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Studio projects Friday May 08 2015 07:08 am

Thoughts on Feedback 17

AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 17 invited me to review senior design portfolios on Tuesday, May 5. These are things I saw 3 times or more that need improving. Take it all with a grain of salt. Mine is one opinion. Personally, I think it is a pretty good opinion.

Centered design

There is nothing wrong with centering if it is done with a conscious consideration for “it is better centered than not centered.” Too often centering is the default layout. No designer, student or professional, should do any part of any design by default. You should be able to point at every element and ask “Why is it like that?” Understand the basis for how you do things so you can immediately answer with something besides “I don’t know.” Everytime.

How do those layout bits work for or against each other? If you aren’t sure DO NOT do it that way. This goes for every choice of typeface, its size, its weight, italic or roman, color, line break, etc. Every choice should be deliberate. Think of the design as a speaker’s tone-of-voice delivering a speech. Your pitch goes up to pose a question. Your voice whispers when you want people to lean in. Words have a pause between them. A phrase gets repeated for emphasis. Design needs to have ALL of these things applied to the tone of voice of your piece. Your piece is a speech.

Designers opinion of their project

Too many pages in the portfolios didn’t feel like the student had an opinion about the subject of the project. They seemed to be doing it because that was the assignment. This is not easy, and the simpler the design the harder this is to do. A design and its presentation needs to look confident. For example consider a toothpaste ad to promote its taste. How about a sandwich with toothpaste on it and the headline, “We don’t recommend it, but we would understand it.” Make the product your favorite product, no matter how boring it is. Go all the way. Fall in love.

Portfolio pages & the images on them

YOUR PORTFOLIO should stand out and then YOUR WORK should stand out. Take a workshop at House Industries and learn to do some hand lettering. Make that opening page personal. Don’t make it corporate. Don’t make it like EVERYONE else’s. Make it yours.

Here is an idea. How about a portfolio with the title “5 design ideas” and then limit it to five projects? You show me your portfolio and ask me to pick my favorite five projects and to rank them in order. Then the opening page of your portfolio says, “Turn the page and see the project Ray Nichols (he dared me to do this) thinks is the worst piece in my portfolio.” I’ll tell you my name at the end of the portfolio. Seriously, how fun would that be? Then at the end of the portfolio put both of our résumés. To pull off something like this your 5th worst piece needs to be as good as everyone else’s 2nd best piece. Actually, that would be a good way to do every project. Pass this page on to a couple of juniors in your program. Let them have a year to play with the idea.

Most of the ledger-like portfolios (printed) I saw looked like they all came from the same school. Don’t let yours look like you came from the same school even if it is the same size and you come from the same school. They are usually bland and lifeless.

With iPad portfolios the rhythm becomes monotonous. Image. Image. Image. Image. Image. Back up and see the image. Image. Image. I noticed that while I might remember a piece, overall I cannot remember much else of what I saw in an iPad portfolio. The order gets lost in the technology. I don’t have a strong sense of how many projects I saw. It is far too easy to show too much until everything turns to oatmeal. Perhaps instead of 5 spreads in a magazine, show 1 film of someone turning the 5 spreads.

Almost everything was a rectangle. A 3D object against a white seamless adds some dimension to the page and help create a visual hierarchy to the elements. A page of rectangles generally looks flat and lifeless. There are six ways to create visual space: 1) overlap, 2) scale, 3) focus (soft edge recedes), 4) position in the format (lower looks closer), 5) color (warm colors advance / cool colors recede), 6) tone (as in aerial perspective looking at distant mountains). Good designers use them. Often I just didn’t know where to look except to follow the normal reading order of upper left to lower right. Come on. How boring is that?

WORDS: Your design CONTROLS the reader. Little blocks of type describing the project in the lower left corner of the opening page of a project are lost. Why do you think cigarette packaging always wanted to put the warning there. Now they aren’t allowed to. You shouldn’t either. Rewrite it in 3 words and put them somewhere I cannot miss. Yell  what you want me to know. Then play with making me see it without it being in 72 point type. Make it big and light. Make it small and red. That is design.

IMAGES: Make some photos black & white. If everyone in class did a package design and everyone took a photo, yours should look different from all of the others. The opening photo image in a series of 2 - 4 portfolio pages should have some sense of context. Typically students feel compelled to line up 4 objects and “snap.” Aren’t there other objects or placement you could use to style your photo, nudging the meaning to help the viewer understand your work?

Here is the photo we use to promote our most recent book about a stories I have about each of my parents.

The book is Selfie! because of that photo of my parents, pre-me. My mother’s story is about her going to a Cars concert at the then Spectrum in Philly. My dad’s stoy is about the Vatican. We like having the sense of chaos to our work. Lead GRAFFITI. Rushed. Spontaneous. Confident. Step in and take a look.

