Tuesday 10th Jun 2008
I saw pictures of these stamps on Ace Jet 170, and was absolutely fascinated by them. I love the illustrations of the orbits and paths taken by the space vehicles - the Łunnik 3 (Luna 3) one especially. As usual, I felt compelled to redraw them so as to understand them better, and they really are very well done - the orbits of Mars, Earth and Venus aren’t drawn perfectly circular, and the relative sizes of the planets are nicely visualised. The whole collection looks to have been a celebration of 60 years since the publication of Konstanty CioÅ‚kowski’s treatise on powered spaceflight “Изслѣдованiе мировыхъ пространствъ реактивными приборами” (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), in 1903 - showing some of the results of the research his work started.
The first (or tenth?) stamp in the collection was devoted entirely to him, and the illustration is that of a design for a powered spacecraft from the cover of published versions of his paper - my redrawing of it is at right. The others show a variety of space missions, with the interesting date convention of having the month depicted with roman numerals. It’s not something I’d come across before, but it looks quite useful*. No longer would Americans and Europeans have any doubt over whether 01/03/08 is the 1st of March or the 3rd of January. Anyway, that’s another one of my must-do-something-with-this bookmarks cleared up, and it’s been quite a fun process in redrawing them. Here are the images I made based on the stamps. I’ve got them as vectors, so I’m thinking of getting them printed out A3 size.
* Update: Piotr Szotkowski sent me a useful bit of info regarding this, “Using Roman numerals for denoting months is still quite popular in Poland. The popularity is a bit waning since the fall of the Eastern Block, but the elder generations still use them quite often, especially in hand writing.”
It’s got to that point: I’ve got three browser windows open with more tabs in each than there’s room for (hello little arrow at the right of the tab bar) so maybe I should get on with doing something about them.
First up is the work of Jason Munn. I’d come across the books poster before, but for some reason not gone on to Munn’s website, The Small Stakes which has the added bonus of allowing you to buy some of his work. There’s a short, but interesting, interview with him on Grain Edit too. Go and have a look at his site though… it’s a shame the National Novel Writing Month one isn’t available to buy! It’s one of my favourites, along with the book one of course:
Note: I found the NNWM poster here.
I spotted this in a recent copy of Wired Magazine. It’s an advert for (of all things) the Zune, making use of stacked, 3D-rendered type. Nowadays, such an effect is quite simple - just see some of the tutorials in PSDTUTS - but looks rather impressive. Massing the type together like this adds to the effect and makes for a pleasing composition. So I nabbed the pages out of the magazine and scanned them in*.
* Which makes it sound oh-so-simple, but when Canon insists on hiding its drivers, obfuscates the filenames of said drivers, provides multiple near-identically labelled files with only a minor difference you can barely spot, and then none of which turn out to work on OS X 10.5 (because really, you should buy a new scanner every two years shouldn’t you?) So you end up paying some dollars to the marvellous VueScan to take the pain away. Why is it that manufacturers’ printer and scanner software is so bad?
I mentioned this (obliquely) a while back, and I’m not sure why but I only ordered the book for myself recently (it’s also available on Amazon.de). It’s a beautiful book, full of blackletter samples, and for each face in the book there’s a wonderful abstract design created using it which would make fantastic posters in their own right. When closed, from the size and shape of it you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s an old bible, though the glorious pink perhaps gives it away that it isn’t. I love that pink.
I went to the Seeking Inspiration conference at the St Bride Foundation last week, and it was excellent. I was glad to find that I left many of the talks feeling genuinely inspired and encouraged in my work - such a concentration of good ideas, interesting personal histories and genuinely fantastic examples of work is rare to find in everyday life, so I was exhausted after it all. Add to that not being a Londoner (being rather a country boy) and being somewhat overwhelmed by the cacophony of noises and images of just the Tube, never mind Fleet Street at rush hour. So yes. The conference highlights, according to yours truly.
George Hardie: Noticing things and getting things noticed.
