Pelican Covers of the 1960s

Very much a hey, look at this post, this. I’ve just seen a link to this collection on Things Magazine of Pelican Books covers for the 1960s (and each decade they were published). It’s interesting to see how the template developed along with the Penguin series until it all got a bit chaotic in the late ’70s and was discontinued in the 1980s. Joe Kral also maintains a collection of Penguin and Pelican covers on Flickr.

Open Architecture Manifesto at Adhocracy

A couple of years ago I wrote about Kuka, the RobotLab project built to write the entire Martin Luther bible onto a long roll of paper. The robot emulates the calligraphic style replicated in the Schwabacher blackletter typeface, writing it using a pen as a (particularly neat and tireless) human might. It’s quite a lovely thing*.

I was reminded of it when I saw this project by Walter Nicolino and Carlo Ratti (of Carlo Ratti Associati). They’ve designed and built a suspended plotter to write the contents of the Open Architecture Manifesto page on Wikipedia onto a wall at the Adhocracy exhibition at the Istanbul Design Biennial. As the text on Wikipedia is updated the robot erases and rewrites the document on the wall at the exhibition.

The comparison between the two projects is perhaps obvious, that one is reproducing a historical, unchanging document, while the other reproduces a brand new, constantly-updating and ephemeral one. Indeed until the manifesto was published in Domus magazine (whose editor Joseph Grima is curator of the biennial) the article kept being deleted by Wikipedia editors.

I’m especially interested how the plotter is reproducing the text. The typeface could be Times, but the generous amount of ink the fat nib of the plotter pen puts down, and the way it outlines the characters, makes it hard to tell exactly. Also, looking at the video the output is a serif face but part of the processing (in Processing) looks like it uses something more like Verdana or Tahoma. Could be that different parts of the text are in different faces of course. Curious.


* Though some people saw it as blasphemy and a sign of the imminent demise of humanity, the Earth, and the entire universe. I had some interesting emails.

Geometrical Psychology

I had been searching for something geometry-related when I found the Euclid book in the last post so when I found the Public Domain Review I wondered if they had anything else about the subject. Turns out they do, and I found this fascinating and somewhat bonkers book from 1887, Geometrical Psychology. Nothing to do with what I was looking for, but it has some remarkable illustrations in it where the author attempts to diagram the evolution of human consciousness. Some of my favourites:

The back of the book also has several pages of adverts for other works available from the publisher, and just the titles alone are fun to read through. Some of my favourites again:


Lunacy, drugs and booze! I’d imagine this was a rather popular set of publications.

The First Six Books of The Elements of Euclid

A series of unsuccessful (and unrelated) searches led to the happy result of finding this book (and the site it’s on). The Public Domain Review is a fascinating collection of articles about (and a collection of) out-of-copyright texts, images and films, and somehow I’d never seen it before.

I’d seen a page from the book and thought it to be something quite modern, something produced by some later follower of De Stijl or Bauhaus (something the Public Domain Review also comments on), but it is in fact from 1847. Not something you’d associate with early Victorian publishing at all. It’s a remarkable book, and thinking back to when I first learned geometry I wondered if something like this would have helped. In all honesty (and of course entirely my opinion) I can’t say it would. The pages are a visual delight but they compel the learner not only to learn the concepts and mathematical language but a whole new graphical one too. From my memories of Euclid you need a good guiding commentary (or a good teacher, or both) rather than a new translation to help you make the necessary connections and learn the principles well.


The long-s characters and the ornamented capitals are a clue to the age of the book, but the diagrams appear very modern.

Typographic Rhythm

Something I found the other week and caught my eye, a project by Jonathan Puckey to convey some of the aspects of handwriting, namely speed, into typographic weight. I like the idea, I remember having a pub conversation along similar lines many years ago. It was after a fairly difficult day and the old problem of conveying tone or mood in emails came up. A friend suggested a keyboard with pressure-sensitive keys and software that varied the size, weight, and perhaps even the style of the text depending on your typing speed and the force you were typing with.

