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, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
B – Brontë, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
C – Cather, Willa – My Antonia
D – Dickens, Charles – Great Expectations
E – Eliot, George – Middlemarch
F – Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary
G – Golding, William – Lord of the Flies
H – Hesse, Herman – Siddhartha
I – Ishiguro, Kazuo – An Artist of the Floating World
J – Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
K – Kidd, Sue Monk – The Secret Life of Bees
L – Lee, Chang-rae – Native Speaker
M – Melville, Herman – Moby-Dick
N – Nesbit, Evelyn – Five Children and It
O – O’Hara, John – Butterfield 8
P – Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way
Q – Queen, Ellery – The Greek Coffin Mystery
R – Rushdie, Salman – Haroun and the Sea of Stories
S – Steinbeck, John – Cannery Row
T – Tan, Amy – The Joy Luck Club
U – Undset, Sigrid – Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath
V – Voltaire – Candide, or Optimism
W – Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass and Other Poems
X – Xinran – Sky Burial
Y – Yeats, W. B. – When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales
Z – Zafon, Carlos Ruiz and Lucia Graves – The Shadow of the Wind
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.
October 1st, 2013
Christopher and I spent a few hours this morning installing a dozen framed LitKids prints at Treehouse Bakery, a vegan business located a short walk from our home in downtown Phoenix. Forgive me for tooting my own horn, but don’t they look lovely?
I’m excited about this opportunity, since it’s the first time I’ve exhibited my own art in public since about 1995. Better yet, we’re mounting these pieces again in two months, at another local, independently run business. Locals supporting other locals – a beautiful arrangement! More photos from today have been included in the LitKids flickr set.
September 13th, 2013
Over the past couple of years, the staff at All Music Guide has collaborated on All Music Loves, a series of blog posts celebrating a certain music genre or year. That inspired me to make my own hand-picked playlists devoted to personal favorite songs released within a certain year – on Spotify, of course. While the naming of the playlists with initials was cheekily swiped from AMG music critic and Spotify user Stephen Thomas Erlewine, doing a playlist cover which spotlights a design from that particular year is all mine (above, a set of watches designed by Phillippe Starck for Fossil). I’ve already completed one for 1968, which is 128 tracks strong. This latest one is only half as long – 2003!
And why did I pick 2003, of all years? I thought it was a good opportunity to catch up on a year in which I was too bogged down with work (my final year designing at the newspaper, consigned to doing the non-creative, crap jobs at twice the work volume) and blogging (Scrubbles.net was once quite popular, unbelievable as it seems) to think about music. Most of what I heard back then was old stuff – discovering bossa nova, MPB, French and Sunshine Pop, and all sorts of vintage junk on mix CDs from friends. The new stuff didn’t attract me all that much (I believe I bought all of three albums by current artists that year). If anything, this project served as a catching-up on what was going on back then.
The music in MRH03 probably isn’t the hippest stuff around (I’ve even heard a few tracks playing at Wal-Mart), but it does have a good selection of melodic, somewhat underrated pop. Three tracks each come from two of my favorite albums of that year, Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress and the Eels’ Shootenanny! (both albums also use the same font on their covers – the wonderful Clarendon). Putting together this playlist netted a lot of surprising finds. The popular songs of that year were, by and large, awful. Only two US #1 singles wound up here (Beyoncé and Eminem). Unexpectedly, I found a lot of great stuff by super-slick, commercial acts from the UK such as Girls Aloud and Dannii Minogue, along with Indie Twee Pop groups like The Shins, Club 8 and Camera Obscura. Some tunes were gathered by reading through old Rolling Stone magazine issues, Wikipedia, and year-end lists from places like Pitchfork; some were discovered by chance. The beauty of these Spotify playlists is that more songs can be added to them as they’re discovered.
August 22nd, 2013
It’s time to unveil the latest LitKids print: Winnie the Pooh and Piglet done in the style of the classic A. A. Milne books (not Disney, thankyouverymuch). This one came about as a special request from one of my design clients. She wanted a special gift for her co-worker who was having a baby, a huge Pooh fan. Vintage copy of The House at Pooh Corner in hand, I worked on putting it together over June and July, not the most comfortable time for working out of our unventilated garage/print studio, but nearly all of the prints (in an edition of fifty) came out beautifully. The design has a few extra layers of colors, thus they have a slightly higher price than the other prints. Also, this is the first listing to use the professional frame photography (above) taken by our neighbor. They came out great, and all I have to do is Photoshop in a scanned image of the artwork (Etsy sellers, take note).
Pooh, Piglet and the other prints are for sale at LitKids – enjoy and happy reading.
August 5th, 2013
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.