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Category Archives: Paper

Look What I Found: 2015 Catch-Up

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

Spread from Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man showing his 1940s bullfighting art.

The theme of this post is “More,” as in – More books! More visual inspiration! More occupied shelf space! In my last post from a month ago, I wrote about my plans to spend each month of 2015 buying a different beautiful, visually-oriented book at a budget price. With a couple of exceptions, I’ve kept true to the plan. I’ve already shared the May book – Sing for America, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. The June book has also been enjoyed, and will become the subject of its own post later on. In the meantime, I’m taking this space to write a few bits about the books from January through April. Let’s begin!

In January, something that had been on my want-list for some time. Published in 1959,The Golden Book of Myths and Legends was illustrated in striking primitive-modern style by Alice and Martin Provensen. The Provensens lent their talents to many different projects over a long, long period of time. Myths and Legends comes from a particularly excellent, creative time when they applied vibrant textures and stylization to traditional subjects like The First Noel (1959) and The Iliad and the Odyssey (1956). More recently, I picked up the Provensens’ 1978 children’s book A Year at Maple Farm at a thrift store, a sweet look at the seasons changing at their farm.

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

The Golden Book of Myths and Legends (1959).

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Echo and Narcissus, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

Heracles: The Twelve Labors, from The Golden Book of Myths and Legends.

February signaled the annual arrival of the huge VSNA Used Book Sale, held mere steps from our house. This year, I splurged a bit on a beaten-up yet nice ’50s-era copy of The Passport, an illustrated volume of doodles, cartoons and observations from the famous New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg. One of my fondest childhood memories was checking out a reprint of this book from the local library – it was literally one of the main things that influenced me in becoming an artist. Steinberg’s images of exotic locales, skyscrapers, mismatched couples and exaggerated Americana remain as delightful as ever. What a treasure!

Saul Steinberg - The Passport (1954).

Saul Steinberg – The Passport (1954).





In March, I caught wind of this stupendous auction at Van Eaton Galleries of vintage Disneyland stuff – posters, props, costumes, souvenirs. Although the items were listed at well above my price range, I ended up blind-buying the auction catalog in luxurious hardback. It turned out to be well worth the money, since the book’s colorful photography and detailed descriptions serve as a wonderful general-purpose guide to vintage Disney theme park items. Organized by land, the book is full of fantastic stuff that even my Disneyland-saturated eyes had never seen before. The top sale from this two-day auction was lot #357, a green animatronic bird from The Enchanted Tiki Room, which fetched $153,400.


Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Van Eaton spread of Main Street, USA items.

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots - nifty!

Chapter headers with map diagram and vintage snapshots – nifty!

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Van Eaton catalog spread of Matterhorn/Fantasyland items.

Continuing along the same lines, April‘s selection came from our long-awaited tour of the Disney Studios in Burbank, California. At the studio’s Disney Store (yeah, they have a complete Disney Store location right there on the backlot!), I picked up a lovely tribute to one of the studio’s icons – animator and imagineer Marc Davis. This gorgeous looking large-format volume is divided into ten chapters, each headed by a sincere testimony from a Davis friend or admirer on a specific aspect of his life. The topics include not only the expected animation and theme park attractions, but non-Disney things like Davis’ illustrated trips to Papua New Guinea, personal art, and instruction. Although the book omits a few projects (there’s nothing at all on the Country Bear Jamboree attraction, for instance), I appreciated the space given important areas like the never-produced 1960 film Chanticleer and Davis’ biggest supporter – his widow, Alice (a talented artist in her own right).

Marc Davis: Walt Disney’s Renaissance Man was published by Disney Editions in 2014. Buy at here.


Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art from Chanticleer.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Marc Davis concept art for America Sings Disneyland attraction, 1970s.

Look What I Found: Sing for America (1944)


Early this year, I resolved to buy myself a fascinating older book full of nice illustrations, a la James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book or The Fireside Book of Children’s Songs, in an effort to expand my library within an affordable price range. Five months in, I’ve broken the $15-a-pop ceiling a few times and even bought some newer (yet beautifully illustrated) books. I thought vaguely of combining every monthly book into one long, huge post at the end of the year, but my sensible spouse encouraged me to write about them one at a time. Good thinking. So, I’m now presenting the acquisition for May — Sing for America, a patriotic 1944 songs-and-history volume with artwork by the great Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren.

