The 'JUST WANTED TO QUICKLY INTRODUCE MYSELF' post. That has somehow...um...snowballed...into a ridiculously long epic...

lauren d.'s picture

Hello all!
I just wanted to introduce myself and say how much i've enjoyed reading and learning from this forum over the last year.
I've been fascinated with typography my entire life... I just never realized it until a few years back when my advertising friend, looking around my apartment, commented: 'Wow, i didn't know you were such a typography fanatic!'

"Typoga...what?"

He was referring to my 'art': an old eye exam chart i found in the trash and proudly displayed over the TV, the barber shop signs in my bathroom, the cursive primers stacked on the coffee table, the technical manuals, the theatre marquee letters, the chunk of chinese billboard, the endless photographs i had taken of road signs, hotel signs, neon words and on and on on....

Looking around at my endless collection of signage it occured to me - for the first time - there was a common THEME here.

"Oh...you mean i like letters? Well. Yeah. I guess i do like the um, typo..geograph... yes i'm a fan."

You know the expression about the pink elephant in the room but no one dares mention it? Well, I had a big ol' boldfaced typo elephant sitting in my LIFE and hadn't even NOTICED it. But thinking on it I began to realize had ALWAYS been in love with letters, with handwriting, with printed materials, with signage and alphabets. Always had this intense, unexplainable fascination... it 'spoke' to me somehow. But I had simply never though about it till that moment.

('boldface' elephant, get it? It's a joke! It's not funny. i know)

But wait! How can letters be speaking to me?
Suddenly I became confused by this paradox:

Letters are JUST a utility to words for communication, right? Words have meaning, so words can move you. But i wasn't interested in words. I was interested in the characters themselves. But that makes no sense! How could the shape of a letter move me? Excite me? Bring me more aesthetic satisfaction than a heartfelt painting? A letter is just a letter. Meaningless and cold when out of the context of a word.
So how the heck is it they seem to speak to me so strongly?

I decided to get to the bottom of this disturbing discovery that i was inappropriately attached to letters....
starting with a check into the whole typograwhatever thing. Being a 'fan' and all, I thought it might be appropriate to know what the word meant. Now, i knew what a FONT was. I actually even considered myself quite a little font snob, boy howdy, because i liked to change from Times to Ariel when i typed out a Word document. How bout that for discriminating taste? And when i was really feeling wild i might throw in some Impact cause I found it to be rather....um, well... impacting. Yessir. That's what this font snob had to offer.

I googled 'typography' and got the jist of it.
I googled 'serif' and received some pretty upsetting insider information --- 'serif' was not synonymous with 'italic' after all.
I noodled around the internet for a couple of weeks. Discovering answers to silly questions i had and picking up little tid-bits of Type101 kindov stuff. I was hooked. I decided to dig a little deeper in my quest for knowledge.
So I went to typophile.com
And I freaked. Major overload for my little green brain.
I mean, when the only decorative/display font you know is 'DemBones', for example, typophile forums are a heavy read.
Like, impossible heavy. Black hole weight heavy. I might have well been reading a newspaper from another planet. one with a black hole nearby.
I desperately scanned the posts for context clues. Maybe I'd find a familiar key word like 'serif'. Anyone? Serif? Let's talk serifs! It's not the same as an Italic, you know. Uh.... Anyone else discovered the impact of Impact? Hum? No? Any DemBones fans? 'Cause i'm thinking those knobby bones make it a legitimate serif. What do ya'll experts think?

I wanted to understand why typography spoke to me... I just needed a translator! But the tech was so over my head, and i couldn't get to the heart of what i was looking for.
So.
I convinced myself that i like letters simply because they DON'T speak to me. at all. I figured i'm just a minimalist, and a painting of the letter 'A' is easier on the eyes than a Rembrant.
So i forgot about it. Switched hobbies. Learned how to bake bread instead.

---------

Skip ahead a year. I'm showing my mom photos from my trip to Prague.

"Look mom... this #34 was painted on the street. And this ampersand was taken with my zoom lens from a circus billboard. And this is graphitti on the famous clock building. Oh! and this 'B' is in a church stained glass window. Isn't it cool?

'BUT, honey, there's not ONE photo of YOU!?'

"Well i didn't want to waste my film. WAIT! I think there's one photo of me holding a marionette. You can have it"

Point Being: The type obsession had crept back in apparently.

This time i was incredibly fascinated by this Czech typographic look - not a specific typeface or anything - just a feel that permeated everything i saw in print on my trip. Reluctantly i hit up google for "czech type", leading me to Storm Type Foundry.
I was amazed there were such things as type foundries. And type designers! That just design type... like, that's their job!?
I started reading Frantisek Storm's 'Typomonolog'... Of course I had no idea what he was going on about.
But i continued reading.
I didn't get any of the technical jargon, but something clicked with me in the way he described typefaces - not as typefaces, but as interpretations of everyday things I could grasp. His eccentric analogies and descriptions - comparing characters to snakes, bent ironwork in the prague park, dogs with fat bodies and stubby legs - were thrilling to me! I didn't get what an x-height was, but i knew my basic animals!
I could look at his specimen, read his description, look BACK up at the specimen and see.... yep, it's a snake alright!

A light clicked on in my head. I looked around at all my weird collections of alphabet art and understood.
i knew why it spoke to me. What typography was all about...at least for me.

The way I look at it, an alphabet it purely utilitarian. It's only there to serve a function and meet certain practical needs.
But underneath this armored shell of practicality, in every typeface - in every individual character - there is a hidden, private and living space that belongs to the designer. They fill it as they please. And with what they please.
Some stuff it full of ornamentry till it's busting at the seam.
Some fill it with bits and pieces of other typefaces.
Some sneak in a private joke and keep it light and whimsical.
Some throw in scratch paper with their handwriting on it - and become confused - when it gets spit right back out.
And others simply reach in empty handed and leave nothing more than a subtle fingerprint.

