Autumn days remind me how temperature is central to everything - comfort, metabolism, attention, even the hardness and size of matter, which (usually) softens and expands with heat. After a less-than-perfect attempt with traffic striping tape to render handwriting onto public walkways, I wanted to try several new graphics products, and had sections of a thirty-foot sentence cut from three different materials. But by the time they were ready, it was too cold for the adhesive to work and I had to wait out the winter, and then the virus, and the smoke from wildfires.
Above, one of my Floor Graphics sheets, cut with a computer-driven blade guided by an Adobe Illustrator file. I then had to "weed" the areas around and inside the letters by hand.
In the last days of September I was able to install the materials with the help of fellow artist Scott Oliver. We used the curb adjacent to the Nevada Museum of Art - if you are in Reno, please let me know how it is looking! I'm not often there, so photographs documenting how it weathers would be a great help to me. The text says:From then on walking became a kind of reading as bodies absorbed stories from the land and thoughts of water shaping hill-slopes forests and stream channels settled deeper into experience
My sentence was made with a font I created from historical documents found in the Special Collections Library of the University of Nevada, Reno. The writer was Claude Dukes, a Federal Water Master who adjudicated the region's water rights from 1958 until his death in 1984. I extracted an alphabet of letters and punctuation from his handwritten notes, then assigned each to its keyboard position. The font-making process was the subject of my recent presentation at Typewknd, an international on-line conference about typography. I've uploaded my talk to YouTube HERE, and all four days of the conference are available on the Typewknd YouTube as well. Above, I test my font against the original; it looks good but a bit stiff.
I noticed this dynamic when I visited Derek Wilson's Belfast studio in 2015, the year I started working on my fonts. His hand-thrown mugs were to be mass-produced by Crate and Barrel, and he had just gotten the prototypes back from the factory. In translating from hand to machine, production and distribution becomes hundreds of times faster but each piece is a thousand times less nuanced. I'm reminded of David Pye's incisive The Nature and Art of Workmanship, as well as the transformation of streams into 'stormwater systems.' Both are addressed in my 2018 post "Risk and Certainty."
The Typewknd conference was four days of fifteen-minute presentations from around the world - a dazzling tribute to language's written forms. Among many favorites was "Understanding the Evolution of Our Languages and Tools" by Anahat Kaur. As cultures evolve and mix, different technologies, identities, and languages both support and undermine each other. In this screen-shot, Anahat's describing how a translation at the simplest level of rewriting the same word with a different pen reveals new information. She also makes a case for continuing to write by hand. (For her talk, see Saturday's program; note the time stamp 8:04 to find it)
Another favorite was Tapiwanashe Sebastian Garikayi. He presented his digital typeface for the Mwangwego script, a writing system developed at the end of the 20th century to carry the sounds of Malawian languages more accurately and easily, and to express a national identity without the colonial overtones of the Latin alphabet. These are just a few of the glyphs in his font, "inspired by ballpoint pen writing". Even in the digital world, the traces of physical instruments are there if we know how to read the signs.
Finally, this Thursday, October 29th from 5-6pm Pacific Time, I'll be leading a live Slow Looking event online for Minneapolis' wonderful Pancake House, as part of their Early Art Initiative. Go HERE for the link to join the Zoom meeting and for a peek at our subject.