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Studio projects Friday November 13 2015 04:23 pm

The Society of Typographic Arts / keynote address

Jill and I have been invited by The Society of Typographic Arts in Chicago to deliver the keynote address at their 23rd annual Design Inspiration Weekend, entitled “Dearly Discarded,” a retreat and forum on design. Our talk will be on Friday, January 12, 2016. We’ve been asked to talk about our Tour de Lead Graffiti project. Sounds like a fun weekend.

We think we are going to be able to do 2 workshops on Thursday. One will involved our recent interest in the work of H.N. Werkman and the other would be a bookmaking workshop. Hopefully one in the morning and one in the afternoon will work into the schedule.

Worth noting to any of our Chicago friends that the talk is not open to the public.

Studio projects Tuesday November 10 2015 01:33 pm

Letterpress workshop based on the work of H.N. Werkman

At the 2015 national conference of the American Printing History Association, Ray took part in a design-on-the-fly letterpress workshop at the Rochester Arts Center. The hands-on activity was centered around the pre-WWII work of H.N. Werkman.

The conference workshop suggested some interesting possibilities, so we’ve started working on our own Lead Graffiti version. You can read the description of our two Werkman workshop events and see photos of the final results. One of the nice things is that it seems to work well with children, at least down to the age of 8. Could be a great experience for mothers/daughters or fathers/sons.

View the descriptions and photos below. Email Ray if you’d like to join in a future Werkman workshop.

Studio projects Tuesday November 10 2015 12:54 pm

Recast D-K type for the 36-line Bible ready for handsetting at Lead Graffiti

A number of years ago, a letterpress and typography friend, Mike Anderson, was researching the typographic history of the Bible. Mike had the casting equipment and know-how to produce his own metal type for printing via letterpress. Working from the 36-line Bamberg Bible, he produced what I believe is a full character set of approximately 250 characters.

Gutenberg type from 36-line Bamberg Bible

Another good friend, Chris Manson, has come into possession of all of the Bamberg Bible type Mike cast. It includes a full-page lock-up of a page of the 36-line Bible, plus 2 full California job cases of additional characters. Chris has placed the type on indefinite loan to Lead Graffiti. We are keeping the lock-up intact, but plan on trying to do some composing with the extra type.

We are developing a workshop utilizing the type that would interest librarians, historians, writers, designers, and typographers. A somewhat major problem is the vast number of characters, many with subtle differences in design and spacing and then distributing them back into the job cases. Keeping the sorts organized is both difficult and a critical must.

. . .

The Bamberg Bible is the second printed Bible and it was created with what was probably the earliest moveable type produced by Johann Gutenberg. Larger and somewhat cruder than the type used in the more famous 42-line Bible of c. 1455, this type was first used to print a Latin grammar book, called a “Donatus” (c. 1452-1453), and a pamphlet called the “Turken Kalendar” (c. 1455). This Bamberg Bible type is known as the “D-K” or “36-line Bible” type.

This was possibly the only type left in Gutenberg’s possession after the lawsuit by his business partner, Johann Fust, in 1455, and it is not known if he sold the type to another printer, who then went on to produce the 36-line Bible, or if he was involved in the printing of that work himself.

To get more of the story and a really nice photo of the type, please click here.

Studio projects & Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 Tuesday September 22 2015 10:00 am

Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015: The family portrait

There is the lag time from the end of the Tour de France each year to the moment we have the “clamshell” family portrait photo that represents the edition.

While we believe we feel good, both physically and mentally, when doing the posters for the final stages, when that daily ritual has ended, our desire to work pretty much evaporates. After 23 days (and a good deal of work right before those days actually start) the 17 hour days and the regimen seem to be come part of our DNA. I suspect there has to be some similarity to what the riders feel and we love the idea of sharing that feeling to some degree. Our constantly evolving peloton of collaborators, technical strategy adjustments, crashes (we don’t get the road rash or broken bones, though), feeding stations, and the shared responsibilities of domestiques makes this annual project the greatest project we’ve ever done.

Trying to figure out a plan for the pastepaper we’ll use on the clamshell box is always difficult. We want it to look different, unlike other pastepapers we’ve seen, and somehow visually connected to the Tour and our poster journal.

