My Perfect Calendar

As I’m sure many of you stationery lovers out there will agree, finding the perfect calendar can be quite the undertaking. In my past lives as a stage manager and personal organizer, I spent years trying every calendar system I could find, searching for the one that was the right fit for the whats, wheres and hows of my life. I tried half a dozen different computer-based calendars, plus multiple shapes and sizes of paper calendars, before I finally gave up on the store-bought variety all together. I decided to just figure out what I needed and make my own, and after several failed attempts – involving computer printouts, excel files, binders, and even construction paper and crayons – I finally hit on the perfect calendar system for me.

My biggest problem with calendars is that I’m terrible at seeing how dates fit together, and understanding how many weeks it is between particular dates. I needed something where I could see all of the weeks adjacent to each other (like a monthly calendar), but with enough space to write down all of the notes and appointments I had every day (like a page-a-day calendar). I also didn’t want it to be huge, because I needed to have it with me at all times, and my beloved Levenger bag just isn’t that big.

I finally found the solution while I was (once again) drooling over the Moleskine notebook selection at a local bookstore. They had a variety I had never seen before – the Japanese Album – and I instantly fell in love. The accordion-style pages were perfect for me – I could put one week on each spread, but then I could open it up to see as many weeks running together as I needed! Plus, the pocket-size version is just right for throwing in my bag, or even stashing in a coat pocket if need be. I had found my calendar format!

Next, I needed to figure out how to lay out the pages. One week per spread was a necessity, but seven is a weird number – so I ended up deciding on 8 boxes per spread: one box per day, plus an extra one for weekly notes and to-do items that don’t fall on a particular day. Here’s the layout I ended up with:

accordion calendar layout

Using this layout, I can fit about 6 months into one Japansese Moleskine; I stock up on the notebooks whenever I find them, so every 6 months I just grab one from the stack in my closet and spend an hour making myself a new calendar. I’ve got it down to a science, so I thought this time I’d document the process, for anyone who’s interested in making their own. Here goes:

First, I go through and draw all of the boxes, which takes about 10 minutes. I use a .5mm Alvin Penstix because it makes nice, uniform, permanent lines, and because it has an “india ink quality” to it, so it actually comes out a sort of dark charcoal gray, which I love:

calendar lines

Then, I go back through and put in all the dates (this is the time-consuming part, around 20-30 minutes). I write the day and date in each box, but I only put the month in the first box (Monday) of each spread. This is a huge time-saver, and all I have to do is look at Monday to see what month I’m in on any given page. The only exception is on the first day of a new month – the month goes in that box too:

calendar dates

I also use the extra box as a weekly to-do list, for little reminders of tasks that don’t need to happen on a specific day:

calendar to do

If you’re following along with your own Japanese Moleskine, you’ll notice that at the end of the first side of the accordion, you’ve got an extra flap – one page that’s not part of a spread on the front, but is necessary as the first half of the first spread on the back. That page works great as a quick reference, because it’s the first thing you see when open up the back cover of the notebook. You could put all sorts of things there – important phone numbers, friends’ birthdays, bus schedules – but I like to use it for a yearly calendar, so I can get a quick overview of the whole year at a glance.

There are lots of downloadable compact calendars out there – I like the ones at CalendarsQuick.com, but any 3×5 index card or hipster PDA calendar will work. I just print out the year I want, cut it down to size, and stick it on the back flap with some double-stick tape. Voila:

yearly calendar

All-told, the whole process takes less than an hour. Tedious while you’re doing it? Yes. But I think an hour of my time every six months is a small price to pay for the perfect calendar. As you can see, I’ve been making my calendars this way for seven years (!!!), and I haven’t given up yet!

finished calendarlots of calendars

So, what’s your favorite kind of calendar? What system do you use? Share your ideas in the comments below – I love learning about how other people organize their lives!

Seattle Nostalgia?

Hey, Seattle friends, we need your help!

Bentons ClockThe Fremont Troll has been giving us some trouble (as trolls tend to do), so we’re putting him on the back burner for a bit and looking for one last landmark to fill our our set of 5 Seattle cards.

Ideally, I’d love to find something that’s architectural, but not necessarily a building: a clock, a fountain, even an interesting and recognizable part of a building (onion dome, window, etc.) – and it definitely needs to have some significance to Seattle natives. It should be something well-loved, something that really says “Seattle,” something that instills warm fuzzies in any Seattleite who sees it.

