30 April 2012

Fictional Correspondence: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 1: Design

[UPDATE:  6 June 2012 -- This page posted in 2008 has a bunch of old letterhead designs that you might find useful: http://www.creativepro.com/blog/scanning-around-gene-dead-letterhead-department.]

A fictional correspondence can be greatly enhanced by the use of real-looking stationery.  One characteristic type of stationery is referred to as letterhead.  The good folks at Wikipedia define letterhead as "... the heading at the top of a sheet of letter paper (stationery). That heading usually consists of a name and an address, and a logo or corporate design, and sometimes a background pattern. The term "letterhead" is often used to refer to the whole sheet imprinted with such a heading."

As an owner of a small collection of old typewriters, I thought it would be fun to create a letterhead design that I could use when I send fictional letters to my friends (or their characters) from the 2011 summer wizarding event.

Here is what I created.

 And here is how I made it. 

Part 1: Design (this post) will show you the steps I took to decide what I wanted my letterhead to look like.  The next post (Part 2: Implementation) will show, step-by-step with screenshots, how I created my letterhead using Microsoft Word.

To begin then: the first step is design. I wanted my  letterhead to look old fashioned, so I went online to find examples to inspire my own design. I began by looking for historical models which I found by searching on Google Images.  As a sometime librarian, let me give you a hint about searching for stuff.  Search on too broad or general a word/phrase and you'll get hits/results that are similarly too broad or general. Going too detailed or specific often means fewer, less applicable results. Doing a good search is a matter of term/phrase balance and accuracy.

Figure 1 here shows what happens. Searching using the very general term letterhead got me lots (and lots!) images that looked like this: moderny, corporate stuff.

Figure 1:  Results of 1st search on Google Images

So I tried a slightly more specific search phrase: Vintage Letterhead.  Definitely better. I found some images that were closer to what I had in mind.  

Figure 2: Results of 2nd search on Google Images.

I could have stopped right here as there were lovely samples for me to work from.  The two closeups below show lovely, messy collections of images and fonts that call to mind an entirely different times and places.  Just the sort of thing I wanted for my wizardy-looking letters!


Out of curiosity, since I wanted to see some letterhead with typewriters in them, I searched on the most specific phrase typewriter letterhead.  The results were less successful in that I got a mix of actual letterhead and miscellaneous images of typewriters from, on, or near stationery.

Figure 3: Results of 3rd search on Google Images.

But that one image in the lower left caught my eye.  Here it is close up.

Version of same letterhead with the aged paper background removed.  

Looking at this one, along with some of the images from my second search, I began to get an idea of what I wanted.  Here are some of the characteristics I borrowed from the vintage-era letterhead models.

For me, design works in stages.  First I see something, then I think about it for awhile, and then I try putting in and taking out different things.  For that to work I need the "different things."  In this case, that meant a bunch of different fonts and some graphics/images.

The fonts were pretty easy.  Microsoft Word has a bunch built in.  Plus there are sites online that provide a wide variety for free or very inexpensively. 

One site is called DaFont.Com

I took the time to look at the numerous font choices.  Each category has quite an array.  Here, for instance, are 3 from the Decorative category that might work well on a vintage-look letterhead.

Under Dingbats - Ancient I found these fonts which could be used to provide background images in a letterhead design.

Since I wanted my letterhead to be for a fictional/wizardy typewriter company, my next step was to find an image of a typewriter, preferably an old machine.  Plus I wanted the image itself to look vintage in design.  Finally, I wanted to find an image that was either in the public domain or freely offered by its maker.

This last point in an important one if you plan on selling your work.  Respect for the work of another is ethical and, in some instances, legally necessary.*  Most of my letter art is private and of the fictional, one-off variety sent to a pen friend or fellow letter gamer.  Should I expand my work to sell, I will be sure I have permission for the images I use.

There are endless images and image sites out there.  Doing a search on Google Images using the search phrase typewriter clip art helped me locate what I wanted.

Figure 4: Some results from Google Images.

These two from the search come from sites I like to use: Clkr.com and ClipArt ETC.

Image from Clkr.com

[from their Terms of Use page] "Clker.com is an online sharing service where users share free public domain vector cliparts, or share public domain photos and derive vector cliparts from those photos using clker's online tracer."