Sing for America came out during a transitional period for Tenggren, when he was moving from traditional, fairy tale-inspired styles to a modern, color-saturated sensibility. This was a book meant for young people to appreciate America’s developing musical heritage, with Wheeler’s silly, fictionalized text alongside sheet music for songs like “My Old Kentucky Home.” A few of the illustrations delve into Politically Incorrect territory, but being Tenggren they are all fantastically done – with a stylized zest that conveys this Swedish immigrant’s fascination with Americana (the artist lived in the U.S. for twenty-plus years at this point, and would remain here until his death in 1970). Coming immediately after his stint as a concept artist for the Disney studios, one can see the Disney influence rubbing off on these pieces (along with the vintage Little Golden Books feel used on projects like Tenggren’s The Poky Little Puppy). In 127 pages, Tenggren contributes everything from lavish, beautifully composed full-pages in living color, to stylish, Deco-ish spot illustrations, to the whimsical endpapers with American children of various races and historical periods.

Sing for America was published by E. P. Dutton & Co. in 1944, apparently in a single edition. It’s out of print, but copies can be obtained pretty affordably at sites like

"The Old Oaken Bucket"

“The Old Oaken Bucket”

"America the Beautiful"

“America the Beautiful”

"Jingle Bells"

“Jingle Bells”

"Sing for America" title page spread.

“Sing for America” title page spread.

"Home on the Range"

“Home on the Range”

"Sing for America" endpaper detail.

“Sing for America” endpaper detail.

Scrap Happy PAP-py


Consider this post a shout-out to publishers who still make gorgeous, paper-bound books to hold in your hands and cherish. With that in mind, let’s salute the folks at Princeton Architectural Press, who have passed along a few of their products that bear mentioning here. PAP is primarily known for its architecture-oriented titles, of course, but in recent years they’ve branched out into a dizzying array of other subjects (The Ghost Army of World War II, coming out later this month, is one such intriguing project). In the interest of full disclosure, all of these items were sent to headquarters through PAP’s generosity – I’m happy to cover them here, however, since they fit my particular tastes so well.

With the imposing, primary-colored Inside the Rainbow, editors Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya have done a comprehensive, fun survey on an overlooked side of Russia’s history – its kiddie books. In focusing on the visually dazzling work put out in turbulent post-Communist Revolution years of 1920-35, the volume earns its subtitle Beautiful Books, Terrible Times. Divided into thematic chapters such as “How the World Works” and “Let’s Study, Study and Study,” insightful essays and page spreads from dozens of different books demonstrate how the Communist message was distilled for its youngest members. Obviously, you get a lot of striking, modern Russian Constructivist design from El Lizzitsky and the like here, but what struck me was the variety of illustration styles throughout these pages. Lots of images have a uniquely Russian folklorist feel, yet they could also fit in the pages of American kids’ books of the era (my favorite section, in terms of purely gorgeous imagery, is the chapter on animals). Accented with poetry and text excerpts, this book accurately reflects the “cheery-on-the-outside, oppressed-on-the-inside” outlook of the time.

Inside the Rainbow (Redstone Press, 2013) front cover.

Inside the Rainbow (Redstone Press, 2013) front cover.

Spread of illustrations by Yevgeny Charushin for the book Babies of the Zoo, c. 1935.

Spread of illustrations by Yevgeny Charushin for the book Babies of the Zoo, c. 1935.

Spread from Where Does Crockery Come From? by Nikolai Smirnov, 1924.

Spread from Where Does Crockery Come From? by Nikolai Smirnov, 1924.

Vladimir Gryuntal and G. Yablonksy designs and photographs from What Is This? by Mikhail Gershenzon, 1932.

Vladimir Gryuntal and G. Yablonksy designs and photographs from What Is This? by Mikhail Gershenzon, 1932.

