Notre Dame
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Last week was an emotional week for anyone who loves the cathedral of Notre Dame. The images of the fire were heart-wrenching and disturbing. It’s horrible to see something that’s lasted so many years just catch fire… and stay on fire for hours and hours. It’s a horrible tragedy. These are a few photos I took when visiting Paris in the Fall of 2017. I went digging through my photos in Lightroom last week because I wanted to remember the building, but more specifically, how I had connected with the building in a visual way.

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Taking pictures on vacation is deeply meaningful to me for several reasons. The most direct benefit is that it helps me remember the places I’ve been. It’s a nice way of pacing a day and recording the chronology of events. It’s also an opportunity to create my own personalized souvenir, so to speak, that’s much more meaningful than schlocky mass-produced trinkets (although those are fun on occasion). But most importantly, it’s an opportunity to express myself creatively in new geographical places. I like thinking about the variety of ways a subject could appear as a static two-dimensional image, and then working towards that image through trial-and-error. It’s like a game of solitaire with a preset list of rules that only I’m aware of, and it’s entirely up to me to respect or contradict them. Finding room to compose unique imagery within those self-imposed constraints is an incredibly engaging exercise and even more of a thrill when I get to use such iconic subject matter like the cathedral of Notre Dame.

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I posted most of these images on Instagram recently with some thoughts about the fire. Here is a copy/paste of one of the more substantial captions:

The news about restoration is somewhat promising. More objects recovered than originally thought including the brilliant rose windows (which apparently are not permanently erased like originally reported). NPR said over a billion euros have been secured which is bittersweet because it took partial destruction to remind people what a structure like this truly means to France and world. Where were the owners of Louis Vuitton and L’Oréal during fundraising efforts to ensure the longevity of the building (e.g. fireproofing the medieval timber roof)? Places like this cathedral are world heritage sites and we can’t treat them as objects that belong to us in 2019. They belong to the past, present, and future. If we could send a message back in time to Notre Dame’s architects, engineers, and artisans telling them their building has lasted 850 years, I imagine they’d laugh and say “Of course! We built that structure to last much, much longer, and you in 2019 are merely catching a glimpse.”

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Misfires
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Remember the days of film photography, when you’d get your prints back from the lab and the last image (or sometimes the first) would be hopelessly out of focus? There might be some bit of recognizable imagery with a smear of sprocket holes or part of the film itself laying across it. They had a lovely atmospheric quality that seemed to transcend the other snapshots they book-ended. The modern day equivalent might be those accidental shots when the focus goes awry or the shutter lags to the point where nothing recognizable manages to hit the sensor. Most people probably delete them immediately but I process them with the rest and treasure them like I did in the film days.

Collaborating with Aki
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I’m thankful for my friend and coworker, Aki. She sits across from me at work and we’re always chit-chatting about little things. We rarely get to collaborate on projects but tomorrow we’re photographing a work event and she’s kind of nervous about it. She decided to double-check her camera settings at the actual event location, and even though I use my camera daily and know it pretty well by now, she insisted I go with her and check my settings as well. I’d be nervous carrying around that giant flash, too. Canon’s approach to camera design has always seemed a little ham-fisted to me. I’ll stick with Fuji and fast primes.

The Way Things Look
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I have been bookmarking examples of contemporary graphic design on a Tumblr blog called The Way Things Look for about 6 years now. I don’t pay attention to it very often anymore, but early on, I spent a fair amount of time pruning it. It served as a visual bookmarking station, basically an alternative to Pinterest. I would find things from people’s portfolio sites and post a representative image from projects I wanted to remember. Eventually, the hand-picking method devolved into reblogging other things that came across my Tumblr dashboard which was actually more efficient than finding them across the web and the quality didn’t really take a hit. Now, The Way Things Look stands as a static archive of things I’ve enjoyed over the last few years but I still go back to reference things once in a while. Tonight, while working on the Small House book, I needed to grab an example of an all-text cover (set in all one point size), a partial dust jacket, and an alternative to cloth hardbinding. That’s when it comes in handy.

Starting OMNIBUS XI
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My friend Amy at 826michigan recently asked me if I’d design another edition of the OMNIBUS for them. It’s only been a few months since wrapping up the last one, and the fatigue hasn’t quite worn off yet, but for whatever reason, I said… “ok, let’s do it!” Hopefully I won’t regret that. I already have four different book projects in the works, all in various states of development. Wait… I just started another one, so that makes it five books. I’m so overwhelmed with side projects I’m forgetting them. It’s probably too many projects at once, and my attention can only handle so much, but book work is such a pleasing activity and results are so satisfying that it’s very hard to say no, even when I know I should. The image above is a type treatment I started in Illustrator the other day in response to Amy’s cover prompt: represent the three cities serviced by 826michigan in a skyline. I’m not much of a draw-a-skyline kind of guy, but I’m certainly a stack-a-bunch-of-letters kind of guy. Set in big, beautiful Maelstrom Sans from Klim, the best foundry out there.