The first thing we always do once we have this image to represent the edition is to have our postcard sets printed. These are printed offset and we typically get 1,000 made. We love giving them out at talks, to students who visit and/or take workshops, and generally have them for keepsakes to share with people interested in Lead Graffiti or letterpress.

Settling on the final posters to highlight in the photo is also very difficult and there are usually a dozen who are in play for their story, color, technique, experimental nature, just plain different…

Below are links to those 4 posters (clockwise starting at 9:00) and our blog entry about the pastepaper.

          Cummings : Pinot : Bardet / Rolland : Vuillermoz : pastepaper

Studio projects Tuesday September 15 2015 12:58 pm

APHA / Chesapeake Chapter 2016 calendar

Jill and I are participating in a collaborative 2016 calendar project for the Chesapeake Chapter of the American Printing History Association and I thought a black & white photo would work nicely to show the production of my July effort.

Working on the Stage 4 and Rest Day #1 posters for Tour de Lead Graffiti this summer we had experimented with disengaging the crescent which drives the vibrator roller causing it to move left and right, replenish and evening out the ink across the form rollers. With the vibrator roller in a single position the ink stays put as you can see in the image below.

The 7″ x 11″ sheet is fed from the left side.

Here are a few additional photo of the process.

Above: Removing the crescent. There is also a lock screw hidden in the shadow in the side of the vibrator that needs to be loosened with a hex wrench.

Above: Jill laying out the colors. We cut thin strips of bookboard to apply the ink.

Above: We made a jig so we could easily replenish any colors that needed it.

Above: Just after engaging the rollers.

Above. This is just after we had moved the vibrator left and right about 1/8″ a couple of times just to spread the thick center blob of ink a bit and to allow the colors to touch each other.

It took about 4 hours to set everything up and print the 100 sheets for the calendar.

Studio projects Monday August 10 2015 07:34 am

The 2015 TdLG clamshell box pastepaper

As the final part of our Tour de Lead Graffiti project, we collect the following into a clamshell box portfolio.

  • the 23 daily posters paralleling the 21 stages and 2 rest days of the 2015 Tour de France
  • a composite print of all 92 runs of those posters
  • 3 additional posters, along with postcards trimmed from makeready sheets, and
  • a printed set of 7 postcards with the images of each daily poster with descriptions of the events and how they influenced the poster design

This year, like last year, it is a double-walled clamshell box wrapped with pastepaper specially produced for the occasion.

We are prepared to produce 26 of the clamshell boxes. We haven’t sold out a set of any edition at this point, but are hoping to promote all 5 as a special deal to libraries and interested collectors.

For 2015 the idea for this year’s pastepaper to cover the clamshell box came from a piece done by Ray in one of our pastepaper play sessions. The image to the left shows what the pastepaper area of the front of one of the clamshell boxes will look like.

The visual idea of the pastepaper is the helicopter view we would often see of the colorful jerseys in the peloton. To try to maintain some continuity to the look and feel of the pastepaper sheets, Ray applied the acrylic-colored paste and Jill pulled the squeegee in the vibrating motion across the paper. We spent 1 day experimenting with the process, allowing us to use all of the colors, and avoiding the fairly constant problem with the acrylic paint-colored paste staining the paper and then showing after we’ve drawn the squeege across the sheet to product the pattern. We wanted the squeegee to take us back to white paper.

The image below shows the experimental piece that led us to the idea we used. You can see the staining that occurred in the areas where the squeegee essentially had removed all of the paste.

Studio projects Thursday July 30 2015 04:15 am

Hamilton Wood Type Museum Exhibition / July - August 2015

A selection of our Tour de Lead Graffiti 2011 - 2014 posters are in the new gallery space at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. We watch the daily broadcast of the Tour de France and then translate those events into a poster designed and printed the same day. Using handset wood & metal type & other objects, we print the old fashioned way via letterpress to create 23 posters in 23 days. We call it “endurance letterpress.”

We were very pleased and excited to display such a large quantity of our project and we thank museum director Jim Moran, for offering this honor to Lead Graffiti.

