Learning & Drawing Type at Cooper

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I have received numerous emails inquiring about my time in NYC attending the Type@Cooper program. Well, it is time to provide an in-depth write-up like OH no Type Co with his amazingly detailed post about TypeMedia.

First, I will begin with a little backstory to explain why I chose to undergo the extended program (year-long) vs. the condensed (5 week) program.

Before I Was Drawing Type

It was Spring 2015 and I was about to graduate from Arizona State University which has an incredibly rigorous design program. Like many out there, we had lots of long nights, tons of work, and an incredible amount of stress. While in school, I was juggling a part-time job at an advertising agency (6am-1pm), attending class (1pm-4pm), completing homework (4pm-6pm), and of course, freelance projects with the remaining time (6pm-9pm+). I squeezed time in for food and occasionally accounted for more homework than normal.

I am sure you can see from that schedule, I definitely hit the burnout stage. It was year 3 when the burnout hit and I told myself, “I am never going back to school.” I wanted to drop out my Junior year. I hated school. My teachers knew it, my classmates knew it, I needed to get out. But, after getting through 3 years with one year left, I made sure to suck it up and push through. I did just that.

New York type exploration created while working at Stranger & Stranger

I knew about the Type@Cooper program throughout my college years and always dreamed of going but never thought I’d actually do it. At this time, I am doing a lot of lettering and believed that lettering seemed to be the gateway drug into type design. That is ultimately what guided my interest in the type design realm. Furthermore, my girlfriend also dreamed of working/living in NYC…You can see where this is going. One day we decided to make the scary leap and make it all happen.

Let’s Get Back to the Type Program

First, you must apply and get accepted into the program. Whether that’s condensed or extended, you’re sending in an application that contains a portfolio, a course list (a list of classes you’ve taken pertaining to typography), and a résumé. When I applied there were about 50+ applications and only 16–18 were accepted. The odds aren’t too bad in my opinion (compared to the ASU design program with 40 kids getting accepted out of the 200+ applicants).

I applied for the extended program solely because I wanted to “take it easy” after the stressful experience at ASU. I thought it would be ideal to take my time, learn as much as possible and not cram all the info into 5 weeks. Little did I know, it is not an easy type design program!

The extended program is designed for working professionals to still continue their full-time gigs and complete the program in their free time.

As for your portfolio, make sure you can easily showcase your ability to not only draw letterforms on paper but properly vector them as well. The process is always a good thing to show, but you have to be selective since the portfolio can only contain so many pages. You can view the portfolio that I sent in here.

Making the Big Move

Once accepted, you must now traverse your way to the wonderfully wild, New York City. Locking down a place to live was probably the hardest part. A place can go on the market one minute and be off in a matter of hours or even minutes. Finding a place with the amenities, distance from work/school and the right price point is another story. With that said, I highly recommend physically being in the city to solidify a place to live long term. It’s very hard to do over the internet since things move so quickly.

After we were settled in the city, I had about two months before school actually began. They provide you with plenty of time to get situated before school begins. I also moved quite early because I was starting a new position at Stranger & Stranger.

Costs of NYC Living

  • Tuition: $6,495 (total tuition when I attended)
  • Move-In Costs: $1500+ (upfront costs to solidify/move-into)
  • Rent: $900-ish (monthly rent for a 900 sq./ft. apartment)
  • MetroCard: $120 (unlimited rides for 1 month)
  • Grocery Shopping: $75+ (every week)
  • GRAND TOTAL: About $24,000+ for the year in NYC.

*(Not adding in random supplies, outings, etc. to that above budget)

I’ll be cut and dry here, it’s obviously pretty pricey. But, the time/investment in your future is most definitely worth it. The education you will receive from Cooper is nothing but high-quality, top-notch, and best of the best.

Type@Cooper — Term 1

After two months in New York, I was ready for school to start.

Cooper began with Monday and Tuesday night classes from 6pm–9pm which was totally doable two days out of the week. Monday nights were history lessons taught by Alexander Tochilovsky (aka Sasha). He provided lectures on type origins, trends, processes, terminology, and beyond. Tuesday nights were dedicated studio classes that allowed us to physically and digitally develop our typefaces.

The 1st or 2nd weekend into the program, Cara Di Edwardo gave an amazing weekend calligraphy workshop to us Cooper students. This workshop in particular focused on the fundamentals and construction of Roman and Italic minuscules. The humanist hand is what influenced our first typeface. With the workshop complete, we brought our calligraphy sketches into class the following Tuesday to begin the building of a typeface. Stéphane Elbaz (alongside him were TA’s, Troy Leinster and Ryan Bugden) instructed and helped us understand how to take our calligraphy and begin building a typeface within Robofont. I personally drew many characters over and over to better understand the angles, balance, and overall forms of certain glyphs.

