Brain Pickings

Author Archive

17 MAY, 2012

20 of Today’s Most Exciting Artists and Illustrators Reimagine the Paper Plane

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What the quintessential childhood staple teaches us about the bounds of the imagination.

The paper airplane is among the most beloved of childhood toys — and for good reason: It seems to embody just the right balance of function and fantasy, of hands-on practicality and make-believability. In Little Paper Planes, 20 of today’s most exciting artists and illustrators — including Brain Pickings favorites Julia Rothman ( ), Lisa Congdon ( ), and Gemma Correll () — reimagine the childhood staple. From the literal yet expressive to the wildly abstract yet playable with, the designs range from a meticulously engineered plane mobile to a paper doll to a crumbled up piece of paper to a handful of shreds, and just about every imaginative in-between shape.

Kelly Lynn Jones, founder of pioneering artist community Little Paper Planes, writes in the introduction:

While working on this book, it became clear that the concept of the paper plane represented more than just a flying object, but brought up moments of nostalgia for childhood, varying perceptions on the act of making and creativity, and notions around authorship and the collaboration between artist and reader.”

Each paper plane design is prefaced by a short introduction to and single-question interview with the artist, contextualizing his or her work, background, and approach to art.

Julia Rothman

Gemma Correll

Lisa Congdon

Michael C. Hsiung

A refreshing treat for that timeless inner child, or the creatively-minded real child, Little Paper Planes reminds you that the limits of even the most seemingly formulaic and constrained of concepts are set only by the bounds and boundaries of the imagination.

Open Culture

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16 MAY, 2012

Little Bird: A Beautifully Minimalist Story of Belonging Lost and Found by Swiss Illustrator Albertine

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“There are no greater treasures than the little things.”

Children’s picture books — the best of them, at least — have this magical quality of speaking to young hearts with expressive simplicity, but also engaging grown-up minds with subtle reflections on the human condition. Such is the case of Little Bird (public library) by Swiss author-illustrator duo Germano Zullo and Albertine, published by the wonderful Enchanted Lion Books. Illustrated in Albertine’s signature style of soft, colorful minimalism, this little gem is like a beautiful silent film, only in vibrant hues and on paper.

It tells the tender story of a big-hearted man who halts his truck at a cliff’s edge. Unable to go any further, he opens the back door of his truck and a flock of birds spills out into the air, leaving behind a tiny, timid black bird. Surprised and delighted by the little loyalist, the man befriends the bird.

The two have lunch together and, eventually, the man tries to encourage the bird to fly off and join the others by attempting a comic demonstration of flight himself.

The humorous situation deepens the tenderness between the two creatures and soon the bird departs, the man drives away, and the story seems to end — but! — just as the truck trails off into the distance, we see the little black bird come back after it, followed by his colorful friends in a lyrical moment of belonging lost and found. “The small things are treasures,” writes Zullo. “True treasures.”

There are no greater treasures than the little things.

The entire story unfolds with few words and primary colors, but mesmerizes with its evocative honesty and gentle sophistication, inviting readers of all ages to look again and again as we rediscover our inner child’s gift for finding infinite beauty and curiosity in the little things.

A lovely quote from an e. e. cummings poem graces the first page:

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living

Korean designer Young-jun Kim created this charming animation based on the book:

UPDATE: Sadly, the Swiss publisher of the book (not Enchanted Lion Books, the U.S. publisher) has had the video removed. Remix culture still fares poorly in the old world…

Little Bird was originally written in French and translated by my brilliant friend Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Enchanted Lion Books.

Images courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books / Albertine

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16 MAY, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why We’re Wired for Science & How Originality Differs in Science vs. Art

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“Every child is a scientist.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson may well be the Richard Feynman of our day, a “Great Explainer” in his own right, having previously reflected on everything from the urgency of space exploration to the most humbling fact about the universe. In this short video, Tyson contributes a beautiful addition to this omnibus of notable definitions of science and explores subjects as diverse as the nature of originality and the future of artificial intelligence.

Watch and take notes.

I can’t think of any more human activity than conducting science experiments. Think about it — what do kids do? … They’re turning over rocks, they’re plucking petals off a rose — they’re exploring their environment through experimentation. That’s what we do as human beings, and we do that more thoroughly and better than any other species on Earth that we have yet encountered… We explore our environment more than we are compelled to utter poetry when we’re toddlers — we start doing that later. Before that happens, every child is a scientist. And so when I think of science, I think of a truly human activity — something fundamental to our DNA, something that drives curiosity.

One particularly interesting line of thought examines the difference between originality in science and originality in art — a refreshing complement to last week’s tangential musings on the subject by Mark Twain and Henry Miller.

If I discover a scientific idea, surely someone else would’ve discovered the same idea had I not done so. Whereas, look at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” — if he didn’t paint “Starry Night,” nobody’s gonna paint “Starry Night.” So, in that regard, the arts are more individual to the creative person than a scientific idea is to the one who comes up with it — but, nonetheless, they are both human activities.

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