Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

05 JULY, 2013

BBC’s The Beauty of Books: Penguin, Orwell, and the Paperback Cover Design Revolution

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“The book is still the most intelligent and interactive data retrieval system which has been devised.”

It’s been argued that a new golden age of book design is upon us. But, as iconic graphic designer Massimo Vignelli famously declared, “a designer without a sense of history is worth nothing.” How the history of book design fertilizes its present is precisely what the BBC series The Beauty of Books explores. The fourth episode, Paperback Writer, traces the fascinating story of the paperback revolution, which promised to “turn us all into librarians of our own private collections,” but also transformed books into more of a commodity and elevated the art of the cover into a critical tool for success.

The book is still the most intelligent and interactive data retrieval system which has been devised — and you can take it into the bath. (Author and design critic Stephen Bayley)

The film points to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with its plethora of cover designs and over 25 million copies sold, as “the embodiment of how the paperback book changed civilization.” Here are my favorite covers from the history of the iconic novel:

Swedish edition, 1959; design by Olle Eksell

Penguin UK, 2008; design by Shepard Fairey

But perhaps most brilliant of all is David Person‘s cover for the most recent Penguin edition, playing off the cover of Orwell’s Why I Write:

Complement with how Marshall McLuhan, Jerome Agel, and Quentin Fiore created a new visual vernacular for the golden age of the paperback.

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03 JULY, 2013

Stunning Laser-Cut Paper Illustrations of Macbeth

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A classic masterpiece of dramatic art, newly celebrated with a masterpiece of papercraft.

As a lover of exquisitely crafted books, papercraft, and book art, and a longtime fan of artist Kevin Stanton’s superb cut-paper illustration, I was instantly taken with this lavish edition of Macbeth (public library), featuring Stanton’s intricate masterpieces of layered laser-cut color paper.

The art appears alongside scholarly context, commentary, and illustrated essays on Shakespeare’s language and the play’s performance history.

Macbeth is one quarter of Stanton’s fantastic Signature Shakespeare series also including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and Much Ado About Nothing.

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02 JULY, 2013

A Visual History of Magic

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What the art of levitation has to do with creative debt and the legacy of vintage graphic design.

Whether in the rites of religion, the science of reality, or the folklore of love, or the transcendence of art, or even the allure of early image manipulation, the hunger for magic has always underpinned the human experience.

Originally published in 2009 as one of Taschen’s notoriously expensive hardcover masterpieces, Magic. 1400s-1950s (public library) is now released as a drastically more affordable and no less magnificent tome of 544 pages exploring the mesmerizing visual culture of history’s greatest magicians from the Middle Ages to the 1950s. With 1,000 rare vintage posters, photographs, handbills, and engravings, it’s at once a fascinating journey into the history of performative sorcery and a priceless time-capsule of vintage graphic design and visual culture.

Accompanying the treasure trove of visual ephemera are fascinating micro-essays and historical notes contextualizing their role in the craft by magic historian Jim Steinmeyer and author, collector, and professional magician Mike Caveney.

Among the curious patterns that emerge is a chronicle of creative debt, a kind of circles of influence within the canon as we begin to see how different magicians influenced each other.

Pair Magic. 1400s-1950s with Taschen’s previous gems: the world’s best infographics, the best illustrations from 130 years of Brothers Grimm, Harry Benson’s luminous photos of The Beatles, the history of menu design, and New York’s illustrated jazz scene in the roaring twenties.

Images courtesy Taschen

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