After a long hiatus, Joseph Robertson’s excellent LAB magazine is back, and it features an interesting three-way interview he conducted with me and graphic designer Ian Lynam (author/editor of Parallel Strokes) over five years ago. It’s a fun meander through many of my favorite alphabet-related topics. The rest of the magazine is gorgeous and stimulating, as always. You can download the whole thing as a PDF for free, or buy a hard copy via print-on-demand. (I already have two earlier issues, and they’re handsomely bound and printed, well worth the cover price.) Or, just go straight to our interview. Enjoy!
I’m a big fan of color coding. I use it to help me wrap my head around complex tasks, like computer animation. I’m also a pretty harsh judge of color coding schemes, especially for transit systems. Growing up in New York spoiled me for good in that regard: the subway there has its flaws, but color is not one of them. Having synaesthesia also makes me tend to organize names by color in my head (but usually only in my head, since nobody else shares my personal alphabet of colors.)
One of the problems with any color coding scheme is that the more things you need to code, the harder it gets to choose distinct colors. But where exactly is the limit? That’s the subject of this interesting paper, A Colour Alphabet and the Limits of Colour Coding(PDF) by Paul Green-Armytage. The lengths these folks went to to understand the problem are impressive. The paper also has great sentences like “Ivan is the colour of the letter G but four people saw it as Adam.” (Thanks to Mike K. for the link!)
Asemic is a magazine of asemic writing, or writing without semantic content. It’s full of fun peripheral glyphery, little black-and-white shadows of nonsense coming out of the fog. The individual pieces are hit or miss, but the variety is wonderful.
I never knew there was a word for it, but asemic writing is something I’ve loved for years. The fact is, I love the form of language more than its content. It’s why I like foreign accents, and listening to languages I don’t understand. It’s why I spent so much time in college listening to Cocteau Twins. It’s one of the main reasons I love graffiti. My first Burning Man project was an exercise in asemic writing and speech.
I started speaking in tongues on the subway in New York in high school. Acting like a crazy person is an effective strategy for dealing with certain tricky situations. And it was fun to watch people try to guess where I was from. But over time, it became something I would do for my own enjoyment, even when nobody else was around. It was just a joy to be able to speak without having to mean anything. All the beauty of form without the burden of content. It was comforting, like a dog’s chin resting warmly on your knee, not saying anything in particular, just existing.
an almost completely asemic piece by San Francisco writer APEX.
I’ve also noticed a trend towards asemic writing among some of my favorite graffiti writers. While most start their artistic lives with the written word, there’s always an abstract component, and there comes a point in certain writers’ development where the abstraction takes over completely. Maybe they feel the same attraction to meaninglessness that I do.
For someone with colored-letter synesthesia, these kids’ toys are usually a frustrating thing to look at, because they generally get my colors completely wrong. So when I see one that gets more than a couple of letters even close to correct, I notice. This one nails the colors of B, P, S and Y, and is well within reason on M, R, and W. Given that orange and pink aren’t in this set’s pool of colors to choose from, even the E and the U are pretty close. Would I buy this set because of that? No, but it did make me stop and take a second look…
Christian Faur is an artist who makes these wonderful image-sculptures out of custom-cast crayons. The work itself is very Rungy Chungy and appealing to the eye. And Faur apparently has a thing for certain mathematicians. But it also turns out that he’s encoded synesthetic messages into several of his pieces:
Further, I have developed a mapping system that translates the English alphabet into twenty six discrete colors and I use these crayon “fonts” to add words and language to each of the pieces in the show… The direct representation of language in each piece further imbues the works with meaning and brings an aspect of color into each composition reminiscent of DNA coding. The alphabetic key at the lower left of each panel allows the viewer to interpret the individual words written throughout the various panels.
I gather that Faur does not actually have synesthesia himself, but this system makes perfect sense to me. If only he’d chosen his colors differently, I might be able to read the text straight up without the key! (Although it’s pleasing to note that his C, E, and Z are all perfect matches for my own.)
So glad to see that someone else out there loves alphabetic fridge magnets as much as I do. Although “love/hate” might better describe how I feel about them, given that their colors are almost always all wrong. But still, what I wouldn’t do for a set of magnets in Amharic or Glagolitsa! (via MetaFilter)
What do you call a pocket full of chisel-tip markers? Calligraphic Packing! It’s also the name of a computer graphics research project from the University of Waterloo. My friend Craig Kaplan, a professor there, is a pioneer of “computational calligraphy”, a brand new research area that’s about to grow in some very interesting directions. Craig’s been interested in graffiti for a long time, for a lot of the same reasons I am. We each have our own ways of studying it, and his way is to take it apart, learn what makes it work, and write software that embodies that understanding. This project, led by Craig’s student Jie Xu, is the first step in what I hope will be a long and fruitful quest, as Craig puts it, “to probe the nature of letterforms and legibility”.
Here’s a fun idea: a set of colorful wooden blocks that can be rearranged into English words and their equivalent characters in Japanese/Chinese Kanji: Toypography. I especially like the above example because three of the four letters are exactly the right color!
The internets are a wonderful thing. In April 2005, during my Flickr honeymoon, I started a group called Folk Typography: a place to collect all the weird typographical innovations stumbled upon by people whose job is anything but typography. Two years and four hundred photos later, the group’s become a nice little compendium of quirks, and has attracted some remarkable folks.
One of those folks is Joseph Robertson, a guy of such astonishing gumption that, in order to teach himself graphic design, he created an entire magazine from scratch: LAB magazine. The first issue was a knockout: beautiful, sleek, and stuffed with more fascinating articles than any ten magazines in my local newsstand. So when Joseph asked me to contribute to an article about Folk Type for the next issue, I couldn’t say no!
That issue is now online for your enjoyment, in its entirety, for free: LAB magazine issue 01. Or you can jump right to the article itself. But if you’re a reader who likes colorful things, I highly recommend getting your hands on a handsomely printed hard copy. Have at it!
Here’s a project after my own heart. Ricard Marxer Piñón has been using the proce55ing language to make beautiful pseudo-calligraphic variations on your favorite TrueType fonts. His technique appears similar to the one I used for my Loose and Sketchy rendering style: a virtual pen loosely follows the outlines of the letters, sometimes overshooting as it rounds a corner, other times missing a turn completely. He’s done a nice job coming up with interesting variants on the physics of the simulation, and the results can look like anything from frenetic chicken-scratching to leaves drifting down a languid stream. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the interactive applets or the videos to work on my computer… but the still images look quite appealing!