Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Font Geek (Part One of "Designing A Season of Show Posters")

In case you didn't already know, I love fonts. Each year, that's where I begin when designing posters for the Parkway Playhouse Mainstage Season. I research the themes, content and mood of each play and then look for a font that in some ways corresponds. It matters to me because I think it matters, subconsciously, to the viewer to--whether it registers with them or not.

I frequently go to dafont.com and scroll through their endless possibilities. What I like about that site is that I'm able to put sample text into a field and then view how the title would look in each particular font. If you haven't ever done this, set aside a good chunk of time and then wave goodbye to it. The nice thing for me is I justify this addiction because it is for a client. (Yay!)

Left up to my own devices, I don't think I'd ever be able to decide. However, the powers that be at Parkway put in the final word...weeding through my 4-5 suggestions for each play. I may be accused lobbing pretty hard for some, though. It makes me sad when of my favorites simply don't work to catch the eye and I must compromise for attention-grabbing boldness. (Someday, Arkwright, someday, you will be perfect for a project.) Each font for its own purpose.

So, here are the font winners for the 2015 season....

"Arcadia" is actually written in two fonts, as the swirly font (Dutch & Harley) doesn't have a capital A. But, as the play deals with the overhaul of a formal English garden into something that will appear wild and ruinous, while still being utterly planned -- the swirly organic nature of it fits well.

"RED" may appear very basic, but large fonts like that really pop, especially when the title is so short. Additionally, I can play with the texture of the text -- which I've done with both Arcadia and RED in the show posters. (Another post for another day. Stay tuned.)

"All Shook Up" obviously needed a 1950s font as the entire musical is Elvis tunes. Oh, there are so many beautiful 1950s fonts... I think I downloaded a half dozen during the search.

"Esley" presented a unique problem. The title is quite long, but if I went with a small font size, it wouldn't garner any attention on a poster. Besides, it'd make that title disproportionately small on a season poster or playbill cover. That would throw the balance off and it wouldn't be fair to the play itself. During all of my font-searching, I'd found FFF Tusj and was looking for any excuse to use it. It doesn't work small, so I had to find a similar looking font for the subtitle. The combination of two different fonts and the varying sizes was both eye-catching and striking enough to do the trick. Frankly, it's my hands-down favorite.

Of course, I love the clever Q on "The Quiltmaker," but I don't want to be accused of spoiling any plot points. (Too late. Forgive me.) Also, with "The Glass Menagerie" I struggled to settle on a font bold enough, elegant, yet narrow enough to fit in a comparable length with the others. Nueva Std Bold Italic would do just fine.

All in all, I am pleased with how they each look and how they look together. Not that I expect anyone will even give it a second thought-- unless, you're a font geek like me! In which case, what are your current favorite free fonts?

Monday, February 23, 2015


I will do my best not to reveal spoilers for those who have yet to read these books, but I still want to honor them with truly thinking about and discussing what they present.

Sometimes, I read things I think are unrelated only to feel, later, that I was destined to read them together.

Over a year ago, a good friend got me Elizabeth Gilbert's Signature of All Things for a Christmas present and I began reading it. But for some reason - life? - I put it down and didn't pick it up again until this winter. It has one of the most amazing scenes I've ever read: a simply magical evening from the perspective of a little girl. It's near the beginning of the book, when Alma's father hosts an Italian astronomer and the party, to avoid overheating, spills out onto the lawn where he orchestrates the guests into orbit as the planets. Best of all, Alma is given a torch and set running through their midst as a comet. 

I loved how intelligent Alma is - a woman in the sciences, ahead of her time. (Of course, she had money and greenhouses of her own.) I loved her attitude about heartache, set backs, and frustration: put your head down, do the work, grind despair under your heel. Eventually it will give way. (It is true Gilbert advice, like from Eat, Pray, Love "...you should never give yourself a chance to fall apart because, when you do, it becomes a tendency and it happens over and over again. You must practice staying strong, instead.") I also admired how, when it is so possible to fall into ruts, Alma completely re-invents herself, taking huge risks, making significant sacrifices to personal comfort, in the middle of her life... right when complacency can set in. This mid-life is so easily a time when we can throw up our hands, divest from changing the world and dogma, and settle into some personal sense of comfort. Not Alma, she packs up and heads for the tropics.

What I didn't like, one little bit, was the climax of the book. I will not discuss it.

Unexpectedly, the book I got this year in the Kaufmann Christmas Book Exchange took me right back into  female-scientists-researching-obscure-things-in-the-tropics. I'd just wanted to read some more of Ann Patchett's work since she's coming to Burnsville in the fall for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival (along with Barbara Kingsolver). Just thinking about it makes me hyperventilate a little.

Anyway, to the book, State of Wonder. The climax and ending of this novel, by comparison were unexpected and so much more satisfying. In particular, the ending was not neatly sewn up, but open to wild possibilities of love and heartache unlike anything the book even touched upon--or exactly like the book had touched upon. Again, though, women scientists--two this time. One at the end of her career, and one in the middle of it. The characters are like Alma in some ways -- they put their backs into the hard work, embrace adventure, risk and wonder. They sacrifice for love and relationships. They too, are childless in the novel. 

Which brings me to the fact that both Gilbert and Patchett are childless and brilliant novelists... a fact that bothers me because I don't want to believe the two factors are as closely related as I suspect they are. It does no good to dwell there too long.

