TypeCon 2008: Buffalo

Punkt TypeCon 2008

It was good to be back. I missed last year’s TypeCon in Seattle, so I was very happy when I purchased my pass and booked my room for this year’s TypeCon in Buffalo. It was my third, and it was great.

A quick note: unfortunately, my camera battery died during my first full day in town and I didn’t have the charger, so my photos are from Wednesday afternoon through lunch on Thursday.

Buffalo is an odd town. You might be able to see it in this panorama from next to my hotel or in this one taken along what appears to have once been a main shopping thoroughfare. The thing that first struck me was how empty the city is. I’ve never been in a large city with so few people occupying it. Once I noticed this, I realized that many of the storefronts were empty as well. For example, I stopped into the “Main Place Mall” and would guess that 40% of the storefronts were operating. More than one person described Buffalo as a dying city.

In spite of this, there’s a lot to appreciate, if you’re willing to look for it. I ended up going on Paul Shaw’s walking lettering and type tour of Buffalo, recommended by a friendly and fun young woman I met named Steph. Thank you, Steph for recommending it. In fact, you should check out her photos of the tour to get a sense of some of what we saw. The City Hall shots are particularly fascinating. Buffalo’s City Hall is a good indication of why I found the city so intriguing, in spite of the fact that it’s about two steps away from tumbleweeds. Just look at that mammoth Deco temple, erected to lionize industry, art, the native cultures (in the way that you say sorry to a spider you’re squashing), and Buffalo’s place as a vital conduit of commerce. The interior is hard to capture in photos, this and this are just two slices of the beauty that encrusts every inch of the space. Just for contrast, compare it to the more recently built courthouse, which is a testament to the thoughtless brutality of much modernist architecture in the 70s. You can get a bit more info here as to the purpose of this unsettling design.

The M&T Bank (formerly the Buffalo Savings Bank) near our hotel was another example of this optimism from earlier economic heydays:

That dome roof is all gold leaf, by the way. Pretty crazy, given the rest of the town.

Buffalo had a lot to offer those looking for interesting bits of visual history, including a fantastic former newspaper building that was essentially a temple to the art of printing and newspaper making. Regardless, TypeCon’s not really about the city it’s in, although it’s certainly influenced by that. It’s about type and people who make, consume, and love it.

The first event I attended was Stefan Sagmeister’s presentation at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum (warning, stupid musical website). It was quite fun, even if the museum was so cavernous that Sagmeister’s heavy Germanic accent reverberated almost to the point of abstraction. The talks by Sagmeister that I’ve seen have all been very similar, in that he pretty much does whatever the fuck he wants and talks about it in a laid-back, humorous manner. It can be inspiring, but it can also be a bit like watching leprechaun tell you how easy it is to have a pot of gold. For most of us, this sort of life just isn’t possible. It’s escapism, in a way. Side note: Karpeles was also displaying a collection of original design drawings from Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was the geek equivalent of finding out that your steak dinner comes with a free side of bacon: delicious. The evening wrapped up with free eats and free beer from a local brewery, the name of which escapes me now.

The morning after my first half-day and evening in town, I went to Will Powers’ “What’s a Ludlow?” workshop. It was well worth it, as we not only got to check out some great old type technology, but we got to cast some hot lead type of our choosing. The Ludlow Typograph differs from what most people think of when they envision working with and setting metal type. The two typical methods involve either placing small metal sorts (the bit of lead with the letter on it) in rows, inking it, then printing with it, or typing away on a large, complex machine (such as a Linotype) which does the setting and casting for you. With a Ludlow, you hand-set lines of matrices (or “mats”) onto a composing stick.

My studio name, set in Carnack mats (I think that’s the name… I’m not sure now.)

This is what the back of the mats looks like, which makes proofing a lot easier than the upside down, backwards, and reversed forms of manually typeset sorts.

Matrices are the impressions from which metal type is cast. In a Ludlow you insert this stick of mats into the machine, hit a switch, and hot lead is forced into the matrices.

From this, you get something like this:

These cast metal lines are called slugs. These are set up on press, inked, and used to make the actual printed impressions.

Will did a good job of explaining the process, getting us familiar with the machine and the type, as well as making sure we were having a good time and getting our slugs made. It was exactly what you want from a workshop. Will’s years of professional experience running a Ludlow came through and we all benefitted. Thanks, Will.

Will (in the red shirt), lead discussion with the current operator of this particular Ludlow, and demonstrated the process before letting us loose.

And not long after this class, my camera’s battery died. So, unfortunately, my personal photographic record of the week ends here.

Rather than try to resurrect my memories of the con, I’ll touch on some highlight moments, in no particular order:

Meeting Mike Parker and his girlfriend at an after party gathering involving The Knot and Bushmills’ Black Bush, and hearing about how they met.

Seeing so many people who not only recognized me, but welcomed me back as a friend after my absence. You really can’t beat that.

Meeting some new people (you know who you are), many of whom are the type of people you aspire to be.

Seeing Spiekermann speak, obviously punchy from jetlag, brimming with the energy and sharpness he always brings to an event.

Meeting some great Australian designers on the bus back from the museum event and discussing, among other things, the fact that Foster’s is Australian for beer as long as you take into account that it’s not really drunk or sold there.

Chatting with students. I remember being in their shoes, and they all impressed me, even if they didn’t all exactly know where they were headed.

Stewf‘s birthday. Not a big party, but an honest, heartfelt one.

TEXAS RED HOTS, which, for the record, are neither from Texas, nor red hot. But they are damn good.

Studiously avoiding beef on weck. The name alone kept me at bay, even if the sandwich is actually pretty mundane.

Finally buying Helvetica (the film).

Showing off pictures of Blackbird.

And many other moments. Thanks to the SoTA board, and specifically to Tamye Riggs. It was a great Con. To finish off my post, images captured in my first few days in Buffalo.

Photo by Jeff Moore of Green Olive Media.

Photo by Jeff Moore of Green Olive Media.

Also check out these Flickr queries: typecon & typecon2008. And some proof that I was there.

See you in Atlanta…

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