The new gallery has a 50′ wall which is perfect for hanging 42 posters very close together. You’ll see below that the exhibit looks kind of like a high-speed peloton on a long, flat stage across central France. Adding a special touch to the display, the museum included a nice 40-year-old racing bike to hang with the work.

Jill and I traveled to the Hamilton Wood Type Museum 10 years ago or so. They’ve since moved into a new space which we hope to get out and see. The museum represents a major component in the history of printing & typography and it is great that there is some serious effort at preserving it.

For this show, we built a new set of frames designed specifically to hold the tour posters, and painted them a  warm grey. The 14.5″ x 22.5″ posters are printed on Somerset Textured White 300 gsm paper, which is lush and sexy. The frame shown below is the wooden version which we have hanging in our studio. The frame slightly curves the poster which helps keep it locked in and also creates a slight change in angle which helps show the impression we get from letterpress. The posters are works on paper and we like them to feel like it.

All of the work (except for the date / stage / signature block in the lower left corner) is printed from handset wood and metal type. Many of the runs (Majka wink wink! above) are handrolled directly on the type to produce a more painterly quality.

Here are some photos from the exhibition taken by Lead Graffiti friend, photographer and letterpress lover, Lauren Rutten. A special thanks to Lauren for letting us share her photos.

Lauren Rutten with the opening panel of the exhibition.

A grouping of some of our favorite colorful posters from 2014. The labels explain how the events in the stage helped form the visuals for each poster.

Another group of favorite posters from 2013.

Yep, that’s the way Ray Nichols would suggest hanging the posters—a long line running at high speed. Looks like the museum did a great job of getting them straight, drafting one another just like a real peloton.

Another gallery view from a little less acute angle.

A closer look at the opening panel with our Lead Graffiti logo.

Studio projects & Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 Tuesday June 30 2015 09:59 am

Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 stage schedule

All dates are now spoken for. If you are interested in being put on a waiting list, send Ray an email.

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
. . . collaborator: Kati Sowiak | graphic designer
. . . collaborator: Laura Jacoby | graphic designer

Stage 3, Monday, July 6th - Anvers > Huy | 154 km (4, 4, 4, 3)
. . . collaborator: Steve Harding | woodworker & cyclist

Stage 4, Tuesday, July 7th - Seraing > Cambrai | 221 km (cobblestones, 4)
. . . collaborator: Mark Deshon | graphic designer | ‘13, ‘14

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

. . . collaborator: Don Starr / designer, educator, store owner | ‘14
. . . collaborator: Mel Parada | graduate student, designer

Stage 6, Thursday, July 9th - Abbeville > Le Havre | 191 km (4, 4, 4)
. . . collaborator: Lauren Emeritz | letterpress printer, designer | ‘14

Stage 7, Friday, July 10th - Livarot > Fougères | 190 km (4)
. . . collaborator: Robert Ivone | teacher
. . . collaborator: Melissa Ivone | designer

Stage 8, Saturday, July 11th - Rennes > Mûr de Bretagne | 179 km (4, 3)
. . . collaborator: Bonnie Feliciano
. . . collaborator: Meryl Arnold | Graphic designer, letterpres printer
. . . collaborator: Tim (the boyfriend)

Stage 9, Sunday, July 12th - Vannes > Plumelec | 28 km (team time trial)
. . . A kind of weird day to watch. Each team rides as one.
. . . collaborator: Carol Mauer | ‘12
. . . collaborator: Kelly Mauer

Rest day #1, Monday, July 13th - Pau
. . . collaborator: Diane Zatz | educator | ‘11, ‘12, ‘14
. . . collaborator: Belinda Haites | graphic designer | ‘14

Stage 10, Tuesday, July 14th - Tarbes > La Pierre-Saint-Martin / 167 km (4, 4, 4, HC) | mountain top finish
. . . collaborator: Bill Roberts | letterpress printer | ‘11, ‘11, ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14

Stage 11, Wednesday, July 15th - Pau > Cauterets - Vallée de Saint-Savin | 188 km (3, 4, 3, 1 HC, 3) | mountain top finish
. . . collaborator: Jessica Koman | graphic designer | ‘13, ‘14