So, what do you say, Seattle friends? Got any suggestions for us? Leave them in the comments here, and if we use your suggestion, we’ll send you a finished card as a thank you!

A Little Typography Cheat Sheet

Type: The Secret History of Letters

type: the secret history of lettersI picked up this book at the local library because I’ve always been really interested in typography, but I know virtually nothing about it. I started to teach myself calligraphy a few years back, so I know the anatomy of a letter. I have a bunch of fonts on my computer, which I generally choose by gut instinct more than any real understanding of design principles. I just love letters, and now that I’m doing a little bit of typography for the cards I’m printing, I want to learn more about them. And where better to start than with the history of type?

I chose this book mostly because it was the more interesting-looking of the two typography books our local library branch has, but it turned out to be perfect. It starts with the creation of Gutenberg’s first moveable type and sort of winds its way through history to the present, with brief interludes here and there to talk about things like type museums, foundries and specifics of the type cutting and casting trades. The whole book is written in a fascinatingly casual style – sort of like you’ve just sat down to chat with someone who knows all there is to know about the history of type.

I actually finished the book over a month ago, and I kept meaning to post something about it, but I kept forgetting. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who reads something really fascinating and then can’t remember anything she read three days later. Fortunately, I know this about myself, and being the geek I am, I take notes. So here, without further ado, is the cheat-sheet I made for myself, to remember which typefaces are which, where they came from, and some random other useful and interesting information (common uses supplied by wikipedia, to help jog my memory):

Blackletter:blackletter

  • Gutenberg’s first typeface
  • gothic-looking
  • hard to read
  • official typeface of Nazi Germany

Caslon:caslon

  • one of the first English typefaces
  • based on existing Dutch styles
  • bracketed serifs
  • some modulation of stroke
  • short ascenders & descenders

Garamond:garamond

  • inspired by Roman type
  • very readable in print
  • bracketed serifs
  • long ascenders & descenders
  • used by Richelieu in French Royal Printing Office
  • used in US editions of almost all Dr. Seuss and Harry Potter books

Baskerville:baskerville

  • English typeface
  • thin strokes become thinner
  • bracketed serifs, sharper and more tapered
  • nothing whatsoever to do with Sherlock Holmes

Bodoni:bodoni

  • good example of a Modern typeface
  • Italian
  • more vertical
  • thin strokes very thin
  • flat, unbracketed serifs
  • heavily influenced by Baskerville
  • used in the logo for Carnegie Mellon University (my alma mater!)

Clarendon:clarendon

  • English
  • thick, bracketed serifs
  • commonly used on Wanted posters in the Old West

Egyptian:egyptian

  • slab-serif (thick, heavy serifs, no brackets)
  • monoline (uniform stroke width)
  • square ends
  • developed for sign-writing
  • good for short, bold copy, not ease of continuous reading
  • exception: Caslon’s Egyptian was the first sans-serif!

So, there you have it. Not by any means a complete guide to typefaces, but it jogs my memory and helps me remember the key characteristics of a few of the big ones. Feel free to add your own useful type tidbits in the comments – I’ll take all the help I can get!

Edit: Thanks to @jessicahische, I just read this great article on the history of slab-serifs at H&FJ. I’ll keep adding more type history links here, as I come across them, so stay tuned!

The Making of a Drawing

Erin just finished her drawing of the Seattle Central Library, and it is truly stunning. The contrast of light and dark, the reflections in the angled glass – it’s all gorgeous. I’ll be printing it in the next week or so, but in the meantime, I thought it’d be fun to share some of the progress photos she took as she was working on it. So, without further ado, I present The Making of a Cityhopper Drawing!

Every cityhopper drawing starts with a photo. Erin currently lives in the SF Bay Area, so she can’t always visit the buildings in question in person – much as she’d like to! Plus, a drawing like this can often take her up to 10 hours (!!!) to complete, and the changing light and shadows from day to day would make all of those reflections practically impossible to render. This photo was taken by the lovely Becky Jahns, one of our cohorts in Seattle who helped us out with putting together this set:

seattle central library photo

Here’s Erin’s first progress shot – she’s got the basic structure laid out, and she’s starting to render each individual pane of glass:

Seattle Central Library - Drawing in Progress

Progress shot #2 – starting to fill in light and shadows, leaving space for where the trees will be:

Seattle Central Library - Drawing In Progress #2

And, 10 hours later, the final drawing. Gorgeous!

finished seattle central library drawing

I’ll be getting plates made next week and printing as soon as they arrive, so stay tuned – we’ll have Central Library note cards available within the next few weeks!