The below sketches are what guided my typeface. I really enjoyed the wavy stems and the overall squat and bold nature. From there, it was a process of building out the remaining characters. Beginning with the commonly used keyword, “hamburgerfontsiv” allowed us to understand proper letterform relationships and positive/negative space balance.

Original calligraphy that led to my very first typeface

Each Tuesday night, my classmates and I would spend one on one time with Stéphane, Troy, and Ryan to finesse our typefaces in the right direction. Focusing on capitals, lowercase, figures, and some punctuation, we were continuing to make progress — endless vectoring within Robofont to get our “system” working correctly.

I heavily struggled with understanding letterform widths and spacing but like everything in life, it gets better with time and practice.

After many weeks of constantly editing our glyphs, it was time for a final critique session. The one and only, Dan Rhatigan provided a final review of my typeface and it was nothing short of amazing. We also had to give a presentation to a large group of outside reviewers. The style and overall look/feel was up to us. No direction was given which allowed us to be creative in the way we presented our typeface. I chose to showcase the final glyphs, possible usage (Disneyland signage, Corona bottle, etc.), and overall thoughts on the process. Feel free to view the PDF presentation here.

Type@Cooper — Term 2

Term 2 focused on drawing a single weight but we mentally prepared for the idea of drawing multiple weights, widths, and styles during Term 3.

Our second term also presented itself with new teachers – Christian Schwartz and Berton Hasebe. Troy and Ryan continued to TA throughout the rest of our time at Cooper as well.

With new teachers and a completed typeface under our belts, it was time for us to begin yet another typeface from the ground up. We were given the task of doing research to devise three separate ideas for unique typefaces. Out of those three ideas, only one idea was selected to progress forward with.

Initial sketches for typeface #2 (Now called, Gatefold)

I had a general idea of what I wanted this typeface to look like in the back of my head. I took the opportunity to explore that idea further within James Edmondson’s TypeCooker workshop. Looking back, there were obvious issues with some of the letterforms, but exploring a variety of weights allowed me to see how things were panning out. This really got the wheels turning and had me excited to begin the vectoring process.

As we did in our first term, each week, we printed out many many sheets of proofs for our teachers to review. Proofs containing spacing strings (nn/?* nn oo/?* oo & HH/?H/?O/?OO), character sets, and running text for reading/legibility purposes. Christian and Berton would mark them up and provide feedback to guide our typefaces in the right direction.

This constant editing back and forth with each glyph continued on for a few more weeks until it was final presentation time again! This time, the presentation was more relaxed and only required us to print two sets of proofs for reviewers. Our reviewers this time around were Tobias Frere-Jones and Chester Jenkins.

It was very insightful to hear opinions and thoughts from outsiders that aren’t as involved in the typeface process. They can almost always provide you with new and different ideas or things that may have gone unnoticed.

After the intense amount of work up until this point, it was nice to have a small break from school before Term 3 commenced.

*(/? = the character you’re spacing between the n’s and o’s or H’s and O’s)

Type@Cooper — Term 3 — The Final Term.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, I commend you! Thanks for taking an interest in this lengthy piece of writing.

Let’s get back to it. I must say, our program began with about 18 students. At the start of term three, many dropped out leaving 11 students. With that said, it goes to show that even though there are only two nights of “class”, there is still a decent amount of homework – it’s not an easy program. A lot more is required of you than you can imagine. I believe it all comes down to time management and like many things in life, it is all a balance.

You can truly learn a lot if you push yourself to endlessly explore and experiment.

As I mentioned earlier, during the third term you are focusing your attention to build out the type family. Exploring endlessly, we had to build out two finalized styles for our final presentation. I ended up working on three styles (italic, light roman, and a text weight) because I wanted to learn as much as possible before this program ended.

Typical proofing (top) with various styles and weights in development (bottom)

This term also presented itself with a new Wednesday night class with Andy Clymer! In this class, Andy really dove deep into the world of font production. He shared so much knowledge regarding writing Open Type features, building custom Robofont tools, font interpolation and so much more. It was a nice balance to not only know how to draw our typefaces but to learn the little nuances involved with prepping for release.

It was exciting to know I made it this far with no complaints! I was enjoying every second of this program. Every review of my typeface continued to ignite that excitement and kept me pushing all year long.

Moving on, the production of my font family continued. I thought our 1st and 2nd terms had a lot of homework…with term three I’m sure the amount of work doubled or even tripled — but it was all worth it.