Stage 12, Thursday, July 16th - Lannemezan > Plateau de Beille | 195 km (2, 1, 1, HC) | mountain top finish
. . . 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 (3, 4, 4)
. . . collaborator: Glenn Stevens | art director

Stage 14, Saturday, July 18th - Rodez > Mende | 178 km (4, 2, 4, 2)
. . . collaborator: Joel Ouellette | graphic designer | ‘14

Stage 15, Sunday, July 19th - Mende > Valence | 182 km (3, 4, 4, 2)
. . . collaborator: Rachel Strickland | cyclist | ‘14

Stage 16, Monday, July 20th - Bourg-de-Péage > Gap | 201 km  (2, 2)
. . . collaborator: Aaron Capp
| display designer

Rest day #2, Tuesday, July 21st - Gap

. . . collaborators: Lindsay Schmittle | letterpress printer | ‘12, ‘13, ‘14
. . . collaborator: Rachel Davis | U of DE design student

Stage 17, Wednesday, July 22nd - Digne-les-Bains > Pra-Loup / 161 km (3, 3, 2, 1, 2)|  mountain top finish

Stage 18, Thursday, July 23rd - Gap > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne / 185 km (2, 3, 3, 3, 2, HC, 2) | mountains
. . . collaborator: David Copestakes | Professor of Graphic Design | Arcadia University
. . . collaborator: Tiffany Zysk | graphic designer

Stage 19, Friday, July 24th - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne > La Toussuire - Les Sybelles | 138 km (1, HC, 2, 1) / mountain top finish
. . . collaborator: Kieran Francke | letterpress kid | ‘11, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14
. . . collaborator: Hendrik-Jan Francke | dad of letterpress kid & web designer | ‘13, ‘14

Stage 20, Saturday, July 25th - Modane Valfréjus > Alpe-d’Huez / 110 km (1, HC, HC)|  mountain top finish

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

Studio projects & Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 Monday June 29 2015 08:51 am

Tour de Lead Graffiti woodtype for 2015

When we started our Tour de Lead Graffiti project in 2011 there was the built elements of spontaneity and experimentation. Originally we only planned for the one year which was 23 posters. We wanted to be able to do the daily posters to have both a continuity, but no design grid and definitely try, as best as possible, to avoid duplicating visual elements. Now we find ourselves editions later, 92 posters in our portfolio, and still looking for ways to make each poster at least fairly different from every other poster. Strangely, that hasn’t been as much of a problem as we thought it would have been.

One of the project strategies was to produce our own woodtype which would be the dominant typographic elements of each poster. The first year we cut Clarendon Extra Bold Condensed in a solid and an outline version. Each year after that we’ve chosen two typefaces, one fairly wide and the other condensed, to create visual texture and also to allow us to deal with some very long names. What to start just seemed more like an idea to have some fun has turned out to be quite a nice design element. For some reason which I’m not able to explain, letterpress seems to allow a flexibility in jumping between typefaces much more than the computer does. Many old broadsides printed letterpress in the late 1800s and early 1900s often used typefaces because they text would “fit”.

These are the two typefaces we are using for 2015.

Velo, designed by House Industries who are good friends of Lead Graffiti and also work nearby, is a typeface that reflects the cycling community. Rubens is a typeface from the late 1800s with some of the letters having that spur on their bottoms.

When we pick the typefaces for one of the editions, we don’t worry about their ability to interact well with each other. We like that we have to figure out how to get them to work together once we are actually designing the poster. The fact that we work on these posters very spontaneously makes it all the more fun.

Studio projects Saturday June 27 2015 06:54 am

Tour de France 2015 operational details

Information taken from Velo News.

As Utrecht, Netherlands gears up for the Tour de France’s Grand Départ on July 4, here are some facts and figures about the Grande Boucle, provided by race organizer Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO).

4,500 people in total travel with the race every day, including organizers, teams, media, partners, the advertising caravan, and service providers.