 Image from Clipart ETC

[from their home page] "Welcome to quality educational clipart. Every item comes with a choice of image size and format as well as complete source information for proper citations in school projects. No advertisement-filled pages with pop-up windows or inappropriate links here. A friendly license allows teachers and students to use up to 50 educational clipart items in a single, non-commercial project without further permission."

The target audience of Clipart ETC are educators.  Right now I use only the occasional image for personal use. When I expand my work as I hope to, I will be contacting them to license images I want to use.

So, now I have a design concept worked out and have located some fonts and images that I think will work.  In the next post I'll show you how I put them all together to create the letterhead for my wizardy correspondents!

Next up in this series: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 2: Implementation (to be posted on 4 May 2012).   

* The folks at Clipart ETC do a nice job of explaining what goes into providing their images.  I like it because it reminds us that someone did a heck of a lot of work to provide this material.  
[from their FAQ]  "Why do you have a copyright notice on really old illustrations?  It is true that the original drawings that many items in this collection are based on have long passed into the public domain. However, by the time we have scanned, cropped, cut out backgrounds, fixed broken lines, simplified, sharpened, and otherwise cleaned up the original drawing, the result is a new artwork derived from the earlier drawing. The derivative work is protected by copyright even though the original is in the public domain."

Follow the series.
4. Fictional Correspondence: Making Your Own Letterhead - Part 1: Design (this post)

26 April 2012

RECEIVED: When Gravity Runs Amok

Another highly entertaining postcard arrived recently.  Authored via typewriter.  And for a second time, the post cancellation mark (missing in this instance) gives me no help in identifying the author.  Am pretty sure I know, but I like the 2% of it possibly not being that person!

What's also fun is the continuing change of character and locale.  A Fictional Correspondence, such as I have been describing here of late, can be a matter of the same people writing within the same storyline (like this).  Or it can be one-off postcards like this and the last one I received

Update: The author of this and the earlier one fell into the aforementioned 2%!  What a hoot!  The person who I thought sent these is going to be mighty puzzled by a recent letter then.  [Raises glass in toast to the author.]

The inspiration for these kinds of postcards came from a column by Anne Herbert titled "The Rising Sun Neighborhood Newsletter" published in The Next Whole Earth Catalog.*  In one portion of the column Herbert describes an old friend and town eccentric Amanda Madison.
"Amanda died in 1969 and was old and everyone loved her.  She started her unusual career by not marrying, which was quite unusual at the time."
Amanda Madison had a friend, 8 year old Lu Ann Sellers.  They had a correspondence going -- written as if they were both going around the world, one from the West and the other from the East.  Sadly, Amanda died before the two of them could complete their journeys. 

The young Lu Ann was devastated: "I'm only in Bengali!" she wept to friends at Amanda's memorial service, "I never got to tell her how much I liked her card from the organ grinder's convention in Kansas City, KS."  Amanda and Lu Ann apparently never spoke of the correspondence when they saw each other.  Their plan had been to talk all about it when they finished their imaginary expeditions.

Herbert says that in trying to comfort Lu Ann, an idea was born: "Write about the rest of your trip to me, " she said, and in doing so she, Lu Ann and many others realized that their friend Amanda "could live forever in the mail."   This group of friends shared Amanda's postcards over and over - restamping them, readdressing them.  

But Amanda wrote to others as well.  Herbert reports that "She started writing postcards to everyone, to people she saw everyday, that had nothing to do with anything."

"Postcards of Miami Beach written as if she were an antarctic explorer -- Took this in my gear to remind me of warm weather. We'll meet on the beach soon, love.  Progress is good but we had to put down a penguin rebellion last night.  It was rough but we're safe now. Think of you always, Norbert"

This was during the time of the Korean and Vietnam wars and many young men were being drafted.  Some of them from their town stopped by Amanda's house before they left.  She would tell them that if they didn't want to write her about what was really happening, that should write and tell her what they would rather be doing instead.

One soldier wrote her about preparing a gourmet dinner.  Another wrote from Korea, telling her about sitting in front of a fireplace, drinking wine.  Still another wrote of "planning, financing, building, and using the perfect doll house factory." 