This was a great start to the conference - Hardie promises to deliver a new ‘truth’ in each of the talks he does, letting us know something new (and secret) about his past works or methods. I won’t reveal them here, but his talk set the theme of the day, in that collections (hoarding, perhaps) are central to much of the inspiration of the designer. I certainly have a vast collection of found images, and it was the problems of keeping track of, and categorising them, that led to me creating this site. Collections are good, provided you know what you have and you can find it all easily.
Susanna Edwards: Curious.
I was fascinated by this one. Edwards is another avid collector, and had acquired a collection of antique microscope slides which she wanted to find out more about. Interestingly, this led to a project where the slides became only a secondary interest, and where the techniques and equipment of microscopy over the last three centuries were the main focus. Apparently this was largely due to funding constraints - Edwards spent many months on the project and got funding from The Arts Council (if I remember correctly). I was fascinated by the techniques of taking photographs through the variety of ancient microscopes, and by the people who are involved in microscopy and restoring and caring for microscopic samples. It’s a shame the talk couldn’t have been longer, as there was clearly a lot of material and not all of it could be given full justice. I was extremely disappointed that some of the attendees thought fit to laugh at some of the people who’ve devoted their lives to the niche, often neglected subjects and professions Edwards introduced. It is perhaps obvious to say (but I’ll say it anyway) that typography, letterpress and such arcane topics as type design are considered laughable by some members of the public, so to ape their reaction to yet more esoteric disciplines seems ignorant and at best hypocritical. Edwards dealt with the reaction graciously, but I got a hint that she was disappointed too.
Lizzie Ridout: An exercise in collecting beginnings.
Um. Well. This wasn’t a highlight. I’m not sure what this was about to be honest. I think Ridout would do well to drop the whole eccentric act and just speak normally. This was one of those talks that could have been fascinating, considering it was about the British Library’s vast collection of ephemera, but in the end came across as a bit twee and pointless.
Karel Martens (with Robin Kinross): An error occurred.
This is where the limitations of the St Bride sound system really made themselves felt, and hard. For the whole conference we were instructed to make sure that our mobile phones were switched off, in order not to interfere with the radio mikes. Unfortunately, the radio mikes were quite adept at interfering with themselves to the extent I nearly had my ears driven six feet into my skull by the incredible blasts of white noise that randomly exploded from the system. Karel Martens has a strong dutch accent (sounds lovely but is very soft) and a very deep voice that was seemingly out of the range of the sound system. Add to that my own somewhat limited aural capabilites and I missed almost all of what he said. A shame.
Jake Tilson: Cooking the book
It’s funny how some of the more interesting talks don’t lend themselves to discussion. Jake Tilson’s talk felt very short, but that was because he explained his ideas and inspiration so very well - you’re just left thinking, “Well, yes”. I have in my memory a collection of images of his books and his sketches. Probably best to buy some of his books really.
Antonije Baturan: Linear application of lateral thinking.
Normally, when the topic of linearity is introduced you’d expect something linear, such as a clear narrative. There’d be maybe a few branches here and there, but in the end it would provide useful support for a theme. Not so with this talk. There were so many tangents and diversions, and so few conclusions or even complete sentences that it was nigh on impossible to follow what Baturan was trying to say. I got the impression he was trying to say that different cultures have different words for ‘inspiration’ and that this gives some clue to whether those cultures place value on the initial idea, the process of implementing it, or the end result. Which cultures do what, and the relative value of each of the different approaches are, you’d be hard-pressed to discover them from this talk.
William Hall: Inspiration kills design.
The premise of this talk: that the drive to always come up with something new and suprising is contrary to producing good design, was in itself compelling and interesting. Hall started with this topic, and did a good job of criticising some of the ways a creatively-blocked designer might seek ideas, but then carried on to recommend many of the other, equivalent and quite usual ways designers seek inspiration. It was rather odd. Hall came across as the kind of design manager that might appeal to readers of The Economist but would be universally loathed by any designer who had to work with, or for, him. An illustrative point during an anecdote he gave of reviewing the work of one of his designers; first the stabbing pointed finger, then, “That’s the design we’re going to use! Now, come up with something better!” Inspirational for any design manager of how not to behave.