198 riders at the start (22 teams of nine riders)
300 support staff
15 members of the race jury

2015 route

3,360km (21 stages)
Three countries visited (The Netherlands, Belgium, and France)
26 French departments visited
37 stage sites
624 municipalities crossed (568 in France, 17 in The Netherlands, 39 in Belgium)


100 ASO staff
300 temporary staff
1,550 beds reserved every day for the organization and the sports teams

Medical services

10 doctors (all specialties), five nurses
Seven ambulances, two medical cars, one motorcycle, one radiology truck


48 members of the Republican Guard motorcycle division
13 officers on duty as the permanent police of the Tour
14,000 gendarmes/9,000 police officers and CRS riot police mobilized
1,000 agents from the General Councils

Accredited media (2014 edition)

2,000 journalists, consultants, and photographers
637 media organizations
373 newspapers, press agencies, and Internet sites
92 television networks
114 photo agencies
58 radio stations

Broadcast and media

Broadcast in 190 countries
100 channels, including 60 live
Eight stages broadcast in full
80 hours of live broadcast produced (international signal)
6,100 hours aired worldwide in 2014
32 million unique visitors/146 million pages viewed on in 2014
Four languages: French, English, Spanish, German
1,700,000 fans on Facebook
1,300,000 followers on Twitter
500,000 on Google +
100,000 on Instagram
1.1 million downloads of applications dedicated to the Tour de France

Advertising caravan

154 vehicles
34 brands
600 people
14 million objects handed out
12km of procession
35 minutes of show
55 people to supervise the caravan, including 13 officers of the Republican Guard motorcycle division

Spectators on the side of the road (2014 edition)

64 percent men and 36 percent of women
54 percent under the age of 50, with 10 percent under the age of 25
80 percent French spectators and 20 percent from abroad
More than 40 nationalities identified
92 percent come accompanied (on average five people per group)

Studio projects Saturday June 13 2015 12:14 pm

Well, that only took 8 years…

Back in August of 2007 we took possession of an R. Hoe & Co. Washington #5 iron handpress. In the photo below it is the one on the far side with our Albion, which we bought a year later, on the near side. We got a demonstration from bookmaker Don Rash on how to apply the tympan paper to the tympans. They weren’t perfect, but they were close enough for a couple of first-timers.

Here is the description from Scott’s email when describing his Washington #5, August 1, 2007.

“The Washington is in good shape, no broken parts or repairs that I can see. There is a bit of surface rust, no big deal.  It could also use a good bath! The bed has been completely cleaned and is in very nice shape, the platen still has some surface rust but appears to be fine as well. There’s no tympan and frisket assembly but you can have one made or make one yourself if you’re handy.  I have a smaller Washington that has the Tympan/frisket so I could take some detailed photos.  Just a bit of metal work and some wood work. There also used to be a guy in Utah that made them and he also did castings for missing parts as well. Don’t know if he’s still around.

The only thing missing on the press is one corner iron. The press can certainly be used without it but if you wanted to have one made, I know it can be done. I can give you some leads.

I would also include a chase (very large) with the press. I had a hell of a time finding a chase this big.”

With the help of new Lead Graffiti friend, woodworker and patron, Steve Harding, we’ve finally gotten tympan/friskets on both of our iron handpresses finished. We also found a guy in Lancaster, PA, who restores cannons to make us that corner iron that Scott mentioned was missing.

A few details about our iron handpresses:

R. Hoe & Co. Washington #5 - platen size is 25″ x 38″ (c. 1869)

Harrild & Sons Ltd.  Albion - platen is 21″ x 29″ (c. 1890)

Now to generate interest in a workshop so I can bring someone in here to teach us how to use them. Maybe we can print one of our rest day posters for this year’s Tour de Lead Graffiti on one of these presses. Hmmm.

Can’t wait.

Studio projects Saturday June 06 2015 06:36 pm

Opening at AIGA / Philadelphia’s SPACE Gallery

We are exhibiting 32 of our Tour de Lead Graffiti posters at the AIGA / Philadelphia’s SPACE Gallery during June 2015. The posters were selected from the 92 we’ve produced with handset wood & metal type via letterpress over the past 4 summers, each producing 23 posters in 23 days, forming a visual daily journal of the stage events of the Tour de France. You can read more about the project and see the posters by clicking here.

