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Leave a stone unturned

I think the best creative advice I ever got was from my tutor at CSM.

Don’t dot every I and cross every T, don’t tie up every loose end. Leave some questions unanswered. A piece of art, a movie, a song, a performance, they all tend to be more compelling when they leave you wondering.

I tended to be very goal-oriented in my visual art practice, with an idea of exactly what I wanted the final product to be. This usually left me with frustration when I couldn’t quite get it there, and a piece that was overworked and somehow boring, despite my efforts. When I spent a little more time just focusing on the process and letting go of the result, it was both more fun and far more interesting to look at in the end.

I don’t have much of an art practice at the moment, though sometimes I look at this website as one big, long-haul creative endeavor.

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4+ month update

It’s been a little over four months since B arrived. These are some of my experiences or things I’ve learned so far, plucked at random.

I’d say that the books, conversations, and classes prepared me pretty decently in theory, but the physical and emotional reality is almost impossible to prepare for. Being a parent has been much more visceral than I expected.

A woman walking in to James Turrell’s “Three Gems”

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First walk

Thistle with a bee in McNee Ranch

Dried out tree stump in McNee Ranch

McNee Ranch in the summer

We took B on his first walk on August 20th, in the hills above Montara beach. It was his first time in the carrier, we thought he’d resist but he loved it. The hills are a lot drier than the last time we walked through here, but there were thistles and nasturtiums out. We saw a coyote on our way back down.

We took him to see the sea too. Thought about dipping his toes in the water, but the beach was too steep and the waves too high. Another time.

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A new chapter

Our little one is here, and life will never be the same.

🌱

It has been a whirlwind month, really a whirlwind few months. I was trying to wrap everything up prior to maternity leave and just about got there, then was suddenly faced with a same-day induction following a routine prenatal appointment at 38w + 4d, three days before my leave was due to start. So close!

I’m not going to go in to detail about the birth in public here, it is too intimate of an event. I will say that besides the shock of the sudden induction and a few other blips, the birth itself went just about as close as I could hope to my “ideal” scenario. I’m so thankful for that. Remembering that the pain is temporary and intentional helped a lot, and Sam’s support was vital, as were our nurses Amy and Lukas and doula Taylor. “Ready, present, relaxed” was on repeat in my head.

The days following the birth involved ups and downs in terms of my health, including a readmission to hospital unfortunately, but have gone fairly smoothly otherwise. Not sleeping as well as we did previously, but that’s to be expected!

And most importantly, our little lad. He’s perfect, gorgeous, and so funny already. He won’t appear often in public photos on this site or elsewhere online, but like most parents, I’m happy to share copious pictures with friends and family via text.

The one-on-one conversations I’ve had with more experienced friends, family, collaborators, clients, and acquaintances about this stuff are some of the moments from my pregnancy that I hold most dear, small acts of selflessness and vulnerability on their part that made me feel so much more prepared for this process and what is to come. I’m thankful to have been able to ask so many people about so many things: what it’s like to be self employed with a young child, navigating how to divvy up responsibilities with your partner, the million different paths that feeding a baby can take, how your sense of identity shifts, what equipment is useful and what is pointless, and so, so many birth stories.

So thank you so much to those people that have reached out, and to those that have kindly opened up when I prodded a bit. It has meant everything.

Along those lines, an invitation: if you’re expecting or even just considering kids and want to talk about what it is like, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

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Updates to v-fonts.com

I’ve been working with Nick Sherman on some updates to v-fonts.com, and he pushed the changes on Saturday. 🥳

He managed to do it right before his TypeLab talk about these updates as part of Typographics 2021. He kindly invited me to join the talk, and it was a pleasure going through things together. Thank you to Petr Van Blokland for shifting things around so that I could contribute!

Screenshot from Nick Sherman and Piper Haywood’s talk about v-fonts.com as part of TypeLab

Screenshot from Nick Sherman and Piper Haywood’s talk about v-fonts.com as part of TypeLab

About the changes

For context/posterity:

Nick approached me about helping out with v-fonts.com after our back-and-forth about surface area-based logo sizing a little while back. I was pretty excited about the prospect since Nick’s a lovely guy, and I’ve found his Variable Fonts site so useful in the past!