The possibilities are still interesting (which is why this caught my eye) and might be an entertaining set of dimensions to add to OpenType. I guess you’d have to be careful with the calibration—some people type as if there are bankers hiding under the keys—otherwise you’d be known as “the shouty one” based on nothing but your emails.


Image via Jonathan Puckey‘s site. Also check out his Lettering Tool. Sadly it’s not available to download.

Greg Papagrigoriou

Looking for various calligraphic-related things on image search, on Graffuturism I find the work of Greg Papagrigoriou, a graffiti artist from Athens—or, to use the term, a calligraffiti artist from Athens. He creates densely textured pieces, often collaborating with Simek whose work often acts as a centrepiece or focus. The two artists’ work complements each other perfectly and create striking images that remind me of protest posters or propaganda, but while on these the words flow and possess graphical rhythm, they defy any attempt to be read.


All images via Graffuturism, and presumably before that, Greg Papagrigoriou’s Flickr.

The Chicago Neighbourhoods

Kelly from Design Crush linked to this last week, a project by designer and Chicagoan Steve Shanabruch to create a logo for each of the Chicago neighbourhoods. Some, he says, are based on personal experience, and others on research. He’s created a lovely set of graphics so far, all of them remind me of old movie title cards (or end cards, like these), some look like they could actually be names of movies set in the neighbourhood.

There’s something particularly compelling about design projects like these, they trigger a sort of completist tendency in me, an appreciation of the collection as object. I like sets of things, and interpretations (and reinterpretations) of things particularly so. Thinking of this, I was reminded of the Branding 10,000 Lakes project by Nicole Meyer, to design an identity for each of the lakes in Minnesota (which is indeed known as The Land of 10,000 Lakes). There are some lovely ones in the collection. Some recent ones here:

Buzludzha Monument

Jason Kottke linked to this incredible photoset by Timothy Allen of the Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria. It was opened in 1981 to celebrate the beginnings of organised socialism in the country 90 years earlier, and it is everything you’d expect from a thumping great monument to communism. From some angles it looks like a World War Ⅱ defence post, from above it resembles part of an Olympic venue, complete with oversized torch for the ceremonial flame, and to many people it’s as if a flying saucer landed on the hillside. A concrete flying saucer. To anyone who’s ever seen a Bond movie, well, that’s clearly a SPECTRE hangout, right there. Taking a closer look, the outside is decorated with a glorious relief of socialist slogans set in gigantic concrete Cyrillic lettering, a lot of which seems to be missing now.


Pictures from the Timothy Allen article, © him.

Inside there were mosaics celebrating the usual themes and noteworthy characters of international socialism, and in the ceiling above the debating chamber, a geometric hammer and sickle, surrounded with the call for the proletariat of the world to unite. Again, a lot of the interior has been stripped out by trophy hunters, vandals, or simply ruined by the weather. Needless to say, the monument isn’t being maintained by the Bulgarian government, and in 2011 they ‘gifted’ the entire structure to the Bulgarian Socialist Party, who hope to restore it someday.

In researching this article, I found a couple of other articles and photo collections on the monument, one by Arch Daily, and the other here on Kuriositas.

Lettered Department Store Logos

This is something I’ve had open in a browser tab for months, and I’m sure it’s officially ‘old’ in internet parlance, but I’m still drawing inspiration from the images. Christian Annyas has isolated (and traced?) these old department store logos and made quite a collection of them. He makes the point that very few stores today use similar lettered styles to these, and that they go for a logo style that “won’t offend” — I wonder though, if all these logos were created with a similar sentiment in mind? After all, brands in a sector do tend to cluster, so as fashions change, they all change together.

The Wacom Inkling

TL:DR (ahem)

It’s a fantastic thing which has the potential to be very useful. You are drawing with a biro though so adjust your expectations accordingly. The software is awful, but not so bad as to make the device useless. Just make sure you export as SVG.

Far TL:DR

If you sketch a lot and need a digital copy of your sketches, get one. I’m glad I did. Actually, I’m not. See below.

