Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

07 JUNE, 2011

Drawn In: A Peek Inside Favorite Artists’ Private Sketchbooks

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What the myth of the muse has to do with the discipline of refinement, visual poetry and Shel Silverstein.

I’m a longtime fan of artist Julia Rothman, who pens the wonderful Book By Its Cover blog and who in 2009 co-masterminded the excellent Exquisite Book, in which 100 of today’s most exciting visual artists engaged in a collaborative game inpsired by the surrealist movement of the 1920s. This month, Julia is back with another superb book project: Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists — a voyeuristic visual journey into how artists doodle, brainstorm and flesh ideas out, doing for art what Field Notes did for science, Street Sketchbook did for street art and Pure Process did for advertising.

The lavish volume offers a rare glimpse inside the minds and hearts of favorite artists like visual poet Sophie Blackall, happiness-designer Tad Carpenter, nature illustrator Jill Bliss and many more, showcasing stunning full-color images alongside profiles of the artists, who discuss their sketchbooks and how they use them.

Today, I sit down with Julia to chat about the theories of creative genius, common patterns of creation, and insights from the project.

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There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the origin of genius and the driving force behind the creative process, whether it’s the product of this age-old notion of “the muse” or closer to something like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, which frames “genius” as the product of merciless practice and discipline. Do artists’ sketchbooks bespeak a particular truth to tip the scale in either direction, or do they embody some combination of the two models of genius?

JR: I think it’s definitely a mix of both. While you can learn a technique like drawing and try to perfect it by practicing and practicing, you still need that bit of natural talent to bring it to the level of these artists. In these sketchbooks, there’s evidence of artists spending a lot of time getting their drawings to look a certain way. Sam Bosma’s sketches of the same character over and over are a great example. His pages show a refinement in each rendering of the same subject. But there is definitely a spontaneity in much of the work in these sketchbooks. One of my favorite examples is Christian DeFilippo’s balloon page. It seems like he just threw a handful of balloons on the paper and taped them down flat. The result is an amazing colorful and sculptural page, an experiment which couldn’t have been created from practice.

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Did any specific patterns emerge from the bird’s-eye view of the 44 sketchbooks, anything that was common to many artist and perhaps a useful insight on how the rest of us can best tame our inspiration and creative process?

JR: Each of these artists have such different styles and ways of working, but one of the things that they all seemed to do was observational drawing from life. While much of Anders Nilsen’s sketchbook was filled with comics and imagery from his own head, you’d turn a page and see a realistic sketch of a person who was sitting in front of him. It seems like being able to capture the world around you is an important skill to each of these artists whether or not their non-sketchbook work reflects that. Being able to recreate the world around them, must help artists to be able to create their own worlds.

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What dead artists’ sketchbooks do you most wish you could peek inside?

JR: Keiko Minami, Vera Neuman, Ben Shahn, John Singer Sargent, Shel Silverstein, Ezra Jack Keats, Olle Eksell, Alexander Calder, Charles Schulz… I could go on and on.

Drawn In is out this month and an absolute, rare kind of treat.

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06 JUNE, 2011

Christoph Niemann on Happiness, Work and Creativity

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How yoga is killing kerning, or what chasing butterflies has to do with divine inspiration.

I’m a really big Christoph Niemann fan, so I was thrilled to see him speak last month at Creative Mornings, the fantastic breakfast lecture series by my lovely studiomate Tina (a.k.a. Swiss Miss), dubbed “TED for the rest of us.” Charming, irreverent and self-deprecating as ever, Christoph dances across everything from finding happiness at work to what it takes to have a good idea to the myth of “talent” to how to overcome writer’s block.

Creativity is like chasing chickens.” ~ Christoph Niemann

I found this visual breakdown of Christoph’s daily routine, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, quite interesting:

Here’s an unwitting wink at RSA’s animated version of Steven Johnson’s insights on where good ideas come from, also echoing my favorite TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s.

And something reminiscent of Scott Belsky philosophy on making ideas happen:

Watch, laugh, nod knowingly, and marvel at Christoph’s fantastic signature brand of wit, humor and simple, raw human truth:

(Imagine my terror when Christoph hit it out of the ballpark the way he did, given I was the speaker for the following Creative Mornings — what a tough act to follow!)

In order to have creativity, you have to allow for dead ends to happen.” ~ Christoph Niemann

See more of Christoph’s brilliant work on his site and grab some of his utterly wonderful children’s books for your favorite tiny humans and their parents.

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03 JUNE, 2011

Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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