On the front page of my portfolio I have my initials: a mark created using original metal letterpress letters, ink, and paper. I use different marks, created with the same letterpress letters, on my CV. For real-world (ie printed, not emailed) copies of my portfolio, CV, as well as letters and notes, I manually print my initials on each one, individually.

I sent my mother an email with my portfolio attached, asking for comments. Along with general comments on individual pages, suggestions on content and rephrasing sentences, she admitted that the print on the front page was bothering her. I have been using it for a while, and she had never mentioned it before, so I asked her to elaborate. Below are some thoughts we threw back and forth about handwriting, writing instruments, neatness, computers, ink splatters, and childhood memories of learning to write.


My mother was born in the 50s, and learnt to write first with a pencil, then with a ‘federhalter’ – a metal nib stuck on the end of a stick, dipped in ink, then written with – and then finally with a fountain pen. She described the frustration she remembered of writing page after page, and a splatter of ink – innevitably right at the end of the page – or a smudge forcing her to start over. I grew (am growing) up in a world where the written word is dominated by computers. Yes, I learnt to write by hand, with a pen or pencil (both in english primary schools, with pencils and cheap pens, and the german way, with a fountain pen), but at some point everybody gave up and I typed as much as possible. My generation, no matter how tidy and elegant their handwriting, tends to use a computer for writing anything final – an essay, a letter (or email), even a short note. That’s for better or worse, but that’s not the point here.

For my mother’s generation, consistency requires effort and concentration – by its very analogue nature, handwriting, no matter how neat and tidy, is never completely accurate. Letterpress printing, old books and prints, derive their character from inconsistency – the edges are slightly rough, the indentation varies, the black has a depth that tonor just can’t match. I have grown up, as a person and as a designer, in a world where things are straight, clean, tidy. when I type the letter A, it looks the same when I next type it, unless I make a conscious effort for it to be different. Clean, neat, tidy, and consistant are the default. So I have a certain fascination with the analogue, manual, rough. Letterpress, handwriting (not my own, its a mess however you look at it), photographic darkrooms.

Liking or not liking the splat aren’t really the question, it’s the associations that I found interesting. To me, it’s a contrast to the swiss photography, neat, rectangular frames that the images sit in, and clean lines running through the rest of the portfolio (and CV, and letter, which also use a similar mark); it has associations of tactile print (even the very un-tactile pdf), an appreciation of something other than perfect lines and consistent type that only really exists on screen, and a way to show that I have taken the time to give individual attention to the correspondence – I haven’t ‘just’ pressed print and stuck it in an envelope. To my mother, it seems to have evoked painful memories of wasted hours rewriting homework that was in part marked on the lack of smudges and splatters of ink such as the very one I have on the front of my portfolio.

There isn’t really a conclusion to all this, no great insight. Still, I thought it was interesting.

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