Alphabet Road Trip | the blog of Iskra Design

Category: Current Affairs

Hands Up Don’t Shoot

I read the news, every day, from many sources. It makes my heart and head hurt ten different ways, but I have always felt like part of being a citizen and a human is to know what is going on. To stay open — and not-quite-numb. One of the ways I deal with the craziness of this world is through my lettering. I had really hoped that “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” was a phrase that would fade and be irrelevant in a short time. It doesn’t seem like it will lose its relevance anytime soon. Rest in peace Dontre.


Hands Up Don't Shoot Lettering

One Way Around the Surveillance State: Go Postal and Be Free

With all the brouhaha about the State monitoring our phone calls and emails to find out who we love, whether they love us back, what we ate for breakfast, what time of day we watch for the green eyed Vireo, the immigration status of the gardener (part Swedish, no papers, BTW,) I humbly suggest going postal. Letters, remember those? The stamps are in the drawer over there, with the beautiful pen that fits in your hand just so.



“Love & Letters” © Iskra Design


I have boxes and boxes of letters from calligraphers, none of which I can post here without cropping because they will give away my address and “privacy.” But trust me, everyone of them is a work of extreme art. And in kind, just to keep up and honor those who wrote to me, I spent years writing back with as much grace as possible, with sometimes only a sentence or two in the actual letter, but the envelope taking perhaps a day to perfect and design so that it looked….undesigned and unpracticed (now you know.)

In recent years I regret to say I too have fallen prey to the ease and expediency of email. Yet I still have a few correspondents who keep my love of the letter alive. A true master of the art of the envelope, a man who favors the old fashioned typewriter and scotch tape, is Richey Kehl. These wonderful missives have been living on my kitchen wall above the coffee grinder for quite awhile, and they help me start my day with a sense of gratitude and wonder:


Richey Kehl Envelopes

Envelopes by Richey Kehl


My only recent handwritten letter was done as “Jon Stewart,” in his recent publication America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction. It was great fun to channel history through one of our leading humorists (those with political correctness sensitivity syndrome, may not want to read further…):



Jon Stewart’s ‘How I spent my summer vacation’ letter


I came back from a trip to New York a few weeks ago inspired by meetings with people I’ve been working with in publishing. In gratitude to the fact that books live, that paper exists, that there is an entire city where people talk too much and wave their hands while doing it, I thought I would get back to the traditional art of the thank you:


Grazie classice pen calligtaphy

“Grazie” Classic Pen Calligraphy © Iskra Design


This is edged pen lettering laid over the textures of New York, captured from one of the 1,700 pictures I took of old buildings in Dumbo, Chelsea and the West Village. The card was printed on thick paper, and I doubt that it has been held up to a bright light to read the secret messages on the other side.

Just think what would happen if we all started writing a letter a day, or three, or even just a post card a day, and bought a stamp (!!). The thousands of at-risk jobs at the Postal Service would remain. The art of stamps would continue. People would have to continue learning to read handwriting. And as we all know, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Unlike the internet servers, or the power grid. And think opaque envelopes. Think such wild hand writing that if they decided that all letters should be read as well as our little emails that they would have to hire 500,000 recent college graduates to decipher the handwriting! Carry on scribes, brides, kings and queens of etiquette, get thee to thy pens and paper and keep the Fourth Amendment strong.


Postcard from the village, vinatge mailbox

Postcard from the Village © Iskra Design


The Treasury Secretary and the Calligrapher: “Dear Jack Lew, I can help you sign that dollar…”

JackLewActualSignatureJack Lew's signature, before handwriting school

When handwriting makes it into the national news it is a big day for calligraphers. For once, how you write, and specifically how you write your name, is treated with the importance it deserves. Peggy Noonan, Donald Trump, Fox News, President Obama, everybody and their mother has weighed in on Jack Lew’s handwriting and what it bodes for the future of our nation if a man with his signature is allowed to sign a dollar bill, much less run the Treasury. On the basis of his handwriting Jack Lew has been accused of arrogance, obssessive compulsive disorder, extreme secrecy and worst of all: not caring what other people think.

I say give the guy a break. For one thing, the signature he has now is a logical outcome of working with the letterforms, not, as pundits would have it, an homage to a Hostess cupcake. Examine his signature above, and then take a look at this exploration with a pen showing you how the loops in the letters naturally evolve into…..loops. Or as I prefer to think of it, as falling coins.


It is clear that like any good lettering artist Jack enjoys the abstraction of letterforms. He has great wrist motion and fluency. I do agree however that he may need training if he wants a signature that will stand the test of time and popular opinion. Herewith I suggest some options, ranging from signatures based on models of historical penmanship to contemporary handwriting that expresses the writer’s very soul.

As Thomas Jefferson:

As a historically correct John Hancock, and with a more personalized "Jack's loopy meme" option:       

As John Maynard Keynes:

And as that other economist, the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, the guy who got everything right? Who predicted the housing crisis, the bank failures, the crash of Greece, the oh well, whatever, I can't imagine why I'm thinking about him. He too is illegible. Although I see evidence of realism and budgetary restraint in his brevity of strokes.

Actually, even though Paul Krugman was for some mysterious reason passed over, he thinks Jack might be the right guy for the job:
“What the president needs right now is a hard-nosed negotiator. And rumor has it that’s what he’s got.” Here Jack channels his hard-nosedness and gets right to the point.JackLewHardnosedNegotiator
Let's just hope he doesn't give in to irrational exuberance:


Or lose his nerve at the  brink of the fiscal cliff:

JackLewAnd The Fiscal Cliff

Once Mr. Lew has been nominated and survived four years he may wonder…..

Perhaps he considers that other Jack, Pollack, and begins to explore his creative talents:

But when the galleries say they've seen that before he calls up Don Draper and launches himself as a cologne, 'the scent for the mobile metrosexual':

They always say that to be president, or for that matter to run for office anywhere north of Utah, you have to be a guy people want to have a beer with. Unfortunately these attempts at drinking to be liked may start with an innocent beer but they easily lead to much harder stuff. Our last sight of Jack may find him face down at the bar at 15th and G,  finally, really, not caring what people think. It takes a strong man to outlive his meme:

JAckLewDrunk copy
(Signed receipt posted on Ebay, as a rare example of penmanship done with an olive and a toothpick.)

Straight Rule

All content and artwork © Iskra Design

Iskra Design specializes in custom lettering, calligraphy and expressive handwriting. Iskra has been the invisible hand behind many famous and infamous people, including The World's Most Beautiful Woman, The Whiskey Guy, The Beer Brothers, The Ingenue, The Reclusive Hotelier, and The Rocker with the Incredible Blue Eyes. You can see more of her work on her website, Iskra Design.