three interiors

1 – citizens of bleecker

This was the first spot that came to mind for this assignment — a coffee shop right around Kimmel (counting as “my neighborhood” because that’s where my office is). I went there a couple of weeks back and sat on the outside tables, looking into their interior the whole time. The mid-morning light looked beautiful through the big corner windows; the white brick walls and rounded mirror help it bounce around even more. I also loved the neon sign against the mirror, and thought the overall mix of textures (brick, wood, glass, metal, plants) was really interesting. When I came back to take my own picture, it was later in the day and not so sunny — and I felt awkward as hell coming in just to snap a picture and leave. Plus, my camera clearly wasn’t clean and I didn’t notice it in time. So I’m adding more pictures I was able to find online that capture the place a little better than I did.

my bad picture
a great example of their morning light, but missing the neon sign
dim, moodier light with the neon sign

2 – bobst lobby

This was another obvious choice, and sadly I also took a pretty poor picture of it. At the time, I was thinking this was an interesting angle because you get some of the exterior light contrasting with the interior. But thinking about it more, I think a fully interior angle would be better — capturing how the gold paneling makes the light bounce around, almost like glitter, and taking advantage of the upward angle to show off all the lines and shapes of the design. To this day, I don’t know if the light coming from above is a skylight during the day, or if it’s fully artificial. I think the fact that I can’t tell is interesting on its own.

my bad picture
a much better picture

3 – ellis island

Sadly not in my neighborhood! My third picture was going to be my kitchen in the morning light — I waited and waited for a sunny morning and just did not get one this week. So I looked back through my camera roll and found this picture of the Ellis Island museum that I visited last month. I love the way the light comes in through the semi-circle windows and ripples through the tile floor like it’s water. You can tell it’s bouncing around by the way parts of the barrel ceiling are illuminated, too. I also enjoy the different shapes and textures going on here (two types of tiles for the floor and ceiling; rounded windows with square and diagonal decorations; etc).

my (for once decent) picture
a different angle just to show some more of that beautiful ceiling

week 10 reflections

This week, I made some good progress on the readings as well as in planning my primary research. 

I finished The Typographic Experiment, pausing the typography research bucket for now. I have a few more books and video series I want to go through — some with a lettering focus, and some about motion/kinetic typography specifically. I think the winter break will be a good time to go through these readings after I’ve figured out the content portion of my project.

On the NYC bucket of readings, I got through a few chapters of Branding New York and about three quarters of the way through Imaginary Apparatus, both of which cover very similar topics (media representations of New York City, with a focus on the “urban crisis” of the 60s-70s). It’s been very interesting to see their different approaches to the topic — Imaginary Apparatus is more theory-heavy, whereas Branding is a little more accessible. This is a really fascinating area to me, though; the timeline of the “urban decay” kicking in during the late 60s, and the way New York got “cleaned up” to become the city we know today. 

I also finished the chapters from New York New York! that I’d selected to read from, some of which were slightly underwhelming in their (lack of) focus on the city itself. New York — Global City? was probably the most interesting and relevant to my project out of that bunch, particularly the themes of glocalization (“globalization, as has been often shown, always involves a simultaneous strengthening of regional and local attachment and peculiarities,” p. 199) and New York being a city marked by heterogeneity and contradictions. These are definitely themes I want to get across in my project, implicitly or explicitly. 

For my primary research, I decided to conduct interviews with native New Yorkers, which will provide the audio content for my project. I’ve approached four different people and am in the process of scheduling the interviews with each of them, ideally in a group with some family members if possible — since I would like to capture some generational dynamics in a casual, conversational setting. While I figure out the scheduling, I’m also finalizing the set of questions I’ll be asking — focusing on themes of the experience of growing up in NYC and the New Yorker identity, before going into questions about NYCE (whether they believe they have that speech pattern, and what their impressions about it are). I’m also thinking through some more interactive exercises involving typography, which could provide some more inspiration about what typefaces have a more “New York feel.” Since the project will be more artistic and narrative-driven, I’m not too concerned about creating a highly rigorous research process; I would just like to get some compelling stories and thoughts from the participants. My plan is to wrap up interviews by the end of the semester, so that I can parse through the content over the break and start building that narrative. Hopefully this would give me enough time to work on the typography portion in the next semester, and record any additional material if needed. 