Your portfolio is a design project and not just a place to gather all of your projects. Here’s 3 things to keep you in the mind of that person looking at your portfolio when you’re not there to explain things.

1) Multiple pieces with little difference

Multiple books in a book cover series MIGHT not need the same layout. If you show 3 covers that are exactly the same, and I’m assuming the image(s) are different, does that make a positive statement about you as a designer? If not, find ways to add your design skills to each. Multiple cards, coasters, packages, etc. don’t say anything about your abilities as a designer if you just change a word or two here or there. Unless you change the words really, really well. Every piece of every project either takes you forward or backward. Sideways is not forward.

2) Photographs and illustrations without any design context

Throwing in a page or two of pure photography or illustration looks out of place. If you have 4 fine art photos you really like, show 3 and then take one of them and turn it into a book cover. This shows that you are able to produce images for design projects. Without the design context you leave too much responsibility for “getting it” to the person looking at your portfolio. Making them get it is your job. Same goes for illustration. Find a way to apply it to a movie / play poster or book cover.

Several of the portfolios had good photography and illustration, but if you are looking for work as a designer, use it in a design project. Try imagining it on a package for something completely odd. Toothpaste, pizza, etc. Think of an interesting design that will justify the image. And don’t put it on a book cover for the most obvious book on the planet. Illustration of zombies? Put it on a book about religion or an article on medical techniques for making people live longer.

3) Ideas / concept

I once got in a very fun argument with someone who said you need the right typeface for the right job. “You wouldn’t use wedding script for an ad for nails and you wouldn’t use sans serif for an ad for lacy lingerie.” “Whoa,” I said, “You need the right idea for the right typeface.” Just consider a nice photo of lacy lingerie and the Franklin Gothic Bold headline “Hardcore lingerie.” Or a beautifully lit, photo of a pile of nails on the opening page of a do-it-yourself magazine article, with the headline shown like a wedding invitation using Nuptial Script, “The perfect marriage between a rock and a hard place.? Never have a favorite typeface. Have a favorite idea and change it every few minutes.

Good luck to all of you new designers. Go out there and knock some people dead in their tracks.

events Thursday May 07 2015 01:05 am

Upcoming Lead Graffiti events

We seem to be doing a lot of things related to AIGA / Philadelphia lately and that has been nice. AIGA is truly a great design organization and it is particularly helpful to students.

May 2015

Jill at the Formal School of Bookbinding : Jill is enjoying 2 consecutive week-long, leather binding workshops with Don Rash, who operates the Formal School of Bookbinding from his Plains, PA studio. Don works in the German style of bookbinding which offers some nice variations from what we are used to. Week 1 was an introduction to leather bindings focused on flat cord and raised cord bindings along with a nice leather touch for the book fore-edge. Week 2 is on full-leather binding. We are looking forward to this extending our capabilities (and fun) in our bookbinding work.

AIGA / Philadelphia’s Feedback 17 : Feedback is a portfolio review for area design programs. I think there were about 8 schools represented. Ray was asked to deliver the opening motivational talk what looked like about 120 student participants. His talk was about “Wwagsd?” It is a talk he often used to encourage his own students, to “use the moment” and ask yourself, “What would a good student do?Right here, right now. Often at a workshop, studio visit, class, etc. small things can make a huge impact over time. An extra question here or there. Standing closer to the person at the center of the event. Volunteering quickly if one is asked for. Far too many students are far too fearful. One interesting student came up to me during some of my down time toward the end and said, “One of the other students from his school said I had been the toughest on him and he wanted me to look at his portfolio.” If you could spend your days with that kind of attitude you could take your talent some place special.

AIGA / Philadelphia Night CapsEnjoy a drink and some laughs while Mikey Ilagan, Editor-In-Chief at Geekadelphia, moderates a Q&A on the ins-and-outs of the design industry with regional creative leaders. I will be on the program with Christine Fischer, a design strategist at Vangard. The focus is on “education vs. experience” or in other words “getting a job or going to graduate school.” Event happens at United by Blue which is located at 244 N. 2nd Street (on 2nd just south of Race Street). Doors open at 6:30. Recording starts at 7:00. If you tweet about it, try including the following tags: @leadgraffiti @aigaphilly @mikeyil #AIGAnightcaps @UBBphila. They typically average about 30 attendees. I’d love to see the evening at least beat the average. Admission for AIGA members is $5, nonmembers - $10, and students - free (bring your ID).

