Letterpress Class, Part 4: The One Where I Admit to My Classmates That I’m a Bit of a Nut

It was inevitable… You know, when you’ve sort of let people believe you’re a relatively normal person, but you know that time is coming when you’re going to have to say or do something that will give people a glimpse into the fact that you’re a bit weird? You’ve all had that experience, right? Right?

I’ve mentioned in my previous posts about my totally amazing letterpress class through PNCA Continuing Education that part of the class is coming up with a large project, for which we have to write a proposal. I didn’t really this about this when I started the class, because I was just all gung-ho about learning how to use a letterpress, set type, etc. I somehow blocked it out of my mind that this is a college class, not a DIY workshop type situation, so it’s got to have some academic rigor. I really hadn’t thought about it. I mean, there’s nothing I really need, nothing that I’ve been dying to make, no deep, meaningful personal writings that need to be handset in Grimaldi. Nothing.

So I thought about it for a couple of weeks, and starting thinking about creating a project that could be a bit ironic, or funny. Because, you know, in my world if you’re not laughing, there’s a serious problem. (Lately, I have been having a problem where people thing I’m serious when I’m making an outlandish joke, which is kind of weird. Hopefully I’m not getting too old for humor and irony. That would suck. Big time.) One of the funnier things in my world is this super-tacky stack of basketball trading cards that we having sitting on out bookshelf. Josh picked them up at Freddy’s a couple of years ago, and they’re hilarious. Here’s one of my “favorites,” it’s Steve Nash.

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Front.

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Back.

You see, these cards appeal little to me. Sure, there are some good ones that have holograms on them (I think holograms are incredibly funny–which I’m sure has something to do with my being a kid in the ’80s). There are a few good pictures. But, honestly, they’re boring. The photos are uninteresting, the text on the back is very small and impossible to read. The stats aren’t that interesting, since I can google current ones more easily. The narrative on the back is painful. Here’s some from the Nash card,

After winning back-to-back MVP awards Nash was once again poised to win his third in 2006-07 but was slightly edged out by friend and former teammate Dirk Nowitzki. The Canadian point guard is known most for his undeniable speed and flashy passing skills.

(The lack of commas is straight from the card, by the way.) Not only is that possibly the most uninteresting two statements about Steve Nash I’ve ever heard, it belies nothing of who Steve Nash is, and why on Earth I should care about Steve Nash. The most interesting part is that he’s good friends with Dirk! And everyone knows that. (I could also split hairs and argue that Steve Nash is not actually particularly fast, but he’s so crafty and agile that he finds space where others do not, which leads to the illusion of speed, but that’s for another day and another blog, I think.) As a writer, that bothers me. It’s just straight-up lazy.

If I were writing a Steve Nash trading card, this is what I’d say,

After years of having the stringiest hair in the NBA, the Canadian point guard cut his hair into a more mature ‘do in 2006. It is rumored that a shoulder injury Nash suffered in 2007 occurred while skateboarding in Scottsdale, Arizona. Once road a tandem bike with Baron Davis in Santa Monica, California.

Or something like that.

My point is, if I were the market trading card designers were creating their product for, they would be more interesting, a bit funny or quirky, and have more interesting photography–preferably more of faces, since people’s faces are interesting to me.

So here’s the general idea I came up with for class: Create a set of awesome basketball trading cards. The kind that I would like and get excited about.

Amazingly, no one blinked when it came my turn to say what I was thinking of for my project. Now, that’s not to say that they weren’t thinking, “This chick is looney tunes.” But they were kind enough to keep their thoughts to themselves.

Later on in class (which I barely made through, because I was coughing up a storm, getting over this stupid cold), I met with our instructor and gave her my written proposal–here’s an excerpt:

This project combines my interest in handmade objects with my love of basketball. While there are numerous examples of modern trading cards, their generic nature does not have much meaning to the creator or collector—and certainly do not tell any sort of “story.” This project will allow me to get away from the ordinary basketball card that features dunks, stats and little else. I will feature a characteristic that makes each player interesting. Furthermore, because they are trading cards, I plan on giving the sets away to basketball-loving friends so that they can—theoretically—be traded back and forth, in keeping with the history of sports trading cards.

This project will consist of a set of Portland Trail Blazers player trading cards. Inspired by the long history of trading cards (particularly Japanese baseball cards from the 1940s). This set will consist of 15 current players and a “bonus” vintage player card that will be added to each set, printed on a different color and texture of paper than those featuring contemporary players.

Amazingly, our instructor really liked the idea and was very encouraging. She warned me that I may need to scale back my project, depending on time and how elaborate I want to make my cards, however.

I spent all of Saturday over in the print studio working on the prototype for my class. I created an image of rookie Nic Batum using a photopolymer plate (a process which I forgot to photograph; I also left my plate in my cubby in the studio, unfortunately, so I’ll talk more about the plate making process next week) to use for my first card.

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Testing different papers. The cards will be trimmed down so that the image bleeds off the page and are more "card sized."

I also set type for the back. This was actually the first time I’d worked with the lead type, and it was fun diving right in. I’ve got to say, I’m extremely surprised at how much I loved hand setting each letter. There’s a lot of math involved (not my strength) and it’s very tedious, but in the blink of an eye, I’d been at it for two hours and felt very relaxed and “in the zone.” I loved that.

I also experimented with some candidates for paper, and mixed up an ink that was close to what I was going for–but not quite right. I spent three hours on the press, messing with different levels of embossing and just seeing how my image and text were working.

I’m going to give you a few previews of my typesetting, but I’m not ready for the “big reveal,” or to start sharing the writing I did for the back of the cards yet. (I’m referring to this text as “Stats, Sarah-Style,” by the way…)

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The is "Raleigh," which is an italic typeface. It has it's own special quirks when typesetting.

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The "88" is set in Spartan Black Condensed. The body text is in Times 12.

So I’m all done prototyping and now know what changes I want to make–it’s mostly with the size of the cards and the order of the type on the back. I’m hoping I can get a better idea of how many are actually doable in the time I have as well.

Oh, and I’m coming up with new nicknames for all the players as part of my project. Oh. Yeah. This should be fun.

~Sarah

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7 thoughts on “Letterpress Class, Part 4: The One Where I Admit to My Classmates That I’m a Bit of a Nut

  1. By leaving this comment I am sure to be branded as well, but throwing caution to the wind: I think your idea is awesome! You will no doubt feel, at the end of this, as though your time on the project was well spent. I predict a high level of satisfaction. You go!

  2. Of course you had to do something that involved the Blazers! Can’t wait to see the finished product.

  3. Love the idea; it has *fun* at its core. And I totally agree with you regarding the lame info on sports trading cards, BTW. Even as a child, when such things were last a part of my regular world, I thought they were lame. The gum was more interesting. Garbage pail kids on the other hand, now they were COOL. I can’t wait to see the how the cards turn out and what tidbits of info you find!

  4. Pingback: If Sports Trading Cards Were Interesting « My Whirled

  5. Pingback: Sewer-Sewist » Best of ‘09: Blazers Letterpress Project

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