Monday, July 6, 2009

Remember the Time?

What's this strange, small, thin, clear device easily getting lost among the flotsam and jetsam of my desk?

Give up? It's an Ames lettering guide. While most cartoonists today simply use a computer font to letter their work, myself and maybe a few others stand by this Stone-Age relic. I'm glad someone else snapped up the "Bibliotechie" blog name that I wanted to use instead of "Bibliowhining," because in no way do I deserve the title. I drafted this blog entry in a Moleskine notebook. My no-frills cell-phone, on which I took these photos, began to malfunction. It wasn't used to all the attention, I suppose. I am not a techie, what was I trying to pose as? But back to my crafts.

I used the prehistoric gadget pictured above to letter a pamphlet myself and others handed out during a poster session on library science issues. Our poster dealt with the issue of special collections in public libraries. Should they sell the special collections or retain them? To learn more, you can squint at these images, come to the ALA convention in Chicago on Saturday for a repeat performance, or ask me about it and I'll exhaust myself answering everything you want to know.

However, as you may be able to appreciate from these "before" pictures, people complained that the lettering was too small. A "wall of text," they said. More white space would be nice, they advised. My poster session group, selected to attend the upcoming ALA convention, was self-conscious that the pamphlet's text layout didn't resemble that of a James Frey autobiography.

So now I'm going to letter the whole thing all over again.

The Ames lettering guide comes with a little booklet (which I have since lost), explaining how to manipulate it to do all kinds of calligraphic gymnastics, for example writing in italics. But I couldn't figure out the instructions to my satisfaction. Only a genius on the level of Einstein would be able to, I thought as I bemusedly flipped through the cryptic graphs and fractions peppered throughout the manual.

So, I use it to quickly create lines that are evenly spaced out. Nothing fancy. It works pretty well; much better than eyeballing it or using a ruler alone.

I hope some young (or old) would-be cartoonist, also a strictly hands-on type like me, comes across this blog and learns about this tool. I would never have discovered it if I hadn't read Dan Clowes' obscure pamphlet, the ironically titled "Modern Cartoonist," which features a drawing of this little gizmo. I took art classes in college, but the professors didn't really stress technical skills, or know anything about cartooning. I was on my own.

I like to use a dip pen for drawing, but with lettering, it's much neater to use a regular marker or felt-tip pen with a fine point. It's just less hassle, easier to control, and looks the same in reproduction anyway. Incidentally, check out how nice and long my nails have grown! That's because I don't work in food service anymore.

To make boldface words, I just use a pen with a thicker point. For regular type I used 0.5mm, and for bold I used 0.7 mm. I saved the bold words for last. I took a picture of this text block again, with the words in bold, but I accidentally erased it on my phone.

Erasing is fun, and I sometimes can't wait to do it, but it's a good idea to wait a few minutes so the ink doesn't smear.

And now, the ol' cut and paste! Literally, using actual scissors and a stick of glue, 23-skidoo! It doesn't get any more old-school than this, does it? You may have noticed that the desk I am using as my surface is different than my desk from the first picture. That is because I am at Pages Cafe, in my school library. I don't have a chair in my apartment, so I have to go elsewhere to work like this. Whenever I looked up, I caught another student looking at me with a funny smile or amused expression. I sure know how to make a spectacle of myself, don't I? Maybe I should sunbathe on the quad in next to no clothing, crisping my skin so that it becomes wrinkled and leathery in my late-20s. That's the normal thing for female students to do, right? Not design and letter pamphlets, that's WEIRD, and deserving of ridicule.

And here's the final paste-up! Thanks to my tutilage, you've learned an obsolete skill: Hand lettering that may have been passable in newspaper comics during the first World War. Can't see the difference between this and the before picture? That's because the only digital camera I have is on my cell phone. I'm no bibliotechie. But I hope you enjoyed this little lesson anyway.

And that's how I spent my day.


  1. Mother of all that is holy, how many HOURS did that take you? Sheesh. Once again, we bow down to your skills.

  2. I think it was about 4-5 hours.

  3. Wow! I want a lettering guide--seriously! You do amazing work, Chrissy. I love your blog already.

  4. Those pictures aren't really that bad for a no frills camera phone (he said, commenting on one total throw-away line in an otherwise unrelated post).

  5. The close-ups are okay, but I wanted some more zoomed out shots of the pamphlet, which seemed an impossibility.