June 2015

AIGA / Philadelphia’s SPACE Gallery : Lead Graffiti has been invited to exhibit work from their Tour de Lead Graffiti poster journal project at the SPACE Gallery. We will have posters from each of the 2011 - 2014 editions. SPACE gallery is located at 72 N. 2nd Street (at Arch Street). The gallery is open Thursdays from 3:00-7:00pm, and Fridays / Saturdays from 1:00-7:00pm. AIGA Philly SPACE, not only serves as AIGA Philadelphia’s headquarters, but aims to serve the arts and cultures community of Philadelphia through unique exhibits featuring (but not limited to) the art of graphic design, engaging workshops, and lectures designed to inspire interest and understanding of graphic design and the visual arts.

Gallery talk in the SPACE Gallery on Saturday, June 20th at 3:00. Should be fun to just walk around and talk. Come. Ask some questions.

July 2015

Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 : It is Tour de France time from Saturday, July 4 through Sunday, July 27. That means this will be our 5th Tour de Lead Graffiti, a daily poster journal following the Tour. That means we will be watching the Tour live on TV from 8:30 until noon. Then head over to the Glass Kitchen for lunch & pie and discussion about what we saw during the stage and how we might translate those events into a 14.5″ x 22.5″ poster. This is done each day of the tour for 23 consecutive days. Last year Ray alone averaged more than 114 hours a week for the 23 days. We call it “endurance letterpress.” Over the project we did 109 runs. You can link to the 2014 TdLG project by clicking here. You can click on the poster image and cycle to the next stage. From any of those pages you can also link back to the 2011, 2012, or 2013 Tour de Lead Graffiti projects.

Studio projects & Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 Friday May 01 2015 09:23 am

Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 stage schedule

Stages spoken for : 10

Stage 1, Saturday, July 4th - Utrecht > Utrecht / 14 km (individual time trial)
. . . Collaborator: Rebecca Johnson Melvin / manuscript librarian | ‘11, ‘12, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14

Stage 2, Sunday, July 5th - Utrecht > Zélande / 166 km

Stage 3, Monday, July 6th - Anvers > Huy / 154 km
. . . Collaborator: Steve Harding / woodworker & cyclist

Stage 4, Tuesday, July 7th - Seraing > Cambrai / 221 km   

Stage 5, Wednesday, July 8th - Arras > Amiens Métropole / 189 km   

Stage 6, Thursday, July 9th - Abbeville > Le Havre / 191 km   

Stage 7, Friday, July 10th - Livarot > Fougères / 190 km   

Stage 8, Saturday, July 11th - Rennes > Mûr de Bretagne / 179 km
. . . Collaborator: Nicholas Stover | graphic designer | ‘18

Stage 9, Sunday, July 12th - Vannes > Plumelec / 28 km (team time trial)  

Rest day, Monday, July 13th - Pau       

Stage 10, Tuesday, July 14th - Tarbes > La Pierre-Saint-Martin / 167 km / mountains
. . . Collaborator: Bill Roberts / letterpress printer | ‘11, ‘11, ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14

Stage 11, Wednesday, July 15th - Pau > Cauterets - Vallée de Saint-Savin / 188 km / mountains

Stage 12, Thursday, July 16th - Lannemezan > Plateau de Beille / 195 km / mountains
. . . Collaborator: Nick Prestileo / graphic designer
. . . Collaborator: Ed McCann / user experience designer
. . . Collaborator: Steve DeCusatis / graphic designer

Stage 13,  Friday, July 17th - Muret > Rodez / 200 km
. . . Collaborators: Glenn Stevens / designer & artistic niece

Stage 14, Saturday, July 18th - Rodez > Mende / 178 km

Stage 15, Sunday, July 19th - Mende > Valence / 182 km   

Stage 16, Monday, July 20th - Bourg-de-Péage > Gap / 201 km   

Rest day, Tuesday, July 21st - Gap
. . . Collaborators: Lindsay Schmittle + / letterpress printer | ‘12, ‘13, ‘14

Stage 17, Wednesday, July 22nd - Digne-les-Bains > Pra-Loup / 161 km / mountains

Stage 18, Thursday, July 23rd - Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne / 185 km / mountains
. . . Collaborator: David Copestakes / Professor of Graphic Design / Arcadia
. . . Collaborator: Tiffany Zysk / graphic designer

Stage 19, Friday, July 24th - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire - Les Sybelles / 138 km / mountains

Stage 20, Saturday, July 25th - Modane Valfréjus > Alpe-d’Huez / 110 km (high mountain) / mountains
. . . Collaborator: date reserved

Stage 21, Sunday, July 26th - Sèvres - Grand Paris Seine Ouest > Paris Champs-Élysées / 107 km
. . . Collaborator: Ann Lemon / art director, designer | ‘13, ‘14
. . . Collaborator: Amos Burkhart / visual maker | ‘13

Studio projects Tuesday April 28 2015 12:02 pm

George Mason Creative Letterpress workshop / April 25, 2015

Our talk at George Mason University back in January seems to have resulted in a great group of students traveling 2 hours to do one of our Creative Letterpress workshops.

