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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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Filtering by Tag: Gail Anderson

The Handwritten Holidays

Brett Rawson

BY HANDWRITTEN

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott states that Monday is the worst day to write, and that December is a month of Mondays. While it is about the external elements (the shortened days, raging rivers of street slush, broken radiators, etc), the struggle takes place indoors, or, inside the mind. Emily Dickinson used to refer to these nights as "evenings of the brain."  

This year, we were prepared. We purchased a sunset lamp, a crock pot, and, hiding throughout the apartment, we've stashed unopened bottles of Two Buck Chuck. #grapesofwrath

Speaking of books, that is really how we get through December, and the rest of the winter months. With a little bit of time away from work, we'll soon be retreating to the woods with a stack of books, blank journals, envelopes, and stamps. We thought to share with you some of the things we'll be bringing with us. First are a few titles that have little to do with "handwriting" per se, but speak directly to us as hand-writers, for they address the thin lines between great divides:

For those of you who want to jump into the deep-end of the handwriting pool, these are some great diving boards. Two notes: first, we highly encourage you to pair together Brencher's memoir with her letter writing stationery kit, as we heart everything she does; and second, The Assassin's Cloak anthology is particularly wild because it's organized by date, and so for a big chunk of our last year, we would read the entries from each day in the morning to get us going. February 6th was particularly enlightening, as there were entries from 1769, 1881, 1922 and 1941. 

If you're looking for a gift, we recommend the below art objects. Inspiration is guaranteed. Whenever we feel a little bit of pressure mounting, we crack open these covers, get lost in their letters, and a few daydreams later, we're back to the page. 

Lastly, if you're looking for something to write in, here are three ideas to get you, or someone you know, writing: 

The medium-sized hardcover notebooks from Leuchtturm are a new favorite of ours — and not just because their cheerful, mod two-tone covers (“biColore”) are an antidote to the winter grays. With numbered pages, a table of contents, and supplemental stickers for archiving and organizing, you feel like you’re writing a real book as you scribble towards the 249th page finish line — which is some 100 pages longer than most similar style journals. There’s a gusseted pocket for stowing paper ephemera, and an elastic band to keep your words tucked in at night. 

The Shinola Detroit notebooks are manufactured by Edwards Brothers Malloy — a family-run printing business that has made books and journals since 1893, and which employs more than 900 people in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As their mission statement goes, Shinola respect the evolving nature and power of the handwritten word, and aim to "uphold the art of putting pen to pad and preserving communication.” The Smyth sewn binding method used not only allows your notebook to lie flat when open, but it increases its life expectancy and durability. They come in a bunch of different sizes, colors, and material groups — the linen options being the best to cuddle up to. 

But if completion is important to you, then check out the sketchbooks from our partner in the pen, The Sketchbook Project. You have one year to complete this blank little book. Though, time is running out, so click your way into a great activity by checking out their offerings on their site.

Lastly, Happy Holidays, everyone. Stay safe, keep the beautiful pen busy, and be in touch.

I See Students Who Crave the Opportunity to Work with Their Hands • A Conversation With Gail Anderson

Brett Rawson

Portrait of Gail Anderson, by Paul Davis

Portrait of Gail Anderson, by Paul Davis

BY SARAH MADGES

With decades of teaching, typography, and creative collaboration under her belt, New York-based designer and writer Gail Anderson has a CV worth calling home about — at least, it earned her the holy grail of graphic design achievements, the AIGA medal, in 2008. The design-ecstatic aesthete made her first layout years before her tenure as art director at Rolling Stone, literally cutting and pasting a magazine mockup of the Jackson Five in her childhood bedroom.

She’s been busy ever since, developing identity campaigns for Broadway shows, co-writing typography books with Steven Heller, teaching type fundamentals in the MFA program at SVA, and co-partnering with Joe Newton at their eponymous Anderson Newton Design firm for projects ranging from book jackets to outdoor installations. Despite the ease and efficiency of digital design technology, Anderson swears by taking time to untether from the laptop, insisting that craft is crucial to typography, and slowing down with a pencil and piece of paper is crucial to honing that craft. In November we reviewed her latest book, Outside the Box, which honors this DIY by-hand approach, following the hand-lettering trend from its individual, artful beginnings to its contemporary commercial ubiquity.

I had the chance to talk to her about the book’s composition, as well as handwriting and hand-lettering in general — how it plays into her life as a designer, and design as a whole. 

Childhood Sketchpad

Childhood Sketchpad

Design inspiration from childhood, 1974

Design inspiration from childhood, 1974

SARAH MADGES: What role does the pen and notebook play in your life?

