Archive for the ‘Rubylith’ Category

Louise Fili’s Perfetto Pencils

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

I’ve long been an admirer of the Deco-inspired, sinuous work of designer Louise Fili – so it was especially delightful to hear that she was available for interviews in connection with her latest venture, Perfetto Pencils. For this boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils, Fili applied her usual panache with playful typography, polka dots, and a striking color palette. Like her other products, they’re almost too lovely to use up (I’m gonna need the red parts for tracing over my illustrations, however!). Even better, they provide the opportunity for our first interview at Scrubbles.net.

Following the chat, I’ve selected a few of my favorite Fili designs throughout the years. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, the Perfetto pencils are available at Amazon.com.

Your design and typography are characterized by a pared-down elegance and flair, reminiscent of vintage design while avoiding looking aggressively Retro. It takes a lot of discipline to have that aesthetic, but I imagine it also takes a lot of compromising to maintain your high standards – even with clients who are expecting a “Louise Fili” look. How do you convince a client that simpler is better?
Since many of my clients are in the food industry, I can simply explain that good design, like fine cuisine, is about using the best ingredients.

I read that your love of all things Italian extends to listening to their film soundtracks while working. Who are your favorite composers (mine’s Stelvio Cipriani)? Any specific albums you enjoy?
I like to listen to Nino Rota soundtracks for Fellini films, and anything sung by Anna Magnani or Vittorio De Sica.

How did the Perfetto Pencils (Princeton Architectural Press) come about? It looks like this particular project is inspired by the pencil boxes pictured in Italian Art Deco (Chronicle, 1993).
I love my collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes.  My most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework. (“Errore lieve, segno rosso; errore grave, segno blu”: red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.) When Princeton Architectural Press invited me to come up with a line of gift products, the two-tone pencils seemed perfect—thus the name. Steering clear of blue, my least favorite color, we opted for our signature red and black. 

Finally, one last question – what’s the coolest piece of vintage design ephemera you’ve ever found?
I found a series of pasticceria papers when I was researching the Italian Art Deco book in Milano years ago. That’s what made me want to become a package designer.

Polaner wine labels, 2013.

Scripts: Elegant Lettering from Design’s Golden Age book cover (Thames & Hudson, 2012)

Streamline book cover (Chronicle, 1995)

Good Housekeeping seal redesign, 2009.

Daily Drop Cap contribution, 2011.

Sunset Years

Friday, March 21st, 2014


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.

The Places You’ll Go

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Paths of the Northwest Explorers, illustrated map by Lloyd P. Pierce for Ford Times magazine, 1962.

In digging around for some interesting stuff to put on 4 Color Cowboy (now at 500+ posts!), I came across these wonderful vintage map graphics from Flickr user matthunterross. The colors, the diagrams, the repackaged history – so much to enjoy. And, further proof that Ford Times was one of the greatest magazines ever printed.

This is a definitive case where one needs to click on the images to see the full details!

“A Hysterical Map of Death Valley” illustrated by Jolly Lindgren, 1948.

Guide to Disneyland Hotel, Map & Special Services, 1973.

Battlefields and Historic Shrines 1861-1865, Edwin Fulwider for Ford Times magazine, 1961.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom map, 1977.

Ford Times Guide to Sightseeing in Detroit map by Adele Bichan, 1962.

Guide map of Busch Garden in Tampa, Florida, 1985.

The Drew Struzan Effect

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Boris Karloff as the Mummy, 2012.

Being a person who avidly looks forward to any and all documentaries on artists and illustrators, the DVD release Drew: The Man Behind the Poster came as a welcome sight. Erik Sharkey’s flawed but very interesting 2012 doc acquaints us with the iconic ’80s movie artist Drew Struzan. If you see that name and think “Drew who?,” perhaps a list of his most memorable posters will ring a bell – Star Wars. Back to the Future. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Muppet Movie. The Goonies. The Thing. Blade Runner. Police Academy!

While Drew: The Man Behind the Poster tends to get too superficial at times, it’s a worthwhile and admiring portrait. Director Erik P. Sharkey got an impressive array of Hollywood types to sing Struzan’s praises, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Guillermo Del Toro, Thomas Jane, and Frank Darabont. The film opens with a documentary cliché that I particularly loathe – the endless montage of people fawning over the subject – a sequence which would undoubtedly make the laid-back Struzan cringe. The following 90 minutes, however, establish Struzan as an unassuming regular-guy with an extraordinary gift for rendering movie stars with the right balance of painterly expression and fairy dust.

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was made from the point of view of a movie fan wanting to dig deeper into the guy behind moviedom’s most iconic posters – from an artist’s perspective, it’s something of a letdown. The best sequences have Struzan discussing his start in the funky ’70s L.A. art scene, including his early album covers for Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and others. Another good sequence has Struzan and Charles White III gabbing about their collaboration on the famous Star Wars retro-look poster (I also loved the part with Struzan and an obviously grateful Lucas together, perusing the Star Wars art). One amazing thing that comes across is how prolific he was, often re-doing completed artwork from scratch without breaking a sweat (the adding of Mary Steenburgen to the Back to the Future Part III poster is the standout in that regard). As is befitting a film that climaxes at San Diego Comic Con, however, you have to wade through a lot of puffery to get to the meat. This blog post by illustrator Jed Alexander explains that frustration pretty well, along with providing some primo examples of work from Struzan and his contemporaries.