Project always has an amazing amount of work collected into a compact piece. It is nice to see that so much of the work done in composing the wood & metal type actually shows in the end. Great fun to have the students cast their own names in hot metal for the books’ colophon.

You can click the image and see the image double-sized.

The size of the broadside is 16″ x 20″ with a final book size of 4″ wide x 5″ high, printed in 2 colors on Mohawk Superfine Eggshell 80# on our Vandercook Universal III. The book cover is Lead Graffiti pastepaper and is printed in 1 color on our Vandercook SP15. The spine is printed in 1 color on various colors of French Papers.

Jill always gathers a few students with an interest in color to choose the color combination. This time it was an interesting choice using fluorescent pink for the first run. The hot color provided a visual contrast to the maroon used as the 2nd color.

Copies of the books will be included in Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library, the Rare Book & Special Collections at the Library of Congress who both maintain complete collections of these books, and in Special Collections & Archives at the George Mason University Library.

Special thanks to Professor Don Starr and Ann, who nicely didn’t disappoint.

Studio projects Thursday April 09 2015 01:16 pm

Book no. 2: Moments Carved in Paper


Book no. 2: Selfie!

I do like the typographic treatment to the title of this book, EIFLES! I hope I can do things like this with every book.

This is the idea that actually started this whole Moments Carved in Paper book series thing rolling. Book no. 2 captures my favorite story about each of my parents. I got the chance to use my favorite photo showing them absolutely in love. I’ve got no idea when the photo was taken, but doing a book like this has shown me that I needed to have spent 500 hours more than I did asking questions of my parents.

As an aside, in doing some genealogy work on our family’s history, an uncle told me that my father once revealed that he had painted the artist’s concept of the atomic bomb. My father was in the military at the right time. He was stationed in about the right place. He was an artist. But he never told me that story. What a story to know! And yet I’ve not been able to find out any more about it from the government or several museums devoted to the history of the Manhattan Project. The moral of this story is that you should start thinking about how you would do this book with your parents.

Anyway, that atomic bomb story isn’t even part of this book, but I thought it might make a good point about getting things down on paper before it is too late.

One good question to ask your own parents is, “Tell me 2 dozen things about you that I don’t know.” Might be nice to get a small recorder and record it. Throw the tape in a box so you can pull it out some later time.

. . .

Back to you VC graduates and a list of topics to think about: our Bulldog day with Peter Woods or how about our 2-day sit-in at Peter Woods’ office at Ogilvy working on the One Club’s “Vietnam as a destination” ad campaign, the day every sophomore made a white (the horror!) T-shirt that said something on it (cannot remember right now, but I’m sure I can find a photo), junior parties for the seniors after the Year End Shows, lustful acts on a seamless in the photo studio, breaking into the building when it was locked so you could get to the good desks to do some work for class, most interesting speakers or field trips, maybe you were a grad that hosted a group of us at some design studio or advertising agency. . . .

See? I’ve kind of run out so I need some new things to think about. Help jog my memory and send me an email before I forget anything else.

Studio projects Thursday April 09 2015 12:34 pm

Book no. 1: Moments Carved in Paper

The Librarian Made Us Do It!

Book no. 1: Moments Carved in Paper

I’ve always had lots of stories to tell. After years of thinking & talking about it, Jill & I are going to be giving a run to a series of small books entitled Moments Carved in Paper. Each book connects various stories that lead to a “moment” that we carve in paper via letterpress. The title of our first book is “The Librarian Made Us Do It!” The title page reads “Librarian?” I love the idea that the inside page would question the outside page.

Book no. 1 opens with a photo of the millennium issue of Life Magazine which listed the printing of the Gutenberg Bible as the #1 moment of the past 1,000 years. Former student Craig Cutler shot the photo. “The Librarian Made Us Do It!” details the path that ended up with us working in Lead Graffiti with about 20 tons of presses & metal type, making books and other things by printing via letterpress, and having a blast doing it.

A few stepping stones mentioned in book no. 1 include:

• • • Life Magazine’s premonition.

• • • Starting VCUK and our study abroad trips to London.

• • • Connecting the dots from Nigel Kent to Alan Kitching, and then Nigel Roche to Ian Mortimer.

We were hooked.

Printed via letterpress & bound by hand as a flutter book (printed as spreads on thick, lush paper and then glued only along the fore-edge of the sheets), the books, while short, are also nicely thick. Each book will have a wrap-around cover. There will be pages that center on a photograph, often with tip-ins to help show the story, maybe some handrolled ink and probably some playing with type.

. . .

IF YOU ARE A FORMER VC STUDENT DURING MY TIME, there may be a number of occasions in these books you could have something to add that will help tell these stories. Stay up-to-date with the books we have planned. Lead Graffiti is attempting to do about 1 a month for a year to start. Then we’ll see what happens.

