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.
July 20th, 2013
Every once in awhile, we adjust our home entertainment system to keep up with our changing needs. For the past three years, we’ve been using a TiVo Premiere DVR with an antenna carrying over-the-air local channels. It was a nice and affordable setup, but the hardware was unstable, the antenna reception was glitchy, and increasingly we found ourselves using the TiVo merely to watch Netflix streaming. That’s why we’re transitioning to a Roku streaming player (which works fantastically, unlike the buggy TiVo) along with a monthly subscription to Hulu Plus. Hulu carries most current fare from the over-the-air networks, although CBS is bizarrely absent from it or any of the other digital channels Roku users can download and watch. We may just have to tune into CBS live, with all the commercial breaks. How very 1988.
The Hulu is intended to replace the Netflix streaming, although that may change since Hulu doesn’t have as much variety as Netflix. Their movie selection is lacking, although they do have the fabulous Criterion Collection. With a decent selection of current television (no CBS, however, a point worth repeating), we’ve been using it to watch network shows that everybody else watched 5-8 years ago (Heroes; Community). The television has brief commercial breaks, but I can live with that. Digging deeply enough, one can also find lots of interesting TV from other countries (Canada, Australia, Korea) and a few obscure older series.
The various channels one can download on the Roku also offer a lot of tantalizing viewing options – some free, some on a pay-by-the-month basis. One of our favorite things is the Nowhere TV channel, which allows us to watch the never-ending contents at Archive.org. I knew that the site had a lot of vintage commercials, industrial shorts, public domain and ephemeral films to enjoy, but I was also surprised to find a number of vintage TV shows on there. A couple of failed sitcom pilots caught my eye, which are outlined below:
- The Ginger Rogers Show aired as part of ABC’s Vacation Playhouse, a summer variety series used to air unsold pilots (why don’t they do this any more?). Ginger plays a pair of identical twins – one serious, the other frivolous, both sporting the same unique swoopy hairstyle – in this 1963 production. Although Rogers lacks the chops for convincingly playing two separate characters against each other, the pilot at least had some interesting possibilities. At the end of the program, Rogers appears as herself to explain that the series will alternate between comedy and drama, one week with her as the lighthearted sister, the next with her as the serious sister.
- Maggie was another fascinating sitcom pilot, produced in 1957 but not broadcast until 1960. This one starred Margaret O’Brien as the overly curious, offbeat teen daughter of parents with a theatrical background. The family’s arrival in a conservative Connecticut enclave causes a stir, not the least of which is due to Maggie’s meddling and quirky behavior. What struck me the most about this marshmallowy domestic comedy was how obviously it was done to capitalize on O’Brien’s best-known role as Tootie in the classic musical Meet Me In St. Louis. The actress may have been older (she was 20 at the time, playing a 17 year-old), but her character’s overactive imagination and cutesy, borderline annoying mannerisms are pure Tootie, updated to contemporary times. O’Brien’s St. Louis dad, Leon Ames, even plays her father once again here. It’s a cute, moderately well-written show that makes me wonder how it would have come out had it been expanded to the 30+ episodes a season commonly produced back then.
In case it wasn’t obvious, stuff that barely made it to the air in 1960-63 interests me a lot more than 99% of the stuff on the air in 2013. Should anything else that’s worth mentioning here pop up, I’ll let you know.