A match for Akkurat
Three composites made from screenshots taken at the Lineto and Klim websites.

Three composites made from screenshots taken at the Lineto and Klim websites.

Last night I spent a little time looking for a serif to partner with Akkurat for a book I’ve been working on. There’s something neutral but fairly specific about the shapes of Akkurat. It’s not as silent as Helvetica or Univers but still doesn’t go out of its way to draw attention. I declares itself without screaming and shouting. Below is a rationale I sent my partner in the project to outline a few thoughts:

Hopefully we can solve the second font problem soon. I have certainly been thinking about it... I still believe the quote passages should have a different visual style than the essays, ideally bringing a touch of warmth and connoting the historical nature of the quote sources (without being too literal or too linked to one certain era). We are searching for something that is essentially a display font, since it will be displayed larger than text size, and is used as much for its aesthetic merits as its content. It should be heavy, but not too heavy, and should be able to share space with Akkurat, our alpha male. Ideally our serif will have straight serifs that mirror Akkurat’s terminals and a total lack of stress to mirror Akkurat’s geometrically-drawn skeleton. Your intuition for Bodoni is spot-on since it achieves most of that. It’s too loaded with historical connotations for our purposes and a bit too contrasty, but it’s in the ballpark. I have been looking at all the serifs I have access to, and at first everything can seem like an ideal fit, then upon closer inspection, the charming idiosyncrasies can start to seem a little too... idiosyncratic. When fonts are displayed at that size all the little details are revealed (that flat a in the samples from a few days ago jumped right out at you, for example). Untitled Serif is unique because it was actually designed to be as neutral as possible. It’s the only serif that I know of that actually started with that concept as its guiding principle. I think it’s worth considering and it’s well within reach (I recently picked up web versions of regular and italic for my website for $75, which turned out to be a great move... it’s a dream to use). We might consider picking up the medium or bold weight for $50. That’s where my mind is at right now, but like always, I want to sleep on it and see if I agree with myself in the morning! I can screenshot some samples and pair it with Akkurat if you’re interested in seeing them. Here is an excerpt from the Kris Sowersby’s thoughtful explanation: “I made all Untitled Serif design decisions while reading. After each round of changes, I embedded the updated fonts into an ePub of Orwell’s 1984 and read several chapters. If a detail stood out, I removed it in the next round of changes. I kept doing this until it was totally comfortable to read.”

The image above shows some screenshots I cobbled together on my phone to show the two fonts sharing the same space. The mix seems to have everything we have been looking for, with nothing more and nothing less. Akkurat sill keeps its alpha status and Untitled Serif has the room to express itself whether it intends to or not.

2019 Tour de France Postcards
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Yesterday, after work, I spent the evening working on commissioned graphic design work, which can often be tedious and difficult. Those are the times when my mind wanders off to simpler, less stringent, tasks. I found myself looking at this year’s Tour de France schedule and felt the urge the trace a stage route map again, similar to the set of posters I designed during the summer of 2014. There’s something about the mindless clicking with the pen tool that feels so good, and at the end, you have a strange snake-like shape to compose with. It’s actually a lot of fun.

A couple weeks ago I reworked a calendar layout I originally designed in 2009, and one of the things I changed was the scale. I thought I might do the same thing, here. Originally I created the stage route series in 2014 as a set of posters… but now I’m thinking… what if they were a set of post-cards. Emphasis on post, I guess? They’d have little significance as actual printed objects, but it’s nice to give them some sort of definition outside the world of digital documentation. Little, meaningless projects like this are a good way to unwind and come back to larger, more important projects, with fresh eyes.

Hello Lydia
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Last night I splurged on Lydia, the moderately aggressive, but friendly calligraphic typeface from London-based foundry, Colophon. I have loosely followed the output of Ben Critton, since ~2010 when I first became aware of his MFA work at Yale. Lydia, designed around that same time, stands as my favorite of his typographic experiments.

Dot Dot Dot 15
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I have been plucking off older issues of Dot Dot Dot from eBay and recently got issue fifteen for a reasonable price. The older issues are much more scarce and becoming very expensive. I regret not purchasing them back in 2009 when I first became aware of DDD. I bought about a ten of them but now I wait patiently for my eBay saved search notifications to keep me aware of the availability of the early issues. In this issue, David Reinfurt talks about the heyday of the Visible Language Workshop at MIT under Muriel Cooper.

Squares from Ohio