week 9 reflections

Last week’s class started out daunting, but the workshops helped alleviate some of my anxiety. Dan’s grid exercise in particular helped me think about the format of my project in a more modular way — I split the axes into medium components (static, simple audio + motion graphics, and motion plus full video) and linguistic components (phonemes, lexicon, discourse factors, and gestures/body language). I then created symbols for what types of content I could think of (fully original unscripted content, original scripted content from secondary media, and fully secondary media), so that I could place them in the grid where they might fit best. For instance, gestural components are best captured by video, but lexicon visualizations could fit very well in a static format. 

This was the end result with 10 different possibilities, which might all be nonsense to anyone else, but made sense in my head:

I am not 100% sure yet, but after considering it over the course of the week, I’m most drawn to the idea of a simple audio + motion project, using kinetic typography (and maybe some simple graphic elements, like moving lines or shapes) with original content generated from interviews — in the diagram, this would be #7. I would still have to craft the interview questions, but I’m imagining them touching on the topics of the New York(er) identity and perceptions, and how speech plays into it. The interviews would be spliced together to weave a narrative, and the kinetic typography would be designed in a way that highlights the linguistic characteristics of NYCE. 

In terms of my reading progress, I got quite a lot done this week. I watched Imaginary Apparatus‘s companion DVD, which was extremely interesting narratively, but also gave me a surprising amount of typography inspiration from vintage signage in the City. I read a chapter of New York New York!, and three of Branding New York — the latter being a lot more interesting to me than the former. Both Branding New York and Imaginary Apparatus deal with the “urban crisis” of the 70s, and I see a lot of the language there echoing the ways NYCE was stigmatized in that era: images of toughness, harshness, lack of civility being connected to this kind of speech and to the people most likely to speak it. I also got more than halfway through The Social Stratification of English in New York City this weekend. It was even drier than I imagined, devoting a lot of pages to explaining methods of analysis and showing graphs (and understandably so) — since I’m totally uninterested in creating something scientific, I am breezing through some of the chapters, and should be able to finish it very soon. Lastly, I read through about ¾ of The Typographic Experiment — like the other typography books, it’s providing me a lot of visual inspiration. One project that seemed particularly interesting was Tobias Frere-Jones’ Microphone typeface, which spits out phrases or sentences recorded in the streets of Boston. I love the chaos of this (partial) visualization — it definitely has a similar vibe to what I am imagining for my own project: 

I can see the light at the end of the reading tunnel now — once I finish SSENYC, I’ll be done with the linguistics bucket. I’ll devote the bulk of my reading time to finishing the NYC bucket next, while I craft my primary research plan; hopefully I’ll be done with that reading by the time I’m doing interviews. I still have some more typography books I want to read, but they tend to be quicker, and seem less dire to the primary research portion of the timeline (it’d be great to read them over winter break). 

week 8 reflections

It is my absolute pleasure to say that this week I was finally able to finish City of Dreams. What a long, rewarding journey. I don’t know if the length made an impact on this, but I got goosebumps all over when I read the book’s last passage: 

“To people all over the globe, ‘New York is the promised land, looking green, fat, luscious and joyous from the outside deserts; the promised land flowing with milk and honey… where the flesh pots smell savory, where the labels are better than the bottles, where the bricks are gold and the goods are green… Every race on earth claims New York,’ because it epitomizes all they dream of achieving. To generations past, present, and future, ‘New York is It. No man will ever see its finish.'” (p. 570)

The last chapter in general reiterated some of the most important points made obvious by the full reading of the book — “From the colonial period to the present, every generation of Americans has viewed the newest group to arrive as completely unlike previous immigrants” and “Every group of immigrants coming to New York has gone to great lengths to bring its Old World culture and traditions with it to America … When pundits complain that today’s immigrants don’t assimilate like those from the past, they are harking back to a golden era that never actually existed.” (pp. 564-5). This chapter wrapped up the book with a wonderful and inspiring summary of these historical lessons. I am very glad I read this, despite how long it’s taken me.

