Tuesday 17th May 2011
I’ve been sent a book by Thames & Hudson that I think is worth putting on here. The (slightly contentious) title is Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age*, and shows the collection by the authors, Steven Heller and Louise Fili, of handbills, flyers, posters, photos of signs, type samples, you name it, as long as it’s got script lettering or type on it. I’ve linked to a few big online collections of ephemera before, but never seen one in book form before. The photos are clear and detailed, and while I regret some (all) of the arty cropping, it’s a pretty good resource if you want to research scripts. The collection is broken down by country of origin (rather than by era or style, say) so there are chapters for French, British, German, Italian and American scripts. Thankfully, each chapter has at the end a listing of the origins of each of the pictured pieces, which provides some much needed context; however, I think I’d prefer to have had each image captioned, even if that might have reduced the impact of some of the spreads. A personal preference, I think; your mileage may vary. It’s definitely a book to enjoy browsing through, which is what I’ve been doing, funnily enough.
* Contentious? It’s that ‘Golden Age’ bit. What are we in now? I can endorse the book, if not the title. And no, I’m not being paid for this post.
I just read this well-written and clearly-argued piece by Stephen Few on the work of David McCandless. It expresses many of the thoughts I’ve had on the kind of ‘popular infographic’ going round, though I wouldn’t restrict my criticism to McCandless, nor would I be quite so critical of him personally. The style of work he produces is popular because it presents correlations (and sometimes, coincidences) in data in an accessible, attractive and entertaining way — the error is to assume that this represents the best of graphical analysis or that it’s intended to be viewed as such. As many commenters on this Flowingdata piece have pointed out, there’s a difference between graphical analysis and infographics, and while I disagree with the apparent thrust of their collective argument (that Stephen Few is wrong) it is an important distinction to make.
McCandless’ pieces are often beautiful, and they are indeed based on information, hence the title of his book and site, Information is Beautiful, but they rarely offer deep insight into the data. What I would like to see is the equivalent for graphical charts representing actual analysis. Time for an Analysis is Beautiful perhaps?
Monday 18th Apr 2011
Another serendipitous find, this time via Font Bureau on Twitter. The linked image, of a piece by Micah Lexier and Christian Bok, got me looking for some background on it, and more info on the artist himself, and through that I found this wonderful installation: I Am The Coin, a story from the viewpoint (apparently) of a coin, told in 20,000 coins attached in a grid to a wall, with no spacing or punctuation. The bottom half of the grid has the story in a conventional readable form, while the top half has the mirror image of the text. Wonderful stuff — I’m off to have a look for more of his work.
Below is the image that Font Bureau linked to, followed by a few from the I Am The Coin website. Lexier’s site is mostly ‘under construction’ but there are a few links to further information, and of course there’s always Google.
Found via Drawn, this post by Javier Garcia on his blog about the 1961 Sports Illustrated Book of Bridge. The book is illustrated with work by Jerome Snyder, whose work I’ve apparently often admired in the past, even though I didn’t know they were his. His pieces are dense with detail and (when printing allows) rich with colour — that he illustrated a book about bridge with playing-card inspired designs is pretty exciting; how did I not know about this before? I’ve managed to order a copy, so hopefully that’ll arrive soon in all its inspirational splendour and I’ll be able to take my own pictures — these I’ve nabbed from Garcia’s blog post:
Interestingly, Garcia has also featured a set of cards designed by the ceramicist Stig Lindberg that’s worth a look at, and also links to the Grain Edit article about those Jean David El Al cards (which inspired me to buy a set and post about it here).
Sunday 13th Mar 2011
Lettercult has posted an incredible collection of custom lettering projects by hundreds of lettering artists, all completed in 2010. There are so many projects that they’ve split the post across two days, and there are 33 (quite long) pages in each post. I’ve not had a chance to go through all of them yet, but the variety and the quality is remarkable — so much to look at! I’ve posted a few favourites below, one by David Croy, another by Jordan Jelev of The Fontmaker, and I’d be surprised if you’ve not seen her work already (but very worthwhile admiring again), a piece by Dana Tanamachi.
