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Andy Clymer — Alumni interview

Andy Clymer participated in the first class of SFPC in Fall 2013. Until recently, he was a Senior Typeface Designer and Design Technology Director at Hoefler & Co. Currently, he’s focusing on his practice and teaching. We asked him about his SFPC experience and what he’s up to now.

Taeyoon Choi: Tell us a little bit about yourself

Andy Clymer: My name is Andy Clymer, I’ve been living in New York City since 2005, but I’m originally from Southern California. I’ve been working as a typeface designer for as long as I’ve been in New York. My process has always been a mix of design and tool development. I was lucky enough to have been looking for a short-term course to expand my skill as a programmer when SFPC was being founded in 2013. Little did I know what I was getting myself into by applying and being accepted to the first class of SFPC!

T: How did you discover SFPC?

A: I usually go to the occasional conference for my industry. In 2011, I treated myself to attend the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis to experience something new. While I was there I met some amazing people, one of them was Jen Lowe, co-founder of SFPC. Jen and the Eyeo Festival opened me up to opened me up to the stories that people were telling with data and the amazing things that artists were doing with new technology, so I was glad to be following Jen when the announcement for this new experimental school went out.

T: What were some exciting and challenging things about participating in 10 weeks program?

A: SFPC felt like a perfect place for me as a designer because most programming courses are either too specific to a task or language, or are meant for an engineer, or would take two years of my time to finish. Since I was in the first class I only had a vague idea of what to expect, aside from what I already knew about the founders.

SFPC is a course where you really make what you want of it — it was an unusual exercise for me on day 1 for all of the participants to list what they wanted to learn on a communal white board, but the crazy thing is that the instructors really made it all happen. Aside from the core classes that met once or twice a day, our days and weeks were filled with visiting guests who could teach us something from our list of requested topics. As a participant we were never really called “students” explicitly because the expectation was that we would also teach, time slots for mini-workshops given by the participants would naturally organize themselves each day to share knowledge.

This all made for an intensely busy time — there was no expectation for us to sit in on every workshop or guest talk, but when else would I have the chance to learn so much? Our days were completely full, only because we wanted it to be, and we would stay late into the evening working on homework or tinkering with a new idea from the day.

Working late night at Eyebeam Art and Technology Center for the final showcase

T: Any funny anecdote?

A: One funny thing that I always think of from this list of white board topics that we all wanted to learn, was that a co-participant Rachel Uwa (if I remember correctly) kept wanting to learn how Wi-Fi and Bluetooth worked. In a way it seemed strange to me — it’s just Wi-Fi — who are the SFPC team going to find to come give us a lecture? When the day finally came we had an amazing and completely eye-opening talk from Dan Phiffer around the art that he’s made with wireless networks, and a workshop where we hacked cheap wireless basestations to install his decentralized Occupy.here software. So, expect the unexpected, and no topic is too far out-there for SFPC’s teachers to find someone to give a talk or a workshop!

T: It’s refreshing to hear how we used to run workshops based on demand. Over the past five years, we’ve developed policies around visiting speakers and workshops. While it was exciting to invite teachers based on participants’ requests, it also became overwhelming to organize and sometimes distracting for students. Also, the main curriculum became much more structured and comprehensive than the first year. Nowadays, we focus on a few days of visiting speakers in the first week through the SFPC Salon, inviting a few guest teachers and speakers, regular ‘feedback sessions’ and Family Dinner with alums and guests. Informal knowledge exchanges still continues. For example, when a student has a particular question, such as “Can I access a pen plotter?” we usually find someone in the community who can show them. While you were at SFPC, were there any interesting observation you made?

A: The first session of SFPC took place in a loft in Brooklyn in the “Metropolitan Exchange Bank” building where we occupied a space that was half commercial kitchen, half junk storage for the odds and ends that the building’s owner had collected over the years. The space had its ups and downs, but it was an amazing place to work out of. Some of the best ideas come from working out of a garage full of junk, and this was like a garage to end all garages. If you needed anything, the owner of the building had it. One participant asked if he had a spare bath tub to use in an installation — he had two.