The next book will likely be about some of my favorite projects in the VC program, but not always ones I gave. Another important topic to me is the three different grading systems I designed and used over the years–dots, shelves & tennis tournament grading. I don’t remember exactly when I started using those and would love to know if it was during your time. I would also be interested in your positive opinions and how you feel they may have impacted your career or creative experiences since then.

Help me add to my list: DEViCes, VC Family Album pages, 9-foot invitation to the Year End Show, best field trips & site visits, Alans Kitching & Fletcher, portfolio review at Fallon in Minneapolis, William Caslon & Eric Gill’s grave sites, our overnight stay at the Hope & Glory with Bill Westbrook, the day of the London bombing, sandcasting at the Type Museum, Eric Michelson’s talk, Stephen Frykholm’s talk, banners hanging on the Annex, catching up to missed bus trips to NYC, Helmut Krone, Art Directors Club portfolio reviews, important exhibitions, One Club student shows, my 60th birthday party and Doves Press present, “Think Small. Again.” poster, other Year End Show posters, Friday sessions, working with the Advertising Club of Delaware, Bob Gill, Wimbledon, Michael Johnson. That should be enough to get you started thinking.

If you have a great memory about your time in VC PLEASE drop me an email. I’d like to try to merge the collection into a larger story. I’ve got dozens of them jotted down, but there must be hundreds more and different viewpoints would add more wonderful and personal detail.

Help spread the word about these books to other VC grads and people we connected with back in the day. Thanks!

Studio projects Wednesday April 08 2015 12:00 pm

Book no. 0: Moments Carved in Paper

The Prospectus

This is a photo of the prospectus we did for our upcoming series of autobiographical books related to Ray’s teaching, family, and our printing slowly & patiently via letterpress.

The books were intended to show the flutter book format we were going to use for the book series. Each spread is printed individually, scored & folded, and then glued along the fore-edge. Each book will have a wrap-around cover.

The intent of the series is to get some of Ray’s stories in print and to help celebrate some wonderful moments in our lives. The prospect was sent to approximately 130 major libraries to promote interest in the series. We hope to have some typographic fun along with some letterpress experimentation over the course of what we hope to be at least 10 books. Each book will come out roughly every month. We’ll see how it goes.

Studio projects & workshops Tuesday March 24 2015 01:30 pm

Creative Letterpress workshop / University of Delaware / Art Conservation

We’ve been trying to schedule a workshop with the Art Conservation / Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware for about a year and we finally made it happen. Art Conservation at UD is simply a world-class program, universally listed as one of the top few in the world. They didn’t disappoint. We added a bit of a twist to our standard start with “All I know is…” and finish the line. So they would be more experienced with the old ways of composing they added “Designed & handset by…” using a composing stick. Tray was involved in Galactic Con with his Star Wars costuming group which slowed us down being able to help people through the process.

In the end, quite a nice effort with some very nice lockups and twists on words & typography.

Below is the main lockup and broadside. Below that we’ve pulled out a couple of the lockups to show more detail. Not sure we can promise to do this for each workshop, but we’ll give it a try this time.

You can click on the image below to see it double sized.

We’ve been wanting to pick out some closeups to show for a while, but honestly it is pretty time consuming to do that image above, cleaning up the type, reinking with white ink, getting out the photo lights, balancing on top of the press, stretching the image digitally to match the scanned broadside and putting together in a 512 pixel-wide format for the blog and then a 1000 pixel-wide format for the enlarged image. But for a first run at it, here are the lockups of 3 individual pages with the final printed version. You an often see the filling of the hole where the initial letter went when the first color was printed. This was the title page so it didn’t have to follow the “All I know is…” and start with an “A.”

“All I know is that I prefer books”

In this workshop we are trying to work as fast as possible to get a cover designed, a title page designed, 12 interior pages, and then make the covers (lot of steps) and then fold and tear the broadside to get it into the accordion fold format, an then get them put together (which is also a surprising number of steps) without using glue or sewing. This was a really nice effort for the inside title page.

“All I know is here and now”

Quite a simple page, but with the “ON:OW” being written in “time” style (09:44) it is just a great idea for adding a twist to writing the words. The 3s replacing the Es add a bit of numbering to the typography, throwing the visual off kilter just a bit. Nicely done using a very solid grouping of wood type.

“All I know is that someday I will do what I love”

Always fun to work with people who are completely new to letterpress. Anyone that knows what they are doing would avoid curving those 2 lines like the black plague. We just need to do a better job of explaining that the space taken up by that wonderful A could be filled with only a couple pieces of furniture and a few pieces of leading. Oh, well. We’ll put that in at the next workshop. Still a wonderful elegance to go with that fancy copperplate initial cap.