The most major update is the introduction of term-based archives for tags (e.g. unusual variation or serif), designers (e.g. Elena Schneider), publishers (e.g. DJR), licenses (e.g. open source), and character sets (e.g. Cyrillic). These archive pages should make it a bit more straightforward to browse all of the listings, and they provide some useful context for the groupings. Nick has done phenomenal work curating it all.

Other updates include quantities to signpost how many results are returned and how many are left, better keyboard navigation for the sliders, and a RSS feed (yay!!). If RSS is your thing, you can find the link in the site footer.

There’s a lot more we’d like to do though.

For the future

A few enhancements for later down the line:

  • Automated content creation; we could potentially extract some data from the font files to speed up content editing/uploading; the Wakamai Fondue repo on GitHub by Roel Nieskens will no doubt be an invaluable resource for this!
  • Enhanced preview capability; would be nice to change the preview text and the size of the text
  • Automated font preview images for RSS

Things we’d like to get to sooner 🤞 include:

  • Filtering by axis (weight, slant, etc.); this sort of exists currently (see one of the screenshots above for an example), but we can’t really expose it yet due to some limitations
  • Prettier URLs for tags, with automated redirects from the old URLs
  • Sorting capability by things like the date the font was updated or alphabetical by title
  • Multi-dimensional filtering; would be nice to look at all of the serif fonts with extended Latin support that offer a trial, or check out all of the open source variable fonts published by Arrow Type, for example
  • Search!

We didn’t end up including these changes because we hit a few walls with the ExpressionEngine set up. EE is a great CMS, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to give us quite enough control out-of-the-box for the more extended functionality we’re after. I explored add-ons and such for some of these things, but it quickly felt like too scrappy/hacky when there are other CMS options out there that would allow us to achieve this more maintainably.

So the next big step will likely be migrating to a different CMS. Big task (code, content, URL redirecting, etc.), but do-able! At the moment, I’m eyeing Craft CMS + the Feed Me plugin by the Craft developers for semi-automated content migration.

But it will be a few months before I take a look at it due to maternity leave coming up so soon, so we’ll evaluate the best CMS for the job then. I don’t expect a better CMS option for this particular project to come up between now and then but you never know, these things can move so fast!

Thanks for the screenshots, SB!

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Some long-winded thoughts on privacy policies and consent popups

This Q&A is compiled from conversations I have had with many, many clients and collaborators who have had a hard time navigating things like the GDPR, privacy policies, cookie notices, consent messaging, and other related topics.

Here are all the questions covered below:

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Identity wrangling

A hand cupping some water from a stream

Cupping the water in Spicey Gill coming down from Ilkley Moor. Photo taken a year ago today.

“You are not your emotions.” Well you are, but you are not only your emotions. And you can choose not to be controlled by your emotions.

Life is made up of micro and macro decisions, and their consequences.

I chose to move back to the US, and now I am grappling with the reality of that decision, amongst other things. It has made life easier in some respects, and harder in others. Do I regret it? No. Will we be here forever? Magic eight ball says 🎱 “Concentrate and ask again”.

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A little more on Rietveld’s crate furniture, discovering Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture, and thoughts about the purpose of a blog

More on Rietveld’s crate furniture

Off the back of writing up the Rietveld-esque crate stool how-to, I started looking in to more about the origins of Gerrit Rietveld’s crate furniture. The best write up I’ve found is “A restorer’s blog: Pre-war crate desk by Rietveld”. It sounds like Metz & Co, the company selling much of Rietveld’s furniture, was skeptical.

“We cannot sell wood chips,” director Joseph de Leeuw had written to Rietveld.

It’s worth reading the post in full for a ton of anecdotes and context, as well as some useful comments from a master furniture restorer.

Louise Brigham’s earlier box furniture

While researching, I also came across this post which introduced me to Louise Brigham, an American designer and teacher best known for her box furniture.

