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Category Archives: Rubylith

Recovering the Classics


Recovering the Classics is an effort to spread awareness of good design and classic literature – two excellent causes! The site canvasses artists and designers to put a contemporary spin on book covers for 50 public domain classics. Given such an eclectic array of adventure, horror, romantic and non-fiction titles to deal with, I’ve been impressed with most of the results – some are beautiful and straightforward, while others take an offbeat approach. Although I’d love to share my favorites here, perhaps it’s best that you go there and dig around.

I had to make my own contribution. The roster offered a lot of tantalizing ideas, but I ultimately ended up selecting Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio because it was a book I remembered cherishing a while back (perhaps we’re overdue for a re-read). Hands was the name of one of the more memorable stories from this collection, which all take place in a rural Ohio town – so the design I went with is built around an evocative photo from the period. I thought it came out nice (and, unlike many other titles, mine is currently the only available design!). Download or buy it here.

Poster Art of the Disney Theme Parks

I have very specific memories connected with the posters at Disneyland – approaching the park, driving into the no-longer-there parking lot, striding towards the gingerbread ticket booths, the first concrete thing I’d see of our adventures ahead would be those iconic posters, affixed to the bases of the Monorail pylons and inside the tunnels leading to Main Street U.S.A. Each poster was a trip in itself – the vine-entrenched intrigue of the Jungle Cruise, the topsy-turvy whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the hitchhiking ghosts of The Haunted Mansion, the kinetic energy of the PeopleMover’s Superspeed Tunnel – a gallery of future memories waiting to be experienced.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks, a coffee table book published by Disney and written by Danny Handke and Vanessa Hunt, comprehensively explores this angle of that pixie dust-strewn universe. As Tony Baxter’s intro explains, poster art is an integral part of the Disney theme park experience. The book’s 11″x14″ size gives ample space to the best posters, with many getting a full page to themselves (although one of my personal faves, the Columbia sailing ship, gets a mere quarter page). Divided into “lands,” the book includes nearly every poster created not just for Disneyland but for all of the Magic Kingdom theme parks (Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are absent). It’s interesting to note the different ways Disney uses to approach the same attraction in each park, with some intriguing little differences – such as the Euro Disneyland train engine sporting a pair of antlers. The book also contains separate chapters reproducing the Art Noveau influenced designs used for Tokyo DisneySea and the optimistic 1920s to ’50s era throwbacks employed on Disney California Adventure’s recent overhaul.

Two things in particular impressed me about this one. Firstly, they give credit to the unsung artists behind these posters (hooray for that). Secondly, they include lots of fascinating unused poster concept art. Before getting this, I never realized that most of the iconic poster designs from Disneyland’s early years were tied into one talented man – Bjorn Aronson. Aronson’s playful, cleanly modern, eclectic yet unified poster art probably did more to establish Disneyland’s visual identity than anything else. It’s astonishing stuff, and this book reproduces them with vivid clarity.

Poster Art of the Disney Parks can be purchased here at Amazon.com.

Side-by-side poster comparison for Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Bjorn Aronson’s illustration skill is evident on this close-up of his fantastic Red Wagon Inn poster.

Casa de Fritos and the Lucky Nugget Saloon (Disneyland Paris) in the Frontierland section.

Not a good photo, but at least it gives you an idea of the chapter openings (using another excellent Aronson poster).

An undeveloped Adventureland poster concept is shown next to a printed one.

A demo of the silk screen color-layering process (that looks familiar).

Oh, how I wish they would have made Aronson’s Candy Palace poster design a reality!

Tomorrowland: all about the primary colors.

Circus Poles

Cyrk poster, Bohdan Bocianowsk, 1971.

This circus poster, created by Polish artist Bohdan Bocianowski in 1971, will soon be a new addition at 4 Color Cowboy. That image perfectly encapsulates the 4 Color Cowboy aesthetic – a glitzy, once-removed version of the classic American Western themes.

