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Category Archives: Rubylith

The Places You’ll Go

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

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

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


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.

Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig


I purchased Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig as a birthday gift to myself last year. While the imagery in this beautifully done artist’s monograph impressed me right away, I didn’t get around to reading Steven Heller’s comprehensive text until this summer (Heller was assisted on this book by Lustig’s widow, Elaine, who wrote the introduction). Although death at the young age of forty snuffed out his career, Alvin Lustig still stands out as a design icon and one of the more outstanding proponents of modernism. It’s revealed not just with his famous, inventive New Directions book covers, but in everything he did. This book delves into all facets of a life that was sadly short-lived, yet brimming with innovation.

While Lustig remains best known for his graphic design, this book goes to great lengths to prove that he was the 20th Century equivalent of a Renaissance Man. Lustig’s devotion to the purest tenets of Modernism extended not just to graphic design, but also interior design, architecture, furniture, education and theory. Following a short biography, Heller structures the book by discipline (print design, three dimensional design, education, and theory). Like most Chronicle books, the text is supplemented with plenty of beautifully reproduced visuals (including dozens of those fabulous book covers) to linger over. What a talent! One definitely gets a sense of Lustig’s passion for design – and an undercurrent of urgency. Lustig accomplished more in twenty years than many get to do in a lifetime.

Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig was published by Chronicle in 2010. Click here to purchase at Amazon.com.

A sampling of Lustig’s many fantastic New Directions book covers, 1947-55.

The modern and primitive blend in his fabric and interior design.

Graphic identity and interiors for Monte Factor, Ltd. clothing store, 1947.

Playful interoffice memo letterhead for Look magazine, 1944.

More iconic book jacket designs for New Directions, 1946-49.

The cool endpapers are based on Lustig’s 1947 Incantation fabric pattern.

Overspray: L.A. Looks Like You

The 2008 coffee table book Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of L.A. Airbrush Art came to my attention while seeking artwork for my Don’t Make Me Over mix. The book delves head-first into a scene that was a red hot confluence of L.A. style and rock ‘n roll-fueled merchandising, as practiced by four of its biggest proponents. Oddly, however, this labor-intensive art style hasn’t enjoyed a resurgence in the same way that other art and design movements of the period have had.

That’s too bad – at the very least, this stuff is very evocative of the ’70s. I can definitely remember digging it as a teen, even though the part I latched onto came at the very tail end of this movement. My first alluring peek was (don’t laugh) in the overstuffed musical classic Xanadu – recall how the Michael Beck character worked as an artist reproducing album covers at billboard size? The brief scene at his workplace showed all these covers done up in that plastic pop-art style, and to me it seemed like the coolest job ever. I later found more art in that style within the pages of a book called Fame 2, which had me hooked. Up to the late ’80s, I’d still see examples of that hyper-slick artwork within the pages of Rolling Stone, or plastered on the free wall calendars they’d hand out at Tower Records every December.

The artists profiled in Overspray – Dave Willardson, Charles White III, Peter Lloyd, and Peter Palombi – all indulged in that style. As the book plainly demonstrates, however, each one put his own stamp on his work. Willardson’s was the most retro-slick and technically accomplished of all (and my favorite), responsible for iconic pieces such as the Rolling Stone cover that literally interpreted Steely Dan’s name and American Graffitti‘s cheerful carhop. White’s stuff was a lot more funky and hallucinatory, where photo-realistic scenes bump up against Maxfield Parrish-inspired fantasy-scapes. Lloyd brought on the weird with his imaginative, spacey LP covers and kinky illustrations for magazines like Oui. Palombi’s nostalgic, irony-drenched scenes astonished with their playfulness and expertly rendered surfaces. Along with absorbing interviews with all four men, the book reprints big and colorful representative samplings of their work. It also has a rather self-indulgent introductory essay, printed in a hard-to-read peach script font, that sets the scene in a smug way (you can easily skip that part and get the jist in the interviews). In the end, I ended up envying these guys for being in there at such a fantastic, creative time, and also admiring the painstaking technique and work ethic required to master the airbrush.

P.S. I still want that Xanadu guy’s job.

Another nifty thing about Overspray is the dust jacket with different designs printed on both sides which enables the book to have four unique covers, one for each artist profiled. The book can be ordered at Amazon.com here.

Dave Willardson LP art for the Spinners, 1978.

Charles White III illustration for National Lampoon, 1972.

Dave Willardson art for American Graffitti soundtrack LP, 1973.

Charles White II art for the Rolling Stones (1973); Star Wars (1977).

Peter Lloyd illustration for Oui magazine, 1975.

Peter Palombi magazine cover illustration, 1975.