So . . .  you can see that while the content of a fictional correspondence might be lighthearted and entertaining, the souls who write them are very tender, very real, and very human.  We share more than a game when we play a letter game.  As Amanda Madison said,
"Life is alternately boring and horrifying and we are all quite unreasonably lonely and I see no reason to treat dreams as some unmentionable head lice.  We all have them and might as well mail them to each other until we learn how to talk."

* Edited by Stewart Brand. Random House, 1980. ISBN: 0394707761. The Amanda Madison columns may be found on pages 113-121 and 131-135.


Follow the series.

22 April 2012

Fictional Correspondences: Finding Someone to Write To

To work well, a fictional correspondence needs at least two people.  One can play it alone - like solitaire - but then it's not a correspondence (though it can be a great creative writing exercise!).

A fictional correspondence is a creative collaboration.  What layers of creativity is entirely up to the people involved.  So don't let the word creative put you off the idea.  Really all you are doing is playing. Approaching it as a game may make it easier to find someone to play with.

Here are some ideas for finding people to write fictional letters with. I've tried them all with success.

(1)  If you are already active as a letter writer, ask your current pen friends if they would enjoy a second, parallel correspondence.  I have an on-again/off-again imaginary letter game going one with a friend of mine who lives in Europe.  Our "real" letters are more frequent now, but we still refer to our alter egos periodically.  The game ebbs and flows and continues to entertain.

(2)  Family members can be a great source for fictional pen friends.  If you are a parent, a letter game with your children can be vastly entertaining as well as as an opportunity to share your own inner child.  An entire family can play at writing letters to one another.  Your characters can be actual or made up.  The letters themselves have no limits!  

Writing to one's partner or spouse is another possibility. Or a sibling.  Or a favorite aunt or uncle.  If your child is heading off to college, it might be fun to send him/her fictional letters.  Ditto if it's your older brother or sister whose leaving; it might be a playful way to stay in touch.

(Note: this is not my brother's mailbox - just one I found online.)

A good way to begin a family letter game is to set up a mailbox* of some kind.  My brother Woodcrafter put one in the tree house he'd made for his kids.  If you are a single or divorced parent who shares custody, you might set up a mailbox in your child's bedroom. 

(3) Along the same lines as writing letters within a family, roommates/house mates are can also be fun to play with.  Some friends I knew who shared a house put an old fashioned mailbox in their upstairs hallway. 

(4) One could look online for fictional correspondents, but I have to say it's not something I would do myself and, in the main, don't recommend it.  There's just too much weirdness going on out there in terms of how certain people misrepresent themselves.  

Last page of my pamphlet on fictional letter games.  

The Letter Exchange is one resource, however, that has some possibilities.  LEX, as it is referred to, is actually a print resource that one subscribes to.  The subscription price includes your being able to post your own notices.  I've found a couple of pen friends here over the years, though it's been a bit spotty.  The last issue I got a year or so ago included some notices from people who were looking for partners in a fictional letter exchange.

(5) Book clubs, writing groups, scrap booking clubs, board and D&D gaming groups.  If you belong to any group like this, you're likely to find some people interested in a game of fictional letters. It doesn't have to be a whole-group experience; just a few or one other person.  The again, if you a student taking a writing class in college or high school, it might be fun to get the entire class going on a group letter exchange!

(6) Foreign language study groups.  If you are taking a course in another language, it might be fun to practice that language with a classmate by writing fictional letters to each other in that language. 

(7) Friends -- be they school chums, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a neighbor -- are a natural possibility for fictional correspondents.  

Rules of the Road
One really important aspect of playing fictional letter games is respect.  The purpose of the game is to play and share some creative fun.  It shouldn't be a matter of trying to show up the other person in anyway or dominating the conversation or the creativity.

In one letter game I had a friend of my correspondent who wanted to play.  We both knew her and thought it would be fun.  But once she started playing, she tried to take over the whole game by changing the history of our characters and events.  In the end, she wanted the game to be all about her character.  In essence, she was a creative bully. (Fortunately, the person moved to another country and ended the original friendship.)

This book has nothing to do with letter writing, but is totally in the same cool spirit.  And its mantra holds true:  Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt. (Info on the New Games movement can be found here.)

