5 years of Alphabettes

"Alphabettes" made out of Wood type

Wood type composition by Grendl Löfkvist

This September, we’re celebrating five years of Alphabettes. Five YEARS?! While the past six months feels like 20 years, it can’t be possible that we’ve been cultivating this tiny plot of the internet for that long, can it? And yet, here we are.

According to reliable sources like Grendl, a 5 year anniversary is celebrated with the gift of wood, to represent the durability of the relationship (psst, you might be seeing some wood type around these parts over the next month). Wood is durable, but it can also show signs of its natural aging process. Kind of like Alphabettes.

What is Alphabettes, anyway? I ask myself that question everyday.

Alphabettes is a disorganized group of (sometimes) loud and (always) opinionated women who share a love of type and lettering. We respect the diverse lived experiences of women in our industry and we can continue to do better to honor and celebrate this. At its roots, Alphabettes supports and promotes the work of all women in type even if everyone doesn’t agree with what we publish or how we (dis)organize ourselves.

Alphabettes is built on the stamina of its contributors. We tend to favor spontaneity over perfection. Sometimes, what we do doesn’t live up to expectations. Sometimes (A LOT of time) we disagree. Some people would like to see us more organized, more transparent, more scholarly, or more conventional. It’s never been perfect but here’s the rub: Alphabettes currently has no sponsors, no membership fees, no budget, no heavy-handed editorial policies, and no hierarchies. There are no profit margins to meet, no board members to appease, and no silent benefactors to placate. Despite this (or perhaps because of this?), a lot of good things have come out of the mix:

• Since 2016, the Alphabettes Mentorship program has helped connect hundreds of professionals with newcomers in the type world. Kudos to Liron Lavi Turkenich, Shani Avni, Eleni Beveratou, Veronika Burian, Katy Mawhood, and everyone else throughout the years (especially Bianca Berning and Isabel Urbina Peña, who started it) has built this amazing initiative.

Alphacrit has offered over 10 sessions in the past two years for newcomers to have in-progress work critiqued by two seasoned professionals. Nicole Dotin steers the formidable boat (shout-out to co-founder emeritus, Luisa Baeta) with a wonderful crew of volunteers including Sol Matas, Tanya Maria George, Vitória Neves, Tamye Riggs, Lila Symons, and Tânia Raposo.

• Since 2015, this fine blog you’re reading has published over 300 articles on type and lettering, industry commentary, research in the field, interviews with experts, quite a few series, and has featured nearly 130 headers by women in the type fields. Phew! It’s impossible to name every person who has written, edited, reviewed, code-tweaked, cheerleaded, or contributed to this effort. Big thanks to Elena Schneider who seamlessly ensures the header updates every other Thursday forever and ever.

• We’ve hosted several live, quasi-chaotic events through the years, including three editions of the Alphabettes Variety Show at the Typographics conference in NYC and the global 24-hour Hangout.

• Our Instagram feed is taken over each week (or so 😬) by a member of the Alphabettes network, featuring their work, research or things that inspire them.

• Sometimes we get into good trouble on Twitter but hey, what’s Twitter for anyway?

• More women have spoken at type conferences and events in the past five years than ever before. We’ve done our best to respond to every request for speaker recommendations, to circulate calls for speakers within our network, and cheer on those who need the extra push.

• We adopted the 💌.

• Some more things I am probably forgetting because I, probably like you, haven’t slept much in six months.

What’s next for Alphabettes? Good question. The Mentorship Program and Alphacrit are going strong and who knows what other ideas we’ll think up in the future. Do you want to publish an article, submit a header or something else? Please get in touch. It’s hard to know when a labor of love has lost its spark or when to gracefully move on. Spontaneity and disorganization can come at a cost but, for now, this place is still worth it. Here’s to five years, and maybe, if we feel like it, five years more? Knock on wood 😘.

A website for Alphacrit & the next crit

Website for Alphacrit

We are excited to announce a new website dedicated to Alphacrit, an initiative of the Alphabettes that organizes critique sessions. Since its beginning in 2018, we’ve held nine sessions over 2 years. 26 participants received expert feedback on their lettering projects or WIP typefaces with many more attending the livestreams. Another 20 or so got their questions about font production or OpenType features answered in special Q&A editions of Alphacrit. The new website brings all the information under one roof.

The next Alphacrit, the first to be announced on the new site, features María Montes and Isabel Urbina Peña who will review lettering projects on August 20. Read more about both our guests, the application process, and more when you visit our new website!

Call for mentors

The Alphabettes Mentorship program has been so successful that we are overwhelmed by the many mentee applications. This is great, but also means that we need to stop accepting new applications for the moment, until we have processed the open requests.

We are actually actively looking for new mentors. Over 100 mentees need YOU! Please consider sharing your experience with this wonderful and enriching community.

Simply fill in this form

Thank you
Alphabettes Mentorship Team

Book Review: Natural Enemies of Books: A Messy History of Women in Printing and Typography

I pre-ordered Natural Enemies of Books: A Messy History of Women in Printing and Typography immediately when I stumbled upon on the ‘forthcoming titles’ page of publisher Occasional Papers’s website. I knew the the title was a reference to an essay in a book designed and printed by a number of women in 1937—Bookmaking on the Distaff Side. I had recently learned about it in my own research and had only just succeeded in getting my hands on a copy from the edition of 100 after many dead ends. Thank you, interlibrary loan, and thank you, UC Berkeley!