Another book I was able to finish was You Talkin’ to Me?, which I read earlier in the week. This was a much quicker read — I was able to finish 7 chapters in two days — and also highly enjoyable. While some of the chapters focused on aspects I didn’t find totally relevant (like how the language of New York’s organized crime and music scenes each affected slang in the city), I still got a lot of good information from it. 

This week I also got two new books from my list: Imaginary Apparatus (which I ended up having to buy), and The Typographic Experiment: Radical Innovation in Contemporary Type Design. Since Imaginary Apparatus comes with a companion DVD, I will probably watch that first before deciding whether to jump right into the book or not (I do have other books in the “NYC” bucket that I’ve started, so I will have to figure out how to prioritize that list this week). The Typographic Experiment, so far, seems like another quick read — full of images and visual examples — so it will definitely be next in my “Typography” bucket, and I am very excited for it. I also still have to make my way through Labov’s The Social Stratification of New York City English — since I expect it to be a pretty dry book, I’ll admit I have been putting it off, but I will not be able to do that much longer. 

week 7 reflections

In preparation for my presentation this week, I spent some time starting new books in my list: You Talkin’ to Me?, New York, New York!: Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories, and The City in Slang: New York Life and Popular Speech

You Talkin’ to Me? has been great so far. It’s more informal than New York City English but still contains a lot of great information, and cross-references similar sources like The Social Stratification of New York City English and If These Knishes Could Talk which gives me more confidence towards my reading list. Unlike NYCE, the author is not a native New Yorker, and actually did not have “real-life” (unmediated) experiences with this linguistic variant until he was 18 years old. I’m considering this a bonus, since it provides a totally different perspective which is somewhat closer to mine (with still some variation, since he grew up in California and did experience “the New York accent” through media). I’m very excited to continue reading this.

The City in Slang has been slightly underwhelming. Although it has interesting examinations on the way city landscapes began to shape language in the modern era, I was expecting it to feel more “New York” and more “slang-y” than it does. Part of the point is that many of these expressions originated in New York and got exported to other English-speaking cities, so maybe the issue is that they’re too removed in time to feel unique to this City. Right now I’m putting it on hold in favor of other sources, but I might come back to it later on.

For New York, New York, I read the intro and last chapter in order to decide which chapters I wanted to focus on. The last chapter is a bibliography of “New York classics” spread across different categories (history books, literary non-fiction, art and architecture, film, poetry, etc) which is a great resource — and, like You Talkin’ to Me?, mentioned sources that were already on my list, which felt validating. I have four chapters to read, which hopefully should not take long.

Beyond these new readings, I also rewatched If These Knishes Could Talk to take down notes and quotes; read two chapters of City of Dreams; and prepared and recorded my presentation. Rewatching the documentary at this point of the process was great — I have a lot more context than I did originally, so the comments felt even richer. It was very helpful for the presentation, and I couldn’t help but include a quote from it into my slides. Preparing the presentation in itself was also helpful as a way to organize my thoughts and questions — this was actually the first time I drafted a clear research statement, and it feels great to have an articulated “guiding light.” City of Dreams continues to be bleak but extremely enlightening; having reached the 1920s now, I only have four chapters left. They are fairly long (about 130 pages total), but I hope I can finish the book this week.

Mood: Bucolic

final scene

process pictures


Looking back at my original sketch, I feel satisfied with how close I got to it — though I did meld the two hills closest to the foreground together. I think the mood feels exactly as I planned it out: simple, nostalgic, and a tad romantic.

I think the vegetation is probably the weakest point of the piece — though I like the simplicity of the shapes, they don’t fully match the realistic tone of the textures. It would be great to find models with a bit more detail to them. I hope the lighting makes up for this — I’m very happy with the golden tone of the scene, and spent a considerable amount of time on Photoshop getting it just right. I added some 10 gradient layers using different blending modes in the compositing process, which I think made a big difference. Adding the chimney smoke, fixing the skydome positioning, and adding a slight gradient at the center left (to hint at some fog in the valley), were also key elements in the compositing phase that I was very happy with. My last step there was flattening the image so I could add a subtle tilt shift blur and give the scene some more depth.

