Learning The Crowphabet

Words are such tricky things.

Useful, obviously, as how else would I write my blog posts?

I thought so much about them when writing my book, City Crow Stories, around this time last year. The difficulty of finding the right ones; the trickiness of not using too many of them; the peskiness of punctuation.

Very often, I thought about the limitations of words. I was reminded of another of my mother’s favourite sayings …

As I was drifting off to sleep at night, I’d think about how much better a book would be if it was written in untranslated crow.

I imagined a keyboard that could take all of those important crow messages — the ones that are sort of obvious, and yet somehow impossible to put into words — and type them out in clear, unimpeachable prose.

Crow truth in ….

The picture in my mind was not of a computer keyboard but of a manual typewriter, perhaps because my first memories of churning out the written word involve such archaic technology.

When I was about seven my dad (for the dual purposes of entertainment and self-improvement) obtained an old typewriter for me. He was the caretaker for an multi-story Victorian building that housed a bank and various offices. Our family lived on the top floor. In the early, oh-so-mod 60’s, the offices were replacing their outdated typewriters with electric models, so my dad acquired an ancient Underwood for me to save it from the rubbish heap.

This is not the actual typewriter but it was a model very similar to this. I remember my fingers hitting those round keys many thousands of times and the satisfaction of the bell ringing at the end of a row and the tactile pleasure of hitting the return lever.

I spent countless hours typing out “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” and “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.” I knew, as I practiced over and over, that learning to type was the key to modern communication and I, at seven-and-a-half years old, was right there at the cutting edge.

As you can tell, I am rather old. Playing with my mother’s button tin was also a big treat. I probably had to walk uphill both ways to school, but can’t quite remember …

Anyway, getting back to the typewriter image in my brain … it stayed with me for most of last year until I finally gave in to it and did what I used to do with things that were on my mind when I was a kid — I just drew it out on paper.

Eventually it ended up back on the computer as this image …

Part of my intention for this year was to spend more time on images and less time on words, so the As The Crow Flies image is a sort of resolution in picture form.

There is, I realize, a dollop of ironic humour in my use of writing technology imagery to represent an aspiration to get beyond words. Best just to embrace our limitations, I say.

Another failure to escape the bonds of words and typography:  I needed to create a little chart for myself so that I could make sentences in my newly imagined Crowcabulary. Next thing you know, I’d created the Crowphabet

It’s still a far cry from hearing first hand from crows, but I hope that the poetry of the crow shapes is a small wing flap in the right direction.

Other illustrations in the new gallery of Black and White illustrations include Crow Dance, which you may recognize from my scarf design of the same name.

I’ve also included the Urban Nature illustration that is one of a series of such images I created for the masthead of this very blog.

You can see the new gallery of Black and White crow illustrations in my shop … and feel free to start writing things in “crow” yourself. It makes shopping lists so much more entertaining!



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3 thoughts on “Learning The Crowphabet

  1. must be the same age, I learned to type on an underwood in school, spent lunch hours practising as I loved it. Typed up our school newspaper on it using gestetner sheets. There will be few who remember those and the machine that used them to run off multiple copies, the first primitive xerox.

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