Aaaand, we’re back!

After taking a few weeks off to take care of some family stuff, we are back in business and making waves! We’ve got some new items in the online store, including the very first in our new line of Cityhopper cards, and over the next week or so, Cardamom stationery will be showing up in a few more shops around town. Read more to get all the details!

Prints, prints and more prints.

Kaufmanns Clock 8x10 letterpress printAbout a month ago we introduced “Bridge of Sighs,” our very first 8×10 letterpress print, featuring Erin Auses’ gorgeous drawing of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Last week, we added two more prints to our collection: “Glass Cathedral,” with its stunning perspective on the shining towers of PPG Place, and “Kaufmann’s Clock,” with all its memories of downtown Christmas shopping and lunches at the Tic Toc Shop. Both are available as a limited edition of 50 prints, so get ’em while they last!

Seattle, here we come!

Seattle letterpress notecardWe’re also thrilled to announce the debut of our newest Cityhopper destination: Seattle, Washington! Our very first Seattle card, Pike Place Market, is available online now, and we’ll be adding four more all-new designs over the next few weeks. If you love Seattle, stay tuned – there’s lots more to come!

Shop around town.

DSC_0092Lastly, our Pittsburgh cards and prints will be appearing in several local shops over the next few weeks, which we’re hugely excited about. The first boxed sets of Pittsburgh cards have just arrived in the Carnegie Museum of Art Store, and they’ll be showing up at the Frick Art and Historical Center and the Heinz History Center in the next week or so. If you haven’t visited the exhibits at those three places yet, you should – they are an absolute must. And you can shop for our cards on your way out!

Also, don’t forget to take a look at our Buy Locally page to see where else our cards are available. Support our local businesses!

We Need Your Help, Chicago!

Chicago signWhile Erin is hard at work, designing our next line of note cards (hello, Seattle!), I’m already planning out the future of this little letterpress tour we’re taking. Next stop: Chicago!

As I’m sure you can tell by now, I love Erin’s drawings, and I love finding amazing architecture to inspire her. When we approach a new city, the first thing we’re looking for is interesting, attractive locations – we obviously don’t want to print any eyesores on our cards! But we’re also looking for landmarks with some history behind them, places that are a quintessential part of that city, and that mean something to the people who live there. That was easy to do in Pittsburgh – I grew up here, I know the people and their stories, and I know which landmarks they love – and which ones are better left untouched.

That’s harder to do in a city you’ve never lived in, though, and that’s where all of you come in. We took suggestions from Chicago-loving friends, family, tweeps and facebookers, added in Erin’s wealth of knowledge on Chicago architecture, and ended up with about thirty fabulous Chicago landmarks. We’ve narrowed that down to a (not very) short list of about a dozen that we think would make great cards. Now, we need to know what real Chicagoans think.

Take a look at the spots listed below, and let us know what you think in the comments. Which ones do you love? Are there any that are decidedly NOT Chicago favorites? Is there a beloved building that we’ve totally missed? We want to hear from you!!!

Keep in mind, these are not the photos/angles/perspectives we’ll be using for the cards – just some preliminary research, courtesy of flickr and wikipedia!

The Chicago Short List

IMG_3093
Tiffany Dome at Marshall Fields
(now Macy’s)
Chicago Theatre, Chicago, IL
Chicago Theatre
Chicago - Wrigley Building
Wrigley Building
Sears Tower
Sears Tower
Corncobs
Corncob Buildings
(Marina City, I believe?)
Chicago Water Tower
Old Water Tower
Millenium Park, Chicago, IL
Millenium Park
Millenium Park Pritzker Pavilion (Frank Gehry) 2
more Millenium Park
Harold Washington Library
Harold Washington Library
museum S_I_after
Museum of Science & Industry
(Palace of Fine Arts)
Now that's a door!
Carson Pirie Scott Building
Lake Shore Drive Apartments
Lake Shore Drive Apartments

Thoughts? Ideas? Loves? Hates? Leave a comment and let us know what you think. And when the cards are done, we’ll send some Chicago letterpress goodies to three randomly-picked commenters as a thank-you!