Bookmaking on the Distaff Side was a unique piece of collective work in which women printers were invited by a committee to submit signatures they’d printed to be bound into an edition, which contributor, Kathleen Walkup, refers to as a pot-luck format. This means each submission is printed on unique paper, with varied colors, type, and illustration styles. It’s diminutive size and deckled edges with unique papers (and colors) make it such a treat to hold and leaf through. Content focuses generally on printing and typography, whether it be type theory, history of women and printing, or humorous piss-takes about the famous typographic men of that era. Perhaps my own greatest surprise in reading the book was the shade thrown at male printers and typographers. Though it is often tempered with some clarifying diplomatic statement, it’s clear the women who put this volume together had opinions and knew humor was a clever way to couch their critical opinions.

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Resources

‘Do you have at hand a list of women type designers?’ ‘can you give me a list of typefaces designed by women?’ ‘Is there a bibliography about works related to women in type?’ We all have received this kind of questions at one point or another, but here in Alphabettes we didn’t have a page or a blog entry listing this kind of material. This is an un-organised list of resources all related to women in type that anyone can use. Continue reading

24-hour Hangout for International Women’s Day 2020

If you happen to google “24 hour google hangout”, you’ll end up right here. (Well, not quite right here, but right here.) Last year around now, we had this collectively zany idea to host a global 24-hour hangout to celebrate International Women’s Day and well, it actually went pretty great. That’s why we’re doing it again! Mark your calendars, set your alarm clocks, pour yourself a nice cup of coffee / tea / wine / beer (depending on your timezone) and join us once again this Sunday, March 8 for our 24-hour Hangout for International Women’s Day 2020!
What will we talk about? Whose cat will walk across their keyboard? What’s on Amy’s desktop now? Does 2am even exist on the first morning of Daylight Saving Time? Let’s find out!

From 12am (0:00) EST to 11:59pm (23:59) EST on March 8, join the hangout for conversation on type, the universe, whatever!

>> ̶H̶̶̶e̶̶̶r̶̶̶e̶̶̶’̶̶̶s̶̶̶ ̶̶̶t̶̶̶h̶̶̶e̶̶̶ ̶̶̶l̶̶̶i̶̶̶n̶̶̶k̶̶̶ ̶̶̶t̶̶̶o̶̶̶ ̶̶̶t̶̶̶h̶̶̶e̶̶̶ ̶̶̶l̶̶̶i̶̶̶v̶̶̶e̶̶̶ ̶̶̶H̶̶̶a̶̶̶n̶̶̶g̶̶̶o̶̶̶u̶̶̶t̶̶̶ ALL Done! Thanks for Joining Us!<<

All are welcome* when you can and leave when you need. Video is possible but just audio is fine, too. Keep an eye on this spot and Twitter for the link or any updates and help us spread the word! WOMEN = FUN.

* Participants must follow our code of conduct.

WOMEN = FUN

The Malee Scholarship: Interview with Chantra Malee Montoya-Pimolwatana

screenshot of malee scholarship homepage

The Malee Scholarship awards $6000 USD annually to a woman of color ages 16 and over. The deadline for the first application is April 15, 2020. We asked Chantra Malee Montoya-Pimolwatana, co-founder of Sharp Type and namesake of the scholarship, a few questions about how the idea started, the site’s beautiful branding, and the application process.

When did you realize the scholarship was necessary to help address the lack of representation of women of color in type design?
I grew up in a small New England town that was heavily rooted in the Anglo-American tradition and culture. I was part of a small percentage of people of color there, and I often felt isolated. I’ve taken that experience with me everywhere in my personal and professional life. When I first got into the type business, it was not much different than other industries I had worked in, primarily represented by a single demographic. But this time I was in a position to make a difference.

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Exhibition Review: Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work

Nestled behind a Romanesque-inspired Methodist Church on 59th St and Park Avenue, entering the Grolier Club conjures a spiritual experience. A private club for the most esteemed bibliophiles, many public exhibitions and lectures are offered in their first and second floor galleries. One day, you might even be granted access to the heavenly third floor, aka the Holy Grail of All Things Bookish: the Grolier Club Library (ok, ok, all you really have to do is ask).

exhibition space with large screen with main exhibition graphic on a large digital screen

Main exhibition hall at the Grolier Club / my preferred house of worship.

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One Press Many Hands:
APHA Conference Notes

Not long ago, I had a revelation:

The American Printing History Association (APHA) 2019 conference, “One Press Many Hands: Diversity in the History of American Printing”, held at the University of Maryland, College Park last weekend, proved this theory correct. Just to be clear, I love all sorts of nerds, and identify with many nerd cultures: type nerds, tech nerds, type tech nerds, you get where this is going. But there is something about printing history that’s uniquely wonderful. Any of these nerd groups could show up at the APHA conference, enjoy talks related to their own flavor of nerdy, and learn about a tangentially-related topic. The Venn diagram of printing history includes almost all of the nerd circles I love and why I felt so warmly welcomed, despite butchering the pronunciation of APHA during my talk. (For those not in the know, it’s “AHH-FAH” not “A P H A” 🤦‍♀️ and no one even publicly flogged me for it. AIGA? TDC? It was a reasonable guess!)

cover of conference program features a historical image of a young African American man working at a press

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Mentorship update: June 29, 2019

For the past three months we have been making progress behind the scenes of our new and improved mentorship programme.

This is taking some time because sorting out our online privacy policy is more complicated than we anticipated. We want to make sure we are respecting your personal information. Our legal team is on it and we will be ready to go soon!

The Alphabettes mentorship program team