Overall, I’m very happy with this piece, particularly as my first experience with 3D modeling, rendering, and compositing. Getting the hang of the Maya interface was challenging, but it made the end results really rewarding!

week 6 reflections

This week felt pretty pivotal. I focused on the typography and immigration threads, and feel like my concept cleared up a lot more.

On the typography side, I read two of the books that were on my list (Type Tells Tales and part of Thinking with Type; skipping the sections more focused on larger bodies of text and grids) and added a few more. Type Tells Tales was a quick read, since it was more a collection of case studies for expressive typography. It was really inspiring on a creative level, even if it didn’t provide a lot of theory itself. Below are some of the projects that spoke to me the most —

The Bald Soprano (pp. 66-7) has a kinetic typography feel to it that I’m really drawn to. The designer mentions it was an “attempt to capture … the dynamism of the theatre with the static confines of a book,” translating the play “to the printed page through the nuances, inflections and tics of the actors” — I find this really in line with what I want to create too.

The Wire Poster Project (pp. 134-5) has a great balance of grittiness/chaos and structure/order to it. It’s described as “the potential synthesis of the vintage/vernacular Globe Poster aesthetic (an institution native to Baltimore), and the Constructivist-inspired, expressive compositions.” I can’t say I know much about Baltimore, but assuming the project is successful, this would also be in line with what I’d like to make; capturing the vernacular aesthetic(s) of a city. 

The Traveling Font Salesman (pp. 196-7) displays an incredible diversity of type specimens: “I wanted each spread to be different — colours, expressive layout, text length, type sizes … I pictured each page or spread being its own frameable work of art … [The fonts] are not perfect and grand, but they are charming and endearing in their own way” This contrast and diversity, and the embracing of imperfections, would feel very fitting in a project centered around New York. 

On the immigration side, I read five (long) chapters of City of Dreams in preparation for my visit to Ellis Island on Sunday. These chapters spanned from the Civil War up to the early years of Ellis Island (around the 1910s) — covering some very difficult times to say the least: anti-draft and anti-Black riots as well as anti-Irish sentiment in the City, plus the forces that drove new ethnic groups to the US (pogroms in Eastern Europe, and hunger and poverty in Italy). The book was once again very vivid in these descriptions, including the harrowing journey through Ellis Island that millions of people had to endure (long and uncomfortable waits, invasive examinations, and anxiety-inducing questioning; all while knowing you could be turned away at any point and lose everything). My visit to the museum confirmed a lot of what I learned from the book (I recognized a lot of the same pictures displayed in both), so I’m really glad I pushed myself to read all of these chapters before I visited.

Now at the end of the week, I feel a little conflicted — on the one hand, I’m excited about what I’m learning and the ideas simmering under the surface for my project. On the other, my reading list is growing even as I feel like I can’t read any faster than I am right now. I’m counting on most of the remaining books to be faster reads than City of Dreams, or I’m going to have to do some serious prioritizing.

week 5 reflections

This week, I re-organized my reading list into an AirTable following our class exercises. I chose the platform since I already use it every day, and figured it has enough flexibility to allow me to keep track of readings efficiently. I created one tab for the overarching work (most of them books), where I can organize their links (if reading online), my Google doc notes, the citation, and my reading status. This tab links up to the more detailed schedule tab, where I break down the works by chapters, noting when I’ve read them and what the main keywords or themes are. Here is a snippet of both:

In terms of readings, I was able to finish New York City English this week. Looking back at the book, the areas that interested me the most were phonetics/phonology, lexicon, and discourse factors (the “New York conversational style”). I think a combination of these could be a focus for my project — how could I display NYC shibboleths visually, in a way that captures the phonological and conversational system? One thing the book did not answer was how the accent formed; which languages contributed to which sounds. Those questions seem much harder to answer in regards to phonetics than to lexicon, but maybe the other books I’ve gathered on the subject will shed some more light. I think this coming week I can move on to You Talkin’ to Me? before circling back to the more foundational (and dense, I expect) The Social Stratification of English in New York City

