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Category Archives: Review

Book Review: Sketchbooks

When you think about it, a sketchbook is often the only place an artist can truly be him- or herself, with nothing to prove to anyone else. In Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives, Richard Brereton persuaded several prominent people in the field to share pages from their own sketchbooks — weirdness be damned. Each subject gets 4-6 pages of lushly photographed sketchbook spreads, along with a short statement in which the artists explain their own personal histories with sketching and what compels them to sketch. Many choose to doodle or write cryptic passages with illustrations; others do completely uninhibited stuff that may reveal something about the artist’s subconsciousness. In the latter category, I really want to know why the famous British designer Peter Saville felt the need to write his own name dozens of times back in 2001.

Flipping through this book is a little like browsing through the Moleskine: One Page at a Time flickr group. The art on display boasts a diverse variety of subject matter and media (one artist even mentions sticking a hunk of raw meat in a sketchbook!). If I had one misgiving about this book, it’s that the subjects are very Euro-centric with very little representation from Asia or the Americas. I was also disappointed that the handful of American artists here all seem to be based in New York. Other than those issues, this is a beautifully done project, inspiring me to break out the ‘ol Moleskine and draw away.


Sketchbooks: The Hidden Art of Designers, Illustrators and Creatives is published by Laurence King. Buy at Amazon here.

P.S. If anybody knows of any other new books coming out of a design/art/retro/pop culture persuasion, please let me know. Thanks!

Book Review: This Is For You

Rob Ryan - This Is For YouHere’s something I should have written about around Valentine’s Day, but that’s all right. Here at scrubbles, we do not strictly observe time tables. This Is For You comes from the fertile mind of the amazing British artist Rob Ryan. Here Ryan uses his paper cutting skills to tell the story of a young man seeking to fill the void in his heart. The narrative is nicely told, if a bit hackneyed, but the real star here is the intricate handiwork pictured on every page. Although the silhouetted imagery looks as if it were computer generated, they are in fact paper cutouts photographed against white backgrounds (one can even see shadows here and there). Aesthetically, the resulting works lie halfway between Victorian froufrou and the obsessive-compulsive artwork produced by the mentally challenged. I can’t imagine the man hours Ryan put into this, a slim and lovely source of inspiration.

This is for You was originally published in England back in 2007; this recent edition comes from Chronicle. Buy at here.

Rob Ryan - This Is For You

Book Faire

On the sidebar I added an Amazon link spotlighting a few products that yer humble host recommends, stuff that I’ve come across in the last few months. This will be updated throughout the year, but I want to go into a couple of books in more detail, right here.

Penguin By DesignPenguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 by Phil Baines. This volume, published in 2006, was a Christmas gift from some friends of ours (who happened to be attending the inauguration today). Started by Allen Lane in mid-’30s England, Penguin was the first publishing house to bring affordable and handy paperbacks to the masses. Phil Baines’ text forms a too dry yet serviceable history, but the real star of this book are the covers themselves — arranged chronologically and grouped by series (classics, poetry, contemporary affairs, etc.). Paging through the book, one gets a sense that from the very beginning quality was Penguin’s main m.o. It’s interesting to note that many of these cover designs are quaint and even somewhat dull in and of themselves — but when they are presented here, usually four to a page and surrounded by thematically similar designs from around the same time period, it makes me appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into them. I love the covers’ crafty use of color, the grids, the judicious use of type (mostly Helvetica), and the audacity of the more recent ones. The book contains plenty of gorgeous covers from the classical ’40s up through the freewheeling ’60s and ’70s, and the compilers don’t shy away from including some plainly hideous examples of Penguin’s detour into mass market tastes in the ’80s. It’s a well-rounded and beautifully designed book which I’ve already gotten a lot of inspiration from.

Art & SoleArt & Sole: Contemporary Sneaker Art & Design, written and designed by Intercity. This book reminds me of the Entourage episode in which the character of Turtle goes out of his way to acquire a pair of very pricey designer sneaks. Divided equally in two parts, the first half explores the too-hip arena of limited issue designer Nikes, Adidases, Converses and other brands that Turtle would likely covet. The second half delves into artwork inspired by sneaker culture. There’s a lot of overlap between the two, and part of the fun of this book is seeing how the cultures of fine art, Hip Hop, extreme sports, and hipster collecting intersect with each other. To be honest, I actually liked the first half of this book better than the second. It’s strange to think of a shoe as a work of art — but when a real artist applies his or her handiwork to these babies, they really are more worthy of being displayed on a shelf in pristine condition than worn on the feet. The second part also contains plenty of neat stuff (including some Nike Be@rbricks!). One of the coolest pieces of art in the book is the giant LED-lit shoe created by Finnish design firm Freedom of Creation. I first saw this on, of all places, Kanye West’s weblog. Behold:

Freedom Of Creation Shoe

Book Review: Designer’s Toolkit — 1000 Colors

1000 Colors CoverEvery graphic designer (every print designer, anyhow) knows that one of the chief hazards of the job lies in the fact that colors rarely look the same on computer screens as they do in print. Unless you own a super-expensive set of Pantone books or only work in black and white, selecting the right colors is always something of a crapshoot. Graham Davis aims to remedy that situation with his book, The Designer’s Toolkit: 1000 Colors.

