Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

16 JULY, 2010

Postcards to Alphaville: A Love Letter to Film

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Sketching Woody Allen, or what Sigourney Weaver has to do with watercolor.

Our cultural love affair with cinema is a prolific epitome of the cross-pollination of the arts, having inspired a deluge of spin-offs and homages across virtually all media and art forms. Postcards to Alphaville is among the most beautiful of them — a project inviting artists to each watch a different famous film and create an illustrated postcard based on a specific character in it.

It is love-letter to films and those characters that brings us, the viewers, moments of joy, sorrow and revelation and sometimes seems more real than the neighbor next-door.”

You can explore the artwork by author, film or character — and we strongly encourage you to as the work is rather fantastic.

Founder and editor Paul Paper (and what a lovely name that is) wants to eventually make the artwork available in book form, so if you enjoy the project as much as we did, consider supporting it with a small donation. (And, while you’re at it, we aren’t turning those away either.)

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09 JULY, 2010

The War Prayer: Mark Twain on War and Morality, Animated

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“None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.”

On March 22, 1905, a famous author received a rejection letter from one of the most powerful publishers of the era, calling his latest piece “not quite suited to a woman’s magazine.” The publisher was Harper’s Bazaar, the author Samuel Langhorne Clemens — better known as Mark Twain — and the piece The War Prayer, a short story written in the heat of the Philippine-American war of 1899-1902 offering a poignant reflection on the double-edged moral sword implicit to war.

Because Twain had an exclusive contract with Harper & Brothers, the rejection letter was a death sentence for the piece, prohibiting him from publishing it elsewhere. In fact, eight days after he received the letter, Twain wrote to his friend Dan Beard:

I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.

And right he was. It wasn’t until 1923, some thirteen years after the iconic satirist’s death, that The War Prayer finally saw light of day as Twain’s literary agent collected it in the anthology Europe and Elsewhere. But what makes the short story timeless and particularly appropriate today is the relevance of its central argument — that while “the weapons of slaughter” are ever-changing, the immorality of war is universal — in the face of the ongoing wars in Middle East and elsewhere.

More than a century later, here comes a moving animated adaptation of The War Prayer produced and directed by Markos Kounalakis, with wonderful illustration by Greek artist Akis Dimitrakopoulos.

Grab a copy of The War Prayer for some of the most wrily intelligent critique of humanity’s greatest transgression as Mark Twain pokes at it with tenfold the eloquence and wit of today’s political satirists.

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07 JULY, 2010

7 Quirky & Creative Playing Card Deck Designs

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Soviet Mayans, typographic treats, and what mathematical functions have to do with the sexism of the sixties.

What’s not to love about playing cards? They are the perfect intersection of design, playtime and intellectual calculation. Today, we look at seven particularly creative, quirky and downright outlandish decks that inject extra aesthetic indulgence and fun into any card game.

OZLEM OLCER

As we raved on Twitter a few months ago, MAD DECK by Özlem Ölçer may just be the most gorgeous deck of playing cards ever designed.

Stunning custom illustrations grace the backs of the cards, like these gems found on the joker.

MARSHALL MCLUHAN

Yes, we’re a little (“little”…) obsessed with Marshall McLuhan over here. So these Distant Early Warning (DEW) playing cards by McLuhan hit the sweet spot on so many levels. Despite the distinct sexisms of the Mad Men era, this deck is a treasure chest of cultural commentary, subtle political satire and pop culture inside jokes.

As the story goes, these cards were the inspiration for Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies deck of dilemmas.

TAUBA AUERBACH

One Deck of Playing Cards by designer Tauba Auerbach comes as a dual series — one based on mathematical equations and one on geometric shapes.

In the mathematical set, basic math functions like +, – and ÷ represent suits, face cards are platonic solids, and jokers are ? and ?. Black and white foreground-background dynamics replace the traditional red and black, dividing the deck in half into black and white — a nice play Auerbach’s brilliant 50/50 book project of 2008, offering 100 pages of 100 patterns each composed of equal parts black and white. The opposites of each suit subtract mathematically and appear in the opposite color for the perfect inversion of color and function.

The geometric deck uses four basic shapes as suits, each abstracting the traditional representation of that card. The color scheme of the deck is red and black on white, with platonic solids representing the royal family. Original artwork and three new typefaces portray the king, queen and knave.