Erik Spiekermann: Typography: from brain to media.
Well, it’s Spiekermann, so, you know. Bloody marvellous, though I was waiting for the Fire Brigade logo at the end of the talk, because there are few stronger arguments for installing a fire alarm and having lots of fire extinguishers than Spiekermann’s tales of losing pretty much all his early work (and his letterpress!) in a fire after he first moved to London.
Tyler Moorehead: From A2B
I had a lot of hope for this talk, and battled a dodgy delay-ridden Underground to get there on time. The first part of the talk was rather pointless PR flackery (though amusing) but the second apparently unpolished part was utterly fascinating, and got the greatest number of questions and comments of any talk in the whole conference. Basically, A2B is switching the size of paper you generally use from A4 to B5. This would save 30% of the actual amount of paper - assuming you shrunk-to-fit everything you printed. Recycling paper apparently ends up costing more in terms of energy and resources than creating brand new paper, so while it may reduce the amount of virgin forest sacrificed to invoices and the like, it is always better to use less, far less. I can’t remember the exact number (I did ask Moorehead to mail me the presentation) but as a rule of thumb, for every tonne of any end product, five tonnes are wasted in the supply chain (retail) and twenty tonnes in the manufacturing. Applied to paper, this leads to many trillion tonnes of waste per year. I think we would do well to encourage people to use less paper, and to just damn well get used to reading stuff off screen - I mean for crying out loud, you’re not reading a damn novel - you don’t need to print it! One of the questions near the end was about printing web pages, and how a plugin should be developed to save wasted pages (you know the ones, the pages with nothing on them but a full stop or two pixels of a banner ad). I was offended by the complete abdication of personal responsibility this question represented. When I suggested that you don’t print the web page, there were objections that “not everyone has internet on their phone” and therefore needs to print the page sometimes. If I want to print something on a web page, I use print preview, or I copy the text to a word processor or a simple text editor and print that, or (I admit this isn’t available to everyone) I print to PDF and tell Acrobat to only print the page I’m interested in. If you actually care about not wasting resources, put some effort in. Laziness is NOT an excuse. Grr.
Emily Luce: Clearcut to paper.
One of the best descriptions of this talk (from another attendee) was that it was “earnest”. And indeed it was. Luce lives on Vancouver Island, and highlighted a number of problems with the timber and paper industries there (and elsewhere). About 50% of Vancouver Island has been logged, and now the more inaccessible parts are being logged with the help of helicopters. Luce explained how much this all costs, giving an impression that logging and paper production is very much Big Business, and that there is often scant regard from mill owners for local economies, ecologies or communities. The example she gave of Cathedral Grove was instructive - in that this region of old-growth forest is protected, but just beyond the boundaries are large areas of clearcut and monoculture areas of genetically modified cultivars. Whatever your politics, it’s clear that this new growth is unfortunately not quite the restoration and ‘forest management’ we are told is helping preserve our environment. This, and Moorehead’s talk before it, really make you want to reduce your paper usage to the absolute minimum necessary.
Jeremy Tankard: Emotive inspiration
Again, another one that was so good there’s comparatively little to write about. I left this talk genuinely inspired to get cracking designing some new typefaces and that despite the thousands of faces out there, there’s massive scope to create something genuinely new, and yes, inspired. Fantastic. Buy his stuff. Go on. Buyyyy.
Rian Hughes: Vintage custom lettering
This was reminiscent of the first day of the conference, as Hughes showed his collecting instincts with a display of some excellent examples of vintage lettering. I was a bit miffed that he was going through the examples a bit quickly - I wanted to really absorb some of them - but he had nearly 300 samples to show. He’s producing books of his collections soon, so I’ll be ordering those as soon as they’re out.
Paul Antonio: From manuscript to Mosley
I can’t believe this was half an hour, it went so quickly. Antonio described his upbringing and discovery of calligraphy in Trinidad, explaining some of the limitations of learning a niche subject in a developing country. He finished by demonstrating the relationship between calligraphy and the musical rhythm of the period the style of writing is from, and this is where he showed what an astounding singing voice he has. Bloody marvellous.