Another arrival from PAP was Myopia, the career-spanning retrospective for DEVO co-founder and all-around Renaissance Man Mark Mothersbaugh. For those who only know Mothersbaugh from DEVO and his scores for video games and films like The Lego Movie, the sheer amount of info in this 256-page survey will come as an eye-opener. Like fellow intellectual rocker David Byrne, Mothersbaugh is a talented visual artist in his own right, and it’s proven in this book with colorful, absurdist imagery from a period of more than 40 years. I always found it amazing that something as subversive and weird as DEVO emerged from mid-’70s Ohio – this book helps put that into context and shows Mothersbaugh’s (considerable) role in the emergence of punk and alt-culture. Roughly the first third is long-form essays and an interview, well-illustrated with photos, collages, sketches and other mementos. The rest showcases Mothersbaugh’s art projects such as Beautiful Mutants (mirror-image transmogrifications of stagy old photos of children) and Rugs (creepy-crawly pen and ink drawings rendered in latch-hook rugs). A final section displays (along with an appreciative write-up) a bewildering array of hand-drawn postcards – hundreds of illustrated missives from one twisted mind.

Mark Mothersbaugh Myopia (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).

Mark Mothersbaugh Myopia (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014).

Selections from Mothersbaugh's "Beautiful Mutants" series in Myopia.

Selections from Mothersbaugh’s “Beautiful Mutants” series in Myopia.

Mark Mothersbaugh - La Psiocologia del Dessio, 2003 poster.

Mark Mothersbaugh – La Psiocologia del Dessio, 2003 poster.

Selections from Mothersbaugh's "Rugs" series, 2004.

Selections from Mothersbaugh’s “Rugs” series, 2004.

Our last item is just for fun – a deck of colorful playing cards from Fredericks & Mae. I’ve never heard of the Brooklyn-based designing duo before, but prior to this card deck Fredericks & Mae were renowned for whimsically designed darts, bocce balls, arrows and exquisitely decorated kites. Knowing my attraction for ephemeral items in all the colors of the rainbow, this hit the spot. The cards come arranged in suit/number order, each one a different solid hue. While the numbered cards were done with a variant on the standard design we all know well, the face cards forgo images of kings, queens and jacks in favor of abstract designs involving stars, laurel wreaths and targets (a recurring motif in their work, apparently). A small booklet included with the cards contains instructions for other, less traditional games.




Windup, Pitch and Go

One of my favorite publishers, Chronicle, is looking for creative Tumblr users to supply book ideas for them. I decided to use The Great Tumblr Book Search to pitch an proposal for them to publish a book version of my daily weblog of Western-kitsch found imagery, 4 Color Cowboy. The full text of the pitch can be seen here. Wish me several horseshoe’s worth of luck.

Although many of the posts at 4 Color Cowboy rely on copyrighted imagery, I think a project like this could be pulled off pretty easily. My pitch envisions it as a small-format book with a simple design that incorporates one image to a page. One of the inspirations behind the pitch is a book coincidentally published by Chronicle back in 2002 – Black & White by Stephen Guarnaccia and Susan Hochbaum. This out-of-print gem compared and contrasted monochromatic images of skeletons, dice, penguins, nuns and other typically black and white subjects in surprising, fascinating ways. Used copies are well worth seeking out.

I Got You (I Feel Good)

This is my new birthday tradition – starting a month before the big day (October 8th), I gift myself with a bunch of interesting music, movies and books. The results of this spree are pictured above, along with a few other gifts from family. I ended up getting a lot more books this year, which is wonderful. One of them, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé by Saint Etienne musician and writer Bob Stanley, has been on my radar since the author mentioned it on his Croydon Municipal blog last year. Although I’m just a few chapters in, so far it’s fantastic – a detailed, factual yet charmingly idiosyncratic history of Pop music from the ’50s to the dawn of the Napster era in the late ’90s. Stanley doesn’t subscribe to that hoary old Rock Canon thing that all the important music from that period came from white guys playing guitars – he understands that Pop at its essence is a democratic thing (payola and the whims of record labels and deejays played into it, too). Apparently this book was revised for the U.S. edition, nevertheless I’m enjoying Stanley’s insights into less-familiar musical styles such as Skiffle, which was the British take on Rockabilly.

The other book from this pile I’m currently reading is the 1971-72 volume of Fantagraphics’ chronological hardback reprints of Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts daily comics. Despite having the lamest-ever celebrity “introduction” (Kristin Chenoweth’s piece is pretty much a brief interview, and a shallow one at that), this volume’s strips are getting more focused (lots of Charlie Brown/Peppermint Patty interplay) and philosophical at this point. This one contains lots of strips with Sally fretting about school – some of my favorites! I’m also looking forward to Victoria Wilson’s giant-sized biography of Barbara Stanwyck, despite the frequent criticism that it needed editing down. This 1,044-page volume only covers the iconic actress’ life up through the year 1940! It looks tantalizing, and besides it should be a breeze compared to Moby Dick. Unless Miss Stanwyck did some whaling in her free time, I don’t see any other comparison between the two.


