The Well-Traveled Ampersand

Who doesn't love a great ampersand, that 27th letter of the alphabet, in all of its varied and interesting forms? The Starshaped collection of metal and wood type includes hundreds of examples of how fantastic this form can be in print. Ampersand imagery is one of the biggest sellers in the studio and I wanted to go big to create larger versions from the metal ornament collection. Instead of being locked into the rigidity of a standard letterpress form, I could create wood furniture (the pieces used to hold a form together) that was based on existing ampersands. This would allow me to be true to a pre-existing design.

And because that one concept wasn't enough, I started thinking about how the ampersands could tie into a geographical region or city and somehow represent that location. And thus, this was born:

Before solidifying my idea for The Well-Traveled Ampersand, I built the structure for the first in the series, Frederic Goudy's Californian, a typeface he designed for the University at Berkeley. I timed this to coordinate with our trip to the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco so I could gauge the response.

Filling in a frame isn't as challenging as some of the other work in the studio. However, building in a mini set of row houses and hill-climbing trolley was a lesson in holding things in place while squeezing in spacing. This ampersand was ideally suited for the hills of San Francisco for this reason and the result was very pleasing.

The second ampersand was done while teaching at the Wells Book Arts Center in July. It features Victor Hammer's American Uncial, designed while at Wells College. I love how different this form is from Californian.

Wells College is nestled next to Cayuga Lake, one of the beautiful Finger Lakes of Central New York. While not saturated with people and structures, it does have a fantastic sunset over the lake which informed the imagery in this print.

The third print is near to my heart. Before even casually mentioning what typeface would be used to represent Chicago, folks said 'it has to be Cooper, right?' Indeed. Cooper Black is the only typeface meaty enough to carry a substantial skyline of the city I love.

I had an epiphany the night I embarked on this one, realizing that there has to be a way to represent wind for The Windy City. This involved a lot of lead curving and some tricky setting to retain the shape but hint at the sky. It's almost ridiculous how much is going on in this design.

The fourth ampersand representing the London Underground is fresh off the press!

This form for printing the prospectus will also appear on the final sleeve that houses all of the prints. I arranged the ampersands in order of size to make it look like the tiny airplane was pulling them in banner form.

Here are the details! While each print will be available individually, 50 sets will be packaged in an LP-style sleeve and include a digitally printed colophon showing photos of all of the type forms used to create the ampersands.

The series is available for sale here and individual prints will be listed on our etsy site as they come off the press.

An Alphabet of Sorts

Back in the Spring, I put together this little print for the Legion Paper Scavenger Hunt at the National Stationery Show (you can read all about that here), and never had the heart to put away the M form. That sparked the challenging idea to create an entire ornamental alphabet that could potentially be turned into stationery and more. metaltype1So I started in random order to develop other letterforms. Most measure about 21 picas high (about 3.5") with varying widths based on individual letters. I sketched rough layouts for each letter, with some being considerably easier than other. The L is unique in that I specifically used many of our ornaments originally designed for the Lanston Type Company.

lOnce I got into the flow, the letters practically designed themselves.

hdAnd then suddenly there were 26 letters, comfortably living on 3 galleys.

typeforms3I wanted to include an ampersand because they are perennially popular and it would serve my ideas for the end result of the project. But this form proved to be quite difficult; it looked as miserable as this image while I walked away from it for a bit to revisit ampersand designs that might better inform the outcome.

ampersandfailAfter a break, this is what came together. Getting all of the angles was pretty killer but the final form was solid. It even includes a tiny 'and' catchword.

ampersandOccasionally taking a break from the typesetting, I started printing the actual folded note cards. These didn't necessarily go in order, but the first three did. They are all printed in silver on Stonehenge cotton paper, and include 100% recycled kraft envelopes.

abcAnd here the M, slightly updated, makes another appearance.

McardA few of the details...such lovely ornaments.


RdetailThe stationery is sold in sets of 6 by the letter, so you can pick your favorite. Great for gifts, too! And of course there's the ampersand if you just can decide.

compiledstationeryIt struck me that the forms themselves were really beautiful and that they could perhaps be used for another purpose. So after printing each run, I left a little silver ink on them and grabbed the camera. I digitally cleaned up the images to adjust the contrast to best show the ornaments and then flipped the images so they could be read by all.


