My TypeCon swag report: The fine, the fun, the very font-cy

1 Postcards

[Alyson Kuhn] At TypeCon last month, I assembled quite the tote o’ treats. Here I explore some of my most notable loot. In a swell kuhnfluence — which editor Tom Biederbeck points out is not untype-ical in the Alysonian universe — I detoured to a superb calligraphy show on the winged heels of TypeCon: For typographic dessert, I’m going to show you a rich assortment of my favorite pieces from the Society for Calligraphers of Southern California exhibition.

The amusing yet elegant Movie Titles set of postcards above, promoting The Type Directors Club, is the handiwork of “W. Staehle” — whose tiny design credit appears on the back of the witty bellyband (not shown here). I was promptly rewarded for getting out my loupe (not, alas, Victorian, or even glass) with the discovery of  Wilhelm Stahl’s wondrous website, complete with silhouette salon and shoppe.

Do you know what WOFF stands for? We could have lots of woffs making things up, but I’ll give you a hint or two: The W does not stand for World or Wacky or What?! The FF is not Friends & Family or Font Fun. WOFF is Web Open Font Format, and it is The Next Big Thing in the cyberspace of type, which should be called typerspace. Yes, I paid close attention during the panel discussion at TypeCon, in which 13 type types, all men (some with long hair), sat behind a table extending all the way across the stage … and at least one of us was reminded of the attendees at the Last Supper, except with a typographic subtext and hardly any detectable holiness. I highly recommend Michael Dooley’s excellent report on the web fonts discussion on Imprint, which is followed by many thoughtful, substantive comments.

Hats off to gourmet fontographers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, who put a tasty typefeast on their take-out container (above) as well as within. The back of the carton is imprinted with the H&FJ logo, which I happen to love. My fortune reads, “H&FJ SAY:  ’Fill your bowl to the brim, and it will spill; use too many fonts and your eyes will fall out.’” Kuhnfucius say, “What a joy to be bowled over.” Love the kuhntainer too.


Business cards weren’t as plentiful or as textured as I had anticipated. My “person’s choice” for Most Charming Card is that of Kseniya Thomas (at 3 o’clock in the card continuum above), which she letterpress printed in three tightly registered colors — as befits one of the founders of Ladies of Letterpress. The delightful design is the handiwork of Suji Allen.

Otis College of Art and Design exhibited a great array of student typography projects, and ogling them made me o-for-optimistic. I was also a bit omnivoracious about the o-so-social Otis swag, which I found perfectly au courant.


Doyald Young is the recipient of the 2010 SOTA Typography Award, and a limited-edition keepsake was produced for the occasion, designed by James Grieshaber, chair of the SOTA Board. The cover monogram is set in Young’s Young Baroque; the SOTA ligature on the back cover is set in his Young Finesse. Between the covers are a charming tribute to Young by Hank Richardson, specimens of a handful of Young’s typeface designs, and mini-bios of the seven past winners of this award (of which Hermann Zapf was the first, in 2003). I will keep my book safe in my Ephemera Americana file drawer, inside a 4 Baronial envelope which accommodates it to perfection. The book was printed by Pinball Publishing in Portland, who also produced spiffy commemorative Type Sketcher notebooks. Check out www.scoutbooks.com for the skinny on Pinball’s pocket-ready publishing platform.


The Society for Calligraphers of Southern California had a letterplay room (I wish letterplay to be a word, even a verb, whether Spellcheck acknowledges it or not), where attendees could frolic with pen, paper, ink and brushes. The calligraphers also had a perpetually “personned” table, where you could get your name written on the back of one of the Society’s bookmarks. What a fab party favor. Yes, the one below on the lower right is Hebrew, and yes, Robbie Saslow penned it from right to left.


And so I moved on, to Images: Expressions of our selves, the Calligraphers of SoCal’s annual exhibition, which I saw at the Creative Arts Center in Burbank. Directly below is a detail from the first work inside the gallery, Lisa Engelbrecht’s rendering of “Eulogy,” soldier Brian Turner’s poem from his collection Here, Bullet. His eulogy is for PFC Brian Miller, a 24-year-old solider in Turner’s unit who took his own life in Iraq. A small typed copy of Eulogy hangs adjacent to Engelbrecht’s work, which measures 18 x 24 in. A background of palm trees in brown ink evokes the natural beauty of the setting:  “seagulls drift by on the Tigris River.” When I read the typed version, I could hear the poem. When I read Engelbrecht’s composition, I could see it, as if PFC Miller were buried beneath those graceful palms.


Stephanie Chao’s Flag-book on Writing (below) presents quotations from a dozen different authors about writing in general and letter-writing in particular. Chao’s Copperplate script was a lovely choice, intimate yet informative, the epistolary ideal. My favorite quotation is from British clergyman Sydney Smith (1771–1845): “Correspondences are like small clothes before the invention of suspenders; it is impossible to keep them up.” Oh, would I have liked to receive notes from Smith! You can find more of his observations here, and more about constructing a flag book here.


Baby Certificate for Max Cohen (below) was a gift from calligrapher Robbie Saslow to the subject’s parents. I liked it even before I knew anything about its iconography. Listen to this: One of Max’s parents is Austrian. She and Saslow have been friends for years, and they are both nuts for The Sound of Music. In her art, Saslow placed Max in the Alps, wearing leafy lederhosen reminiscent of the clothes Maria made the Von Trapp children from green draperies. Saslow also consulted his naming dictionary and found that Maxwell means great and famous, and Bryce means hunter. Max’s stance is proud. Now, note the flowers at the bottom. Saslow says  he likes to do “something creative with the numbers” when he can. Max’s birthday is November 15, so Saslow put in 11 deep orange flowers and 15 lighter orange ones. Max’s older brother Spencer has his own certificate, likewise rich in stylistic references to Gustav Klimt.


Louis Lemoine’s Time Taketh Away (below) did indeed take my breath away for a minute. This piece was commissioned for a book, Nice Rendition: Cheryl Wheeler’s Lyrics in Calligraphy, about which you can read more here. I was not familiar with Wheeler, or with Lemoine, whose lettering credits include many storefronts on Main Street for Hong Kong Disneyland, including the Main Street Animation Academy and the Blank Sheet Paper Co. Given Lemoine’s extensive work for the Magic Kingdom, it’s perhaps not surprising that he is particularly fond of writing the word Magic. His video, 101 Ways to Create Magic, is a very fun three-minute ride.


Directly below is Yukimi Annand‘s piece Winter Trees, which worked its own magic on me. And last, but not at all least — and definitely most vertical — is Carrie Imai’s House Blessing. Imai, the society’s current president, told me in advance that the works in this year’s exhibition were remarkably diverse — and my high expectations were handsomely exceeded. What a fitting finale to my TypeCon adventure!



All calligraphy photographs used with permission.


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Comments (5)

  1. Posted by Natalia on 09.9.10 at 7:02 am

    Fantastic post and a great run-down. The only problem is I am jealous I didn’t make it myself!

  2. Posted by Jane on 09.9.10 at 11:41 am

    Thank you for showing this! Letter-lovers everywhere can appreciate the roots of typography in the movement of the hand.

  3. Posted by Diana on 09.9.10 at 12:20 pm

    Stunning work …I’m so proud to be a member of the Society for Calligraphy!

  4. Posted by Mick on 09.10.10 at 3:56 am

    Love the Otis logo! :)

  5. Posted by Mieke ten Have on 09.10.10 at 1:18 pm

    love Chao’s flag-book on writing!

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