Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘typography’

08 NOVEMBER, 2013

Self-Portrait as Your Traitor: A 21st-Century Illuminated Manuscript

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“One must have a reason for reflection — an eye to admire variations.”

“Still this childish fascination with my handwriting,” young Susan Sontag wrote in her diary in 1949. “To think that I always have this sensuous potentiality glowing within my fingers.” This is the sort of sensuous potentiality that comes aglow in Self-Portrait as Your Traitor (public library) — the magnificent new collection of hand-lettered poems and illustrated essays by friend-of-Brain-Pickings and frequent contributor Debbie Millman, who recently offered an exclusive glimpse of her creative process in making this extraordinary “21st-century illuminated manuscript,” as Paula Scher so aptly describes this singular visual form in the introduction.

Personal bias aside, these moving, lovingly crafted poems and essays — some handwritten, some drawn with colored pencils, some typeset in felt on felt — vibrate at that fertile intersection of the deeply personal and the universally profound.

In “Fail Safe,” her widely read essay-turned-commencement-address on creative courage and embracing the unknown from the 2009 anthology Look Both Ways, Millman wrote:

John Maeda once explained, “The computer will do anything within its abilities, but it will do nothing unless commanded to do so.” I think people are the same — we like to operate within our abilities. But whereas the computer has a fixed code, our abilities are limited only by our perceptions. Two decades since determining my code, and after 15 years of working in the world of branding, I am now in the process of rewriting the possibilities of what comes next. I don’t know exactly what I will become; it is not something I can describe scientifically or artistically. Perhaps it is a “code in progress.”

Self-Portrait as Your Traitor, a glorious large-format tome full of textured colors to which the screen does absolutely no justice, is the result of this progress — a brave and heartening embodiment of what it truly means, as Rilke put it, to live the questions; the stunning record of one woman’s personal and artistic code-rewriting, brimming with wisdom on life and art for all.

With the artist’s permission, here is one of the pieces from the book — a poem titled “Reflections on a Puddle,” a choice particularly fitting as Debbie originally wrote it in college, when she was certain she was going to be a poet; though life’s defaults took her elsewhere, the poem stayed with her and she revisited and illustrated it more than two decades later, after having courageously rewritten her own code of possibility and arrived at this artistic reawakening.

Self-Portrait as Your Traitor is exquisite in its entirety, featuring ten other pieces that dance vibrantly across the spectrum of the granular and the universal, the personal and the philosophical, the vulnerable and the bold.

Photographs by Thomas Brent Taylor

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01 AUGUST, 2013

Stunning Handcrafted Felt-on-Felt Typographic Homage to Melville’s Moby-Dick

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“Almost forgetting for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind.”

Herman Melville (August 1, 1819–September 28, 1891) was the first writer to have his life’s work published by the Library of America. His 1851 masterpiece Moby-Dick (free download; public library) is considered one of the greatest books of all time and has since spawned countless creative homages, from Matt Kish’s irresistible daily drawings of the novel’s pages, which were among the best art books of 2011, to these lovely typographic prints supporting global literacy. To mark Melville’s birthday, here comes a gorgeous felt-on-felt typographic Moby-Dick cover concept by modern sage, author, artist, and interviewer extraordinaire Debbie Millman:

Debbie has previously illustrated Anaïs Nin on love, Edith Windsor’s historic call with President Obama, and astronaut Sally Ride’s legacy. See more of her work on her site and revisit her exceptional commencement address on courage and the creative life.

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24 MAY, 2013

Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographic Confabulation with Finnegans Wake

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“First we feel. Then we fall.”

Long before the Tumblr era of visual quotes, long before the ubiquity of typographic treatments of famous words, long before the age of art and design projects inspired by literary classics, in 1978, to be precise, Brooklyn-born artist and poet Jacob Drachler (1909-1998) released Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake (public library) – a visually gripping suite of 44 graphics that captures in a beautifully abstract, ethereal yet tangibly coherent way the essence of the dense Joyce classic.

Drachler writes in the foreword:

I have mined the immense “Unterwealth” of Finnegans Wake, not with the aim of illustrating Joyce’s mythic narrative, but rather to tap into the energies of his truly protean language, and thus to bring about new contexts of word and image. Having been for many years a spellbound delver in the Wake, I began, for this project, a systematic culling out of hundreds of brief texts that spoke to me with particular resonance. I would then comb back and forth through these texts somewhat the way a water-douser follows his forked branch. Texts would call forth forms and forms would find their texts. The new contexts which were thus given shape are, to be sure, merely one man’s response to Joycean insights — a confabulation with a fabled work.

Thanks to Austin’s wonderful South Congress Books, where I found Joyce’s little-known poems, I got my hands on one of the few surviving copies — here is a glimpse of the deliciousness inside:

Though this gem is sadly long out of print, used copies can still be found. Happily, my limited-edition find includes this gorgeous original screenprint, signed by Drachler:

Take the abstraction level down a significant notch, but not the visual delight, with some illustrations from Joyce’s posthumously discovered children’s book.

Thanks to my friends at the School of Visual Arts for letting me use their large scanner.

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