In short, absolutely brilliant.

JEAN DAVID

In the 1950’s, El Al Israel Airlines commissioned designer Jean David (sometimes referred to as Jan David) to create a deck of playing cards in which the faces portrayed heroes from Israel’s past. Park folklore, part vintage design goodness, the cards are an absolute treat of design and cultural heritage.

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JIM SUTHERLAND

What would a design showcase be without some typographic deliciousness? Thanks to designer Jim Sutherland, we don’t have to contemplate that apocalypse scenario. His typographic playing cards are designed with the basic guidelines of neither repeating nor altering any of the typefaces being used, which he self-admittedly qualified as solving 52 micro design problems.

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SOVIET MAYAN CARDS

Easily among the most baffling pieces of cross-cultural pollination is that fact that, apparently, Mayan motifs were popular during Soviet era in Russia. Case in point: This Mayan-inspired deck of playing cards, designed by an unknown Soviet artist in the middle of the 20th century. An intersection of Eastern enigma and Southern sorcery, these designs are as enchanted as they are befuddling.

INVISIBLE PLAYING CARDS

Finally, the perfect deck for your beachside poker game: These invisible playing cards by Kikkerland Design are cool, quirky, and completely waterproof.

And, at $6, they’re an absolute winning hand.

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30 JUNE, 2010

Art Pickings: Behold Our Brand New Art Portal

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A big announcement and a small way to have more art in your life.

The more observant of you may have noticed a sneaky little “Art” button suddenly show up in our top navigation menu. That’s because today is a big day for Brain Pickings.

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of Art Pickings — a curated art portal in partnership with our friends at society6. (Remember them?)

On Art Pickings, we’ll be featuring closely curated work by some of our favorite independent illustrators, painters, graphic desingers and other visual artists, available in the form of prints, laptop skins, American Apparel t-shirts, and even iPod/iPhone accessories.

And since society6 is among the best places to buy affordable art, snagging some fantastic artwork and supporting the talent behind it won’t make a dent in your wallet.

So please go ahead and explore, spread the word and, above all, enjoy.

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24 JUNE, 2010

5 Seminal Vintage Russian Animation Short Films

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What dancing ballerinas and hungry kings have to do with the dawn of the digital age.

While Walt Disney was building an animation empire in America, a thriving school of animation mastery was unfolding on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Russian art directors, illustrators, animators and video producers were experimenting with techniques often decades ahead of their time and creating beautifully crafted, visually stunning short films despite the technological limitations of the era. Many of these masterpieces are now available in Masters Of Russian Animation — a remarkable collcection of animated shorts from the 1960s through 1980s in four volumes.

Today, we look at five of these gems, with many thanks to reader Sebastian Waack (@edutechnews) for bringing some of them to our attention.

HEDGEHOG IN THE FOG (1975)

Based on a Russian folk tale, Hedgehog in the Fog, a 1975 gem by master-animator Yuri Norstein, utilized techniques like cutout-animation and stop-motion three decades before they reached creative buzzword status.

Thinking about how these effects were achieved — brilliantly — in the age of manual, analog studio production does give one pause in the face of all the digital tools we take for granted today.

Found on Volume 2.

STORY OF A CRIME (1962)

Director Fyodor Khitruk’s Story of a Crime is part Hanna-Barbera, part Hitchcock, part something else entirely. Using techniques like cutout collages and photo-illustration hybrids long before they had entered the mainstream animation arsenal, the film won the Jury Prize at the prestigious 1980 film festival in Lille, France.

You can catch part 2 here. Found on Volume 1.

THE SINGING TEACHER (1968)

From director Anatoly Petrov comes The Singing Teacher, an eerie, haunting, stunningly illustrated gem from 1968.

Found on Volume 1.

THE KING’S SANDWICH (1985)

Based on the famous A. A. Milne poem The King’s Breakfast, director Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The King’s Sandwich features intricate line illustration and remarkably expressive characters from the dawn of computer animation.

Found on Volume 3.

BALLERINA ON A BOAT (1969)

With its minimalist lines and intricate play of perspectives, director Lev Atamanov’s Ballerina on a Boat is a lovely exercise in storytelling through grace and simplicity.

Found on Volume 2.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.