Made to Love Magic

I can probably trace my fascination with magic hour, the first hour of sunrise and last before sunset, back to George Lucas' commentary about the urgency of shooting scenes of American Graffiti at these times of day. Living in the city doesn't prevent one from experiencing the soft and radiant light that occurs at this time, whether you're on the beach of Lake Michigan or in the alley behind Starshaped, as I often am. This Spring, magic hour has come at the conclusion of a 12 hour day, at the break before starting a second shift, or at the end of an all-nighter. In all cases I am physically and most likely emotionally exhausted, pondering how to cope with what follows this stretch of work (usually parenting or housekeeping and seldom sleep). Standing in my alley and seeing the baby blues mixed with copper golds, reflecting on the buildings surrounding mine gives me a momentary sense of calm and clarity. This moment is something I've wanted to capture in print. magic1cropWith type and ornament, not imagery, my strong suit, I stalled, as no single typeface in the studio seemed right for the two words making an appearance on an otherwise graphic print. Maybe creating some type of geometric blackletter would provide me with the next challenging set of letterforms. This seemed like it might be appropriate for capturing... something, in the print that I couldn't quite nail down. So I started with the type and settled on lowercase as it was more appropriate for the size and, well, easier. I found a digital version that was relatively straightforward and started drawing over it, making changes to suit the geometry of metal type.

firstsketchThen I narrowed down the sizes of potential ornaments to something I could find in the studio. The 'i' does not have a dot here as I planned to reflect the shape of it off of the 'h'. You'll see why.

graphpapersketchI compiled ornaments and rules that felt like a good fit, knowing that I would need to miter the edges off of many sorts to make it happen.

firstsketch2I was concerned that my hand drawing wasn't true to ornament dimensions (can someone please make graph paper that's measured in picas!?), so I drew it on the computer, with each box and triangle representing the true size of the ornaments. This allowed me to put together an accurate cut list of rules, including the correct miters and quantities.


cutlistAfter collecting everything necessary I printed out a wrong reading guide on which to build. Slowly. But surely.



layout3And then, there it was. Kerning issues waiting to be corrected.

layoutfinalThis is a large portion of the shavings I mitered off of the rules and triangle ornaments to make them fit together. These scraps go back to the Platen Press Museum to be melted down and saved for future typecasting.

metalshavingsAnd then... how will the type play with the rest of the print? I pulled series of ornaments that fit my ideas of sky and started to build arcs. My handy rule bender saw a lot of action, creating leads and slugs that would shapes these curves.

layingoutskyThe final form is attractive, mixing standard square and rectangular furniture alongside custom made angled pieces. This photo was taken after pulling a hand inked proof in copper gold on navy paper.




typecloseupThe first black and white proof looked great but I felt strongly that something was missing. I walked away from it for three weeks to stew. But I was still stuck, so I did what I do every time this happens. I ran to 'my' Sarah, former Starshaped Girl Friday, for another opinion and a life line. Together we brainstormed a linoleum cut with subtle nods to the ornaments in play but in a more abstract way. How I miss her in the studio.

printedproofThis drawing, done on top of the black and white proof, was the final inked version I did before transferring it to linoleum. linodrawling

linocutI first printed the brightest colors as a split fountain that began with copper gold and faded up to pale blue.

fullcoloronpressFollowing that I printed a slightly tinted transparent white for the linoleum, which has a varnish-like look. It's just enough to give depth to the print while not competing with the more delicate ornamentation. You can see in the detail the mirroring of larger, linoleum versions of the tinier elements.

magic4I have stared at this blackletter. Probably for hours. Assembling this has been the hardest typographic work I've ever done and it's still so far from perfect. The miters aren't all spot on. Some rules are very beaten but were all I had. Printing was a challenge and it's not the finest I've ever done. None of these things bother me; if anything I'm glad that I used very geometric border pieces to give a bit of rigidity to what has somehow still retained a sense of 'hand' to it. I don't design type so my insecurities did what they always do and sought Rich for help. 'The C and O are taller by a pica... should I trim the tops down?' No... it's perfectly imperfect this way. 'Should I add a shadow to the type, printed in the transparent run, as I initially intended?' No, don't mess with the type; it stands alone. He's always right.