What I learned there is that it is a good idea for correspondents to lay down some guidelines for each other. Is this just the two of you?  Is it just your family?  If other people want to play, how do you want to handle it?  Do you even want other people to know? I find that for me, one-to-one correspondences work best.  You make the call.

A second aspect of rule-making is more like world-making.  Where do you want to play?  Who your character is and/or who you game partner is will usually set the stage. My European friend and I decided that we wanted to be able to include fictional places and people in our letters.  For the letters I wrote for last summer's wizarding event, I decided that the people writing were all from other schools of magic.  Let your fictional characters lead the way.

Finally, once you have someone to play the letter game with, have fun! If you're both into creating elaborate mail art, go for it.  If you just like creating stories, don't worry if your letters are handwritten on lined paper.  If you have a typewriter, this is a great use for  it.  If all you and your friend(s) want to do is send fictional postcards, then do that.  In short, enjoy your imagination and enjoy your friendships!

Without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of the imagination is incalculable. ~ Carl Jung

Next up in this series: Making Your Own Letterhead (to be posted on 30 April 2012).  

*  In a later post I'll show you how to create some unique mailboxes.

Follow the series.

16 April 2012

SENT & RECEIVED: Dino . . . Meet Monster

The old adage Write a letter, get a letter came true for me big time lately. 
I sent off the first postcard below. 
Found the 2nd item in my P.O. box yesterday.  

(The torn corner inspired the whole thing.)

(All the inks on this one are metallic - looks even better than this scan!)

No doubt the tale will continue.

14 April 2012

Sunday Drive Typewriters

Two of my brothers, The Captain and Storyteller, love cars.  I mean they love cars!  Between them they've bought, repaired, sold, and owned dozens of cars over the years.  Storyteller, especially, has the eye for fine old machines (for which he is an artist at bringing back to glorious, well-running, well-painted life).  The Captain seemed to have a knack for finding those cars we liked to describe as being owned by sweet, old grandmas who only took them out of the garage once a week to drive to church and the grocery store.

My Beloved Spousal Unit -- he who can turn a phrase with the precision of a metalworking lathe master and the wit of a Samuel Johnson -- has developed the knack for finding interesting old typewriters of the Sunday drive variety.  In the past 2 weeks he has found two at two different Goodwill stores.  One was made in the 1970s and the other the 1940s. 

I'd pretty much given up finding decent machines at our main store after they rearranged the shelving to be able to sell all the old monster TVs people donated after buying new monster, flat screen TVs.  


Back in 2010, Swiss typospherian Adwoa Bagalini posted about a 319 that she had cleaned up to sell: "Underwood, the great American typewriter manufacturer, was acquired by famed Italian typewriter manufacture Olivetti in the 1960s. The merged company continued to manufacture typewriters under the name of Olivetti Underwood or Underwood Olivetti. In the late 70s, however, the Underwood name was revived and used on machines that the company manufactured in Spain. One of these was the Underwood 319."

Ms. Bagalini's typer  had a black plastic cover, giving the machine a bit of a penguin flair.  The machine I have has a taupe/grey cover; the typewriter itself is only slightly lighter in shade.

The 319's profile is lean and unassuming.

The keys of the 319 are 'pillowy' and horizontally narrow.  Also narrow is the space allotted for the rows of keys.  I have large hands and find it difficult to type evenly on this machine.  The action of the keys, though, is pretty snappy.


Alan Seaver, on his very grand site Machines of Loving Grace says of his beautiful 1940s-era Sterling "this is one of my favorite typers, both to look at and to use."  I very much agree.

I was in the book section when my Beloved Spousal Unit came over and said that there was a typewriter "I might want to take a look at."  It was the excited tone in his voice that caught me (for had I not recently told him that I'd decided I wouldn't be getting any more machines?).

Its case looked a little battered, but I knew immediately there was something of beauty within!  When I opened it up, though, I think I actually gasped in surprise.


After running through the usual check to make sure all the parts were working, I got out the small sheet of paper in my wallet "just in case" I need to type something in a store such as this.  The classic phrase The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog emerged.  My husband and I both laughed.  You could tell by the sound alone that the machine was in beautiful condition!  

So, Dear Reader, this is when I realized I had become a Collector.  At least of this machine.  Owning this one, I realize there are others in my collection I no longer "need."  But when and how those others move on to other homes is a tale for another day.

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