We will be doing a gallery talk on Saturday, June 20 at 3pm for anyone that would like to hear our story and see the exhibition. The SPACE Gallery is at 72 N. 2nd Street in Philadelphia.

The image below shows Tray setting the lights with Jill and Belinda Haikes (left, co-chair of AIGA’s Gallery Committee) the previous Tuesday when we were setting up the show. We really appreciate the generosity of AIGA / Philadelphia for offering us this chance to show a 4-year project that we love. We are giving the AIGA / SPACE Gallery 20% of the proceeds from any posters we sell from our website during the exhibition which runs through June 27. Start thinking about a good gift for a friend and help out the gallery at the same time. Here is the link to our online store which gives you access to all of the posters in the navigation at the top.

Over the evening we had what felt like 250 - 300 at the First Friday opening on June 5th, with lots of people willing to listen to our story and offering up lots of interesting questions about the letterpress process and the Tour. Here are a few photos showing the gathering.

We talked with a number of people whom we invited to join us during the upcoming Tour. Maybe they were cyclists, loved the idea of the spontaneity, or had a taste of letterpress sometime in their life.  It was easy to encourage several to come do one of the posters with us this summer.

One of the things that is great about our Tour de Lead Graffiti project is sharing the creative experience with collaborators. Of the 32 posters in the show the following people shared in one or more of them.

Amos Burkhart, APHA members group, Brian Campbell, Adam DelMarcelle, Mark Deshon, Lauren Emeritz, Christine Fajardo, Hendrik-Jan Francke (2), Kieran Francke (3), Donna Globus, Virginia Green, Belinda Haikes, David Jones, Andy Kiel, Ben Kiel (2), Jessica Koman, Ann Lemon, Ethan Mann, Rebecca Johnson Melvin (3), Lucie Melvin, Joel Ouellette, Tim Pacific, Bill Roberts (2), Kayla Romberger, Lindsay Schmittle, Rachel Strickland, Paul Thompson, Garrett Varady, Jeannie Marcotte Wagner, Kyle Ward, Stephanie Wolfe, Diane Zatz (2), and Megan Zottlemeyer.

This photo is a rare “double wink selfie” with Ray & Kieran, a 4-year contributor (starting at age 10) to Tour de Lead Graffiti at the opening, using one of Kieran’s posters as a backdrop.

When we look back over the people represented in the posters (the list above), many of them weren’t people we even knew at the time, but somehow just connected with us. They must have had a good story or looked like interesting people to spend the day with, so we invited them.

At the opening one couple (great hair color always helps), after the conversation exposed the fact they had plans to go to France and actually stand on one of the mountain stages, got such an offer to join us for a day. By the end of the evening they had accepted the offer, checked availability, and had emailed the stage date to us (Stage 7) by the end of the evening. We love that kind of enthusiasm. You can see our schedule for 2015 here.

Another great story was a young lady, when I started explaining our project, grabbed her phone and in about 10 seconds was showing us a photo of the peloton blasting along at full speed on the Champs-Élysées this past summer while she was on a study abroad. We love those kinds of stories.

. . .

The British Library hosted an exhibition of 30 of the TdLG posters from 2011 - 2013 this past summer in London and Sports Illustrated did a small, but nice, article on our 2013 edition in their “Year in Media” edition in December of 2013 in both their print and digital issues.

In July and August of 2015 these same posters, with an additional 12 or 15, will be on exhibit at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Hard to explain how flattered we are with this.

Studio projects Wednesday May 27 2015 07:03 am

John Nash (1928–2015) & Alicia Nash (1933-2015)

Our autobiographical book series, Moments Carved in Paper, has me spending a lot of time trying to remember, and then contemplating, past events as possible stories to include in the books. This is one that will go in there somewhere.

The recent death of Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, reminded me of one of my favorite design projects and an absolutely wonderful evening. Bob Gill said a good idea should be “Surprising. Original. Inevitable.” I think this is one of those ideas.

I was completely absorbed by the idea of Nash’s Nobel-Prize-winning “equilibrium theory” presented in the movie A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe as John and Jennifer Connelly as Alicia. I probably showed the movie in one of our Friday Sessions. Anyone remember if that is true? I also worked with Ari Garber on a VC Family Album page for the movie which was one of my favorites. I’m sure that will also pop up somewhere.