I actually found a ton of great Polish circus poster designs on the web – pieces striking in their bold colors, simplified imagery, and lack of text. While the Polish artwork on ’60s-’80s era film posters is justifiably celebrated, these circus design were totally new – and inspiring – to me. I love how the various artists incorporated the single work “Cyrk” and found unusual ways of depicting typical circus animals. Funky! I chose some of the bolder, critter-oriented designs to share here.

Wiktor Gorka, 1969.

Wiktor Gorka, c. 1968.

Wiktor Gorka, 1970s.

Simplicity

Last weekend, while cleaning out excess stuff in our garage, I came across this forgotten little acrylic-on-board study I once did back in the ’90s. Although the piece is somewhat derivative of Anthony Russo‘s art, it still appeals to what I’m continuing to strive for in art, and in life: simplicity. When doing art, the temptation is to keep adding on and adding on, when the most effective art (to me) continue to be the pieces that communicate an idea in just a few brush strokes or pen marks. Unfortunately, that concept is easier to think about than to actually do… but I keep trying.

That whole idea of whittling down a drawing to its essence also came to mind when I was perusing the illustrations for a piece of vintage paper ephemera that C. recently acquired. The imagery below comes from a booklet published by the Melamine Council to promote the proper use of plastic dinnerware. It might have been a lost cause in the ’50s and ’60s, trying to make these common household items look elegant and sophisticated, but in the context of this brochure it actually works – beautifully. The uncredited artist (or artists) did a masterful job of paring down the ideas of stylish living, feminine beauty, and cleanliness into simple – yet never simplistic – illustration.

Conceiving a Babi

Christopher Geoffrey McPherson – The Babi Makers (2013).

We’ve spent the last few weeks working on the release of Christopher’s latest book, a cautionary sci-fi tale called The Babi Makers. The very concept of the book had my creative gears spinning, and I immediately thought of doing something that was contemporary, yet also evocative of funky old sci-fi things like Omni magazine art and paperback book covers from the ’50s and ’60s. I originally thought to have just a landscape in the bottom half, meant to represent the community of Nové depicted in the book. It wasn’t quite working, however, and that’s when Christopher thought up the idea of including figures looking over a cliff. That’s where it finally clicked.

The Babi Makers is available as a Kindle download, or as a paperback. Below, some imagery that guided me along in the design process.

Wassily Kandinsky – Variegated Black (1935).

Sci-fi paperback book covers, 1960s (Avon edition of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy).

Early OMNI magazine covers and art (July 1981 issue).

“One day his mother was gone.”

Bambi title spread, Junior Deluxe Edition (1956).

My bedside reading table is mostly stocked up with non-fiction, but sometimes pieces of classic literature get fit in from time to time. Felix Salten’s short, bracingly realistic Bambi, A Life in the Woods is the latest. The copy I read (pictured above) might have been an abridged version of the 1928 original. One thing’s for certain, however – this isn’t the Disney version, not by a long shot. In describing the title deer’s maturity in a deceptively calm forest, Salten’s elegant, plain-spoken prose takes on a grimly factual outlook that makes the animated version look, well, cartoonish. In the book, animals are born, seasons change, predators kill, and the things that the forest creatures admire or fear turn out to be expertly constructed illusions (no wonder the Nazis hated this book).

There are many other differences between the book and screen Bambis. Thumper and Flower are absent; Faline is more prominent and they have another deer friend named Gobo (who becomes the deer equivalent of an Uncle Tom after he’s domesticated by He, the human). And the relatively sedate hunting scenes from the movie are depicted as a devastating, full-blown massacre in print. Cool. Below are some nice images from various incarnations of Bambi in book form – including the Disney version (can’t help it, the film’s imagery is lovely if overly cute-ified).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods German first edition cover (1926).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods U.S. first edition detail (1928).

Bambi first U.S. paperback edition (1939).

Bambi: A Life in the Woods illustration by Mirko Hanak (1967).

“Bambi Finds the Meadow” illustration by Charles Harper (1963).

Walt Disney’s Bambi, page from film tie-in storybook (1941).