Update: I discovered that Wacom believe the Sketch Manager software is so vital to your everyday computing needs that they’ve set it to launch on startup. What’s more (and I suspect this is down to the dodgy Windows to Mac port) it doesn’t do this properly, in a way you can change using the Mac OS ‘Login Items’ setting. To stop it launching at startup, have a look at this Apple Discussion entry. I found entries for Sketch Manager in both the main and user ‘Library’ folders. What’s more the user library folder is hidden, so you might want to ‘unhide’ it first. This is a terrible thing to do, requiring technical knowledge that shouldn’t be expected of any buyer of a consumer product to fix.

Update 2: I bought mine from Wacom directly. I don’t know anywhere that has them in stock. You might want to reconsider anyway, given the above.


Wacom have (finally) started sending out orders of their new product, the Inkling. I got mine the other day and I’ve been having a good play with it. It’s very good. Not perfect, but very good. The announcement video set some very high expectations, some of which are matched by reality, while some… aren’t.

The whole idea of the device is to record what you draw so that you can import it into image editing programs later, either as a bitmap or (more excitingly) as a vector image. It keeps a track of every stroke, in the order you made them, and records how hard you were pressing on the pen, so the recorded lines vary in thickness with pressure. I think it was this that really got everyone interested.

As a gadget, it’s a lovely little thing. There’s a pen, a receiver, some spare nibs and a USB cable, all neatly packaged in a case that doubles as a charger. Closed, the case looks like a rather glam pencil case with an elaborate hinge.

Using it

Getting started with it is straightforward. You clip the receiver onto the edge of your paper (or notepad, envelope, napkin or whatever) turn it on, and draw. The pen turns on when you start drawing, though I found best to give the nib a preparatory tap on the page somewhere first, just so you know it’s ready, otherwise you’ll lose the first stroke.

The receiver has a couple of buttons, one to turn it on, and the other to create a new layer in your drawing (yes, you can create layered drawings). Turning the receiver off and on will create a new file, as will squeezing the clip – as you might do when changing the paper, which is a nice touch.

Does it actually work?

Well yes it does, rather well actually, but it does depend on your drawing style and your expectations. It does a very good job of recording your strokes, from the faintest to the heaviest of lines, and it’s as good as my tablet at recording the fairly fast and loopy lines of my handwriting. I tried a few drawing styles, from handwriting to fast and loose scribbles to a sketch of my hand, crosshatched shading and all, to see how it would record them, and for the most part it did a very good job. Looking at the vector output I can see why Wacom supplied the pen with only ballpoint tips; you can probably play with the settings to improve things but ballpoints aren’t particularly nuanced or subtle drawing devices, and the output reflects that. As I said, it records things well, but not beautifully. When exporting as SVG, the vectors are made from very short line segments (they aren’t smooth beziers) and very faint lines tend to come over a bit thick, so what you’d drawn as subtle crosshatching is recorded as a rather heavy bit of shading, while thicker lines come across as a bit thin.


Scans of various sketches, compared to how they come across as SVG. This is using all default settings the device comes with.

I don’t see any of this as a serious problem though. I think by making the pen a ballpoint Wacom are signalling the quality and style of drawing that the device records well. With a few tweaks to the settings, I can see myself using it to record some actual illustrations for use as final artwork, but its real strength seems to be in recording rough ideas. My sketches of lettering ideas, flow diagrams, outline illustrations, logo and site ideas all came across perfectly (though with provisos, see below) and were great to use in Illustrator as guides for finished artwork. Because the output is vector and faithfully records pen pressure it works far better than a scan might, and means I don’t feel I need to delete the guide layer to keep file sizes down (as I might with a scan).

What the device offers is convenience, and a bit of magic. It’s less hassle than scanning or photographing your notebooks, and you get scalable vectors nicely separated into whatever layers you want. You can draw an outline sketch and then feel free to scribble and annotate all over it, knowing each addition can be turned on and off and moved about at will, or even deleted entirely. That’s the real appeal of this thing.