Studio projects Wednesday March 18 2015 12:22 pm

Moments Carved in Paper: Book No. 1


Bound by hand and printed slowly & patiently via letterpress, Book No. 1 in the Moments Carved in Paper series has turned out quite nicely, we think.

Our story begins in 1999 with Craig Cutler’s photo of a Gutenberg Bible for the cover of Life Magazine’s 100 Incredible Discoveries, Cataclysmic Events, & Magnificent Moments of the past 1,000 years. Amazing to even shoot for Life Magazine, much less the cover, Craig’s moment in the sun (one of many in his career) turned out to be a foreshadowing of the journey our creative lives were about to make.

The timing was right to give VCUK, our Visual Communications / United Kingdom study abroad a try. The next omen occurred on a VC field trip to Ogilvy where Nigel Kent, their Director of Typography, pointed us in the direction of Alan Kitching who taught letterpress at the Royal College of Art. A visit in VCUK’01 took us to Kitching’s studio, where there seemed to be some interest on the part of the students. Our first letterpress workshop came the next summer in 2002, when the student interest perked up considerably.

A visit to St. Bride Printing Library in 2002 clinched the aha! moment. Seeing the original tissues from Eric Gill’s Gill Sans typeface was a perfect setup. And then “Ornamented Types,” a book of outside-the-box type specimens exquisitely printed via letterpress by Ian Mortimer, was the tipping point. We fell for every hook, line and ink.

In addition to Craig Cutler, names mentioned in book No. 1 include Karla Burger Cushman, Bill Deering, Alan Fletcher, Ari Garber, Nigel Kent, Alan Kitching, Mark Samuels Lasner, Ian Mortimer, Nowlan Nichols, Raymond Nichols, Nigel Roche, David Rose, and Ben Thoma.

All the books in our Moments series are in the flutter book format. This means each spread is printed on one side only and the foredges are glued together to form the text block. The paper is a sexy Somerset Textured White, 300 gsm. By printing on only one side we can push the type into the paper quite deeply. Book No. 1 has two photos and some colorful Lead Graffiti elements that give a nod to Eric Gill and wormholes.

No. 1’s cover is St. Armand Colours Caribou #190, made in Canada. Very nice to hold in your hands.

Regarding future books in this series, we hope to get a number of student perspectives on many of the moments that involved my teaching or VC. Most of the stories connect in some way with that part of my life.

In a future book we will revisit Raven Press. We have to tell Ben Thoma and Karla Burger Cushman’s story about getting the illustrious Alan Fletcher to design the Raven Press logo. And at least one of the posters we did with Alan Kitching during his workshops needs to make an appearance.

If you have some favorite stories about your days in those first years at Raven Press, I want to hear from you. And even if you don’t have Raven Press stories, please keep in touch.

workshops Tuesday March 03 2015 03:05 pm

Arcadia University and a meander book Creative Letterpress workshop

Spent a slushy Sunday with an active group of graphic design students from Arcadia University and their professor Davie Copestakes working in one of our Lead Graffiti Creative Letterpress workshops. It was nice that they had a lot of good questions. We are always disappointed when students don’t have questions.

Below shows the final broadside on the right with the lockup for the 2nd color (red) on the left. On the broadside rows 1 and 3 have been rotated so the top / bottom orientation is the same for all pages.

You can click on the image to see the image double-sized.

Just in case you look at it really closely, the participants’ names have been taken out of the lockup with the colophon as they took them as souvenirs of the day. We took the photo of the lockup the next morning after we cleaned all of the type and then rolled it with white ink to help the printing surface show.

We are always taking photos to try and find better ones to show various aspects of this very complicated workshop. Here is a nice one of part of half of the group folding their covers together prior to inserting their text block.

events Saturday January 31 2015 02:39 pm

Thoughts from our talk at George Mason University

Lead Graffiti was invited to speak about our work as part of the George Mason UniversityVisual Voices Lecture Series” in a talk we entitled “A coloured letter at the bottom of a ditch.” The title was taken from a quote by the British type designer & sculptor, Eric Gill.

We started our day in Don Starr’s 2nd-year graphic design class, which happened to be working with calligraphy. They watched the film “Typeface” for the first half of class then the instructor asked us to talk with them. The students didn’t know us at all, probably only grasping most of what they knew about letterpress from the film

Talking to the students reminded me of the start of each year when I would walk into a class of new students. I had learned a year of new stuff and those students had forgotten a year of stuff (all of the stuff I had taught the previous year’s class). Today we were showing some of our work printed via letterpress and trying to make some connection to the students that might stick. We were trying to bring up anything that had calligraphy in it, like how letterpress and calligraphy are connected. I told them about us stumbling into working with letterpress because we wanted to take our Visual Communications students to London to help them get the feeling that “type had weight.” Like how a word in a poem that makes a very important point usually is a more weighty (significant) word than one in a newspaper article. I’m not at all sure we made the point, but it seemed like a good one so I said, “you’ll likely never do anything with digital type in the next two years that is more deliberate than what you will do working with calligraphy.