While The Man Behind the Poster never strays far from being a simple celebration of Drew and his art, there is a little bitterness around the edges. The subtext of this movie is basically “Why did they stop making posters like Drew’s?” Sadly, even in the case of an über-talented artist like Struzan, Hollywood has moved on from using illustrators (by and large) for marketing their stuff. After all, it’s easier for a studio to exert control over a Photoshopped montage of movie star heads floating in the sky. If that turn of events affected the mellow Struzan, it doesn’t show as he’s seen in the film having a comfortable semi-retirement – painting his own subjects and enjoying quality time with his family.

For this write-up, a review copy of Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was supplied by the folks at Kino Lorber. You can buy a copy of this DVD at Kino’s site, or at Amazon.com.

Blade Runner re-release poster art, 2003.

Adventures in Babysitting poster detail, 1987.

Ladyhawke limited-release poster art, 1985.

Sahara poster art detail, 1983.

Sketch for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade poster concept, 1989.

Hellboy special edition art, 2004.

The Goonies poster art detail, 1985.

Penguin Droppings

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Penguin Drop Caps is a line of republished classic literature that has captured my eye lately. The cover of each brightly hued Drop Caps volume sports a large, fancy letter designed by Jessica Hische, which represents the author’s last name. Hische’s creativity with the letterforms is truly inspiring (check out those little insects on the Willa Cather volume!).

While I’m still not sure that all of these Drop Caps will be added to our home library (for now, I have Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Cather’s My Antonia), the series as a whole is pretty encouraging proof that nicely made mass-market books are still thriving in these tablet times. Penguin’s Paul Buckley designed the spines, backs and interiors in a thoughtful way that manages to look both hip and stately. The only problem I saw is that the binding is coated with a strange, waxy texture that easily picks up sweat or dirt from readers’ fingertips. Also, Penguin decided to festoon the backs with ugly ISBN stickers which can’t be peeled off (grrr!). The Drop Caps can’t be beat for anyone who desires to have a clean, diverse reading rainbow on their shelves, but for durability issues I think Penguin’s cloth-bound classics may have a slight edge (they’re priced about the same, as well).

Penguin is currently at #16 in the process of publishing all 26 of the Drop Caps books. While P just came out this month, the rest will be released throughout the end of 2014 (Amazon has all the titles listed now, linked below). I just finished A, and am getting ready to start C. Aside from reading B and D in high school, and I about twenty years ago, these are all new to me. Suggestions, anyone?

A – Austen, JanePride and Prejudice
B – Brontë, CharlotteJane Eyre
C – Cather, WillaMy Antonia
D – Dickens, CharlesGreat Expectations
E – Eliot, GeorgeMiddlemarch
F – Flaubert, GustaveMadame Bovary
G – Golding, WilliamLord of the Flies
H – Hesse, HermanSiddhartha
I – Ishiguro, KazuoAn Artist of the Floating World
J – Joyce, JamesA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
K – Kidd, Sue MonkThe Secret Life of Bees
L – Lee, Chang-raeNative Speaker
M – Melville, HermanMoby-Dick
N – Nesbit, EvelynFive Children and It
O – O’Hara, JohnButterfield 8
P – Proust, MarcelSwann’s Way
Q – Queen, ElleryThe Greek Coffin Mystery
R – Rushdie, SalmanHaroun and the Sea of Stories
S – Steinbeck, JohnCannery Row
T – Tan, AmyThe Joy Luck Club
U – Undset, SigridKristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath
V – VoltaireCandide, or Optimism
W – Whitman, WaltLeaves of Grass and Other Poems
X – XinranSky Burial
Y – Yeats, W. B.When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales
Z – Zafon, Carlos Ruiz and Lucia GravesThe Shadow of the Wind

James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013


Love at first sight? This Brain Pickings blog post celebrates 1948′s James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book, the collaboration between chef and simple foods advocate James Beard and legendary children’s book illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen. The fanciful artwork in that post prompted another episode where I had to get my own copy (and, since I hadn’t owned anything else done by the beloved Provensens, it was a no-brainer).

The book certainly wasn’t a disappointment. With just about every one of its 300 pages containing artwork of some kind, this must have been a major undertaking for the Provensens. I’m talking huge – several full-color artworks on full pages and spreads, along with a few hundred smaller drawings that cleverly use black with a single color (over 400 illustrations in all, according to the title page). Similar in spirit to Charley Harper’s work on the Betty Crocker Dinner for Two Cook Book, the Provensen’s delightful whimsy makes every page sing. I photographed just a few of the highlights for this post and dropped them in my Flickr Cool Vintage Illustration set (click on the photos for a better look).

Aside from the terrific art, Fireside benefits from the timeless recipes and advice of James Beard (1903-1985), a proponent of fresh cooking and non-processed ingredients in American cuisine. This book must have filled a huge need for people in the post-World War II era eager to return to simple, elegant dining.

Simon and Shuster has frequently kept James Beard’s Fireside Cook Book in print over the years, renaming it The Fireside Cookbook in 1982. The current edition adds a new introduction, but it appears to have the wonderful art reproduced in black and white (why??). Vintage copies are still obtainable at a decent price, however (my copy is an eighth hardback printing). Click here to purchase at Amazon.com.