I was also able to get through seven chapters of City of Dreams (about 140 pages, spanning around the 1740s until the 1860s, right before the Civil War). This time period saw immense immigration influxes to the City, with chapters focusing mostly on immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. There were harrowing descriptions of the Great Famine, the “coffin ships” that took the poorest emigrants across the Atlantic, and the tenement buildings that housed them once they arrived. I still have a ways to go with City of Dreams, but the amount that I’m learning totally discourages me from skipping around to more modern times. It feels like I have to read the whole thing, chronologically, in order to get a full understanding of the City’s social dynamics across time. 

After thinking about possibilities for the project some more, I searched for some typography books — mainly around the question “how can type denote voice and tone?” I’m hoping to start with Thinking with Type (bought a copy since I’ve been meaning to read it for a while) and Type Tells Tales (will be borrowing from Bobst the next time I’m in Manhattan). I also found a Brazilian book on vernacular typography which I’m very excited about, and should cover any gaps in case the other two focus on highly formal type — I think the idea of an accent being visually displayed should very much be in line with imperfect, informal lettering. I would like to find more work on New York City-focused lettering and type design, too, but have been struggling with that. 

week 4 reflections

Progress completed this week following my reading/watchlist: 

  • Watched If These Knishes Could Talk — need to rewatch and take notes this time, but wonderful documentary. Shocking that it only has 17K views. The points about constant nostalgia and the tension between the negatives and positives of gentrification were so compelling (and kind of heart-breaking). I want to pay close attention to the words these participants used to describe New York and its accent — things like dynamic, direct, honest. It seemed the documentary really positioned the accent as integral to the NY identity: at points, you can’t exactly tell if someone is referring to the accent or the city.
  • Continued reading New York City English — and pulling quotes while I’m at it. In her feedback to my presentation in class, Joanna wrote “I can’t believe how people pronounce Hoyt-Schermerhorn” which really puzzled me. I mentioned it to my husband (a native Brooklynite), wondering how else someone could pronounce it (“It’s /SHUR-mur-horn/, isn’t it?”). He also didn’t know. Then, I read on NYCE’s second chapter: “[T]he pronunciation of the first syllable of Schermerhorn Street as [skɪm] (‘skim’) is limited to those familiar with Downtown Brooklyn where it is located.” I was absolutely floored. I got to the third chapter (​​Phonetics and Phonology) and stopped halfway through the section on vowels. It’s a lot to take in at times, especially since I’m reading a book about sounds that are not all native to me — I have to constantly remember which IPA symbol denotes which phoneme (Wikipedia’s audio chart has been helpful, but not foolproof) and even then, I’m often confused about subtle distinctions. I do really like learning about these subtleties, though, so I’d love to find a more effective way to process them (asking my husband to say certain words over and over again doesn’t always help, since his NYCE is not very “strong”). 
  • Continued reading City of Dreams — about 70 pages in and past the New Amsterdam era, reaching the 1740s or so. This is a really great read, focusing on key people and events to give a broad stroke of each era in the city. Since this one is a physical book, I’m writing bullet point notes, paraphrasing the threads that stick out. So far, the deep religious tensions have surprised me — coming from a majority Catholic country (and subconsciously assuming Catholicism to be completely synonymous with Christianity; the default version of it), it’s jarring to learn there was so much hostility towards “papists” in early NY. Catholicism was referred to as a “hocus pocus, bloody religion” with “barbarous, savage, and monstrous” traits (p. 66). The hostility towards Jewish immigrants is also notable, though not as new of a concept to me — a quote that stood out there, referencing the existing religious diversity in New Amsterdam as an excuse not to allow Jews to settle: “We have here Papists, Mennonites and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents, and many Atheists and various other servants of Baal among the English […] It would create a still greater confusion if the obstinate and immovable Jew came to settle here” (said by a Dutch Reformed minister in 1655; pp. 27-28). The description fascinated me — it’s obviously meant as an insult, but to me it feels like an absolute badass way to describe someone. 
  • Looked into a visit to the Ellis Island museum — planning to go this Sunday.