The software

There are some extra special bits of magic the Inkling hints at, but isn’t yet backed up by the software that comes with it. When you look at a sketch using the ‘Sketch Manager’ software, you can replay the drawing process as an animation, or use a scrubber to focus on a particular sequence of strokes. There’s something quite fabulous at seeing a time lapse of something being drawn, and here it is with your very own sketches! But, and I found this a little disappointing, you can’t export the sequence as an animation. The whole purpose of the player and scrubber is to allow you to split your drawing into multiple layers, as you might want to if you’d not pressed the ‘new layer’ button at a particular point. Useful, I’ve no doubt, but a rather mundane use case compared to the “can you see what it is yet?” fun potential. It would be nice to be able to export animations, and I know it’s not the main purpose of the software, but it seemed like such a big potential win that I was surprised it wasn’t there.


The main interface of Sketch Manager. Pretty horrid. Showing the directory tree is a very strange choice, especially for a Mac app. It’s not useful at all. Note how the toolbar icons look borrowed from another app.

The other issues with the software are less structural and more down to (it appears) a rushed job and skipped testing. The screenshots in the manual show the software running on Windows, looking fairly good, with everything looking like it’s in the right places. Seeing what it looks like on the Mac, I would hazard a guess that it was designed originally for the Windows UI, written for Windows, tested on Windows and then ported over to the Mac. Button assets look clumsy against the Mac’s grey UI, some buttons end up in the kind of drop down that you get when there’s no room to show everything and the text is jargon-filled and doesn’t feel like it was written for humans. There are some very odd labelling choices too; for example, the scrubber for the drawing timeline shows two numbers, one labelled L, the other R. Left, and right. I had no idea what these meant other than to wonder whether it was a count of left versus right handed strokes, which would be an odd thing to show since I’m fairly sure ambidextrous illustrators are quite rare. But no, as you move the scrubber bars, it shows you how many strokes are to the left of the scrubber (i.e. earlier), and how many to the right (later). I can’t imagine why this would be at once so important to show, and yet not label properly.


The document interface. Also pretty horrible, and largely incomprehensible. That large button down the bottom right takes you back to the main screen. Placed next to the scrubber and player like that, I thought it was a rewind control.

More serious problems show up when you try exporting sketches to Illustrator and Photoshop. At this point you really need to have restarted your computer after installing Sketch Manager (yes, it’s rather old school), if you don’t, Illustrator will give you a dialog asking whether you want to import the text as ANSI or not. Whatever you pick, you’ll get a large text field with the contents of an XML file in it. If you have restarted, you’ll get a series of very strange paths with stroke widths set using Illustrator’s calligraphy tool. It’s not great. Sharp corners get filled in as splodges and the whole thing looks like a vector trace of a bitmap.


A scan of the original drawing, and three different outputs. First is direct to Photoshop, the second is direct to Illustrator, and the last one was exported as SVG and opened in Illustrator.

Exporting to Photoshop was a bit better in that I got an actual image first time, but it created a 600dpi document with what looked like a scaled-up 300dpi image in it, which I think is exactly what it is; when you choose to export to any of the bitmap formats they create a 300dpi image. Also, when you choose to export to Photoshop, it changes your Photoshop settings so that the units of measurement are inches. I can’t even begin to comprehend the utter boorishness of this. I’ve checked, and checked again. I set my units back to pixels, export a picture from Sketch Manager, and there it is, inches again.

Not good. Really, really not good.

The only way to export vector data reliably is to use the ‘Save as different format’ option, and choose SVG. This works well, but is a faff as it defaults every single time to PNG and defaults the file location to the device itself. As I said above, the vectors are short straight-line segments rather than smooth beziers, but it does at least create a faithful replica of your drawing.


Viewed in Illustrator, the paths of a sketch exported as SVG (left) and direct to Illustrator (right). Even without looking at the scan, the difference in fidelity is clear.

I should point out that the Sketch Manager is far better than any vendor-provided scanning software I’ve ever used. Not exactly praise, but it is something.

The upshot

The Inkling feels very much like a tool for designers more than illustrators. If you sketch rough ideas – layouts, lettering, schematics and the like, you’ll find it very useful. If you want to record your sketchbook of illustrations, you certainly could, but it might cramp your style having to use that pen - Wacom themselves say it’s good for preparatory drawings, and I agree. I don’t use ballpoints very often for a couple of reasons – I don’t particularly like the quality of line they offer, and the ink smells bad. For the sheer convenience of this tool though, I could live with both.