Friday, June 20, 2014

The Letter "E" Blew Away


I'm not supposed to take pictures at my new job, but I do it anyways. If I haven't mentioned it already, I got a seasonal job working for Milwaukee World Festival in the Sign Shop. 

I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into, but I am surprised at how much I like the job, and how much the act of sign making has caused me to rethink the beauty of signage. 

The process is pretty simple: put vinyl letters onto Coroplast boards and install them in the park. Sometimes there are large banners, overheads, copious amounts of smiley faces, and other signs that display required indicators such as menus, schedules, and arrows for festival goers. I am given detailed instructions for how to measure and cut signs and where to place the vinyl lettering on the boards. If you have never seen vinyl lettering before, it looks something like this:


Since working this job, I have started to look at letters like they are shapes. Shapes that form to make letters that form to make words that form to make sentences that form to make paragraphs, books, newspapers, magazines, plays, poems, articles, etc. Doing this reminds me of taking beginning drawing lessons. In these classes students are instructed to draw their subjects upside down so that their brains break down the image into separate shapes instead of seeing the entirety of the picture, making it easier to interpret complex details. I sometimes catch glimpses of lettering now and notice it for its curves, coloration, and layout. I don't necessarily think of this newfound relationship with lettering as a recognition of font, but more of a recognition of shape, and the recognition that one letter can carry a lot of weight in a word.

I mean this in a figurative but also in a literal sense. The other day at work I had to carry giant letters and install them at the Midgate entrance to the Summerfest grounds. I was surprised to learn that the letters were made out of wood and attached to the facade of the entryway with magnets and wire. The method and materials seemed a bit archaic, but I enjoyed the feeling of giant letters in my hands. I noticed that one of the "M"s had a chip in it. They weren't too heavy, but still difficult to maneuver over the sides of the boom lift (which was extended to its limit, might I add). They were also difficult to place on the large metal arches of the Summerfest gates. The only guidance we had were the magnet marks left behind from the letters from past years. It was like sitting at a computer and trying to compose a thought but not being able to come up with the right word. Smacking down letters and then hitting "delete." Rearranging until you get it completely right.

When my supervisor came out to check on us, we had gotten it completely right. It didn't take us that long either. About fifteen minutes. He was surprised that we had finished the task in one attempt. We went on to finish a long day, working until about 6pm, trying hard to get everything installed for Summerfest before the weekend.

That night we had giant thunderstorms, and when I came to work the next morning an "E" had blown away, leaving a gap in the second half of the word. "E" was found on the ground somewhere in the park that afternoon, and was reattached a few days later. 

Maybe I'm just tired, but it took me about three days to write this post. 

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