For any of the calligraphy students from the George Mason class who are reading this, here are 4 links to important online pages relating to calligraphy.

  • Saint John’s Bible - links to a Google search of largish images from the Bible. Jill and I saw an exhibition at the Walters Gallery in Baltimore on the book when it was about 50% done and it was really a fabulous exhibition. The bible is a recent manuscript Bible with wonderful illustrations. Click on a couple images.
  • APHA books of hours meeting - American Printing History Association meeting held at the Library of Congress to look over 2 dozen Books of Hours.
  • Grandmasters award - calligraphy by a friend, Satwinder Sehmi, from London.

I mentioned Stefan Sagmeister to make a point, but no one knew him. Yet, anyway, they will before they are done.

A bit later I took a shot at wanting to compare something about Shepard Fairey, a street artist, with a project some friends from “Grand Army” did in our studio one weekend a couple of years ago. No one knew him either. In my favorite photo of me, I’m wearing one of his “Obey Propaganda” t-shirts. So…

Thought #1: Seniors cannot know everything by the time they are sophomores.

A young lady sitting close by seemed to be starting to drift away, sitting quietly with her eyes closed. I kept talking for a moment and looked back at her and her eyes were still closed. I made a note to myself to not look back at her as it was going to make me want to stop the conversation all together.

I thought I would end with one of our favorite pieces which we love to show design students. It demonstrates the power of design to alter the thinking of your client. Our piece is a book with an essay written by British Author Nick Hornby and it is coupled with the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.”

It turns out Ann, the one with her eyes closed, wasn’t sleeping at all, but just choosing darkness over classroom light. Ann blurted out, “Nick Hornby. I know who that is!” She was familiar with Nick who had written the lyrics for an album with American singer-songwriter Ben Folds back in 2010.

It is worth mentioning that much of my teaching was based on trying to do a lot of things in a lot of ways, figuring that I had a better chance to connect with more of the students in a hopefully, significant way.

Ann was then my favorite student at George Mason University. So…

Thought #2: If you throw enough stuff at a group of students, something almost always will stick.

During our talk that evening I introduced Ann as my favorite student at George Mason University to the 250 students in attendance. It was hard not to think that the other 249 students were asking, “What the hell does that mean?” It was nice that she walked up front and talked to us some afterwards. I would have hated remembering her back in that dark corner.

For anybody from the Visual Voices talk reading this far and headed into design, I apologize for that typographic fiasco during the presentation. I really love the typeface I was trying to use. I often use it in its italic form which is quite calligraphic. The typeface is called Rialto (by DF Type) not the crappy typeface of the same name by Linotype or Letraset. My version doesn’t have italic capitals, but the lowercase has some wonderful expression.

Below is the italic lowercase which might give you some nice ideas for calligraphy. Sweet. We often use it as our house face for our personal work.

Now Ann needs to email me so I can send her something to celebrate the connection.

Studio projects Sunday January 18 2015 07:03 am

Portrait with Vandercook Universal III

We’ve been needing an in-shop portrait for a while. Applying to a magazine for inclusion in an article forced our hand.

Studio projects Saturday January 10 2015 10:05 pm

Art Directors Club “Grandmasters” article

I’m not sure I ever saw the Art Directors Club of New York annual which announced the inaugural awarding of the title of Grandmasters to design instructors. At this point I had retired and had quit adding the books to my collection. I was Googling something and the article suddenly appeared. I looked up the book on and there were copies easily available, so I bought two of them—one was for DCAD, who received a good number of the design books from my library, and the other was for Lead Graffiti’s library. I thought I would share the wonderful page designed for ADC88 back in 2009.

You can click on the image to see it double size.

Nine of my absolute favorite projects ever along with my favorite portrait were shown on the double-page spread. Truly a great honor.