GAIL ANDERSON: I’ve grown increasingly particular about the pens and notebooks I use, since I really enjoy the physical act of writing. I’m a fan of black Pilot Varsity fountain pens and Pilot Precise V7s. And I was extremely loyal to those Japanese Oh Boy notebooks with the thick, ruled paper, even after Chronicle acquired them and put the Oh Boy logo on the front. I have two left that I’m saving for God knows what since they’re now out of production. I moved on to Muji, and then Moleskine, and am now working my way through some Field Notes steno pads. I even keep a paper date book, so clearly the art of writing still means a lot — possibly way too much — to me. 

MADGES: You divided your book into four sections — DIY, art, craft, and artisanal. How did you come up with these four categories? Was it always clear you were going to organize the book this way? 

ANDERSON: I knew I wanted to have some kind of system to categorize the material. I’ve learned a lot from working with Steve Heller for so many years, so I did what we always do with our books — I spread the work out with someone I trust and we let it sort of organize itself. It’s too confining to categorize stuff in the research stage, but you can’t wait till the design stage either. It was really fun to come up with section titles, and once my design partner, Joe Newton, and I got through that process, I felt like we had the contents of a real book in front of us.

Type Spread from  Outside the Box.

Type Spread from Outside the Box.

MADGES: Do you see a significant difference between what’s considered handwriting and hand-lettering? How would you define the difference — is it intent? Actual artistic design and effort?

ANDERSON: I wrote out Debbie Millman’s foreword by hand and consider that to be handwriting rather than hand-lettering. When I look at it now, though, it seems so deliberate (and some folks have assumed it was a font). Maybe it does have something to do with intent — I’m not quite sure where the line in the sand is.

Broadway theater poster designed at SpotCo

MADGES: Why do you think people respond to hand-drawn lettering? Do you think there will always be a demand for it? Do you imagine it will lose popularity any time soon?

ANDERSON: People connect to branding and advertising that feels intimate and artisanal. It’s somehow less “corporate," even though hand-drawn type is used by just about everyone now. I think Andrew Gibbs from the Dieline said it best in the book’s intro: “In all my years of seeing packaging trends come and go, there is one style that has stood the ultimate test of time: hand-drawn.” I admit that a few years ago, I thought, “Well, how long will this last before we swing all the way back to Helvetica?” But in some form or another, hand-drawn type is here to stay. 

Type Directors Club letterpress post card

Type Directors Club letterpress post card

MADGES: Do you see a similar resurgence in classic or vintage fonts in reaction to the digital age?

ANDERSON: I see students who crave the opportunity to work with their hands — kids who’ve pretty much grown up in front of a computer. While embracing technology is key to their success as designers, they don’t want to feel tied to their laptops. We did a hand-lettering class last week and the students actually started applauding at the end — that’s how hungry they are. And I think they are beginning to seek out classic and vintage fonts, which is such a relief after so many years of all those awful free fonts. 

MADGES: Is there a distinct moment or brand that signaled the beginning of the hand-drawn movement’s resurgence? Or was this a gradual, inevitable change in response to an increase in digital and technological saturation?

ANDERSON: I wasn’t plugged in enough to recognize a particular moment, but it certainly seemed like everyone started drawing — and posting — around the same time. I think it’s all about Pinterest and the other sites and blogs where designers started strutting their stuff publicly. It sometimes felt like everyone jumped on the bandwagon without adding a new twist, but the best of the best have carved out their own niches. And yes, I do believe that it was a reaction to technological saturation and the desire to create something seemingly personal and unique.

Jackson Five scrapbook, 1972

Jackson Five scrapbook, 1972

MADGES: What first compelled you to typographic design? When did you first start collecting typefaces and fonts?

ANDERSON: I started designing magazine layouts as a child, first for The Jackson Five, and then for The Partridge Family. Even then, my pages were filled with my 12-year old version of typography, which was based on Spec and 16 magazines and their Letraset rub-down type. I started saving photostats of typefaces in college, but things really clicked when I worked at Rolling Stone with Fred Woodward. His good taste and sharp eye were instrumental to the growth of my own skills.

MADGES: Marketing research has found that the first piece of mail someone is likely to open has a handwritten address. Do you think this is because of handwriting’s scarcity that it’s perceived as more valuable? Is it more authentic? Personal?

ANDERSON: I’m not in a hurry to open anything that’s got a bulk rate stamp or a mailing label (I hate them on greeting cards). But I’ll give something that has a handwritten address on it a chance, though admittedly I’ve been fooled once or twice by handwriting fonts. I appreciate the idea of someone taking a few minutes to put pen to paper.

Hand-drawn lettering from a cross-stitch book that continues to inspire Anderson

Hand-drawn lettering from a cross-stitch book that continues to inspire Anderson

Outside the Box: Hand-Drawn Packaging from Around the World

Outside the Box: Hand-Drawn Packaging from Around the World

MADGES: You note in your book that hand-drawn lettering isn’t necessarily popular just because of the attendant sense of nostalgia, but rather because of its established historic design technique. What makes this technique more or less difficult to execute? What are the pros and cons?

