Lessons in Type | Part I of VI

Type@Cooper Part 1 Lessons in Type is a series of posts covering my time spent at Cooper Union's Type@Cooper program. You can learn more about CooperType here. Here's the second post in this series. Here's the third post in this series. Here's the fourth post in this seriesHere's the fifth post in this series. Here's the sixth post in this series.


I found out I was accepted to CooperType in mid-March. It came at a very poignant time in the life of my almost-6-year-old business—I had just let a client go, finished my own rebrand and let a contract go to purchase a building; my dream building! It was something positive in a sea of bummer.

I knew I was absolutely going to go. Over the next few months, I wrapped up project after project and stopped taking new business—or at least delaying it until the autumn. I also worked on figuring out logistics—how would I run things while away? How/where would I work? How would I adjust my weekly standing meetings? I definitely doubted whether or not I could manage doing a program like this, but, I'm a pitta (as we say in Ayurveda) so I knew I could do it, and if I couldn't, well, I wasn't going to admit it and would do it anyway. ;)


I thought I'd show you where I'm living throughout the program. I'm living in an old theatre converted to some bangin' apartments. It was a 2,500 seat theatre in its day that lent its stage to the likes of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. It was built over a former synagogue, too, which makes me smile. Here's more information on the building.

Brooklyn View From Park Slope

What makes this yogi's heart sing is the rooftop deck. It is an incredible place for a yoga practice. What makes this ex-rollerderby gals heart sing is that it would be awesome for a bout. Alas, I don't think that would fly with the super. Plus, I left my quads back in Cincinnati.

The photos show you some of the views from the roof and of the roof.

And there's this neat little room up there too that has a couch. And, it has this picture/clock. I don't want to know where this came from or why it is 3 dimensional.


I had class Monday-Thursday of this week and overall, it was absolutely fantastic.

Monday was confusing for me. As a pitta/kapha (Don't know what that is? Go here) I am one that is predisposed to needing very clear direction, lists, documents, texts, 'how tos' and just generally, clearly defined everything. I am not one to "go with the flow" because there's not a guidebook for it.

My two instructors are great. They each teach me in different ways. Jean François Porchez and Stéphane Elbaz are who I and 15 other students spend our days with.

Monday, we worked on calligraphy exercises. As many of you know, and if you are one of my correspondents you definitely know, modern calligraphy is my jam. I've never had formal training in traditional calligraphy and Monday was frustrating for me. I could feel the writing habits so ingrained into my fingers coursing out onto the paper, producing letter after letter that was just not right. Looking at the guide document we were given as reference, I would see the instructions clear as day, go to dip my pen, make the strokes on the paper and then get really stabby when the correct form didn't come out.

Tuesday we took those letters and our instructors chose the 'best' ones. Those were cut out and glued to a single sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper and scanned in. After scanning them in, we adjusted the contrast in Photoshop to make the letters black and the background white. I resized the letters in InDesign to 7cm tall and printed them out. Our next step was to begin tracing those letters with a sheet of transparent vellum and try adding various serifs until we got something we liked.

My issue was that I didn't like anything I did. But, I selected something I felt had some bit of merit within it and began on a few more forms. I stuck them up on the wall and begin the long process of editing. Tweaking a curve, redrawing, retracing, trying again. It just wasn't working.

A few hours later we met in a classroom just off of our studio space and invited the other group of CooperType students up from downstairs. Our work was posted on the wall and each of us briefly talked about what was what and why.


My letters, if developed into an entire typeface, would not be suitable to use as text. Display—sure, but that was not the purpose of the exercise. I do really like those serifs and maybe one day I'll mess with them again.

Wednesday, we continued work. I scrapped my project and started over. Jean Francois explained to me that it's actually harder to deal with rounded serifs rather than angled serifs. Here I thought I was doing myself a favor by working with a rounded serif. Looking back, I see it plainly now, though. He also went over a bunch of other details for me and that really helped. So, I started over, this time with angled serifs.

A few hours later, I still didn't like what I was working on. After some intervention from my instructors, it was apparent that I was not connecting some dots with how to expand into a typeface from just a few letters. Where was the guidebook?! No guidebook here, I had to figure it out by trial and error.

And, I think I did!


Thursday afternoon, we wrapped up this first exercise. Some of my classmates had really exquisite work to show, and everyone had much more than I did, that's for sure.

Thursday evening, we all met in the small classroom off of our studio space and shared what we'd be working on for our final typeface. This is the one we'll spend the rest of the program developing.

My inspiration came from a headstone found in Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here's a picture I took.


This will one day (pretty soon!) be a typeface!

I'm really excited to begin working on this. And, because of my work in deathcare, I feel a sense of real purpose behind this project as well. Two things I did not have in that first exercise.

So, that was my first week. I'm spending the weekend doing lots of pitta/kapha things (organizing, cleaning, planning, listing, meetings, organizing my closet by color and type of garment, working and just generally being anal) so I'll be prepared on Monday to be more 'relaxed' because that seems to be a skill that I am missing and need. Maybe I'll not only learn how to properly develop a typeface, but also maybe I'll learn how to relax! We'll see. ;)



Here's a link to Jean Francois' post about our first three days: http://porchez.com/ateliertypo/697/coopertype-2012-first-exercise

Read this for a perspective from the instructor! Also he has some great photos in the post too.