magic6The easiest part was setting the bottom credit. Just a simple, straight up line of type. And you can see here how the first row of curved ornaments balance between the dot of the 'i' and the top of the 'h'. Not perfect, but close.

magic7As I write this, I'm still uncertain about the final print. Sure, it provided me with all of the challenges I enjoy within my craft. The colors did exactly what I wanted them to do. The final piece is attractive to look at. But did it capture the sense of time I wanted to freeze? I don't know, but I am weepy when looking at it and think this reaction is a gut one stemming from the subconscious feelings I encounter at actual magic hour. The understanding that despite whatever lengthy shift has just concluded, I spent it doing something that feeds my drive and is chased with a moment of comfort, knowing this sky is there to guide me through the next 12 hours, whatever they bring.


Print is available for purchase here. And thanks.

A Wild Rose

Every so often we get to pour a lot of effort into creating a single, special print, and it's usually commissioned as a gift from one spouse to another. In November I was approached for a project like this, using a poem that was read at the couple's wedding. The wife wanted something blocky, bold and straightforward with a little bit of ornamentation and ample white space. This is the result of the collaboration: kathy1Here's a close up of the 12x18" print, done in 3 colors on soft white cotton paper. It's a nice mix of both metal and wood type that, while slightly beaten up and rustic, mostly keeps to a straightforward sans serif diet.

kathy2The is the type in the final lock up. We usually set up the entire print if possible then pull a proof. If everything is spaced accordingly and looks well together, then we can go in and separate individual colors and print just one at a time.

kathytypeformSome of the wood type for this piece is pretty rough, as noted in the uneven and speckled forms. The catchword 'THE' is new, however, and is one of Moore Wood Type's laser cut pieces.

kathy3The print features two-color ornaments from the Keystone Type Foundry known as 'wild rose' ornaments. It's not every day that named ornaments tie in directly to the words being printing, but they sure did here. These are beautiful in their detail and include two different sized sorts, making it easier to fit them into any line length. I'm certain this charming print was a touching Christmas gift.


Printing in Biblical times...1823

Love for the world of theater and spectacle runs deep in me and as luck would have it, I am married to a stagehand here in our windy city. Brad, otherwise known as Mr. Starshaped, is not only the muscle behind Starshaped but is a member of the Stagehands Local 2 union, which means he is usually found in one of the larger theaters downtown. For the last year he has worked on The Book of Mormon which needs no introduction. What might be less commonly known is that at the end of a long and successful theatrical run, the cast, crew and production staff will often share gifts given in a 'we did this together' spirit of solidarity. This is why our home is overrun with esoteric t-shirts from Kinky Boots, a transistor radio from Jersey Boys and other odds, ends and personal notes from the various productions that have toured Chicago.

Having printed a fantastically fun and vintage-inspired poster for Jersey Boys, we decided there was too much great material in Book of Mormon to let the opportunity pass. After exploring a number of ideas that were riffs off of the current print materials, I thought perhaps we could move in a different direction and mimic the actual book of Mormon. This decision was also fueled by the fact that the studio has some beat up old sign type that closely resembled that of the book.

Tbom3Instead of printing a solid background or otherwise literal image of a book, I created a more textured rectangle out of two layers of wood type, which gave the area a somewhat rustic (and a little pleather-y?) look. This is easily achieved by printing the back side of large wood type, and I used both 30-line and 20-line sorts. You can see how the individual letters are flipped:



This is the final print. I used a dark gray paper, and brought in the gold starburst from materials used to advertise the show. If you're familiar with the songs of the production, then you will get the references to 'crushing it' and 'turning it off'; don't want to explain that and ruin it if you haven't seen it! The dates refer to when the show began and ended. After distributing these to everyone at the theater, the cast and crew passed them around to collect signatures, yearbook-style.



Research led me to an extraordinary article about the original printing of the book of Mormon (letterpress printed, of course), and the potential for it having been a miracle given the short amount of time in which it was produced. Getting these posters done quickly was also something of a miracle, as they were hot off the press a few days before the end. And we don't have any angels sneaking in at night to sort our type!