ANDERSON: Drawing naive type is one thing—and often not as easy as it looks—but doing what Martin Schmetzer, for example, does just blows me away. There’s a tremendous degree of patience and utter stillness required, but there’s also a touch of genius that is at a whole other level. When I was editing through book images, there were times when I’d just stop in my tracks to stare at pencil sketches that were so incredible that they might as well have been finished pieces. And Martin thought his sketches were “rough”—seriously.  

MADGES: I’m similarly amazed that a brand as huge as Chipotle uses handlettering. Do you think it is feasible for any even larger companies to follow that approach? How do you think consumers would respond if McDonalds rebranded with letterpress?

ANDERSON: The idea of a McDonald's “artisan” chicken sandwich rings about as true as the idea of a company like that rebranding with letterpress. But Chipotle’s pretty huge and their incredibly inviting branding brought in a lot of customers, including me. Hatch Show Print does McDonald’s! Ha.

New “Make it Here” SVA poster

New “Make it Here” SVA poster

MADGES: What does it mean for design and typography that the next generation might not be able to read cursive because it is no longer taught in schools?

ANDERSON: I guess we’ll see a lot more child-like lettering that isn’t an affectation! I see my nieces’ and nephews’ handwriting and it’s just terrifying. But I am a product of Catholic schools in the 1970s, where penmanship was paramount. On the other hand, I also see young designers who can make letterforms into magic on their computers, so perhaps it all evens out. As long as there are cursive typefaces to buy, they’ll just have to learn to read script even if they can’t write it.

MADGES: Looking at your site, I’m impressed that you are an incredibly versatile and prolific designer. You’ve worked as Art Director at Rolling Stone, an educator at SVA, are on the board of TDC, you designed probably my favorite US Postal stamp — the Emancipation Proclamation. How do you take on these projects — what strings them together? And what’s next?

ANDERSON: I actually just started a new job recently that should keep me challenged for a good long time. I’m now the Director of Design and Digital Media at Visual Arts Press (SVA). My career is tied to a love of working with words, whether it’s designing them or writing them. The Emancipation Proclamation stamp may be my all-time favorite project. I got to design using a piece of history — the first words from the document itself, and was able to set the actual type at Hatch and watch Jim Sherraden print the poster that was then reduced to stamp size. It doesn’t get better than that.

Outside the Box • A Handwritten Review

Brett Rawson

BY BRETT RAWSON

I have my preferences and loyalties, but when it comes to certain moods or weather, the sirens of style can call like the crow's caw. Most often, this happens when I am rushing to a dinner party and have been tasked with "bring wine," a beverage I only know in passing. Pacing up and down the aisle in a panic, I curse my small wine-brain, and am left with no other option than to choose the bottle that speaks to me the most: meaning, the one with the best label, or name, or both for the win.

Though it plays an important role in my purchasing decisions, it is not something I had thought about at calm length. But some weeks back, I came across an object that contains enough energy for the imagination to implode: Outside the Box: Hand-Drawn Packaging from Around the World by New York-based designer, writer, and educator Gail Anderson. And for some unknown amount of time, I flipped through continents of creatives, as Anderson hand-picked forty individuals who sit in the front-seats of this growing industry of home-grown, artistic designs.

While this collection showcases a diverse portfolio of people, typography, and expressions, it simultaneously illuminates Anderson's own vast depth and eye for creative representation, as she weaves together interviews, images, brand origins, and routines of forty of our most prolific hand-artists today. Outside the Box peels back the label, uncovering what has gone into some of the most well-known brands. I'm not often one for book summaries, but this one leaves the door ajar:

In an age of slick, computer-generated type and Photoshopped perfection, hand-drawn packing is enjoying a global resurgence. As shorthand for something more authentic, homegrown, handmade, or crafted, hand-drawn packaging is found on everything from supermarket eggs to Chipotle drink cups. In this exhaustive and lavishly illustrated survey, organized by four types—DIY, art, craft, and artisanal—Gail Anderson pulls back the curtain on the working processes and inspirations of forty letterers, illustrators, and designers from all around the world through insightful interviews, process sketches, and her infectious love of the medium.

And since this site and platform is dedicated to process, let's promote the people responsible for publishing the beautiful pages: Princeton Architectural Press, who have eyes, hands, and hearts on this visual culture of ours. So, just what is inside Outside the Box? Below is a splash of the beauty in between these covers (click on the images to see them in full and then hover over the full-sized images to get a description of what they're about):

The next time you're scanning the aisle, either in eagerness or ease, take a look at the difference between those items handwritten and otherwise. You'll see an air of energy around the handwritten and hand-drawn designs. Sure, it's the inside that you're going for, but don't forget to enjoy the outside. 

Purchase Outside the Box here