Small graphic arrangements of colors make up the bulk of this book. That’s it — simple and effective. On each page, a rudimentary design or pattern is rendered in twelve different colors. These color groupings are repeated in different color arrangements, twelve to a page, organized under cutesy headings like “Yummy Apple.” Most importantly, all colors are reproduced at the bottom of each page with their corresponding RGB, CMYK or Hexidecimal values. Some color groupings are also displayed in faux magazine spreads to illustrate how to effectively use color with text and photography. A CD-ROM embedded in the book’s cover contains all colors in TIFF format for easy reference. The material’s clean design and organization is impressive. Most of the color arrangements convey a bright, cheery mood — which might be a liability if you’re looking for something dark and/or subtle.

I’ve had this book for a couple of months now, using it on some book cover layouts with pleasing results. The very first color I selected was a sumptuous teal blue. When I entered the values, however, the color came out more like an olive green with way too much yellow (a misprint perhaps?). Despite that glitch, the book’s been beyond useful. In addition to the three or four book covers, I also utilized bits of a color scheme called “Deco Artifice” for my Twitter page. It’s true — seeing colors in print with their CMYK numbers right there takes a lot of the guesswork out of designing stuff.

The Designer’s Toolkit: 1000 Colors is published by Chronicle. Buy at here.

1000 Colors Spread 1

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Book Review: Leisurama Now

Leisurama CoverDoesn’t everyone yearn for a special little place that they can get away to, especially this time of year? With Leisurama Now: The Beach House for Everyone, writer/designer Paul Sahre explores a short-lived product of early ’60s consumer optimism which ties into that basic need — the affordable middle-class summer beach house.

Specifically, this book chronicles a tract of 250 homes built under the promise-filled name of Leisurama. For a minimal down payment, ordinary New Yorkers could buy their very own beach bungalow which came fully furnished right down to the toothbrushes in the bathroom, located a short drive away on Montauk, Long Island. This was a big deal at the time — promotional models of the basic “Convertible” Leisurama model were built on the 9th floor of Macy’s and at the 1964 New York World’s Fair — and many a starry-eyed young family wanting a no-fuss summer getaway ate it up. Unfortunately, the costly program proved unprofitable and so the program was discontinued after a few years.

Sahre has catalogued and organized everything about this modest outcropping of homes with an admirable anal retentiveness. In the chapter titled “Inventory,” black and white photos of Leisurama’s original furniture, melmac dinnerware, flatware, lighting fixtures and even heating vent grates are obsessively annotated. Another section collects images of the Leisurama homes as they currently stand. Although this part takes up too many pages and the photos aren’t all that exceptional, it is interesting to see how various owners over the years have individualized the spare, modern original designs into something more homey (not to mention often overgrown with shrubbery). Starting with the kitschy clear plastic jacket, this book is full of quirky design touches. I’d even recommend the book more for designers than for architecture buffs or retro-living fans — although those would enjoy it, too.

If anything, the book is less about the properties themselves than about fundamentally what people want from a home and the expectations that are tied within those needs. A neat chapter on architect Andrew Geller contains a remarkable early rendering of a typical Leisurama model in which the design was much more daring and original than the boxy final product. The “illustion vs. reality” subtext continues in a revealing chapter interviewing a couple who have held onto their Leisurama home since 1965. Not only does it deal with the hassles of constructing the home in the ’60s, it also outlines how the neighborhood has changed since then — with many owners converting the homes into year-round residences currently worth many times more than their original investments. The neighborhood in and around Montauk may be radically different today (for an example, check out the galling photos on page 222 of a charming old Leisurama razed and replaced with a horrid contemporary McBeach House), but the basic need for a place to call “home” remains timeless.

Leisurama Now: The Beach House for Everyone was recently published by Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at here.

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Book Review: At a Crossroads

At A Crossroads - coverYou just graduated college, now what to do? Conventional wisdom tells us it’s time to get out there in the so-called “real world” and get in on the ground floor of a lifelong career. That’s what you’re repeatedly told in your teens and early ’20s, but from a jaded 39 year-old’s perspective I now know it’s a crock. Many young college graduates go through a strange “holding pattern” which might even involve returning to the reassuring cocoon of Mom and Dad’s place to regroup for awhile. Kate T. Williamson’s sweet autobiographical comic At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place recounts such an experience. After her graduation, Williamson found what was supposed to be a 3-month stay at her parents’ home stretch out to over a year. The book details her mundane life of holidays, concerts, working at a flower shop, noticing the passing seasons, and harboring a strange obsession with the music of Hall & Oates. Although it may seem boring, Williamson has a gift for noticing the bizarre little details in ordinary life that is simultaneously funny and touching. A lot of it reminded me of my own “crossroads” time of being jobless and living with the parents for a few months in the fall of 1992. The book’s minute observations are mirrored in her simple yet effective drawing style, enlivened with lush watercolor paints. This is a brief read, and a bit expensive for such a slight story, but she deals with a subject that is never covered in books and yet remains something that most everyone can relate to.

At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place was just recently published by the Princeton Architectural Press. Buy at Amazon here.

At A Crossroads - spread