DSC01082Nobody ever has fun on our annual trip to Wilson's Prom.036035034032029


    Kristiina Lahde

    I don’t think I need to explain how my heart leapt on seeing these images. Made by Toronto-based artist Kristiina Lahde between 2004-2007, the works are constructed with meticulously altered envelopes. (It is no surprise that Lahde is also a paper conservator!) Her website is here.

    The Vanderslippers

    I was woken abruptly at a quarter to five the other morning right in the sweet spot of my REM cycle. I know you’re not interested in hearing about the dream I was having right at that moment, but I’m going to tell you anyway. This is a dream for letterpress enthusiasts – specifically, Vandercook proof press enthusiasts. [Others may want to skip to the photographs below.] 

    In the dream I was admiring a pair of slippers a colleague had on her work bench, when my boss came by and snaffled them for himself. I was woken from the dream mid-protest, so there’s very little to tell narratively speaking. What made me laugh on waking were the slippers themselves – Chinese-style slip-ons, both insteps printed with the Vandercook logo, the earth encircled with the company name. In real life, my boss does own an SP-20, so it’s not such a long shot to imagine he and I arguing over who would get to wear the Vanderslippers. 

    As 2009 nears its end, I’d like to wish all Vandercooks a very happy birthday. I don’t believe the letterpress renaissance of the last ten years would have happened without the Vandercook, or without the public access studios that made them available to artists and writers wanting to learn to print. Happy 100th Vandercook!

    My dream studios:

    The Milan-based Italian Sales Representatives Display Van (with Universal 1).

    Or the Vandercook Mobile Technical Center (with SP-15).

    (Photos from here, courtesy Fritz Klinke.)

    New workshop dates

    Due to popular demand, I’m moving to a once-a-month workshop schedule, starting with a last-minute, pre-Christmas weekend December 12–13. Last year’s December group spoke both of the relief of escaping the holiday madness and gratitude at being able to knock out some beautiful and unique gifts! Classes fill quickly, so let me know if you’d like to reserve a spot.

    Details can be found here and you are, of course, most welcome to call or e-mail with any questions you might have.

    Dates: December 12–13, 2009

    January 16-17, 2010

    February 8–12, 2010. [This is a special week-long course offered by the Rare Books Summer School. Applications close December 11. For information, see here.] 

    March 20–21, 2010.

    Envelope @ Mailbox 141

    My show at Mailbox 141 is up for just a few more days. Following the State Library’s curatorial example, I’ve had three changeovers of the show, so that all thirty-two of the pieces I made have had a turn on display. (A heads-up for writers – this week’s changeover is for you!)

    With all the busyness of getting the show up, and then getting myself off to India days later, I haven’t had a chance before now to show you any of the before or after.   

    Sometime in July or so, I realised that I was going to have to pick up the pace if I wanted to have work to show by September. Last Christmas, September seemed such a long time off in the distance. By July, not so much.  

    My solution, implemented temporarily, was to get into the studio just before seven in the morning, work for an hour and a half, then come back after my day job to clean and set up for the next morning’s print run. Somewhat surprisingly, I loved this schedule. I was alert, the mornings were clear and calm, I felt I’d achieved something before the real workday had even begun. 

    It was such a pleasure to be working on a project of my own for the first time in a long time. And as is often the case, after following a few unsatisfying trajectories, I found myself with an idea I was very happy with. It was a wonderful moment to realise that I didn’t need to search all over town for envelopes with security linings. I have boxes and boxes of letters sent by friends over the years – the designs all came from inside these. 

    Mailbox 141 is in the foyer of Pawson House, a lovely Deco building opposite the Scientology headquarters. I love incidental art spaces. The morning I installed the show, a man was cleaning the glass front door and I brandished my Windex in greeting. As he passed by on his way to the elevator, he asked What’s in here now? It’s always interesting.  

    As you can tell by the clock on the wall behind me, I was still unwrapping fortune cookies ten minutes before the opening was due to start up the street.  

    Champagne was had and fortunes discussed. Twitter friends might be interested to see @virginia, @lucytartan, @artyfufkin and an obscured @sophiec discussing something serious. 

    The studio was sparkly, the show launched. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to see it.

