Smile Politely

CUDO’s ABCU makes its long-awaited comeback with a digital show

In the midst of so many challenges and losses, we can all use a good comeback story to remind us of the power of resiliency, creativity, and collaboration. The return of the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization’s beloved ABCU show is that story. As someone with a passion for typography, I was thrilled to learn that the show’s 2020 comeback would take place during Boneyard Arts Festival. And then, of course, it didn’t. But thanks to the can-do spirit of CUDO and the entire design community, we will have that comeback, in digital form, on Friday, April 24th, from 7 to 9 p.m. 

This sort of nimbleness and flexibility in the face of overwhelming challenges is truly inspiring. By nature, designers turn chaos into order. Who make things work and work better. I urge you log onto the show this Friday not only to enjoy the glory of handmade typography, but to be inspired by the magic that our local design community is capable of. 

I had the pleasure of chatting with CUDO’s president, designer and artist Madelyn Witruk about the challenges of this comeback, how CUDO overcame them, and what you can look forward to when you visit the show on Friday. 

Smile Politely: For those new to CUDO or to ABCU, can you give us some background on the event’s history?

Madelyn Witruk: ABCU is a show that CUDO has been executing on and off since 2009. The goal of the show is to showcase type as the art form that it is. I also think that any and all CUDO events are put in place to uplift the art and design community here is Champaign-Urbana. We have always had an opening and a closing reception for the show, and this year will be no different (aside from it being hosted on Zoom).

SP: Being that ABCU celebrates typography of all sorts, what range of media are we likely to see represented?

Witruk: One of my favorite things about ABCU is how imaginative artists are. Even with this year being a virtual show, you will find not only digital work, but also paintings and even a three dimensional piece!

SP: I know the event was originally planned as a part of this year’s Boneyard Arts Festival, but will now be presented virtually. How have you had to adapt to your plan?  Does the digital experience offer anything that might even be considered a “plus”? Longer timeframe for folks to see it? Easier payment for pieces purchased? Easy connection to social media and sharing?

Witruk: It was definitely a mindset change. Going from a real life gallery to something online and somehow creating an event out of it has been an interesting problem to try to solve. Some of the benefits that have come out of the virtual show include:

A sponsorship with Dixon Graphics for printing that was not in place for the real life show. We are going to be able to make multiple prints of each work and I think that is a really incredible thing!

Something that I am really excited about is that we have people from all over involved in this event (not just folks from Champaign Urbana). We are getting a chance to branch out into the art and design community as a whole which will allow for more amazing connections to be made!

In general, I also think that we will notice more eyes can see the show since it will live online.

SP: As a proud type nerd I’m so excited to have this show back in any form. And I know I’m not alone. Illustrated typography, calligraphy, and wood type printing have all made a huge comeback. What do you think it is about typography that is so appealing?

Witruk: I am right there with you. A good typeface absolutely leaves me in awe. I do think that my favorite thing about typography though is that it is something anyone (designer or not) can resonate with. Typography affects all of us every single day, whether we realize it or not, and I love that CUDO gets a chance to highlight the letterforms for the beautiful things that they are.

SP: What advice do you have for those who are new to the study or enjoyment of typography or typographical-based art and design?

Witruk: My main advice is to really surround yourself with it and to try new fonts all of the time. I follow a lot of type foundries, hand lettering, and sign painters on instagram to try to keep up with what is new in the world of type.

SP: Your own work is often a blend of word and images. For you, what’s the secret to successful use of type? 

Witruk: For me, I just keep trying new fonts until I find something that feels right, then I try some more. I have an ongoing list of fonts that I come across and I tend to try out about ten to 15 per piece to find the right one. Sometimes nothing works and I decide to hand draw my type. Everything really just depends on what you want the piece to convey.

SP: You and the new CUDO board have really infused the organization and the local design community with new energy and enthusiasm. You’ve even managed to adapt to our new COVID-19 “normal” with virtual happy hours. What’s your secret?

Witruk: Our first brainstorming meeting after the shelter in place order was honestly so encouraging and I am so glad to work with a team of people who were ready to adapt the way we interact with the community in such a massive way. Our goal is to create an all inclusive hub for the art and design community. When coming up with ideas, we took a step back and thought about what WE would want as artists and designers right now to remain connected.

I think that the secret is just being willing to try new things and give them your all. As long as your main focus is community oriented, the community will welcome it.

SP: Last year you announced that the incorporation of the seasonal Misfit Market under the broader CUDO umbrella. Any plans to adapt this into a virtual event as well?

Witruk: I can’t say too much, but the wheels are definitely turning on a way to make something happen virtually for Misfit Market!

SP: Any advice for local designers and makers on how to stay productive and creative during these challenging times?

Witruk: My main advice is to just make. It doesn’t have to be “good” or something that you share with the rest of the world, but it’s so important especially right now to create things. We launched our Isolation Inspiration social media prompts as a way to give people topics for when they feel stuck. I personally have found them super useful and have even dove into things I never really thought I would (I illustrated a comic last week which was totally new to me, but I loved making it)!

Also, I want to make a note that your worth is not measured by your productivity or creativity at this time. This is such a surreal time for us all and above everything, YOU are the most important thing.

SP: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

I guess last but not least, I really want to thank this community for engaging and interacting with CUDO. We value all of you so much and honestly could not do it without you all! We can’t wait until we can see you all again!

CUDO ABCU 2020 Virtual Opening Reception
April 24th, 7 to 9 p.m.
Stay tuned to the Facebook event page for the show link

Top image: Digital illustration of the letters CUDO and ABCU in light pink and blue on a pale yellow background. Image from Facebook event page.

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