Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘books’

02 APRIL, 2012

London Unfurled: An Obsessive 37-Foot Accordion Drawing

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Along the River Thames in pen and ink.

There’s something endlessly alluring about drawing a city in fastidious detail, from Stephen Wiltshire’s astoundingly accurate hand-drawn 360º panoramas to James Gulliver Hancock’s quest to draw every building in New York City to French autistic savant Gilles Trehin’s imaginary megacity. Now, from Italian artist Matteo Pericoli comes London Unfurled — a remarkable 37-foot-long accordion-format book, following in the footsteps of Pericoli’s celebrated Manhattan Unfurled.

Over the course of two weeks, Pericoli walked more than 60 miles, or 100 kilometers, and traveled 20 miles along the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge to the Millennium Dome and back again, taking some 6,100 photos, which he spent the following two years recreating in his obsessive pen-and-ink drawings. But what makes the project all the more unusual is its vantage point — it “unfurls” the complexity of London from the river that both divides it and seals it together, using the city’s north and south banks as gateways to its dozen boroughs, hundreds of buildings, countless landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Tate Modern, Battersea Power Station, and Millennium Wheel, and 41 bridges.

Pericoli breaks down his epic journey by the numbers for Abitare:

Length of each of the two originals: 11.50 m
Height of the each of the two originals: 30 cm
Number of bridges
Total: 41 (of which, North: 21, South: 20)
Number of waves
Total: 3,262 (of which, North: 1,842, South: 1,420, i.e. bigger waves in the South drawing.)
Number of cranes
Total: 58 (of which, North: 29, South: 29 – amazing, same number!)
Number of buildings
Total: 1,343 (of which, North: 766, South: 577, Houses of Parliament: 823)
Approximate number of windows
Total (approx.): 27,180 (of which, North: 14,955, South: 12,225)
Approximate length walked along the river for the actual drawings (i.e. not grand total and without the zig-zags, and not counting that I also walked all the way to the London Barrier and beyond, both sides)
Total: 36.7 miles (of which, North: 17.5 miles, South: 19.2 miles)
Total number of photos taken: 6,100

This process drawing will give you an idea of Pericoli’s signature blend of a documentarian’s precision and an artist’s whimsy:

See him literally unfurl his sketch for the north side drawing, complete with rolling-paper sound:

London Unfurled also comes as an iPad app that lets you seamlessly scroll the entire drawing, find specific landmarks, flip from north to south, and zoom into Pericoli’s astonishing detail.

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30 MARCH, 2012

Love Is Walking Hand In Hand: The Peanuts Gang Defines Love, 1965

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“Love is being happy knowing that she’s happy… but that isn’t so easy.”

The Peanuts series by Charles M. Schulz endures as one of the most beloved cartoons of all time, partly because of Schulz’s gift for capturing the great, tender truths of human existence through remarkably simple, sometimes poetic, often humorous, always profound vignettes. Hardly does it get more profound and poetic, however, than in Schulz’s 1965 book, Love is Walking Hand In Hand — an utterly lovely tiny treasure, in which Lucy and Snoopy and Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang define love through the simple acts and moments of everyday life.

I recently managed to snag a used copy of the long-out-of-print gem, in which I found a living testament to the joy of second-hand books: Tucked inside it, on the second page, was the greatest treat of all — a loving, heartfelt inscription by a man (a boy?) named Bob to his sweetheart:

‘Love is buying someone a present with your own money.’

My Sweetheart,

Just a little ‘present’ to you, who taught me the meaning of the word this little book is about — Love.

I shall always love you more than yesterday but — less than tomorrow.

Bob.

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30 MARCH, 2012

Beautiful Vintage Cross-Sections of Trees, Many Rare or Extinct Today

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A bittersweet masterpiece of design and natural history.

From Cedric Pollet’s artful photos of bark to Rachel Sussman’s magnificent portraits of Earth’s most ancient perennial plants, trees seem to possess a special magnetism for human curiosity. But no visual documentarian has approached the inventory of trees with more dedication than Romeyn Beck Hough (1857-1924). Between 1888 and 1913, Hough cataloged hundreds of tree specimens in what became an epic 14-volume masterwork entitled American Woods. He employed a breathtaking, unusual display method: actual specimens mounted on card stock in three cutouts of the tree’s wood — transverse, radial, and tangential — alongside detailed descriptions of the tree’s habitat, characteristics, growth patterns, medicinal properties, and commercial possibilities. The collection endures as a work of unparalleled achievement and retails accordingly, with edition sets appraised as high as $30,000.

Luckily, Taschen has preserved Hough’s work and love of trees in the much more accessible The Woodbook: The Complete Plates, reproducing in painstaking facsimile all specimen plates from a rare original volume the editors acquired. The trees are arranged in alphabetical order and presented in Hough’s signature triad of cross-sections, revealing a wealth of colors and textures. Accompanying the wood cuts are lithographs by Charles Sprague Sargent, depicting the leaves and nuts of the trees, as well as texts contextualizing the trees’ geographical origins and physical characteristics.

Besides being an invaluable treat for naturalists and designers alike, The Woodbook is also a bittersweet artifact — in the century since Hough completed American Woods, many of the trees have become rare or completely extinct.

The individual plates have been made available online, courtesy of the Special Collections Research Center of the NCSU Libraries — a fine addition to these 7 important digitization projects.

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