August round-up

Current obsessions + good ideas:

August has been a hugely inspiring time, so I’ve decided to make my round-up a bit more personal this month.

Two weeks ago I attended Type Camp, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a creative retreat in the woods with other design-minded people, focusing on typography!

Organized by type scholar and historian Shelley Gruendler, Type Camp is an opportunity for designers/creatives/type geeks to immerse themselves in typographic history, selection, sketching, creation, and lettering abstraction. Practitioners from these varied disciplines get deep into the subject matter, leading the “type campers” in a series of challenging exercises designed to broaden their understanding of typography.

Shelley runs camps all over the world for different lengths of time and around different niche aspects of typography, but this one that I attended was on stunning Galiano Island, BC over the course of 5 days, and covered a wide range of subjects. 11 campers and several instructors (and their dogs) converged at a beautiful home/retreat space where we ate, slept, and learned, and generally nerded out about letters all day long.

Some of the instructors at this particular camp included typography expert Stephen Coles (author of The Anatomy of Typeand graphic artist Marian Bantjes (author of I Wonder). As for the campers, we were a mixed group of professional graphic designers, freelancers, art directors, web designers, and writers, all at various stages in our careers and with levels of formal design training ranging from 0 to a lot.

From the outset, the organizers created a safe, supportive, non-judgmental and non-competitive space for all of us to challenge ourselves and stretch our skills in exploring the process, without having necessarily to worry about the quality of the outcome. This turned out to be crucial, at least for me, maybe for all of us — it’s hard for me not to look at someone else’s work and think, “I wish I had thought of that,” or “I’ll never be that skilled.” But once I was able to quiet that voice by remembering that we were all in the same boat and there was no one to impress, I could focus on my own process and creativity and just go for it. That was eye-opening.

It was an intense, thought-provoking, stimulating, rewarding, and ultimately bonding experience. We became a tight-knit group quickly, and the instructors really broke down the student-teacher barrier, while keeping us all learning, working, and improving over the short time we had together. I’d recommend this style of retreat camp, or any of the shorter, more focused workshops, to anyone working in this field. There’s a day-long hand-lettering workshop coming up in Toronto, so I’ll be there and I’m hoping to convince some fellow designers to come too!

This experience reenforced my belief in professional development: it is so important to take the time out of our regular work schedules to develop new skills, think critically about our processes, meet other practitioners in the field to discuss trends and shared challenges, and to be creative for the sake of creating. I’m back at my desk with a transformed perspective and renewed energy, and I can’t wait to integrate everything I’ve learned into my day-to-day work.

After camp was over, I tacked on a quick trip to the Bay Area (San Francisco is one of my favourite cities), and I spent 95% of my time there studying and photographing street signs. Great lettering is all around! Here are a few of my favourites:


Next month I’ll do a more conventional round-up, so check back in a few weeks!