QThen I had these printed digitally as postcards on thick, recycled card stock.


EpostcardAnd they're fun to play with! Sold individually, it's easy to mix and match and spell whatever you like. Or, of course, send them as postcards.

yo3We also had some fun punching holes in them to make banners. Here are the adorable and lovely Will and Sido from Ravenswood's own Beans and Bagels.

willsidoBeautiful box sets all ready to go. These are available on our etsy site now.

cardspackagedAnd if you're interested, we can sell letters individually so you can use the actual printed cards as a display. Given that Mr. Starshaped and I will be celebrating our tenth anniversary this week, I put together this grouping for him. See the importance of that ampersand?


An Artistic Approach

One of the best collections in the studio is the 19th century typefaces I've been acquiring over the last 15 years. Most of them are pre-1900, and some were created before the standardized point system (it can be pretty annoying to space 13 point type when the spacing doesn't exist!). Luckily, Skyline Type Foundry is creating new casts of some of these typefaces, using the original matrices but with new metal. The beauty of these is that we have access to antique typefaces but in the form of new type.

I wanted to spend some time with these typefaces and ornaments to create new pieces that mimic 'artistic printing' of the 1890s and challenge my typesetting abilities. I immediately sketched out a bunch of ideas for text and layouts based on actual print samples from the time (for inspiration, check out the incomparable Stephen Saxe's photo feed).

The series is open ended; the first three are completed, and two more are just about set and ready to go. Then there are other ideas still on paper, waiting for the chance to pull out more of this gorgeous type and get it on press.

The first print celebrates our home state of Illinois. The inspiration actually came from receiving a new wood block of Illinois from Moore Wood Type. This is combined with an antique copper cut (love the line detail in this), a mash up of typefaces and two simple curves. In this image you can also see the Illinois woodblocks.


And here's a close up of the detail in the copper cut and type. Rustic, the type for Land and Lincoln, is so kitschy and great.


Each print for sale also includes an ink jet print of the form, or type set up, so that the viewer can appreciate just how the print was put together, and understand that it wasn't done digitally. Here's the form for the Illinois print:


The second print in the series is pulled from the song 'Deed I Do, a big favorite. This one works in a brand new cast of Arboret, a lovely and complex typeface (in 12 and 24 point), along with a set of ornaments to mix and match. So beautiful.


My favorite thing about this print is the little line of ribbon type. This was a real find back at the Wayzgoose in Phoenix, as it is not only awesome, it includes a second set of solid background sorts so that you can print it in two colors. The pale purple ornaments are wood, and the yellow is a linoleum cut.


Here you can see the various elements of Arboret to create all the floral ornaments.


The third print is really fun and is perfect as a gift for someone that just accomplished something great.


The border is made up of detailed ornaments and decorative rules (lines), set in a rectangular shape. There's a funky blue background around the edge made up of what we like to call 'icicle border'. This is also one of the best ampersands in the studio. The second light color for 'true greatness' is a linoleum cut; it's not perfect, but then again, very few artistic prints are.



All of the prints are available for sale in our etsy shop. Over the next few weeks (years?) we'll be adding more prints as great ideas strike and more type makes its way into the studio. I make an effort to curate what typefaces find a home at Starshaped so that we can be sure that they are getting used and pulling their weight, so to speak. There are still many that haven't gotten their chance to shine, so they will be getting a stage soon.

Metal Typography in Context

I recently acquired a copy of the new textbook, Graphic Design in Context: Typography, as a photo of one of our type forms appears in the book. typographybookfront


This was a piece I put together 2 years ago to showcase many of the victorian typefaces in the studio for the purpose of photographing them. Forms are so lovely and architectural, and we've endeavored to include process shots on our site, the flickr letterpress forme group as well as this blog to share. Here's the full photo:


And after taking the care to build this, I decided to print a number of copies of it so the actual type could be seen as it was originally intended. It's available on our etsy site.


Just this week I assembled a similarly complex form with more of our 19th century type for a birthday card, which you can see here. The best bit is the little pin set in the corner that requires careful setting in order to line it up correctly.



There'll be more on this card coming soon... In the meantime, if you have any interest in the study of type, check out Typography. It's thoughtfully laid out, very concise and offers a unique perspective on how type functions in the real world. I can't put it down.