Your name on a bookmark

Signed Bookmark - Dan Holst SoelbergThe first time I faced the public with my published book was at the 2008 Mississauga Book Fair in Mississauga, Ontario. I had 100 books printed and they were not cheap. It was embarrassing, really. My little 6″ x 6″ soft cover cost $32. I didn’t know anything about printing books at the time so I just hired a local printer to do it and wound up paying through the nose. To make this expensive little book a little more enticing, I called it a limited first edition and hand numbered every copy. It worked. I sold out.

But I hated the fact that I had only one expensive product. I knew not everybody had an extra $32 burning a hole through their pockets and I wanted to offer some kind of personalized memento. This is way before I got into merchandising. The only other thing I had at my table was a stack of bookmarks. Lightbulb! If someone seemed genuinely interested in my work, I offered to write their name on a bookmark in my signature writing style. Voila, free memento! It really took off. In fact, people were so excited to see their name come out of my pen that I would often get the same person returning with the bookmark in hand, accompanied by others who were pointing excitedly at me and sheepishly getting up the nerve to ask for their own customized bookmarks. Needless to say, the stack of bookmarks didn’t last long.

I’ve done the same thing at every exhibition, convention and fair since. You could say that writing names on bookmarks has become my signature schtick, but it’s more than that. It connects me to my fans in a profound and personal way. People are genuinely honoured that I have taken the time to make something just for them. And it goes both ways. I believe everybody deserves to feel honoured. It humbles me to know that my work is appreciated and I find this moment we share opens up sincere conversation.

Any time I have the opportunity to customize an order I am happy to help. Here’s a short video showing how I personalized a recent order for Barbra.

I met Barbra at Toronto’s Bazaar of the Bizarre in December 2013. I was exhibiting my books and other products and she just happened to stroll by. Barbra was ecstatic about my work so it was an absolute pleasure to customize this for her.

If you see me at a future convention, don’t be shy to ask for your name on a bookmark. It’s what I do. It’s my way to say thank you for appreciating my work.


For the love of type

New Dan Holst Soelberg typefaceI just finished the prototype for a custom type style to be used in my new book project. This is a special joy for me. I have filled dozens of notebook pages with preliminary scribbles and scrawls to find a type style that is appropriate for my new book. I think I’ve finally nailed it, although I’m sure it will still evolve.

I am a typography fanatic. One of my most treasured books is called “The Univers by Adrian Frutiger”, written by professor of typography Friedrich Friedl. I picked it up years ago in The Danish Museum of Art & Design located in Copenhagen, Denmark. This book opened my eyes to the intense passion Frutiger has for clear and concise communication. He slaves over every curve and line in his type design to create a unified and harmonious typeface in all its weights. His typeface “Univers” was first published in 1957 (the same year Helvetica debuted) and remains a remarkable typeface still very much in use.

A sample of text from the book Eight Pound Fly. The baseline is purposely completely wonky.

A sample of text from the book Eight Pound Fly. The baseline is intentionally meandering.

Having said all that, I have never endeavoured to create my own typeface to rival the work of Mr. Frutiger. My text design is never truly original. I love mixing and matching ideas from dozens of existing fonts. My own “fonts” remain hand-drawn with all their variations and rough flaws left unpolished. It’s just a creative impulse that I’d rather not control too much.

Dwellers of Lurching Swill text sample

Sample of text from the book Dwellers of Lurching Swill.

As with previous projects, I’ve written out the roman alphabet in upper and lower case, but I tend to tackle the rest of the punctuation and glyphs as they pop up. I like spontaneity. It’s for this reason that I hand-render every letter in my books individually. So far, that’s the plan with this book as well.

So, while I love and respect the rules that govern formal typography, I also have a soft spot for erratic inconsistencies that show the hand of the human who created them. I’m sure Adrian Frutiger would not approve.


Why pessimism is pointless

Cutting illustration boardsI’m cutting illustration boards into 29.8 cm squares (the perfect dimension) for my latest book project and I’m bursting with excitement to get going on the illustrations!

I don’t know about you, but for me there is something irresistible about finding out what someone is passionate about and the projects they work on in private. It’s both fascinating and inspiring. The excitement is contagious. It makes me want to jump headfirst into my own passion-driven projects with renewed vim.

I used to talk openly about anything I was working on with anybody who asked. That’s changed. Now I hold back. What happened to change my mind? I encountered difficult attitudes.

Cynicism, doubt, judgment, arrogance. Take your pick. I can sum them all up with one word: pessimism. I’m sure you’ve met the type. Some malcontented misanthropes take special glee in dumping buckets of cold water on any fresh idea that threatens to spark up. Someone I know has proudly labeled herself a pessimist, claiming that pessimism is better for your health than optimism. She quoted a study that came to this very conclusion. It’s one of those cute and soft pseudo-science factoids of the day that makes for a catchy radio sound bite on the morning commute. Rubbish! I can point to a slew of valid scientific studies that come to the opposite conclusion, so that argument doesn’t hold any water.

The prevailing argument for pessimism is that it is a “dose of reality”. It isn’t. Pessimists molest you with their self-righteous, cranky, glass-half-rotten opinions served on a soured scowl and a kick in your teeth for “your own good”. Don’t get me wrong, I think a healthy dose of skepticism is a necessary part of anything I do. But there is a wide ocean that separates the shores of skepticism from pessimism. They are not the same. Skepticism employs logic and critical thinking. Pessimism is an unresolved childhood.

Am I so thin-skinned that I can’t take criticism from others? Far from it. But pessimists discourage, which is not at all useful. Instead, I often take advice that helps steer my projects in the right direction. For instance, when I self-published my first book I met with publishers, bookshop owners and many other writers and illustrators who have self-published to learn how I can make my own books successful. As a result, I have changed my approach to self-publishing, and three books later I’m still learning and adjusting.

Well, that’s it for today! I’ll make a point of showing you teasers from my new project as it develops. I’d love to get your opinions and advice to make my next book a viral success. In fact, I’m in the midst of promoting my latest book Dwellers of Lurching Swill. Do you know a publisher, do you have a favourite bookshop? Do you know a book reviewer, television show, podcast or a website that could promote my work? Maybe another blog that would feature my book? Please send me your suggestions. Until next time, stay warm!