What I Learned at Wayzgoose

I promised a more detailed run-down of the Wayzgoose, and here it is:

I decided to attend the event after my friend Rich Kegler (owner of P22 Type Foundry and founder of WNYBAC) told me that he’d include a snippet about my type project in his presentation on Friday night.  I thought the plug would provide me with the perfect opportunity to court all the experts and solicit advice – and I was right.  Over the course of the weekend, I was lucky enough to make the acquaintance and bend the ear of Bill Moran, Nick Sherman, David Shields, and Colin Frazer, among many others.

The person I was most excited to meet was Nick Sherman, a skate rat, typographer, artist, and tireless wood type advocate who worked painstakingly to produce the Intercut Wood Typeface in 2006.  Although his project was executed on a CNC router and involved a very different process, I still believed he’d be a great resource – and he is – not just to me, but everyone.  What on earth does that mean?  Check out his outrageously thorough and ambitious site woodtyper.com.  Nick’s understated and quiet demeanor belies the depth and intensity of his intellect.  He responded positively to my project, and after considering the prototype blocks I showed him, he voiced concerns about the height of the letterforms and the possible weakening of thinner sections of the letter, i.e., the serifs.  After assuring him that the final letterforms were to be twice the size (which would widen the serifs considerably), he was convinced that the project was a go and seemed excited about seeing the final results.  When I wrap this up, I hope Nick will find it in his heart to feature my meager achievement on Woodtyper!

David Shields, an Assistant Professor of Design at the University of Texas, Austin,  has an obsessively deep knowledge of a niche subject (wood type and typography) coupled with an amazingly warm personality (two things I don’t often find co-present in a person), and to boot, he’s the gatekeeper for the phenomenal Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection.  David was intrigued by the potential for cost effective creation of wood type that my project presages, as well as the simple mode of production.  We discussed how it might be possible to create a usable font for less than 200 dollars (at this point, this is a rough estimate of the final cost), and how experiments like this open the door for artists everywhere to begin producing something that hitherto seemed exclusively the privilege of people with access to professional wood shops or antique print shops.  We also briefly discussed the possibility of using laser-etching on a wood block to create ornamental frames and borders (akin to something that might now be achieved using photopolymer plates).  David also, almost immediately, urged me to build the blocks I brought with me to type height and print them – put them to the test, so to speak.   Meeting David was a great experience, and it wasn’t just because he was interested in my project.

Colin Frazer is the head of The Press at Colorado College, an amazing letterpress shop “dedicated to the art of making limited edition books and broadsides.”  We had plenty to talk about because, believe it or not, Colin is working on producing his own wood type.  He, like Nick, is using a CNC router to do the job, but he’s using the traditional material: end grain rock maple.  That is, if he can find it.  One of the biggest problems Colin’s run into is finding the raw materials he needs to finish his project, and the tools necessary to plane/sand them perfectly to type height.  As we walked around Hamilton, we both drooled over pallets of finished and unfinished end grain maple, but to no avail.  Colin was full of energy, full of ideas, great to work with in the pressroom, and the finished letter he showed me (apparently only a prototype) revealed unbelievable attention to design and detail.  To be honest, I was jealous.  Here I am super-gluing doo-dads together.  Did I mention the trip was as humbling as it was inspiring? 

Finally, I got to meet Bill Moran, Artistic Director and resident Renaissance man of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum.  Bill is to be commended, first off, for organizing an amazing event.  He is tireless in the way Rich Kegler is tireless, and his love of the space (and the idea of the space) is palpable (not to mention, contagious).  Bill had plenty to say about my project, but most interestingly he explained that what I was doing wasn’t new at all – in fact, it was exactly how Edward Hamilton had gotten his start back in 1880.  Hamilton produced composite wood type using a foot-pedal operated scroll  saw to create the letterforms out of holly wood, and then adhered those to a softer base wood, like pine.  He called his wood type “hollywood type,” and it became so popular that soon after its introduction he was able to quit his job and produce type full-time.  It was great to hear that there was a successful precedent for what I was doing, and to hear that the motivation (cost-effectiveness) was exactly the same.  I really admire what Bill, Jim Moran, and Jim Van Lanen are doing with Hamilton, and I hope to return soon.

Published in: on November 30, 2009 at 3:49 PM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great post! I think your work is an inspiration to all those wanting to become proficient with routers and other woodworking tools.

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