So yes. I missed the last few talks, which is a shame, but the whole conference was exhausting, and I wanted to go and look at the books and the stone carving demonstration downstairs.
Would I recommend the conference? Most definitely. The only improvement I’d suggest is to the venue itself - the sound system needs some serious attention, if only to allow better Q&A sessions. Oh, and sort out the wifi! It’s one of those “login and minimise this webpage” systems that completely fails on mobile devices.
This Flickr set of vintage logos has been around a while now, and I looked and didn’t immediately get much inspiration. I mean, anyone else who’s linked to them has done the equivalent of, “Hey look, old logos! Um. Yes. Old logos!” so I guess I’m not alone.
Still, patience rewards the virtuous (or something) and I had a closer look through the ‘Original Size’ of all of them - my, that was a fun exercise, thank you, Flickr - and found some logos that I think are pretty interesting. Unfortunately, most of the ‘logos’ on those pages really don’t deserve the distinction of being called logos. In fact, most of them are pretty poor. I guess that makes the good ones stand out better. Perhaps.
So, enough bad-mouthing. I’ve traced (manually, of course, with lovely beziers) the ones I either like, or think are inspirational and felt quite a bit of ’70s and ’80s nostalgia in the process. You may have a different set of choices of course, and no, I wouldn’t include the Lubalin logo in the ‘crap’ ones. I just don’t like it very much. I know, I know, there’s a space in Design Hell reserved just for me… Below are thumbnails of the ones I’ve traced, and I’ve added notes for most of them too. If you’re reading this on the home page, click “Read the rest…” to see the whole lot.
Drawn! the other day had a link to this treasure trove of retro illustrations, posters, books, covers, and pretty much everything else committed to print, and an on-link to the Mid-Century Illustrated Flickr pool. Looking through these is a bit like browsing ffffound, you keep finding things you want to keep links to… or just keep. I tend to want to redraw things, as I find it helps me understand how it was done a bit better and I often learn some new technique or style, or get inspiration for something else. I particularly liked the Black Pearl cover - it’s an engaging and compelling image, but made with just three colours. No halftones or tints either. I didn’t redraw this, I just used clean-up techniques to recreate it:
The Aircraft Propulsion Data Book is interesting as the curve appears smooth and aerodynamic, but under close examination it seems a bit… well, clumsy. Still, that’s the kind of thing that interests me - for example, when doing things like icons the details can seem crude and ugly up close but at their intended size provide useful (and subtle) clues on how to interpret the whole image.
Also in the sets of images are various examples of very nice typography, these two caught my eye in particular:
And linked from the Photo Lettering one, this beautiful, beautiful thing:
Then, finally, no collection of mid-century illustrations would be complete without at least one retro-futurist image, so here’s a fabulous subway illustration by Klaus BÃ¼rgle:
Just followed this link from Design Observer, to this great clock by Christiaan Postma. I daren’t think how long it took to work out. It’s made out of lots of smaller clockworks that all combine to spell the time. For a large part of the day though you’d be at a loss what time it is, say at half-five, so if you wanted to make it practical (why?) you could stick a big set of hands in front… but I like it the way it is. Watch the animation (page 3) to see it in action.
I’ve been checking this site periodically for quite a white now, it’s great to look through the updates when you’re in need of a bit of inspiration. Unusually for any site anywhere, many of the comments are good too, sometimes providing links to similar works and some good opinions. Either they moderate heavily or the site content means it doesn’t attract too many idiots.
I came across Jörg Block’s site this morning from a link on Drawn! There are some fantastic illustrations and paintings on there; I love his clean, crisp, often isometric drawing style, and especially the page layouts:
Have a look at the paintings too, they remind me of the paintings of intersections and roadworks you’d see advertising the Glorious New Future in the 50s and 60s, but with a solitude and darkness that suggest the future isn’t all that glorious at all. Of course, he could just like architectural paintings and puts the figure in for scale?
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