In the movie, Nash is at a bar with a group of friends when he begins to develop the theory of what is now called the Nash equilibrium, the idea that won him the Nobel Prize in 1994.

At the bar, he and his friends start to compete for a beautiful blonde in a group of five women. “If we all go for the blonde,” Nash says, “we block each other. None of us is going to get her and the others will feel rejected. But, if no one goes for the blonde, and we only go for the other women, it’s the only way we win.

The best result comes from everyone doing what’s best for himself and the group.

Hendrik-Jan Francke did some internet sleuthing and approached me with the name of Lynne Butler, a former Princeton professor of Mathematics where John Nash taught, who often lectured on the topic of The Collaborators’ Conundrum, an explanation of Nash’s theory. Lynne graciously accepted our invitation to speak.

Below is the poster Ivan Markos, Scott Gaston, Jessie Perlin, and I came up with. The students did a great job on the photo to illustrate a complex mathematical problem.

If you asked me what I wanted to be for Visual Communications, it was that rope.

Below is a nice photo of Lynne Butler with Chris Mears (VC’03) talking at the end of the evening.

I really, really, really should have recorded this talk. I bet I’ve wished that 500 times since this night.

I came home the afternoon I heard the news of their deaths and watched A Beautiful Mind. Sitting and watching as the “pens” scene happens at the end of the movie had me sitting alone in our living room with tears streaming down my checks into my beard.

Studio projects Tuesday May 26 2015 01:12 pm

AIGA / Philly Feedback workshop April 23, 2015

At the recent AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 17, we offered a Lead Graffiti Creative Workshop as a raffle item to generate some excitement. After a drawing of business cards 9 students from Tyler School of Art, Kutztown University, and Hussian School of Art, attended the workshop. It was a great group, lots of questions, interesting design strategies working without sketches, and an overall nice day that finished on time.

The photo below shows the lockup for the second color along with the final broadside.

You can click on the image and see a double-sized image for some additional detail. The first and third rows of the broadside have been rotated to keep the pages in reading orientation.

The broadside was carefully folded and torn to produce the text block for a 12-page, 2-color book with a hard cover which was produced without glue or sewing. The bookform is called a “meander” book.

The book will be included in the Rare Books & Special Collection of the Library of Congress and in Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library, both of which maintain complete collections of these workshop books. In addition the books will be included in the libraries at Tyler School of Art, Kutztown University and Hussian School of Art.

We love this workshop. It is a great entry experience to letterpress for anyone with any interest in design, typography, creativity, and printing.

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 answer the question, “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.” Every time. And without pausing.

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 and for a reason. 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 visual tone of voice of your piece. Your piece is a speech. An announcement. A plea.

Designer’s 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. Empathy for a product is not easy to summon up, 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. Make your target audience 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. Yours and no one else’s. More than half of the portfolios i looked at had their logo in the corner or the center of a completely blank opening page. How about a can of pork & beans with a hunting knife stuck in it. Nope, I don’t know what it means, but at the end of the day I’m going to remember seeing it. Maybe at the end of the portfolio you could have a blank page with a knife in it and in small type it says, “Death to dull pages.” And then remind yourself that you want to do that on your portfolio every time you show something in class.

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 extra year to play with the idea.

Most of the ledger-like portfolios (ink-jet 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. You start out with boring stamped on your forehead. Or “follower.”

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.

And personally I don’t like being told what you are doing. If I can’t see what you are after in a project, what you think it is important, your tone of voice, you telling it to me takes me backwards.

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 edges recede toward the background), 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 the mountains look lighter in tone). 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. Don’t yell your idea, but yell something to help them get your idea. 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? Do wine bottles always have to sit on their bottoms. How about them all being empty with their corks and a corkscrew laying in front. You could throw in the lines that the photographer liked the wine.

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 story 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 and I promise most all of them “will not get it.” 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 a bold 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, like a wedding invitation using Nuptial Script and the headline saying, “The perfect marriage between a rock and a hard place?” Never have a favorite typeface. Have a favorite idea that uses a typeface really well 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. “Death to boring pages.”

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