It is always inspiring to see a show come together in a theatrical space, with so many disparate elements needing to work together. From the teamsters and stagehands that move and setup equipment and sets in a raw space to the crew that runs the same thing over and over for a year or more to the cast that has to bring it for every performance, it's a truly working class form of art. I couldn't be prouder of Mr. Starshaped and his continued passion for the work.

Paper Arrows Take Two

Years ago, I designed and printed a cd package for the band, Paper Arrows. An enjoyable collaboration, it featured some of the elements that make working with antique type a unique challenge. oldpaperarrowsRecently, the studio was tapped to produce a new EP sleeve for the band. They wanted something that was simple and could easily be mailed for promotional purposes. We've printed a number of different formats for music packaging, and have two dies for simple pocket sleeves; we decided on the Tab N Slot sleeve, which has a tab at the top that tucks into the back of the sleeve. I usually recommend working with a color palette that wouldn't be easily achieved with cheaper methods of production: dark papers with metallic inks, varnishes, textures, etc. Something that's not just black and white, since a variety of color choices aren't any pricier. Get more bang for your buck!

The band liked charcoal paper, which means using a metallic ink; a light ink alone will not read when letterpress printed on a dark paper. I thought we could bring in texture in a subtle way, as this ties into the sleeve we did before, as well as provide a simple background element. These two-color hearts really grabbed us, so they made it into the form as well.


Tpaperarrows3Because we print most work on platen presses, it's easy to diecut the flat sleeve first and then print. The first layer is dark blue, which definitely reads as blue; printing dark colors on dark paper don't always perform the way you think they might. The metallic ink is a sort of champagne color that's not quite gold or silver.

paperarrowssetup1This gothic type is in pretty rough shape, but works hard on many Starshaped projects, including this one. You can see here the end result of the two color heart.

Tpaperarrows2Here's the final front, followed by the back.


paperarrows3We had a plate made for the logo and the small text. This text was designed to work with the type we have in the studio, but the last line had a pesky Publishing symbol, which we sadly don't have and haven't been able to frankenstein from something else. Yet.

Tpaperarrows4Another factor to consider was how these would be mailed. Certain clear sleeves are post office safe, so I suggested adjusting the final design so that they could ship in clear sleeves that would not only save the cost of purchasing separate mailers, but would allow the art and important details to show clearly to the receiver. Mailing labels and stamps can be applied directly to the outside.

finalpaperarrowsAnd so our little heart is a surprise when the cd sleeve is pulled out of the mailer! Give Paper Arrows a listen, and keep an eye out for the Good News For Love release.

Amazing, Beautiful and Adventurous

When a client comes to you and says they want an invitation with an ornamental octopus and a frog with a waistcoat, you don't turn them down! Such was the case this Spring when we were approached to do an invitation celebrating a woman never interested in marriage and a stand up guy with two kids. Have fun with it, they said, as the wedding would be a celebration on many fronts. So we did: joikelty1The octopus definitely gave us a run for it, as it stylistically couldn't be too far off from the frog image and the delicate typefaces. So instead of using larger wood type elements that seemed out of place, the whole thing was created using 3 different border ornaments.

Tjoikelty5Before printing the ornaments, I carved a simple linocut of the octopus shape and laid that down first in transparent ink for guidelines.

joikelty6The invitation was printed in four colors, one at a time. After the transparent ink (this is usually used to create lighter tints of saturated inks) was done, the green came next, followed by the orange. Both are set up at the same time for the initial proof to make sure the leading and spacing would all be correct. Then the orange is taken out so the green can be printed. When the green is done, the orange is put back into the form and the green is taken out.


Here you can see all but the blue set up and ready to proof.

Tjoikelty1Blue was the final color. There were a number of elements to get right here, from the top hat and face of the octopus to the curved type and plate of the frog. It was a joy to use some really beautiful type on this one, including the 2013. The studio only has this in figures, so it was a treat to finally have a good use for them. The June 28th is set in Headletter, a Chicago-designed typeface from Barnhart Bros. & Spindler.joikelty2


Tjoikelty2And here's the full octopus in all of its glory.

joikelty3The invite was printed on gray chipboard and scored so that it would fold into a 6x9" envelope, which was navy blue to match the ink. This was such a treat to design and print; we love a unique challenge! And all the best to the happy family.