Why I still work with my hands

Most of my job now takes place on a computer, but it can't replace what you learn when you use your fingers

By August Heffner

Published August 16, 2011 12:30AM (EDT)

When I left a design studio that I was a part of for over three years to go to a branding agency, my boss/mentor gave me a bone folder. "They won't have any of these where you're going!" he said.

He was right. My first assignment was for an apparel brand and in trying to create some imagery I famously asked where "the ribbon drawer" was. It was met with some confused looks. I was all: "You know, where you keep your grosgrain, your silk, your different sized ribbon." I was almost fired on the spot.

These days I work "in-house" and "at my house." I've moved from designer, senior designer, design manager to assistant creative director, and I haven't forgotten what a bone folder is, yet. That is to say, even though most of my days are meetings, emails and spreadsheets, I try to work with my hands as often as possible. If, for a period of time, I don't do so at work, I'll do it at home, no big deal.

Last week I made some type with matchsticks (see sketch above). I learned a lot. I learned it's easy to poke a matchstick into a base if you just give it a few turns in a pencil sharpener. I learned that 250 matchsticks makes a pretty big flame. I learned that when shooting fire always set your camera to rapid fire. I learned that assistants are great for even the seemingly small jobs. I haven't learned this much with my hands since I was working with sand (see below).

Point is, I learned. I learned a lot with my hands. I learn a lot every day doing creative director stuff, but I'd lose a lot if I used these fingers for emails only.

There a new book about this, "Handmade Type Workshop." It's great and full of awesome lessons, for your hands, not your head. I've even got a capital "E" on the cover of the American edition, made out of grosgrain ribbon (see below). And even though my name is spelled incorrectly on the inside, I'm proud to be among the many makers in there.

Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

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August Heffner

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