Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

07 MAY, 2012

Harry Clarke’s Haunting 1919 Illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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Artful Edwardian-era erotica at the intersection of the whimsical and the macabre.

Somewhere between Henry Holiday’s weird paintings for Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey’s delightfully grim alphabet fall Harry Clarke‘s hauntingly beautiful and beautifully haunting 1919 illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination — a collection of 29 of Poe’s tales of the magical and the macabre.

So lavish was the artwork that a copy of the “deluxe” Clarke-illustrated edition went for 5 guineas in 1919, or about $300 in today’s money. The book, an epic volume of 480 pages, was eventually reprinted by Calla Editions in 2008, and is now available for the much more reasonable $27, or free with a trip to your local public library.

Eerie and erotic, Clarke’s illustrations bring his Edwardian-era aesthetic and early Art Nouveau influences to the post-Victorian liberated fascination with sensuality.

See more illustrations at the always-wonderful 50 Watts, who took care to scan the images above.

Clarke’s style brings to mind a beautiful German short film I recently shared, titled The Boundaries of Life and Death and inspired by Poe:

50 Watts FastCo Design

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25 APRIL, 2012

The Animal Fair: Vibrant Vintage Children’s Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen

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“A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.”

As a lover of children’s books, especially vintage ones, I was instantly enthralled by the work of artist-author duo Alice and Martin Provensen, who began their collaboration when they got married in 1944 and went on to produce a wealth of vibrant, textured illustrations wrapped in heart-warming stories of curiosity and kindness. Among their most delightful gems is The Animal Fair (public library), originally published in 1952 and featuring 22 original stories and poems by the Provensens. Along the lively journey to the farmyard, zoo, and forest, we also find humorous semi-useful advice, like “how to sleep through the winter” and “how to recognize a wolf in the forest.”

(It isn’t hard to imagine that Kate Messer’s lovely modern children’s illustrations were inspired by the Provensens’.)

One day a hummingbird sat all by himself on a pole. A sparrow fluttered down and perched beside him. Then a chickadee, a titmouse, a finch, a pippit and other small birds joined them.

‘Is something going to happen?’ asked a wren.

A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.

Martin Provensen passed away in 1987. Alice Provensen is 94 years old and continues to illustrate.

Thanks, Jeremiah

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20 APRIL, 2012

5 (Mostly) Vintage Children’s Books by Iconic Graphic Designers

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Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Bruno Munari, Paul Rand.

As a lover of children’s books, I have a particularly soft spot for little-known gems by well-known creators. After two rounds of excavating obscure children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups and icons of the art world, here are five wonderful vintage children’s books by some of history’s most celebrated graphic designers.

HENRI’S WALK TO PARIS BY SAUL BASS

Saul Bass (1920-1996) is commonly considered the greatest graphic designer of all time, responsible for some of the most timeless logos and most memorable film title sequences of the twentieth century. In 1962, Bass collaborated with former librarian Leonore Klein on his only children’s book, which spent decades as a prized out-of-print collector’s item. This year, half a century later, Rizzoli reprinted Henri’s Walk to Paris (public library) — an absolute gem like only Bass can deliver, at once boldly minimalist and incredibly rich, telling the sweet, aspirational, colorful story of a boy who lives in rural France and dreams of going to Paris.

Originally featured here in February, with more images.

THE ALPHAZEDS BY MILTON GLASER

Many of us regard Milton Glaser as the greatest graphic designer alive. From the iconic I ♥ NY logo to his prolific newspaper and magazine designs, logos, brand identities, posters and other celebrated visual ephemera, his work seeks to inform and delight. In 2003, he collaborated with his wife, Shirley Glaser, on The Alphazeds (public library) — mighty fuel for my obsession with alphabet books, in which the letters of the alphabet turn into a boisterous bunch and meet one another for the first time in a small yellow room. Delightful havoc ensues.

In 2005, the duo collaborated once again, producing The Rabbit Race (public library) — an adaptation of the famous Aesop fable.

THE BROWNSTONE BY PAULA SCHER

Paula Scher might be best-known for her iconic identity design and, most recently, her obsessive typographic maps, but in 1973 she teamed up with pioneering documentary-style cartoonist Stanley Mack to produce The Brownstone(public library). It tells the tale of six animal families who have trouble finding the right apartment in a classic New York City brownstone building. The collaboration is somewhat surprising — Scher, a formidable visual communicator herself, took the role of writer, while Mack illustrated the story. The book is long out of print, but you can find a used copy at reasonable price with some rummaging online, or look for it in your favorite public library.

THE ELEPHANT’S WISH BY BRUNO MUNARI

Italian creative polymath Bruno Munari has tried his hand, with celebrated success, at painting, sculpture, film, industrial design, graphic design, and literature. In 1945, he expanded his roster of talents into children’s books with The Elephant’s Wish (public library) — a stunningly illustrated story, with playful folding flaps to add tactile delight. It was published in the U.S. in 1959. This book is also out of print (hey, Rizzoli, what are you waiting for?), but used copies are reasonably priced and you can, of course, look for one in your local library.

In 1960, Munari followed up with the graphically astonishing ABC (public library), then with Zoo public library in 1963. The two were reissued in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Images courtesy of Douglas Stewart Fine Books

SPARKLE AND SPIN BY PAUL RAND

In the late 1950s, legendary graphic designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand and his then-wife Anne set out to write and illustrate a series of children’s books. First came Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words (public library), originally featured here in February. With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.

Though the cover of the 2006 reprint, with its all too literal glitter gimmick, would have likely sent Rand into a vapid fury, the book is an absolute treasure, one I’m happy to see survive the out-of-print fate of all too many mid-century gems.

Sparkle and Spin was followed by Little 1 in 1962 and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! in 1970.

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

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