Her background is one of privilege, but she seemed to wield her privilege reasonably well. She came from a comfortably wealthy Bostonian family, and her parents died in her teens. Their death, combined with family wealth, likely allowed her to buck the normal pressures on a woman living in her time. She instead pursued her creative and social ambitions.

After studying both the Pratt Institute and the Chase School of Art (now Parsons), she became involved in the settlement house movement in Cleveland, OH where she experimented with furniture made from boxes and crates. She then travelled around Europe studying craft traditions. Supposedly she visited Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh in Glasgow, which I feel you can see in some of her designs. Perhaps her most impactful time was spent in Spitzbergen, a treeless island that is part of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic where she really honed her design rational, ethos, and aesthetics.

She was prolific in the early 1900s. In 1909—over two decades before Rietveld’s crate furniture—she published Box Furniture, a book charmingly illustrated by Edward Aschermann on how to make furniture from crates. The book was reprinted multiple times and translated in to many languages.

To all who care for simplicity and thrift, utility and beauty, I send my message.

Louise Brigham, Box Furniture, p25

In the early 1910s, she set up a woodworking “laboratory” for children called the Home Thrift Association. During WWI she started one of the earliest ready-to-assemble furniture companies, Home Art Masters.

Why haven’t we heard more about her work?

For further reading on Louise Brigham, there are a few articles and books out there that look worthwhile. The interiordesign.net article “Thinking Outside the Box: Louise Brigham’s Furniture of 1909” by Larry Weinberg published in 2009 provides a lovely introduction to Brigham and her book. See also Kevin Adkisson’s paper “Box Furniture: Thinking Outside the Box” from 2014 for much more detail on her, including her later life.

The most extensive writing on Brigham currently appears to be Antoinette LaFarge’s book Louise Brigham and the Early History of Sustainable Furniture Design. I haven’t read it, but it looks promising.

And of course, check out Brigham’s Box Furniture available to view or download for free on archive.org. Love it, this book being part of the Internet Archive feels very in keeping with her vibe.

I’m planning to dig in a bit to Alice Rawsthorn’s writing. Her short article on Brigham for Maharam prompted me to look at her other articles. The list is extensive. Looking at that list, she seems to have covered so many of the women I have had some major or minor curiosity about over the past few years. See her writing on Louise Brigham, Ruth Asawa and the Alvarado School Arts Workshop in San Francisco, architect and designer Charlotte Perriand, architect Sophie Hicks and her home, Lucie Rie and her buttons, furniture and interior designer Clara Porset, Bauhaus photographer Gertrud Arndt, architect Jane Drew, interior designers Agnes and Rhoda Garrett, architect and activist Grete Lihotzky. I think I need to pick up a copy of Rawsthorn’s Design as an Attitude or Hello World: Where Design Meets Life at this point.

On a more personal note, I identified strongly with Rawsthorn’s short article on her most treasured possession for Elle Decoration. My most treasured possessions from my maternal grandmother are cookbooks and kitchen tools. Her battered plastic cake stand, a perfectly shaped spatula, a muffin tin. From her mother, it’s her quilt patterns cut from scrap cardboard and cereal boxes, and her flower drawings for embroidery. This is not to say that I don’t also cherish more traditionally precious heirlooms, it’s just that the objects with utility feel like they maybe have more of the life of the person in them.

Some thoughts after reading Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”

I finally read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook”. I was reminded of it yet again while surfing around the web looking at all of the above and found a copy online.

Keepers of private notebooks are a differ­ent breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.

Harsh. But probably fair.

See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write—on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there […]

Exactly.

We are not talk­ing here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consump­tion, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

Now this is interesting, and it sort of hits on the difference between a personal blog and a blog that feels more business-driven.

The best personal blogs I’ve come across feel like a glimpse in to someone’s personal notebook, something filled mostly with notes written with the author in mind first and foremost vs notes that have been written with a wider audience in mind. A good personal blog can (and maybe should) contain a mixture of both, since they both can be absolutely great and useful. But when it is only ever writing for an audience… well that doesn’t feel like a personal blog, to me.