Brooklyn-based designer Aymie Spitzer is carving a linocut letter every day throughout March, and blogging about the process (and the results) on a project site. It’s a nice idea (I like these A Thing A Day/Week/Month things anyway), with aims best put by Aymie herself:
This project is purely an experiment of learning how to carve letter forms. It’s about developing my hand skills, technique through repetition, focus, and dedication. Most importantly, this is about having loads of fun because using my hands to create is what I live for.
What’s more, she’s basing her letters on Champion Gothic by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, because of its beautiful ampersand. Nice.
Continuing the process theme of my last post, Jan Middendorp posted a link to this (mostly) non-digital handwriting and lettering process by Frank Ortmann of Freies Grafik Design. I’ve done a few screenshots from the video to give you an idea of it, but nothing beats watching an expert directly. I particularly enjoyed the practice work — this time spent ‘loosening up’ is (I think) a key part of any creative process, digital or not. Go and watch the whole thing, it’s good.
I’m endlessly fascinated by seeing how people work. Everyone who perseveres and creates something will find their own way of doing it, but seeing how other people work is extraordinarily helpful for getting started, overcoming creative block or frustration at the amount of grunt work something takes, or just for gaining the confidence to just get the job done. Sharing techniques doesn’t mean you lose your ‘edge’ or some kind of competitive advantage — if your success relies on something like that it’ll be a short-lived kind of thing anyway, as no matter how good the technique someone, somewhere, will find a better way of doing it. What you actually create is unique to you. If someone wanted to rip you off they wouldn’t copy your technique, they’d use something far easier to master, like a photocopier.
So yes, sermon over. I was thinking of this while reading this post by Alan Ariail on his site The Art of Hand Lettering. In it he describes the results of a discussion with Yves Leterme during one of his workshops, namely the idea that, “The end result is what matters not so much the process”, and goes on to show some of his own processes. I was surprised to see how he goes from sketches to digital monoline ‘skeletons’ of letters, building them up to a calligraphic result. I’ve done a fair bit of stuff like that and always had a niggling doubt, the idea that of course, real letterers wouldn’t do this. Well it turns out that they do. Marvellous!
I would make one personal comment on the whole result/process thing though. I do think that process matters — not in any professional or even moral sense (I use the term loosely) — but in a personal, artistic one. The process is what you spend your time doing so it matters in that it should be enjoyable, satisfying and inspiring. It’s a shame that with many of the digital tools available there’s a distinct lack of joy in using them. But if you do find something that’s good, let the developer know you like it, and just as importantly, tell everyone else. But that’s my original point again.
What would Das Kapital, The Iliad or Faust look like if they were printed on a single page? What about Macbeth? This set of four posters by All The World’s A Page can show you exactly that. Oddly, they’re simultaneously both compelling and repellent — the concept, the flow of text, the exposed structure (especially in Macbeth) and the beautifully consistent and even colour give you a sense of wow, look at that, while the sheer scale of them, the obvious difficulty in reading them feels intimidating, even slightly upsetting. Not too upsetting, I might add; I bought two as soon as I saw them. I can’t wait for them to actually print Ulysses too…
Found via Under Consideration’s For Print Only.
There are many examples of ‘animated typography’ out there, some of them are good, most of them are crap, and some just take you by surprise and are utterly brilliant. This one on Newgrounds, sent to me by a friend, fits the ‘utterly brilliant’ category, but for slightly different reasons than you might expect.
It’s an animation of a review of a game on the site, written by someone who, if we’re being charitable, isn’t a very careful typist. The animation itself (by Mick Lauer) is well done, with some nice touches — the pause to define ‘contrail’ and the ‘explain to me’ parts are particularly good — and Impact is a perfect choice for the subject matter, but what really makes it brilliant is the voice track. It was done by voice artist Deven Mack who I imagine has quite the career ahead of him. Well I hope he does.
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