With the term coming to an end, our Type@Cooper class was working together on a group specimen poster to showcase our completed typefaces. Additionally, we all created individual type specimen posters. One of our last weekend workshops was to letterpress those posters with the guidance of Daniel Morris. Each classmate individually mixed their own inks, prepped the press, and printed 50+ posters. It was at this moment that we physically could see all of our accomplishments over the year. An entire year's worth of work hand-cranked and printed on a piece of paper in our hands.

Final type specimen poster completed during the Type@Cooper 16' program.

The final presentation was here. Jesse Regan & Sara Soskolne both reviewed our families – providing us with final thoughts on the work we spent many months on. After everyone's work was reviewed, we spent time trading type specimen posters, eating doughnuts, and sharing stories. It was a perfect end to my time at Cooper.

Potato-quality photo on our last day of class 🙂

Looking back, the year flew by way too quickly. There was so much that I learned, but on that final day, I was already contemplating, “where do I go next? Should I enroll in school again? The TypeMedia program sounds fun, maybe I’ll do that.” I still contemplate going through another typeface design program (edit: turns out I did!) but have yet to make a final decision on where or even when to attend. Only time will truly tell!

Thanks to Cara for taking the class photo that will forever have a special place in my heart. I loved every single thing about the Type@Cooper program: the new friendships, immense knowledge, city life, and unforgettable experiences. It was nothing short of amazing.

Final Thoughts and Takeaways

The Education

The Cooper program allows you to surround yourself with like-minded type lovers that push you to be better than you can be. There was an enormous amount of camaraderie to help you strive to not only get your homework done but to do things that weren’t required of us, similar to what James mentioned in his article. Some students got ahead of themselves and made things like small caps, old-style numerals, fleurons, daggers, etc. This was so strange for me to get used to when ASU instilled an “everyone for themselves” mindset.

You’re surrounded by type knowledge nearly every single day of the week. Whether it's from class, a weekend workshop, or even the Cooper lecture series, you’re consuming that typography education at every turn. That was exactly what I was searching for — being able to learn a lot very quickly vs. scouring the internet / stumbling around for a while.

I now consume typography in a more calculated method. I find myself always staring at letterforms trying to understand the designers' mindset and decisions they made. The education provided by Cooper allows me to dissect glyphs to create a “library” of sorts in the back of my head to constantly reference for upcoming projects.

The City Life

Aside from the education, spending an entire year in New York City changed me as a person. The “hustle and bustle” (as the kids say) really got me motivated to constantly create something. But, the city life is also so hectic that it kept me inside the apartment (especially during the winter) since I’m somewhat introverted. Nevertheless, I attempted to break free of this mentality and explore the city constantly.

Plenty of potential clients reside in NYC which made the freelance life even better. Being able to jump on the subway and meet up in person was absolutely glorious. It was a real honor to visit the offices of Skillshare, Shutterstock, Away, Facebook, Creative Mornings, and more. That was so new and crazy for me coming from Arizona where barely any of my clients reside. Many inspiring opportunities presented themselves while being in a city that never sleeps.

The Social Life

Luckily for my girlfriend and me, we had a few classmates from ASU move out to NYC at the same time. Those were our only friends in the city for a while. Other than the coworkers you may have or my classmates, in this case, it was very difficult to make friends. There are so many people in the city that you almost blend in with everyone else. You’re just another person attending an event. Another person at a party, etc. I felt there was a notion of, “let’s have small-talk and then never see each other again”. Because honestly, that’s almost always the case (unless you’re really pursuing someone I guess). In conclusion, it’s certainly a challenge at first, but being very extroverted about finding friends makes it easier.

The Piggybank

As I mentioned earlier, it’s quite a deal of money to live in the city. Almost always breaking even and hardly ever saving any money. I was also in the process of paying off my looming debt from ASU which made matters harder. The amount of money I paid for one full year at Cooper is nearly the amount I paid for one semester at ASU. Needless to say, The Type@Cooper program is incredibly cheap compared to other schools' tuition and the education is worth every single penny.

What’s Holding you Back?

With all this said, I hope I’ve provided you with enough information to make the decision to apply for the Type@Cooper program. If not, at least get you interested or even thinking about the opportunity.

Even if the Cooper program isn’t for you, I urge you to make the jump to do that one crazy scary thing you’ve been dying to do. Forcing myself to get out of my comfort zone, explore new things and find another side of myself allowed me to grow in ways I could not have imagined. Sometimes you just need to say yes to the things you would normally say no to.


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