Cat Food for Thought is a cute little volume given by my brother and sister-in-law. Those who remember the zippy vintage packaging collected in the authors’ Meet Mr. Product (2003) and Ad Boy (2009) will find the same thing here, with a twist. This and the companion book Dog Food for Thought presents more vintage pet food designs alongside various clever quips about dogs and cats. (Since Christopher also gave some vintage animation cels from a ’70s Good Mews commercial, this will heretofore be officially known as my cat food birthday.)


The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design is another one that I’d been anticipating for awhile. Todd Polson had a dual purpose in mind when putting this book together. It’s both a visually sumptuous tribute to the background artist and designer behind innumerable classic Warner Bros. cartoons and a handy tutorial for artists and animators seeking practical advice on color theory, composition and movement. Not only is the instructional aspect clearly presented and quite handy (I could definitely use the help on color – and Noble was a master at it), the biographical info and copious reproductions of Noble’s beautiful layouts make it a wonderful tribute. Shown stripped of their usual context with Bugs Bunny and/or Daffy Duck overlaid on top, one can truly see that this stuff is art.


I also made sure to get myself a great vintage illustrated book – last year it was James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book with art by Alice and Martin Provensen; this year, it’s The Abelard Folk Song Book, a 1958 sheet music and history collection featuring the whimsical art of Abner Graboff. This Ward Jenkins blog entry from 2009 shed some light on this overlooked illustrator, along with several examples of his work. It was actually Ward’s detective work that inspired me to look out for his books! I’m happy to finally have an example of his art in my library.

There’s more. Christopher gave me this neat brochure produced by American Cyanamid, in which a prototypical ’50s housewife character named Mrs. Holliday demonstrates the benefits of Formica, Melmac and other completely unnatural substances. It’s all pretty funny, yet the art of Mrs. Holliday and her family are beautiful examples of the modern, cartoony look so popular back then. I really need to scan all of them (the artist is uncredited, unfortunately), but hopefully this one photo will suffice. C. also surprised me with a copy of Automotive Quarterly, a hardback publication geared towards vintage auto enthusiasts. We already saw this particular 1975 volume at the auto museum in San Diego – the cover story is an illustrated essay speculating on the future of car design from our favorite futuristic concept designer, Syd Mead! I’m gonna have to get the scanner out for this one, too.

I like birthdays.




Sunset Years

Don’t you love this May 1938 cover of Sunset magazine? It heralded the venerable Western Living mag’s 40th anniversary, hence the nostalgic image of a 19th-century train engine. The clean typography and bright colors actually give it quite the contemporary feel – which was definitely in line with what Sunset has always been about. Enough with the memories, it says, let’s go out into the sunshine – and build a patio! From this particular cover, I get a distinct, forward-looking Disneyland Frontierland/Main Street U.S.A./Americana vibe. That’s the main reason why it was posted today at 4 Color Cowboy.

Since my mom had a Sunset subscription in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I grew up with some pleasant times browsing through the mag’s staid yet comfortable images of flowers, cacti, salads, and blissed-out people lounging around on their groovy outdoor, multi-tiered wooden decks. Looking at the covers from that period now, I’m astonished by the color and the simple, restrained layouts (AND they use my all-time fave font, Clarendon). Sunset has had a pretty amazing history – their main office even survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to rebuild anew. What a metaphor for Western perseverance! Although it’s still hanging in there – as a watered-down, Martha Stewartish lifestyle publication owned by Time Warner – Sunset‘s 1932-83 period is where it truly excelled as a primer on casual Western living. The covers shown below demonstrate just a part of what made it such a unique icon in publishing history.

Sunset, August 1932.

Sunset, October 1935.

Sunset, April 1937.

Sunset, May 1941.

Sunset, October 1949.

Sunset, October 1957.

Sunset, February 1966.

Sunset, February 1970.

Sunset, February 1972.

Sunset, June 1974.

Sunset, March 1983.