SFPC’s first space in downtown Brooklyn

I realized that this kind of education works so much better in a space that you have to make for yourself, not in a cold room with fluorescent lighting. And the kitchen, which has continued to be a staple of the current SFPC space, brings everyone together and keeps them there later than you probably would want to stay in another setting, it just feels more like a home away from home for those ten weeks.

Le Wei and Andy

T: What kind of projects did you work on?

A: I made it a point that I was still going to still achieve my goals of learning some new approach to being a designer who is also a developer, by taking the time to avoid working with what I was already familiar with and to try something new. I did very little with Python (the only programming language that I knew at the time) and didn’t make any project related to type design (the job that I would be returning to after the course), which meant that I really felt like I enjoyed and learned the most from Zach’s classes on openFrameworks with animation and computer vision, Taeyoon’s electronics classes, and Caitlin Morris’ workshop with the Arduino which I hadn’t used before.

I eventually ended up with a project called the “Insecurity Camera”, a shy security camera that looks the other way. It really pulled together everything that I had learned in the last few weeks of the course — the video feed from an actual security camera on a pan/tilt motorized wall mount was processed to determine where motion was happening within the camera’s frame, which would then give a signal to the motors to turn its view out of the way. If I only had a few more days it would have worked a lot better, but sometimes a more poetic idea is better than a museum-quality piece.

T: What are you doing now?

A: I’m working now as an independent designer, but at the time I returned back to the job that I had before SFPC. I found a few ways to slowly incorporate the lessons that I learned from SFPC into my work. For one, I designed a typeface called Obsidian that made use of some new custom drawing tools I developed that I don’t think I would have been able to without my experiences at SFPC.

More tangible evidence from my time at SFPC is my interest in electronics that I got from Taeyoon, which still to this day takes over a huge amount of my free time. In the past year I finished off two small projects that I wanted to build for myself but that I now aim to teach as a workshop, the KernTroller and the MiniKbd.

The MiniKbd is a mechanical keyboard kit that can be built in three different ways, and is programmable with Python.
The KernTroller is a customizable USB controller with touch sensors for buttons, designed specifically for a type designer’s task of “kerning” a typeface, the adjustment of space between a pair of letters. The pressure sensitivity of the buttons allow the designer to make a tiny adjustment to the kerning with a small tap, or a larger adjustment with a more firm press of the touch sensor.

T: What do you want to be doing 5 years from now?

A: Typeface design is still my main focus, but the things you learn at SFPC have a way of staying with you and slowly becoming more of how I define what it is that I do. Starting my own independent design practice earlier this year has given me more time for making these side interests into a larger part of my day, and I’m excited to see where it will all go.

T: Any advice for people who are considering applying to 10 weeks program?

A:The best advice I can give to someone who is considering to apply for the 10 week program is to come in with a goal in mind, but to also be ready to be caught up with something new. Be ready to treat it as a time where you’ll try something that you couldn’t have done without the school, and feel confident that you’ll still make what you want out of it. No regrets!

T: What is poetic computation, for you?

A: Defining “poetic computation” isn’t easy but I think the “poetry” is asking you to leave room a bit of imagination when it might not be clear right out of the box how “computation” can anything more than literal fact…

Communal kitchen
Group dinner
Art of reading field trip to the Cloisters
The Cloisters

Interview and photographs by Taeyoon Choi

Spring 2019 Immersive

  • Ten-Weeks Session: March 11th — May. 17th, 2019
  • Location: SFPC, 155 Bank street, West Village, NYC
  • Application open until November 17th, 2018

Code Societies Winter 2019

  • Three-Week Session, January 7th — January 26th, 2019
  • Location: SFPC, 155 Bank street, West Village, NYC
  • 6:30pm — 9:30pm, Evening Classes
  • Apply now! competitive rolling admissions.




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School for Poetic Computation—since Fall 2013.

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