

Typewriting and typesetting have distinctly different paths and purposes, though practical machine typesetting and practical typewriters became possible at around 1880. Typewriting manuals told typists how to prepare business correspondence, but also how to type copy intended to be typeset and copy that emulated typesetting. Two hyphens for a long dash dates back to at least the 1890s.