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July 20, 2002

TypeCon2002 According to Mr. Coles

A SoTA TypeCon is, by nature, a homemade affair. Much of the preparation is wrapped up days, even hours, before show time. There are obligatory technical blunders - the sound in the theatre doesn’t work or the lights are too low or high. There are almost always schedule screw-ups, speakers gone AWOL, and presentations that turn out to be duds. The conference is not a corporate concern. It is organized and run by dedicated, but inexperienced volunteers — people who are not professional expo/conference/convention gurus. They are paid nothing to organize a 3-day show intended to entertain and educate type lovers. It’s a scenario that should be destined for failure, or at least mediocrity.

So, how is it that at the close of every TypeCon we experience a deluge of hoopla and praise from attendees?

Perhaps it is the altruistic character of SoTA that makes TypeCon a perennial success. The organization is not-for-profit and its focus is on the advancement and promotion of typography rather than the advancement of the organization itself. The difference is important. The result is a low-key, low-cost conference where no attendee is too aloof and no subject is unworthy of discussion. The result is a friendly event where the meeting and making of friends is as valuable as what is on the printed schedule. Yeah, reviews often sound sappy and sentimental, but it’s true: TypeCon is worth the price every time. I was convinced this was true when one of my type design heroes approached me and told me he came to TypeCon because he wanted to meet people like me and hang with them without the air of snoot and competitive fumes that tend to pollute other conferences. In any other environment I would be intimidated by his experience and wisdom. But at TypeCon we were chatting as equals — we both love type.

The general consensus is that this year’s TypeCon was uncharacteristically smooth. Richard Kegler, Tamye Riggs, and Brian Maloney put on a fine show. I wanted to write a full review, but because I was volunteering and generally out of touch with the schedule I didn’t see much of the presentations and panels. So I thought I’d write a bit about the half-day workshops.


Though his work can be very formal, Michael Clark is not a button-down guy. His approachable, down-home-Virginia-boy personality is immediately apparent. Appropriately, his workshop was very informal and intimate. The 8-10 attendees gathered close around a table while he showed his work, demonstrated some techniques and rambled on about calligraphy, client relationships, and his sources of inspiration. Clark is philosophical and eager to describe his process — how the art streams from his head to paper. He said much of what he does is subconscious and he often doesn’t realize what his hand is doing until after he’s finished a stroke. He can remember the mood he was in when he did each piece - whether he was angry or in love or hungover. His quick banter incited a lot of laughter from the attendees, especially when he described an AIGA event in which he was pitted up against Ed Fella in a bout of traditionalism versus the new (sloppy) school. “Ed Fella is totally bereft...” Clark declared. He then went on a tirade, ripping on Fella and Carson and Cranbrook before getting back to his demo. Whether workshoppers agreed with him or not, the rant entertained us — as did the entire session.


Most apparent from both workshops was that a 3-hour block was best spent watching in awe as the masters worked, rather than trying the work ourselves. While there was time during each session to try a few strokes with a ruling pen and a paint brush, most of the day was a demonstration of the level of skill that requires years of experience. Case in point: John Downer. The speed and ease with which he can whip up a clean, balanced 2x4 ft. sign with a paint brush produced a lot of jaw dropping and head shaking. We watched him paint a sign for the TypeCon auction and then “copy” it using a tracing method. The style was one he’s used for hundreds of signs advertising sale prices at his parents’ grocery store in Iowa. On display at the back of the room were photos of a few dozen of the signs. The price is always prominent and the lettering is rarely complex. “It doesn't pay to fuss with serifs on quick work,” he said. During the session we learned about how the cost and convenience of vinyl lettering and laser printers were replacing this dying art. Downer also demonstrated how a drip of paint could easily be transformed into a decorative star by crossing it with an ‘x’. “See? It looks like we planned it all along. We’ll add one to the other corner to balance it out... voilá!”


Project is pronounced proh-ject, not praw-ject. Thank you, Canadians.

MyFonts.com’s “Test Drive” feature renders previews directly from the actual font every time it’s triggered. It doesn’t build samples by rearranging pre-made GIFs. The system uses Bitstream’s Font Fusion engine. Samples with customized preview text are also linkable. In the last few months the MyFonts team has improved “Test Drive” to include each fonts’ kerning. This is very cool. I don’t know of a better online device for testing a font before buying.

I don’t know Galliard as well as I should. Tied for fourth place in the opening night type quiz I had to identify the typeface to win the tiebreaker. I panicked and called it Caslon. Dumb. Surprisingly I still walked away with a great book as a consolation prize. “Language Culture Type” showcases the winners of AtypI’s bukva:raz! competition. It will be published in September by Graphis.

There are years of research and stacks of sketches behind Whitman. I spent some quality time with the jovial Kent Lew. It’s clear that his peaceful Massachusetts farm provided the perfect refuge for studying and designing a serious text face. Fortunately, this thing is available for purchase soon. Stay tuned.

Dave Farey is as good an auctioneer as he is a type designer. Saturday’s auction was the most entertaining event of the weekend and his wit and endearing accent are largely responsible for it.


“If you can’t flourish, don’t prove it.” – Michael Clark, quoting some unnamed Englishman during the calligraphy workshop.

“This next set of ads was for Adobe who were trying to attract the sort of web designers who wear their pants around their ankles - you know, the guys who are always saying ‘Yo, dude! The Web! Yo.’ So we designed an ad that read 2Rebels buys Adobe. They did not like that one.” – Denis Delude, during the 2Rebels presentation.

Someone approached Underware’s table in the vendor area and asked “Why would I want to read naked?” Their response: “Who are you?”

Up for bidding at the auction was a sign, hand-painted by John Downer at the workshop. It became the target of a lengthy bidding war, finally going for $135 CAD. As the audience applauded the winner another Downer sign was presented to their surprise. Then another. Then another. Each one went pretty high. By the fourth sign, James Montalbano yelled from the back of the room: “He’s in the hall painting these things while we bid!” Pleased with the results of the auction, Downer later announced he was going to go back into grocery sign painting full time.

I wish I had more pics, but as Todd Dominey says: “...there are only so many interesting angles of a hotel conference room.”

Posted by Stephen Coles | 11:02 PM | Comments (17)
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