I am a fan of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It is a children’s book laden with metaphors for adults and one that comes to my mind every time I finish something. Or start something, since when we finish, we also begin. This year, I started working at Morisawa’s first U.S.-based design office, which Cyrus Highsmith aptly named the Providence Drawing Office. (We are in Providence, Rhode Island, and we draw.) And again, I thought of Dr. Seuss.
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the [girl] who’ll decide where to go.
I decided to go to Typeland with my brains and feet. And type has definitely taken me places this year. Lots of places.
In June, I returned to my favorite city, NYC, for Typographics again. But this year, type has flown me abroad, too—a short flight to Montréal for ATypI, and a long one across our biggest ocean to Japan and Taiwan, for work.
I was born in Korea and raised there until I was about thirteen, but I had never been to either of these countries until this year. All of my friends had told me that I would love Japan, and they were right. The sensibility and remarkable attention to detail were visible on things we do not normally expect to be designed with such care.
In Taipei, I got to tour the Li Xing Type Foundry, the last traditional letterpress shop in Taiwan. It makes an appearance in the documentary film Hanzi, for which I led a Q & A during the Art and Design Film Festival in Providence, so it was especially exciting for me to visit in person. It was fascinating how the owner Chang Chieh-kuan was using digital technology to preserve an old analog tradition. He prints with metal type, digitizes the impressions—making corrections and edits in the process—and produces moulds using these digital drawings in order to cast more metal type. At this unassuming place, this man, with help from a couple assistants, is quietly carrying on, safeguarding the antiquated printing technique as well as the form of art that, thankfully, seems to be enduring.
Coming into contact with a surge of Chinese characters—used in many Asian languages outside of China, including Korea and Japan—I encountered on this trip brought with it waves of memory I had long forgotten. Suddenly, as if from another life, I remembered that I used to take Chinese calligraphy lessons with my mom when I was little. I also remembered that I used to win prizes in grade school for good handwriting. A decade later, I can still remember exactly what I did in order to letter well because it was so particular and intentional; I would look at how much distance there was between strokes and from the edges of the square grids. The angles and lengths of strokes were important, of course, but I instinctively paid attention to the spaces in-between. I am taking these resurfaced memories, reclaimed parts of my life, as yet another sign that I was meant to be working in type. (The interpretation of a dream is more important than the dream itself!)
This trip to Asia has inspired me to reconnect with my roots, and I am excited for what that might mean for me in the future.
THE NERD’S NEST
Type has also brought me to a special place that eludes geographic definition: a place of belonging. In the type community, it is easy to find people who photograph “weird” things, just as I do all the time. In the past, I have gotten a good amount of “I don’t get your posts” or “why do you take pictures of random things?” These “random things” include found type, things that aren’t type but look like type, type I made out of tofu, type I made out of ice cream, type I made out of a strand of hair, but also manhole covers and traffic cones, and they are definitely not random (to me, anyway). Okay, I have yet to run into someone who is as obsessed with traffic cones as I am, but you get the point. In the company of type nerds, I feel somewhat normal in my potentially baffling geekery.
A large part of type design is, by nature, solitary. I wouldn’t be surprised if most type designers were introverts, regardless of their Twitter personas. I am an introvert myself, and it is when I’m drawing letters alone that I’m at my happiest. But I also need and truly enjoy the company of others when I’m fortunate enough to have it, whether it comes in the form of design feedback, technical support, or a friendly chat at a conference. The more I meet and learn about the members of this community, the more I am awed by their wide-ranging talents, knowledge, passion, and astounding generosity. I am a newcomer here, and it’s good to know that this is a warm place with plenty of guiding light.
Perhaps most importantly, type has led me to a place of peace and comfort. At this point, I don’t need to belabor all the ways in which this year has been appalling. On top of all that has happened across the world, sprinkle some personal problems and anxieties, and the picture only gets more awful. Since the beginning of the year, whenever I could feel stress snowballing and rolling in my direction, I found myself settling into my corner chair to draw letters. While I am drawing, nothing can enter my mind—not politics, not family drama, not those missed opportunities, not even my ex-boyfriend. This is a place of absolute calm, intense focus, and indescribable joy. I have built it myself, for myself. It’s a place to which I know I can always return. It was empowering to realize that I can depend on my own self in times of difficulty and confusion. I am so thankful to have found my refuge in type this year.
Today, we say goodbye to 2017—a year that exasperated us but also made us more vocal, more active, and more productive. Reflecting on all the physical and emotional places type has taken me this year, I wonder, with much anticipation: where will it take me in the new year? Oh, the places I’ll go! I cannot wait. And I’m glad I don’t have to. In 3, 2, 1 …