It all comes back. Perhaps it is difficult to see the value in having one’s self back in that kind of mood, but I do see it; I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

“It all” being moments, memories, the good and the bad.

I hope to have this site when I’m 80. I may not like some of the things I wrote 50 years prior, but at least I will be able to reacquaint myself with former me-s. I hope I don’t lose sight of this purpose.

And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

A difference between Didion’s era and now: some of my notes could help you, and yours me. Another reason that I love personal blogs. It just seems so hard to find them sometimes.

A notebook, that’s all any of this is, really.


Edited 10 May, changed “like a personal brand exercise” to “more business-driven”. The phrase “personal brand” has a lot of negative connotations, so “personal brand exercise” felt way too snarky on a re-read. Business-driven blogs by individuals are super important, and useful! They’re just different, and there’s space for all of that (and a mixture of all the above) online.

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How to make a Rietveld-esque crate stool / table

A woman in an orange beanie sitting on a pine stool made in Rietveld’s crate style

In late February, we made a stool based on Gerrit Rietveld’s kratkrukje or “crate stool” designed in the mid 1930s. Skip to the instructions, or skip to the cut list and plans.

We’d been looking for something that could act as stool-cum-sidetable for a little while. Haven’t had any luck with secondhand or antique shops, everything we found was too ornate, large, cushion-y, or expensive. And while we’re fine with the idea of buying something from Ikea or a similar store, nothing we found felt quite right. Also, the thought of wandering through Ikea at the moment made us a bit anxious.

So having had success with Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione in the past and buoyed by Hannah’s Rietveld crate chair success last summer, we decided to go down the DIY route. Rietveld’s crate stools have been on Sam’s mind since he saw them in the Radical Nature exhibition designed by Sara De Bondt at the Barbican back in 2009. Those stools were created by Simon Jones of Jones Neville by reusing and cutting down old exhibition panels.

There are a bunch of Rietveld crate furniture photos and designs knocking around the world wide web, but very little relating to this specific stool as far as I can tell. I have a feeling that it wasn’t included in the bilingual book How To Construct Rietveld Furniture, but can’t be sure since I don’t own it.

At any rate, there are a few photos online including this photo from Bibliotheek Rotterdam, this blog post, and a photo of the stools in situ at the Radical Nature exhibition.

According to Bibliotheek Rotterdam:

This stool is known to exist in several sizes. Metz & Co. also sold a table similar to this design. According to Gerrit Rietveld’s son, Jan Rietveld, both the Rietveld and Schröder families were involved at one time or another in producing and selling Crate Furniture.

Since we couldn’t find plans for the stool, we made our own based on the photos mentioned above. We didn’t have scraps to reuse as Jones so elegantly did, so we ended up buying three 1″ × 6″ × 6′ whitewood boards and basing our plans on the most economical use of that lumber.

It’s definitely a bit more expensive than a KYRRE stool from Ikea, the materials were a little over $30 in total and of course there’s the labor. We did this in a few hours over the course of a few days, but it probably took us longer than it would normally because we were working out the process and tweaking our initial plans as we went. All-in-all it was worth it. It’s a satisfying little lump of furniture.

Here are the steps to make one for yourself.

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Maintenance is everything

I don’t expect most of the opinions that I hold now to have the same shape in 10, 20. years. I don’t think any of us is the same person every day, identity shifts with every tiny experience, so it’d be a silly thing to suggest or expect.

But one that I think might stick, the thing that might last if I ever wrote a manifesto: Maintenance is everything.

Bikes, physical health, mental health, roads, relationships, furniture, websites, clothing, parks, plants, sewers.

If it’s worth creating/buying/doing in the first place, it’s usually worth maintaining. And I love maintenance, fixing things, so that’s lucky! (Don’t like cleaning so much, which is another major part of physical maintenance, but I’m working on that.)

The problem is that new/shiny is a lot more lucrative than old/broken (more on this). How do we shift that mindset?