Brain Pickings

Author Archive

10 MAY, 2011

Writers’ Houses Illustrated

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Minimalist illustrations of iconic writers’ abodes, from Twain to Dickinson to Poe.

We have an ongoing fascination with where creators create. And while it’s somewhat easier to picture the studios of artists and designers, since there’s an aesthetic expectation aligned with their visual styles, it’s invariably a mystery to imagine where wordsmiths work their magic. That’s the subject of a collaboration between literary pilgrim A.N. Devers and design duo Michael Fusco and Emma Straub, based on the excellent Writers’ Houses site, exploring the domiciles of famous scribes through a series of stunning screenprints.

From Emily Dickinson‘s humble homestead to Mark Twain‘s whimsical micro-mansion the eerie abode of mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, known as the Elephant House — the only monochromatic print of the bunch, perhaps a nod to Gorey’s distinctive macabre style — the two-color prints are absolutely lovely and disproportionately affordable at just $20 each, with proceeds funding the ongoing Writers’ Houses project.

For more literary voyeurism, take a peek at the excellent American Writers at Home by J. D. McClatchy and photographer Erica Lennard — a fascinating look at how physical space has shaped the work of some of today’s most beloved authors.

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10 MAY, 2011

Christoph Niemann: How the World Works

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Creative fuel for the inquisitive mind, or what trucks and lions have in common.

Christoph Niemann is our favorite children’s book illustrator and today is a big day because it’s the day he releases his latest gem: That’s How! — an absolutely lovely invitation to explore the inner workings of the world visually, through the pursuit of what we hold as our highest ideal for navigating life: Reckless, indiscriminate curiosity.

Playful, quirky and delightful, the book is a cover-to-cover treat for parents, kids and eternal children of all ages, tickling our fancy as we imagine a whimsical alternate reality behind our worn mundanity.

That’s How! is Niemann’s follow-up to a string of gems, including I LEGO NY, The Police Cloud and Subway.

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09 MAY, 2011

Sam + Friends: Vintage Muppets Explore Visual Thinking

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What vintage Muppets have to do with synesthesia and visual thinking.

Fifty-six years ago today, Sam + Friends — the early live-action puppet TV show by Muppets creator Jim Henson and his eventual wife Jane — made its official debut. Its characters, all of whom Henson voiced himself, presaged not only modern icons like Kermit and The Muppets, but even some of today’s cultural archetypes. (One of Sam’s friends was named Harry the Hipster.)

This vintage kinescope from the show’s early days offers a rare look at the dawn of a cultural icon and explores visual thinking, particularly in music — something we’ve recently covered and have an ongoing fascination with.

For more on the story of Sam + Friends, see Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, as well as Chapter 2 of the altogether fantastic Kermit book, Before You Leap: A Frog’s Eye View of Life’s Greatest Lessons.

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09 MAY, 2011

Railway Maps of the World

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What the evolution of standardized time zones has to do with train travel in Zimbabwe.

We love maps, especially subway and train-related maps. So we’re all over Mark Ovenden’s Railway Maps of the World — the fantastic follow-up to his excellent 2007 Transit Maps of the World and 2009 Paris Underground. The lavish, large-format tome culls the world’s most interesting railway maps, posters and related ephemera, from the historical to the modern.

From early maps-printing techniques to beautiful vintage travel advertising ephemera to the latest digital real-time maps for mobile devices, Ovenden scours rare archives and architectural dreams alike, from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway of 1830 to China’s proposed 2020 high-speed train networks, to explore the evolution of cartography and the social role of train travel. Besides the lust-worthy design candy, the book also offers fascinating historical context and tells the story of how railroads became the vehicle for cultural change, bridging nations, driving economic growth, changing our diets by putting previously unavailable foods on the table, and even giving us standardized time zones.

With over 500 images and maps representing more than 120 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Railway Maps of the World is a beautiful treasure chest of fascination for map lovers, design aficionados and history geeks alike, a rare record of a civilization in perpetual motion.

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