Brain Pickings

Photographer Jason Hawkes’ London At Night


The view from cloudy skies, or why the financial district is blingier than you thought.

It’s no secret we’re totally obsessed with aerial photography. But while most of the genre focuses on nature’s most magnificent landscapes and man’s most monumental industrial spaces, a breathtaking birdseye view of urbanity’s living fabric — metropolitan cities — is something of a rarity. Which is why we’re completely swept away by photographer Jason Hawkes’ new book, London At Night — a remarkable anthology of images

London's financial district

© Jason Hawkes

While the series is available on Hawkes’ website (which also features similar images of New York), there’s something quite powerful about the physicality to the book that ads to the lushness and vibrant glamor of the images.

Waterloo and Eurostar terminal

© Jason Hawkes


© Jason Hawkes

Shooting aerial photography during the daytime had its own difficulties, you are strapped tightly into a harness leaning out of the helicopter, shouting directions through the headsets to the pilot. If shooting in the day can be difficult, night and the lack of light causes its own set of problems, but overcoming them is half the fun and the results can be stunning.” ~ Jason Hawkes for

A classic London roundabout

© Jason Hawkes

While the light porn does make us worry about London’s carbon footprint, we have admit the exuberant urban whimsy of Hawkes’ photographs makes make it oh-so-easy to surrender to the beauty and forget the ecology of it.

Motorway junction

© Jason Hawkes

Whether you’re a born-and-raised Londoner or someone who’s always admired the grand city from a distance, grab a copy of London At Night to experience one of humanity’s most iconic urban epicenters on a whole new level — literally.

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See Better to Learn Better: Glasses Reinvented


49 colorful ways to boost education, or what design genius has to do with nixing social stigma.

In 2006, industrial design prodigy Yves Béhar wowed the world with his XO laptop for Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child project — a beautiful intersection of technology, design and education advocacy. Today, fuseproject, Behar’s design studio, unveiled See Better to Learn Better — an eyeglass program developed in partnership with the Mexican government, providing free glasses to the 11% of Mexican children who don’t learn simply because they don’t see.

The new line of glasses, titled Collección Escolar 2010, is guided by the philosophy behind OLPC: durability, customization, and a fun aesthetic that makes the product not only useful but also enjoyable for kids — something all the more important in a culture where glasses are perceived as a handicap and burdened by social stigma.

The glasses feature a two-part frame, with top and bottom colors that can be remixed to reflect each child’s preference for a total of 49 possible color combinations. Innovative interchangeable nose pads make the glasses comfortable for kids with noses of different sizes. Made of hyper-flexible advanced Gilamid plastic, the glasses are practically indestructible.

We wanted to design products that are suited to the children’s specific needs, life and environment. The children receiving these glasses need frames that are durable, ergonomic and have key customization elements like shape and color that make wearing the glasses fun and personal.

The program goes into schools, administers free eye exams to the kids, and encourages them to play with the mix-and-match properties of the glasses. The goal of the partnership is to alleviate families who can’t afford the high prices of typical exams and eyewear, particularly in Mexican states like Sonara, Chiappas and Morellos where the percentage of children in need of corrective eyewear can be upwards of 60%.

We can see with crystal clarity why this is such a brilliant idea.

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The Art of Money


Gangsta Abe, Russian plagiarism, and how to pay for food with your art.

Previously, we’ve looked at how artists use ordinary materials to transform them into incredible art creations — from paper to cardboard to toilet paper rolls to whole books. Today, we turn to the one “material” that makes the world go ’round: Money. Here are five of our favorites.


After our recent obsession with surgical book sculptures, we’re turning to tattoo artist Scott Campbell‘s incredible carved currency sculptures. Beyond the indisputable aesthetic merit of his work, there also seems to be a subtle undercurrent of political commentary, which we quite enjoy.

There’s an excellent recent New York Times story about Campbell and his work — worth the read.


You may recall these Japanese moneygami from pickings past — the delightfully irreverent origami portraits of world leaders gracing various bank notes, outfitted with entertainingly incongruous hats and head attire.

Explore the rest of these bad boys for some comic relief at the expense of expenses.


Art Money is a curious project that seeks to offer a global alternative currency — a barter object to use instead of money that is both an exposure vehicle for participating artists worldwide and a financial crutch that allows them to support themselves while focusing on their art.

The idea is simple — artists create an original art money “bank note” measuring 12x18cm, which becomes the equivalent of 200 Danish Kroner (roughly $34), growing in value by five Euro per year for seven years. This money can be used as currency within the Art Money ecosystem, which includes various registered shops and businesses, as well as Art Money hosts who accept this payment for accommodation for traveling artists.

We love the idea of “paying” for necessities with original art — we’ve seen it before with Wants For Sale, and this recent news of the world’s biggest taxi tip offers another delightful example of art as a transactional alternative. Intrigued? Join the project and create your own art money or register your business to accept it.

Thanks, @haverholm


For his senior thesis project, Cuban design student Yordan Silvera embarked upon an ambitious exploration of the aesthetic qualities of money. The result was The Art of Money — a design analysis of the typography, iconography, color and techniques used on different currencies from around the world.

The resulting book is absolutely stunning — we just wish Silvera would make the content available online and/or offer physical copies of the book for sale.


Brooklyn-based artist Mark Wagner is a master of the X-acto knife. His intricate currency collages look laser-cut but are all meticulously hand-carved to a remarkable effect.

The one dollar bill is the most ubiquitous piece of paper in America. Collage asks the question: what might be done to make it something else? It is a ripe material: intaglio printed on sturdy linen stock, covered in decorative filigree, and steeped in symbolism and concept. Blade and glue transform it — reproducing the effects of tapestries, paints, engravings, mosaics, and computers-striving for something bizarre, beautiful, or unbelievable… the foreign in the familiar.” ~ Mark Wagner

So brilliant are his collages that they’ve incited the highest form of flattery — shameless plagiarism by Russian design getup Art Money. Case in point.


If you find yourself fascinated by the design and art direction of currency, we highly recommend checking out Currency Museum — an incredibly rich, albeit tedious to navigate, collection of banknote designs from 155 countries, which is just 40 short of all the world’s recognized political states.

*** UPDATE 04.29 ***

Thanks to commenter C.K. Wilde, who pointed us to some of his incredible money art on Alternating Currency — arguably the most ambitious and, we imagine, painstakingly crafted of the bunch.

See more of Wilde’s work here — it’s absolutely amazing.

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