This week’s readings were very helpful for this stage of the process. The strategies from How to Read a Book that resonated the most with me were “read it three times” (something I feel like I already do, but not as distinctly; I kind of blur the second and third reading together) and “use your unconscious mind” (getting a reminder that taking breaks is important/productive always helps, pragmatically and emotionally). Mapping the Terrain‘s breakdown of reviews and information-collecting methods was a great refresher — I feel I had some of this experience during my undergraduate thesis, but wasn’t nearly as rigorous as I should have been (I certainly was “tempted to over quote,” a mistake I hopefully will not make this time around). 

week 3 reflections

I started this week with my one-on-one with Elizabeth — I thought coming into it, I’d still be torn between my topics, but I must’ve subconsciously realized which one I was most drawn to, since I didn’t even bring up the other two. I went for the New York accent idea, and over the course of the week started mapping out the research buckets I want to go over before committing to a precise area and figuring out my end project. The Mapping Your Topic exercise was particularly helpful here, allowing me to see some connections between them:

From this mindmap, I developed these questions in the wheel and spoke exercise —

Essentially, I’m interested in how/why/when the New York accent formed; how it’s been perceived (and how perceptions of native New Yorkers/transplants/outsiders about it differ, if at all); and how it relates to the City and its identity in general. 

After fleshing out these interests, I made a reading list to start my research, and checked out some of the books I could from Bobst. Split into my areas, the list is:

  • New York City immigration history
    • City of Dreams by Tyler Anbinder — started reading
    • Mirror For Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries by Bayrd Still — checked out
    • Jewish New York by Deborah Moore et al — a potential narrowing; have not checked it out yet, but wanted to keep it as a reference
    • I’d also like to visit the Ellis Island museum at some point for this.
  • Sociolinguistics
    • The Guidebook to Sociolinguistics by Allan Bell — not available as a physical copy, so I’ll read it online
    • New York City English by Michael Newman — started reading
    • The Social Stratification of English in New York City by William Labov — checked out
    • If These Knishes Could Talk (2013) — a documentary, which I’m planning to watch this coming week
    • You Talkin’ To Me?: The Unruly History of New York English by E.J. White — checked out
  • New York City in media
    • Imaginary Apparatus: New York City and its Mediated Representation by McLain Clutter — not available for outside circulation, so I’ll have to go to the IFA library to read the table of contents and then request chapter scans (what a weird problem to have at this day and age)
    • New York City as Film Set: From Mean Streets to Clean Streets — a short New York Times article, finished reading
    • Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World by Miriam Greenberg — ​​not available as a physical copy, so I’ll read it online
    • New York, New York!: Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories by Sabine Sielke —  checked out

In terms of the end product, I’m still not sure about what I’ll make, but I would still like it to be graphic in nature. I’m thinking an interesting route would be to create something that visually embodies this dialect in a way that’s authentic instead of stereotypical. In talking with Elizabeth, the idea of using typography came up — how could I make type look like New York? How could it capture the New York City English sound? 

The Inspiration to Questions assignment got me thinking about this end result.

Some of the “whys” of my inspirations that I think could fall into whatever I end up creating are:

  • Storytelling/mix of broad themes + personal/intimate stories/Telling personal/local/universal stories/Smaller stories crating a larger whole
    • This all boils down to compelling stories, really, and I’d love for it to be a component of my project. I’m seeing this in City of Dreams already, with the prologue focusing on the story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to be processed through Ellis Island, before delving into a larger narrative.
  • Strong aesthetic/Capturing a location/Formalizing something informal
    • These could refer to the visual nature of my project; I’d like it to manifest NYC English in some way. 
  • Cataloguing a practice/Keeping something alive
    • These fit neatly into the idea — if this accent is dwindling or changing, I’d like to capture it as it was and is.