    You’re invited

    Type Fight

    I woke the other morning to a request from my journalist friend Lisa for my opinion about the Ikea/Verdana flap. Just up, I was already running late, so rushed off a few lines and promised in-depth analysis later. Turns out, Lisa was on deadline but was happy with what I wrote; I’m quoted in her article here. Like all of us watching a brouhaha about something we hadn’t realised had any great importance at all (in my case, most sporting kerfuffles, diplomatic fall-outs between sister cities) Lisa is bemused about all the attention her article has received. A journalist who most often writes knowledgeably and thoughtfully about food, she’s surprised an article about a typeface ranks #1 on Time Magazine’s Most Read list. I’m sure lots of people are shaking their heads – who knew anyone cared about such things? Hand on mouse, pull down menu, cursor click on Verdana. There. Done. What’s all the fuss? 

    Others far more knowledgeable than I have weighed in eloquently with their opinions on the matter. But I’ve a few thoughts directly related to the analogy I drew for Lisa. I wrote that using Verdana is akin to choosing to build a skyscraper with Lego, when steel would clearly be the superior choice. I do think this is true, and stand by my statement that Verdana is dumbed-down and over-used. But, it occurs to me on reflection that perhaps this is precisely the reason why it’s a perfect choice for Ikea. What is Ikea after all but the dumbed-down, over-used Lego of the furniture world? Those of us who come from a world in which type on the page is the end result of a process involving hand-drawn optical scaling, punch-cutting and sensitive kerning might be best to look at what’s really happening here: advertising for low-cost, mass-produced products dependent on third-world labour. When design is working at the behest of advertising, the mandate is to find the best fit between medium and message. Using this metric, Ikea’s decision is genius: Verdana is the Ikea of typefaces – easy, serviceable, cheap. Our protests are as fruitless and misguided as a guild of woodworkers picketing the store with the demand that they abandon the Allen key for the dovetail join.  

    So hooray, I say! A noble face has been freed from shameful servitude to an ungrateful master. Will we be handing down our Expedit bookcases and our Stornäs credenzas to our grandchildren? If the state of any of my Ikea purchases is anything to go by, I think not. Quality lasts. Long live Futura!

    The El, Herald Square, undated.

    Visitors find the elevated a convenient and pleasant way of getting around the city, as it affords some good views. The New Yorker always chooses the subway, the quickest way – if he can get an express. If he must take a local for a few blocks, he changes to an express as soon as possible. 

    I found this today in a box of bits and pieces I haven’t looked at in years. It reminds me that I was once asked, in all sincerity, whether the NYC subway system was built before the city. 

    It also suggests that like the High Line perhaps, the El was designed for tourists – that real New Yorkers travel as fast as they can, underground.

    The High Line

    Joel Sternfeld, 11th Avenue and 30th Street looking east, SpringJoel Sternfeld, 11th Avenue and 30th Street looking east, Spring


    The High Line used to be one of NYC’s mysteries. When I lived in New York in the mid- to late-nineties, I’d often wonder about this stretch of disused elevated railway. So many famous photographs of New York feature street life in the shadows of the Second Avenue El; the High Line served as reminder of this older type of city landscape. Also, for much of the time I lived in New York, I slept with my head meters from another set of elevated tracks in West Harlem; the view from my window above my bathtub stretched north along the tracks, the Hudson River to the left, the George Washington Bridge framing the horizon. I loved the neighbourhood sheltered under the Henry Hudson Parkway and the elevated line: the meatpacking plants, the strip joints, the autobody shops, the community of fisherman clustered on the pier at the end of 125th Street. Sometimes the light filtering through the tracks would cast the street below in bamboo blind-like stripes of light and dark straight out of a Berenice Abbott photograph. 

    I first thought about trespassing on the High Line when I read Lisa and Michael’s accounts of doing so. At the time, I thought I was up for it; took my camera, made my way to the on-ramp through the truck lot below the Javits Center. I loitered a bit. Thought about barbed-wire, about being lost, getting caught. I chickened out. It’s a regret, but not a huge one. I’ve looked at Joel Sternfeld’s photographs a lot over the years and have been very glad of them. I shuddered whilst reading reports of redevelopment proposals. But some of the things I’ve heard make it seem like it’s worked out. One is Bill Cunningham’s report. (If you don’t know Bill Cunningham, read this.) I’m not overly interested in clothes, but I love his On The Street reports, his enthusiasm, optimism, the way he says “maaaaarvellous.” He is ebullient most of the time, but he’s absolutely beside himself talking about the High Line: he sees the future of America in it. Visit if you can, and let me know what you think.

    Cleveland Printing Week, 1962

    Step #1

    I have trouble reading instructions. I sometimes skip #1, under the presumption that it is probably introductory, like, Hello or Get ready or This won’t be as painful as you think. Generally however, I’ve found #1 to be quite important, if not crucial. 

    I fixed an electronic device tonight using a butter knife. Without consulting an instruction manual.