Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

27 MARCH, 2012

Little 1: Paul Rand’s Sweet Vintage Children’s Book About Numbers, Soulmates, and Belonging

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A mid-century love story about the loneliest number, its quest for belonging, and its eternal soulmate.

In the late 1950s, legendary graphic designer Paul Rand and his then-wife Ann set out to write and illustrate a series of children’s books, beginning with Sparkle and Spin in 1957. The second book in the series, Little 1, was published in 1961 and enlisted the same playful dance of wordplay and bold, vibrant, minimalist images in introducing the young reader to the numbers from 1 to 10 through a heart-warming story about friendship and belonging.

The deceptively simple illustrations juxtaposed with seemingly basic concepts — like, for instance, the concept of “how many,” the idea of sets that we take for granted but that is, in fact, a triumph of human cognition and a cognitive challenge for the young brain — parallel Umberto Eco’s infatuation with semiotics in serving a bigger mission of exploring the symbolic relationship between text and image.

Some three decades later, in a 1993 interview, Steve Jobs, who worked with Rand on the design of the NeXT logo, captured a defining quality of Rand’s character that seems to permeate his children’s books, one that lived beneath his public persona as a professional curmudgeon:

He’s a very deep, thoughtful person who’s tried to express in every part of his life what his principles are. And you don’t meet so many people like that today.

Little 1 was followed by the third and final book in the series, Listen! Listen!, in 1970. It is long out of print and currently nearly impossible to find. (Do you have a copy? I’d love to hear from you.)

For more seminal vintage children’s book illustration, see the fantastic Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling.

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26 MARCH, 2012

The Importance of Frustration in the Creative Process, Animated

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“Before we can find the answer — before we can even know the question — we must be immersed in disappointment.”

Last week, Jonah Lehrer took us inside “the seething cauldron of ideas” with Imagine: How Creativity Works, his long-awaited (by me, at least) new book. Now, from Flash Rosenberg — Guggenheim Fellow, NYPL artist-in-residence, live-illustrator extraordinaire, and Brain Pickings darling — comes this wonderful hand-drawn teaser for the book, distilling one of Lehrer’s key ideas in Rosenberg’s signature style of simple yet visually eloquent line drawings.

When we tell stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase. We neglect to mention those days when we wanted to quit, when we believed that our problem was impossible. Instead, we skip straight to the breakthrough. We tell the happy ending first.

The danger of this scenario is that the act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can find the answer — before we can even know the question — we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it’s only after we stop searching that an answer may arrive.

For a related treat, see Rosenberg’s live-illustration of John Lithgow reading Mark Twin at the New York Public Library.

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22 MARCH, 2012

Plink Plink! Celebrate World Water Day with Vintage Children’s Illustrations circa 1954

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A marvelous mid-century homage to Earth’s lifeblood.

Between 1957 and 1963, The Doubleday Book Clubs published a series of illustrated anthologies entitled Best in Children’s Books. Each of the few dozen numbered volumes contained a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, blending old works by established authors and artists with new works by emerging ones. The series is a treasure-trove of obscure gems by artists who eventually became cultural icons — from young Andy Warhol’s vibrant drawings to Maurice Sendak’s little-known Velveteen Rabbit illustrations.

To celebrate World Water Day today, here is Plink Plink! — an utterly delightful story about water’s all-important role in our world, written and illustrated by Ethel and Leonard Kessler in 1954, and published in Best in Children’s Books Volume 12.

Though the volume — which also features John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — is sadly out of print, you can snag a used copy with some dedicated rummaging online.

Thanks, Claudia

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