Understanding Comics – and much much more

Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloudI just finished reading Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, and it was amazing. I’d read it once before, as an assignment in a Sound Design class in college (yes, sound design – taught by an insightful professor who focused as much on teaching us how to think about the world as he did on XLR cable and decibel levels). I remember liking the book, but at the time I was so busy with classes and homework and stage managing and trying to find time to sleep, I don’t think the full impact really had the chance to sink in before I moved on to the next reading assignment. This time was different.

On the surface, Understanding Comics is about the theory and structure behind how comics are put together. A comic-book version of Scott McCloud takes you through what comics are and a little bit about their history, and then delves into different comic styles and conventions, the interplay of words and pictures, and how all of those things affect how the reader perceives what they’re reading. It’s pretty fascinating stuff – I particularly like his discussion of why we identify more with cartoony, abstractly-drawn characters than with those drawn more realistically. (In a nutshell, we have a more complex picture in our minds of the people around us than we do of ourselves, so we associate simpler, more abstract drawings with our sense of self. It’s more complicated than that, but you’ll have to read it yourself to find out the rest!)

Underneath the comics-specific discussion, though, Scott has a lot of insight into the bigger picture – how we relate to art in general, what art is, and what it takes to create something – whether you call it “art” or not. Scott’s theory is that the creation of anything, in any medium, always follows the same six-step path:

  • we start with an idea or purpose (1),
  • choose what form/medium it will take (2),
  • choose an idiom/language/style to create it in (3),
  • figure out the structure of the thing we’re creating (4),
  • use our craft to actually create it (5),
  • and do the polishing/surface finishing of the final product (6).

An interest in any of these six steps might be the thing that draws us into a particular medium (a fascination with the craft of letterpress did it for me), but once we’ve found our basic direction, we all take pretty much the same path as we delve deeper and learn more about our art. Interestingly, though, the path we take actually starts at the end, with perfecting the surface appearance of the thing we’re creating, and slowly works its way backwards into the deeper worlds of style, form and ideas.

learning letterpressI started learning letterpress printing about six months ago, and I’ve gotten pretty good at the surface polish – someone who isn’t trained in letterpress can look at my prints and see quality work that appeals to them, but I know there’s plenty of room to improve. I’m only just beginning to dive into the craft of letterpress – I’m starting to learn the nuances of keeping the impression even, I’m figuring out how to get the registration just right, and I’ve got a long way to go before I’m any good at color-matching. That’s part of what drew me to printing in the first place – I love a challenge, and I know I can keep working on my craft forever, and there will always be more to learn. Even as I work on my skills, though (step 5), I can see myself heading back along Scott’s path – I’m already thinking about other formats (step 4) that I want to try out (check out my very first limited edition art print – never done that before!), and wondering what other styles (step 3) I could incorporate into my work. Venturing into other big-picture ideas and media is a long way off, but I can see it far ahead of me, and it’s amazingly energizing to have some idea of where this path is taking me. It’s not a very concrete idea, but it doesn’t have to be – it’s just a sort of sense of direction that resonates with me and gives me a vague idea of where I’m headed.

I was really impressed at how cleanly my leap into letterpress – and other creative endeavors I’ve thrown myself into in the past – fit into Scott’s six-step path. I’d be curious to see what other people think, how their experiences compare to his theories, and whether they feel like they’ve followed the same path in their creative adventures.

What do you think? Does this resonate with you? Leave a comment below and tell us about it! And definitely check out the book – it’s a must-read for anyone interested in art, storytelling, creativity – and, of course, comics.

A Little Pittsburgh History: The Smithfield Street Bridge

Everyone knows that Pittsburgh is a city of bridges (The City of Bridges, in fact – we’ve got Venice beat by three!). Depending on how you count, we have 446 (counting towards the official record: only bridges that have piers, and are within the city limits), 994 (highway bridges in the metropolitan area), or 2139 (in all of Allegheny County, including all highway, pedestrian and railroad bridges over 8 feet long). If you go with the biggest number (’cause why wouldn’t you? we’re proud of our bridges!), that’s just about one bridge for every 500 people in Allegheny County. That’s a little mind-boggling.

Pittsburgh Bridges, by Ben PeoplesWhat a lot of people don’t know is that many of our bridges are actually the second, third, or even fourth incarnation to cross the river (or ravine or railroad tracks) at the same site. Take our beloved Roberto Clemente bridge, for example – did you know that the Clemente is actually the fourth bridge to cross the Allegheny River at Sixth Street? The first incarnation of the Sixth Street Bridge was a covered wooden bridge, constructed in 1819. That bridge was replaced in 1860 by a suspension bridge designed by John A. Roebling, which was in turn replaced by a Theodore Cooper truss bridge in 1893. In 1927, to make way for construction of the Three Sisters, Cooper’s truss bridge was lifted off its piers, put on barges, and floated downriver to become the Coraopolis-Neville Island Bridge. Amazing.

