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Here Yesterday, Gone Today and the Creative Process

I was wondering why I was thinking about disappearing and technologies and what that has to do with the creative process. Utlimately, the disappearance of some technologies has resulted in the disappearance of crafts and craftsmanship. The replacement of the technologies and crafts involved with creating printed material with computers and digital technology has also eliminated a lot of the mess. I liked the mess.

When I was young I worked for several years in advertising and graphic arts production. I learned to set type, first counting characters to spec the font size and lead (now called line space), to chose one or two of faces of the four basic font families we had at the studio, and to kern characters by counting backspaces. The type faces were clear characters on a wide, opaque film strip with one size on one side of the strip and its double on the other side. Each face had corresponding "slugs" that were like bricks that went into the machine to control the typeface character spacing. A light photographed the characters onto stabilization paper that rolled up into a cartridge. We set the type blind. One of the first photo typesetting machines, we could see about 20 characters before it was photographed onto the paper that had to be run through a processor when the job was done or the paper cartridge was full.

We worked to detailed layouts, and everything had to be calculated to fit -- the crop and percentage of the reduction or enlargement of photos and images or stats to increase the type size beyond what we had available. It was all pasted up manually with wax or Sprayment; rubylith overlays were cut to make transparent the area where the photos went; and tissue cover sheets gave specific instructions and sketchy, artsy indications of what was what.

It was a beautiful thing to see how adept pasteup artists handled a knife; how some people could so neatly and beautifully spec their type; how guys at large printing companies could so meticulously and quickly cut rubyliths; how the image of the printed page went from the imagination, to a rough to a layout as specific as the blue print for a building; and how the elements were deliberately measured, created and put in place, like 2x4s and windows for a house. Typos in a line of type were cut out with an Exacto knife and straight edge (Don't bleed on the type). Pasteups attempted without a layout were a waste of time.

I loved the mess -- piles or type to trim, photos, stats, triangles and straight edges, Exacto knives and adhesives, waxy press type, blue pencils, felt tip markers, black and red fine line pens, tissue paper and white tape. After days or a week of sticky fingers, scraps of waxed paper, trimming and pasting, and finally outlining and sketching the project on a tissue overlay, it was so satisfying to have a neat, tight package destined for the printer. It felt like order out of chaos, even though it was all to plan.

It wasn't long before the phototypesetting equipment became more sophisticated. That was how I learned about computers that had two disks, one for reading and one for writing: we read copy from the "read" disk and typed copy onto the "write" disk. That way it could be edited. It boggled my mind. Now it's all What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get, and everyone thinks he/she is an expert if they have a program.

We had great times. The creativity in our studio was huge -- advertising geniuses, illustrators, photographers, copywriters. Our clients were so at home and spent so much time with us that we often had to work at night; sometimes all night to get a job done. They might still stop by then; or in the morning they might find one of us asleep on the porch swing waiting for them to pick up their project and we could go home.

Here yesterday, gone today. I loved the creativity, the collaboration and the mess.

Posted by Norlynne Coar on 5/15/12

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