Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Steve Jobs connection

I never met Steve Jobs, at least not that I knew of. If our paths crossed at Reed College, I never knew who he was. I've never owned an Apple computer, so I have no connection with him that way. Yet we share a deeper experience. We both had the honor and delight to study calligraphy at Reed College. (I believe Jobs actually studied with Bob Palladino, Lloyd's student and successor, who continued his tradition.)

Here's what Jobs said in his 2005 Commencement address at Stanford University:
I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But 10 years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.

When I heard about his death, one of my thoughts was, Another person who knew Lloyd is gone. And since lots and lots of other people are talking about the impact Jobs and Apple made in their lives, I want to talk a little about Lloyd.

A calligraphy class -- any class -- with Lloyd encompassed far more than the subject material. Yes, he taught us about letter forms, their evolution and design, and how the demands of the eye and the inherent rhythms of the hand shape the letter forms. But more than that, Lloyd taught us to see and to listen beneath the obvious. Into his lectures, he wove Buddhist philosophy, William Blake, John Ruskin, contemporary progressive thought, and a deep and abiding reverence for the many expressions of the human spirit. He railed against narrow-mindedness, bigotry, hatred (and stood up to HUAC during the McCarthy years).

He loved to make writing organic, writing poems on brown paper and hanging them on trees; he called them "weathergrams."

In this video, notice how the energy of Mozart's music flows through the movement of the pen. Also, the fluidity of the strokes, which comes from a soft grasp of the pen and suppleness through the entire arm and body. The pen dances across the pages.

Here's another clip from the series on italic calligraphy he taught for Oregon Public Television. (Through YouTube, you can also find others.)


  1. I took calligraphy from Palladino while at Reed and loved it! what a fun course.

  2. Hi Sibylle! That was a magical time - studying, playing, growing so intensely, all surrounded by gloriously beautiful writing!

  3. Words fail me ... except one ... (I'm a writer, they never really fail me) ... wonder-full

  4. widdershins, studying with Lloyd was the defining experience of my college years. Whenever I meet someone else who knew him, there's this instant understanding and kinship.

    I haven't done any formal calligraphy in decades, but I still have my italic pen and every so often, I'll get it out and make my shopping lists beautiful. Our wedding invitation and ketubah were calligraphed by one of Lloyd's students, Georgianna Greenwood.