From upper left clockwise:

1 Rethinking 2009 — This was the first notion we had of doing our Boxcards using recycled boxes as the stock.
2 Histories of Newark: 1758-2008 — A 300-page hardback which we designed. We took hundreds of photos for the book, most notably the “citizens band” that runs through every page and includes more than 3,700 townspeople.
3 All preservation is merely theoretical if you can’t keep the roof from leaking. poster for the American Printing History Association’s national conference at Columbia University. A copy was given to every attendee. The type is from our orphan wood type collection.
4 Can you have too much good typography — The poster celebrated a visit and talk by Justin Howes from London about his digitizing Caslon from original printings. The image is a single piece of 18″ x 24″ wood type that we made for the poster.
5 Think Small. Again. — Poster for a Visual Communications year-end exhibition reflecting back on the 25th anniversary of Volkswagen’s “Think small” ad. It was included in an exhibition of Volkswagen advertising at The One Club in New York.
6 Don’t let another art director beat you to the punch — This poster was the tipping point for my own feeling that I could complete on an equal level with other people and schools which I had envied from afar. Mounted in the Art Directors Club of New York exhibition on the same panel as one of Stephen Frykholm’s Herman Miller barbeque chicken picnic poster.
7 Yes 2005 — Poster printed via letterpress for a Visual Communications year-end exhibition. There are 11 pieces cut with a laser from a 1/4″ sheet of Plexiglas.
8 On October 5 we fished all day but didn’t catch the big one — Poster directed toward Saul Bass who called us about the piece.
9 The whole world is talking — The 3 versions of an 8-foot poster silkscreened in 2′ segments of voice bubbles for a Visual Communications year-end exhibition. Printed on a roll of paper 0.7 of a mile long. The stacked posters were handcut (total length was 2.8 miles). There were 36,000 rubberstamp impressions. Yes, it was a job, but a killer piece that won us a bunch of design awards.

Everyone of those is a nice moment in my life and reminds me how good a run I had with a bunch of amazing students, friends, and design professionals.

Studio projects Tuesday December 23 2014 02:58 am

WHYY-TV’s Best of 2014

Back in June 2014 WHYY-TV in Philadelphia, who does a weekly show on goings-on in Delaware, did a nice segment on Lead Graffiti.

They’ve just listed their WHYY’s Best of 2014 entitledFirst for Friday, December 19, 2014.” Quite nicely and totally unexpected, we are listed first and are the opening segment. Seriously, how nice is all of that.

Below you can see an image of Jill from the segment. They interviewed the 3 of us, filming every corner of our studio. I think we came off pretty well, even mentioning goosebumps twice. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Link to WHYY-TV Best of Delaware 2014.

Our segment starts at 00:44 and runs through 4:23. You can also see our link to our original blog post about the segment which links to a standalone version of the video.

Studio projects Wednesday December 17 2014 10:51 am

Lead Graffiti Young Bookmaker Awards

Back in October 2014 our granddaughter, 7-year-old Attie Blu, was enjoying drawing in one of Jill’s mini “mantle books” which we often sell at craft fairs. We thought it might be interesting for Attie Blu to make one of the accordion-bold books for each of her 25 2nd grade classmates to give out at their annual Halloween party. As Attie Blu working in the studio is a fairly common event around here we didn’t even document it with photographs except for this one photo of the “Pumpkin” covers and Attie Blu’s finger point to hers. The letterpress typography comes from rubber stamps bought at AC Moore.

We’ve decided to declare this event the 1st Lead Graffiti Young Bookmakers Award and Attie Blu as the first Lead Graffiti Young Bookmakers Award winner.

Fast forward 2 months when James’ father, Adam, a former student for a semester about 2 decades ago, called us about his son’s newfound interest in “making books.” We love the idea that a parent will show interest in supporting whatever their kids are interested in and, if it happens to be books, you can double our interest.

At the end of the conversation I asked, “How old is James?”

“Five.” Hmmm.

We invited the two of them to visit the studio. After meeting James and listening to his story we decided on a repeat of our first award winner’s project. James would make books for all of his kindergarten classmates at the Newark Charter School.

Above we see James printing “This gift book for” covers via letterpress on our Vandercook Universal III. We printed an edition of 40 to cover his classmates, a few close family as it was approaching the holidays, a couple for the keepsake box, a couple for us, and a couple for mistakes.

The classmate’s names were rubberstamped in white ink and James developed quite a repeatable method for getting the pressure right while inking the rubberstamps. The “nose scrunch” method turned out to be the best measure of pressure in foot-pounds per letter.

Then the problem was getting the pressure just right to get each of the letters to print as well as possible.

And this is James, the Lead Graffiti’s Young Bookmakers Award 2nd winner for 2014. It is never to early to start working on that résumé or a killer smile you can call up when showing off your portfolio.

A seriously fun afternoon diversion at Lead Graffiti. Thanks to James and Adam for bringing it to us.

This from an email from Adam.

I can’t say enough about our time spent with Lead Graffiti! Both my son & I got so much out of experience. I was amazed at how well Ray, Jill, Tray & Terre set up demonstrations & activities that engaged my five year old. I won’t forget the look on my son’s face when he pressed the button & saw the Vandercook’s cylinder go back & forth for the first time. As strange as it sounds to have a five year old interested in bookmaking, I’m just as glad that Lead Graffiti is around help him explore his interest. Thank you!

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