...Snap the lid closed, tighten it up, solder the seams back to it's original armored shell to avoid any confrontations with the function police. And away the typeface goes to service the world of language.

But the question still remains: How can a single character speak to me if it's not forming a word?
I guess I had the answer right in the first place:
A letter can't speak. Not at all.
It occurs to me it was never the letters that mesmerized me. It was the designer's voice in the background all along.

Then again, if it's a Storm typeface it's probably a snake or a short-legged dog i'm hearing.

--------

Now. Whether that's a weird way of looking at a typeface or a trite Typo Appreciation 101 way of looking at it i don't know.
But I certainly look at typography in a different way than I did before. Now I'm working my way outward from the heart of it and trying to grasp the rest of the body.
Good News: Last year i revisited this site and could actually understand some of the discussions!
I've posted once or twice but i always get intimidated i'm saying something ridiculous. So i thought "well, i should introduce myself. That way they'll know i'm a beginner and forgive me when i say something ridiculous."

However.
NOW i'm concerned i won't be forgiven for posting THIS rambling post.
gee i was gonna write like 3 lines. i swear. i get so carried away.
OK. Forget everything i just said.
This is what i meant to write:

HI! I'M LAUREN. I'M NEW-ISH TO THE SITE. REALLY LOVE YOUR FORUMS! LOOKING FORWARD TO LEARNING MORE. THANKS!

Eric_West's picture

Welcome Lauren!

...but i always get intimidated i’m saying something ridiculous

I've been spewing rediculousnuss*niss? for almost a year now. I loved your story. The serif/italic part made laugh out loud. There is a ton to learn, and you're in the right place.

Peace

dezcom's picture

Hi Lauren, my name is Chris and I am a Typoholic...:-)

ChrisL

cerulean's picture

Welcome. I want you to know I loved reading this, so your time was not wasted. We're not really different from you; all the jargon you see in typography is stuff we've had to make up (whether a century ago or a week ago) so that we can talk about it without waving our arms too much. Our words for things don't all match up, and even with a complete vocabulary, we all still have to say things like "The K doesn't look as happy as the G. I think (insert technical stuff here) would cheer it up." It all comes down to analogy eventually.

I would dare to guess that what you are really fascinated with is not the letter itself or the voice of the designer, but the fact that one can go into the other. It's what fascinates the designer too. No matter how much we learn, typography is a very alchemical thing. Everyone must feel around in the dark some to create something new.

Jackson's picture

Thanks for the great story and welcome.

Your profile says you do lighting stuff, have you ever seen Fred Eerdekens work? He's combined sculpture, lighting, semantics, and typography. It's really amazing. Here is his website

grayson's picture

Loved reading it as well. Thanks :)

Stefan H's picture

Lauren,

I also enjoyed reading your story. What affects people when it comes to typography, typefaces, letter etc is extreamly interesting for me as a typedesigner. Welcome aboard and I look forward to read more posts from you in the future.

jezburrows's picture

jackson, thanks for mentioning Fred Eerdekens! he's got some really wonderful work.

lauren d.'s picture

thanks for all of your warm welcomes!
I was nervous i would get in trouble for writing too much personal stuff.

RE Fred Eerdekens: I did see an exhibition of his in Soho several years ago, but never been on his website till just now.... love his work!

Jongseong's picture

‘Serif’ was not synonymous with ‘italic’ after all.

Well, I used to think serifs were angel-like creatures.

mr_cheese's picture

Hi Lauren,
I really enjoyed reading your post. I particularly liked the way you phrased the sentence "And away the typeface goes to service the world of language."

As a self taught designer, I had a slightly similar kind of experience, initially spending hours and hours in libraries, reading old, or even very old books. When I got my first design "job" I discovered the exisitence of the yellow covered "Fontbook" with total amazement. I couldn't believe so many type designs actually existed. It was a revelation to me. I rapidly bought myself a copy, and for maybe 18 months, I took it with me on the metro each morning whilst travelling to the studio, just reading and re-reading and re-re-reading. Absorbing fonts. And making lists of typefaces which spoke to me… and then I would re-make the lists, and I would go back to the type book and start again. That was when I discovered that I was crazy about typography…

I was also very happy to discover typophile !!

best wishes,

pete

Nick Cooke's picture

I liked the "I was amazed there were such things as type foundries. And type designers! That just design type… like, that’s their job!?" bit.

It's quite surprising the number of people who think type just 'appears' out of nowhere. I sometimes see a totally blank look If I tell somebody I design type.

"Design type - what do you mean?"

"You know - type all around you everywhere you look, somebody designed it"

"Somebody DESIGNED it?'

Incredible.

Nick Cooke

MekOne's picture

Easy Lauren,

Nice reading - I too have found somewhere for me to indulge my fancies.... I am however jealous at your eloquence, lovely story dude.

Fred Eerdekens seems to have expressed something I would like to have also. How you both stole my ideas before I even had them is remarkable.

:)

BradB's picture

Really great post, Lauren. Very eloquent. I'm bookmarking this. Maybe I can save this to explain to some people why I like type so much.

dezcom's picture

MekOne,

Did you tag your own shoes?

ChrisL

MekOne's picture

@ Dezom...

Hello there, yeah, that was me, although I don't actually own any of my own customisations...Here's a better pic (soz for the hijack!)

dezcom's picture

Cool!

ChrisL

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