The 20’s and 30’s were actually the Golden Age of bridge-building in Pittsburgh – a combination of a US War Department river clearance requirement and the county’s plan for an Ultimate Highway System led to a lot of bridge construction during the Roarin’ Twenties. In fact, most of our oldest bridges were built during this Golden Age, which is part of why the Smithfield Street Bridge is so amazing: it opened almost 40 years before the Golden Age, and it’s still in use today.

Smithfield Street Bridge, 1881The first Smithfield Street Bridge, a covered wooden bridge that opened in 1818, was actually the first river crossing built in Pittsburgh. Can you imagine that? The first bridge to cross the Monongahela. The first road into what would become downtown Pittsburgh. That’s some pretty amazing history right there. That bridge was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1845 and replaced with one of Roebling’s wire rope suspension bridges (one of his first, in fact), but by 1880, traffic had become too heavy, and that bridge needed to be replaced. The current structure was designed by Gustav Lindenthal, who later designed the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City, and the new Smithfield Street Bridge opened in 1883. It is currently the oldest steel bridge in operation in the United States, and the oldest and longest through-truss bridge of its kind.

The bridge has gone through a few changes in the 127 years since it opened: it’s needed to be widened twice, in 1889 and 1911; the original cast-iron portals were replaced with the current steel design; and tracks that were originally built for horse-drawn streetcars were converted to electric streetcar lines, and then finally removed completely in 1985. The bridge was almost demolished in the early 90’s, but lobbying from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation convinced the city to restore it instead; the refurbished bridge was finished in 1995, complete with the original three paint colors specified by Lindenthal and the six copper finials that top the portals at either end.

Smithfield Street Bridge letterpress notecardFor a lot of Pittsburghers, though, it’s not the bridge’s history that makes it so special – it’s the more recent past and the memories it holds for us. I remember going to the Grand Concourse for brunch with my family on birthdays and holidays, and watching the boats going under the bridge as we ate. I have friends who walk across the bridge to work every day, and others who grew up riding the streetcar across to go Christmas shopping “in the city” every December (they always met up at the Kaufmann’s Clock too, but we’ll save that story for another post!).

Do you have any stories, memories, or little-known-facts about the Smithfield Street Bridge? If you do, share them in the comments below! And if you’re interested in learning more about the bridge’s history, here’s a few great links to check out:

Happy reading!

Cephalopod Love

A big thanks to Rigel at the City Squid blog for spreading the word about our cards!

You can see her lovely review here, and while you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of the City Squid blog for interesting news and goings-on in Pittsburgh and beyond. I’m particularly fond of the musings on local history, being the total Pittsburgh history geek that I am…

Thanks for the mention, Rigel!

An Ode to Pittsburgh’s History

I’m a total Pittsburgh history buff. I love this city, and one of the things I love most about it is how everywhere you go, everything has a story. From the old steel mills lining the rivers, to the families who have lived in the same neighborhood for 5 generations, to the dinosaurs that pop up in museums and on street corners, everything is steeped in history. More than any other city I’ve been in, Pittsburgh makes its past a part of its present – we remember the way things used to be, and we incorporate that into the way we live our lives today, and the things we plan for our future. In no other city do people routinely give directions based on landmarks that don’t exist anymore. In most places, that would be ridiculous – how do you turn left “at the corner where the Hornes used to be”? But it works for us, because we love to remember.

SlipperyMy favorite thing about showing people our Cityhopper cards is hearing their reactions to the places Erin has drawn. Everyone has a story: one friend just started a new job in PPG Place, with a gorgeous view from one of the towers; another spent 10 years as a docent for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, giving walking tours that included the County Courthouse. Yet another friend always met her mom and sisters at the Kaufmann’s Clock when they came into the city to do their Christmas shopping. The more people I talk to, the more stories I hear – and with every one of them I love our city more and more.

I want to share this love and history, and these stories, with all of you, so over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a series of posts about the history behind each of our cards. If you’ve got a story to share, leave it in the comments here, or drop me an email. If it’s about a landmark in one of our cards, I’ll share it in my post; if it’s not, you might just be the inspiration for our next card line!