Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

20 APRIL, 2012

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

By:

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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19 APRIL, 2012

A Visual Antidote to Cynicism

By:

‘You deserve GOOD things.’

Earlier this week, E. B. White reminded us that “some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation.” The same can said of much of today’s visual culture, whose currencies have become the grim and the sensationalistic. You might recall a charming antidote: Everything Is Going to Be OK, the lovely pocket-sized anthology of positive artwork. Now, it’s available as equally lovely 20 different note cards, featuring artists like Gemma Correll, Jessica Swift, Danna Ray, and Amy Borrell. And while it’s easy to let cynicism take hold, E. B. White said it best:

I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.

'You deserve GOOD things' by Gemma Correll

'You are so loved' by Jessica Swift

'Be present every day' by Danna Ray

'NICE' by Amy Borrell

'I think you're lovely. (It's true.)' by Gemma Correll

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06 APRIL, 2012

Waterlife: Exquisite Illustrations of Marine Creatures Based on Indian Folk Art

By:

From walls to paper, or what the eye of the octopus has to do with swans and women’s role in the arts.

I’ve been a longtime fan of independent Indian publisher Tara Books, who for the past 16 years has been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on remarkable handmade books, including I Like Cats, Do!, and Tara’s crown jewel, The Night Life of Trees. But now comes what’s positively the most exquisite book I’ve ever held in my hands: Waterlife by artist Rambharos Jha, who explores the marine wonderland through vibrant Mithila art, a form of folk painting from Bihar in eastern India.

'The Lobster's Secret'

'Crocodile Smile'

'Snake Festival'

Jha writes:

I was born in the culture-rich district of Darbanga, in the Mithila region. But my father moved along with all of us to Madhubani, where he started work in a government-supported art and cultural project. This project sought to breathe new life into local art traditions and also to help artists earn a living. Since women had traditionally decorated walls and courtyards, they participated in this project in large numbers…

Living as we did in Madhubani, I had a chance to look at what they were painting. I would spend hours watching them work. I had not known of this art earlier and wondered why I was drawn to it, and what purpose there could be in my being attracted to these lines and shapes? Mixing colours and ideas, the women drew pictures that took hold of my mind.

Jha eventually learned to draw himself, initially drawing on stories from Hindu mythology and eventually moving on to more secular subjects, pursuing his own creative impulse but remaining deeply inspired by tradition.

Mithila art was originally painted on the walls of houses during festival season, but in the late 1970s, it migrated from walls to paper.

The book comes in a limited edition of 3,000 hand-numbered copies and, like all handmade Tara gems, is screen-printed by local artisans in Chennai using traditional Indian dyes, whose earthy scent you can smell as you leaf through the thick, textured pages.

Waterlife was among 10 books I curated for the TED 2012 Bookstore and is, without a shadow of exaggeration, the most beautiful book I’ve ever laid eyes on. The screen does it no justice whatsoever.

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