Then, because Parkway Playhouse is doing Tom Stoppard's Arcadia this summer, I picked it up for perusal. Lo and behold, I was back in the company of a brilliant young woman mathematician-scientist and women novelists. Back to the meticulous proving of theories and lives spent utterly devoted to them. In Arcadia, I return to the West Indies for botany expeditions. I was back in heartbreak, of people being attracted to... well, who they're attracted to, with no regard for the sense it makes. This play says more directly what the other novels echo: it is "sex that throws off nature's ordered plan."  

It is uncanny, the three of them in succession. It is like the characters in Arcadia echoing each other through time: nothing is ever truly lost, it is discovered again and ideas overlap themselves. Time plods on slowly, like the turtle (named Lightning), while we cartwheel around in these capricious lives spent pursing such fleeting things like love and happiness. Even the strictest pursuit of scientific knowledge does not make one immune. For Alma, it was the capacity for self-sacrifice that punched holes in her theory. For Thomasina and Marina, I believe it was attraction--and what to do about it.

As for me? I didn't go into the sciences. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Writing Weekend

We woke up to a house that was 55 degrees, thanks to the frigid temperatures which had frozen the gas in the lines. Thankfully the husband was on it (after showering in luke-warm water): knocking ice out of the exhaust vent, trouble shooting on the phone, and blow-drying the exposed bit outside between the ground line and the house before heading to work.

But now I'm off on a writing weekend! (In a hotel room where I can crank the temperature as high as I like.) Smile.

One of the best parts of a writing weekend is the fussing around in the hotel room before I sit down and begin. The bag of snacky foods (to keep me in the room) gets properly distributed... mango yogurt and pub cheese spread by the window (since that's as close to a fridge as this room has -- and that'll be plenty cool enough), soft pretzel bread and white tea by the miniature coffee maker. The bag of cashews...already had to be put in the bathroom as it quickly became a source of distraction. Chocolate bar on the desk.

I haven't accomplished enough yet to have earned my glass of wine.

The reading book and journal go on the little round table next to the comfy chair. The suitcase on the suitcase rack from the closet. Coat hung up. Boots by the door.

Then comes unpacking the work-in-progress out of its blue plastic folder onto the spare bed. The printed, edited portion of the play in the green folder rests at the foot of the bed. The pile of index cards with plot points beside that. On the turned down portion of the comforter go the legal pads with character notes, scribblings from other books on existential risks, questions to be answered, and portions of dialog that would only come out on paper. I pull a crumpled sheet from the folder entitled "Six Things Julian Needs to Fix" with four things listed under it and place it with some other loose index cards and small sheets in the middle of the bed.

Of course, I set up the laptop, log in with the wi-fi password, set my Auto Response on email, cue Pandora... and indeed, it is time to open the lid of my imagination.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chickens in Winter

Our flock doesn't like walking on snow so very much. But that means no sunshine. Aside from that, we have a new husky in the neighborhood who thinks it's great sport to snap their necks and leave them in our yard. (We're still waiting for the husky's owners to take some responsibility...) So... neither the hens nor I am too interested in them leaving the safety of their hen house. And after 5 snow days in a row, I can totally relate to the phrase "cooped up" in an all new way. The rooster is sporting a few black spots on his comb from the sub zero temperatures, but the hens are still laying admirably. Bringing in frozen, cracked eggs, I am flabbergasted by their production.

The only one who's got it good is the crazy hen who started sitting on 18 eggs under our back porch about 4 weeks ago. It only takes 21 days from the time they start sitting to hatch chicks, and, for some reason, this determined bird decided mid-winter was nesting season. Needless to say, her efforts were not well rewarded. Only four chicks hatched, and of those four, only one lives. (We'll not go into the state of my middle-school-daughter who has lost 3 chicks and two hens in the last week or so. It goes without saying that it's been traumatic.)

The crazy hen and the persistently peeping chick get the cush digs of a cardboard box in the insulated garage with a warming light on them. They get checked on multiple times a day and are given fresh spinach scraps and leftover spaghetti as dinner clean-up merits.

Perhaps it is a lesson in following your instincts, even when, logically, the timing doesn't seem right--even when tragedy is all around. There is still new life. There is still a warming light.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snowed In

It's silly, really. Tomorrow will be our 4th snowday this week. Of course the extra time with my three kids also comes at the same time as two new graphic design gigs. (Including two 6 foot tall banners for a display at a conference that has me decidedly nervous. I've never designed anything so large. The banners are not particularly intricate, but still, any mistakes will be BIG ones.) Not to mention the existing graphic design clients...

Just keep trying to check tasks off my list and  to that end, I've lifted the ban on electronics in the house. Want to play Minecraft? Go for it. Just don't ask me questions. The kids were gracious enough to put off their Chopped challenge until their dad got home... and I'd gotten through the most technical parts of the layout.

Which brings me to this... and Lent. In the past I've given up things like Facebook or alcohol, but right now, my biggest vice is "putting things off." In particular, I'm putting off my own creative writing. I just keep stalling out on various projects. So, what I'm giving up is "not writing." Stated positively, that means I will write every day. (Morning pages don't count. I've somehow managed to make a routine of three pages a day in my journal.) My Lenten commitment is to creative writing. Every day I must open the WIP play and add a few lines (or revise), type up a poem (or edit it), tinker with the novel, or write a blog post.

Even if I take the "cop out" option of blog post, I'm still writing, still honing skills, still thinking about audience, still sitting still long enough to document coherently (hopefully) what's on my mind.

So, here's a taste of what I've been working on today... It's for an organization that I designed the logo for a few years ago and I still think it's my best logo to date.  Learn more about them here.

Some version of this draft should turn into a six foot banner...