Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Today I went to my local supermarket chain in order to purchase, among other things, a nice slice of Wensleydale cheese. As someone with a soft spot for cheese, (especially the northern English and Welsh cheeses — Caerphilly, Cheshire, all of which are uniquely crumbly, creamy and slightly bitter), I am delighted that Pittsburgh’s eponymous chain, Giant Eagle has in recent years expanded its cheese counter to appear far more cosmopolitan that it had previously been.

It used to be that if you wanted cheese, your only option was a plastic-wrapped rectangle of orange cheddar or Monterey Jack, or faux cheese from the deli, pre-sliced from great slabs. Now, the cheese counter is an island unto itself with employees dressed to look something like a fromage specialist in aprons and little hats.

But when I asked if they had any Wensleydale, the chap pointed to a grotesque wheel of tired looking cheese covered in spots which turned out to my horror to be Wensleydale with chocolate chips embedded in it. No wonder none of it had been sold. When I said no, just plain Wensleydale, he took me over to a cabinet with cheeses impregnated with all manner of unlikely things — mango bits, lemon bits, something green of indeterminate origin — and Wensleydale stuffed with cranberries. Again I made my plea for cheese accompanied by nothing but itself. A supervisor came over, in her apron and hat, and when asked, assured me in no uncertain terms that they haven’t carried Wensleydale for at least three years, that it is not possible to get anymore because it had been “discontinued.” Knowing this to be patently untrue, I challenged her. “Surely not?” I said, wondering if she was aware that two enormous hunks of the stuff, albeit adulterated with foreign objects, sat in her very aisles as we spoke. “Yes,” she said, confidently, “it wasn’t around long and they stopped making it.”

The good people of Hawes, Yorkshire, beg to differ

Seeing nothing could be gained from prolonging this astounding conversation, I went on my way, sans cheese. I did not, for example, point out that Wensleydale has been made since the 14th century, nor that it is Wallace’s (of Wallace and Grommit fame) favorite cheese. I did not point out that other Giant Eagle supermarkets carry Wensleydale cheese. I did not cause a scene. I will simply discontinue my patronage of their store.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Type Nerd Strikes Again

I write this while awaiting for Pinterest to send me an invite to join their newly popular social sharing site. I am joining principally to be able to get a Pinterest badge to add to my blogs so that I can drive more traffic to them.

But that isn’t the only reason.

I am also joining because I can no longer resist their beautiful retro-looking logotype. To me it suggests class, tradition, and good design — all things I want my blog to be associated with.

Pinterest has thoughtfully shared the story of its logotype with the public.

Even though it has been designed especially to echo other classic American types and has a distinct 50’s feel, it is highly modern. This is because the designers worked the company’s logo (which is used by itself on share buttons) into the typeface itself, aware that today’s online readers (everyone) require visual shortcuts. The capital P looks like thread looping through a pin, with which to stab at items of interest (the other part of the word) and stitch them together coherently.

I could argue that Pinterest owes much of its success to its forethought in this regard, with people like me falling for it based on looks alone.

By “people like me,” I mean folks for whom Simon Garfield’s lovely book Just My Type, an anecdotal history of typography and typefaces is a compelling and necessary read. My Sweetheart delights in pointing out what a nerd I am, and in this he’s right; nerds are people for whom the invisible workings behind everyday things are of more interest than the things themselves. I pay attention to fonts. I know how they are built. I cause him to sigh when I suddenly exclaim, interrupting conversation, that someone-or-other is using Gotham in their menu bar. I am aware that normal people neither notice nor care.

 When I was a girl in the 1970s, I was given a Letraset catalogue and a huge sheaf of Letraset pages by a graphic designer clearing out his office. Henceforth, I was obsessed, tracing just the right typeface from the spiral-bound catalogue for my art projects, re-scaling them if needed. The pages of type themselves were thick and silky, slightly tacky on their business side, though protected by a slip of tissue. The letters themselves (mostly Cooper Black) were utterly opaque, and I loved to watch them pop off their backing when burnished (and “burnished it had to be”) with just the right tool. I always found the edge of an antique teaspoon to be perfect for the task.

Although my own handwriting left much to be desired, I spent hours spelling out the word “anyway” in a fluid script, enjoying the sensuous dips of the Ys and repetitive curves of the As. I produced page after page of loops and lines with pen and ink in copperplate, though they were nowhere as beautiful as my grandfather’s hand, even though he had very little formal education a century ago. The biro truly made decent handwriting hard to do, its ubiquity contributing greatly to the demise of script even before we all took to keyboards.

By the time I got to art school — one which had a typography department — I was deeply committed to the art of lettering. When I teach typography now, I have my students write a short paragraph anonymously, and we shuffle the results to take a look. I have found that it is possible to determine the gender of the hand who produced the text with astonishing accuracy — the class determining very quickly who wrote what based on nothing but hurriedly scribbled lines. It proves to be a productive exercise, giving rise to discussions about the expectations and assumptions we carry unconsciously regarding text.

Pinterest just sent me the invite, so if you look to the right, you can see their lovely badge. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Food Rules

I spend a lot of time writing about food — notably, bad food, on Yuckylicious. A good deal of Yuckylicious posts however, feature foods from really old cookbooks — that is to say, from before the agri-industrial industries replaced much of our naturally-occuring food with processed food. Sometimes the dishes themselves sound horrid to our modern palates, but the science behind them, and the nutrients in them, were sound.

As such, they often echo Michael Pollan's Food Rules: Eat food. Mostly greens. Not too much.

Pollan is a loud and articulate voice for food sense, and this animation of his 2010 RSA Keynote speech is eloquent too.

"Food Rules" by Michael Pollan - RSA/Nominet Trust competition from Marija Jacimovic on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Chad Wys

Garage Sale Painting of Peasants With Color Bars

I came across this today. At first I thought this was a picture of a window blind painted rather in a rather witty fashion with the color bar — but at closer glance it is a painting. Very spiffy indeed.

Artist Chad Wys is my kind of chap. Smart and technically astute. His range of works are visual puns which utilize found objects to make statements about color and perhaps the ubiquity of photoshop in the digital age. I don't know. Perhaps they're not statements of any kind and just pretty. He has a nicely articulate artist statement that explains things, but I think you can figure out what he's doing for yourself.

Figurine of Lady With Spots

Like this series, for example:

Or this sort of thing:

She's In Pieces

I know a lot of folks will find his photographs from museums silly but I think they're brilliant.

At the Museum 2
Love love love this guy. I like him so much I'm not going to get all up in your grill with words, so I'll just encourage you to see for yourself. 

Chad Wys Online: