6 posts categorized "Design"

December 03, 2009

For the Love of "g"

For the Love of GToday's post is brought to you by the lowercase letter "g" and my love for it. It is, and always has been, my favorite letter in the alphabet. (People have those right?) Lowercase g's come in such a variety of shapes—from g's that look like 9's or even 8's, to ones with elaborate swoops that don't worry about defying line height or saying hello to the letters below.

While I'm not a hardcore fan of the font itself, the lowercase g in American Typewriter is pretty impossible to look at and not want to smile. A tiny fat quail of a letter with so much personality that it always looks ready to hop right off the page. So far in my type explorations I have yet to find a designed letter I like more.

As a quick half-hour experiment I made a little tribute: a poster with fifty varieties of the same letter created for the love of g. I thought some of you type lovers out there might appreciate it.

Quick Tribute and Study of :01 Designer's Favorite Letter

Oh, and just so I don't feel bad for excluding them, uppercase G's have their charms as well.

November 20, 2009

Actor, Lover, Idealist ... Assassin. Oh, And Also A Very Tiny Image on this Huge Ugly Poster: A Study In Victorian Design

Sometimes when I'm in the mood to make my brain explode I'll get caught up wondering how trends happen in design. Was there someone who started it who will never get credit? Did one trend flow and morph into the next, though stepping back they seem so different? Like who was the first person to put a portion of a face on a cover—a major trend so apparent in teen books. (Though it started as the side of the face, then the top half of the face, then jumped down to feet, and is now settling somewhere along the midsection with a lot of headless torso books. If we keep this up one day photographs of elbows on teen covers will be all the rage. Who doesn't love elbows?! They are very relatable. Most people have them and use the almost every day.)

It's easier to understand how trends happen now. Information gets passed along on the internet so fast that if you stop paying attention for five minutes the world spins twice. While it's still really hard to find the genesis, at least the progression of ideas are visible. People liking and linking and stumbling and digging and retweeting and meme'ing and a whole lot of other words that were nonsense sounds until recently. I am happy to say this blog post on origins of trends made me finally learn the name and origin of a very influential modern figure: Keyboard Cat. His real name is FATSO and the footage is from 1984 taken by a man who prides himself in his ability to "nose dance." Sometimes the internet tells me things I don't really want to know.

But that's today with our modern technology, so how did trends flow before there were mass communication systems? How did a movement of art and design work its way from one side of the world to the next overwhelming paintings, architecture, furniture design, advertising... In particular I've been thinking a lot about Victorian design, surely one of the oddest movements in all of design history.

Victorian design is generally looked down upon by many modern creators. It was a product of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of a middle class that had never before existed, plus the means to produce products quicker and easier for general consumption. People were proud of their new riches and were quite quick to flaunt, both in purchases and presentation. Consumerism and advertising were truly born in the Victorian age.

Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast say it best in GRAPHIC STYLE: "Victorian taste was confused by the belief that ornamentation and design were identical functions." Typographers cringe as Victorian letters in a variety of hastily hand created styles are thrown together in ads. "Didn't have a g? Well an upside b works quite as well!...um right?" During this time there was also little regard for the power of pictures. They believed that words were the true way to express an idea and promote a product or message. Instead it was all about ornamentation. How can you make the type stand out? "Why with borders, banners, generic pointing fingers can make sure you notice those words," sayth the Victorian ad creators. "I'm pretty sure there's no way people could find it distracting or confusing or overdone. More leaves! We need MORE LEAVES!"

Sure it's gaudy, and sure it's over-the-top and completely defeating its purpose of getting a message across quickly, but I have to say there is such a place in my heart for Victorian design. It was made out of such innocence in many ways, people really excited the world was changing and really wanting to show off how great they were doing. Just like ads, architecture and furniture design valued ornateness over function, but even though most victorian chairs are about as comfy to sit on as a velvet covered slab of concrete, I've always found them so beautiful to look at.

Actor, Lover, Idealist ... ASSASSIN. (to be said in dramatic voice) Thanks to a great retelling of a historical moment, I was given the chance to really dive into the world of the Victorian age for BOOTH, a book by C.C. Colbert and illustrated by Tanitoc. It tells the story before and after the Lincoln assassination, but this time following John Wilkes Booth, his motives, his passions, and his faults. The book is difficult to read because through most of it you find yourself thinking of Booth as a charming character, a ladies man, a hearthrob, trapped in his older brother's shadow, someone who had a belief (a misguided one) and who stood by it. The charm is a trick and the moments when his true character come forth hit you in the stomach where you go "OHMIGOD! I can't believe I wanted him to get the girl! He's a horrible racist, womanizer, and jerk!" It's an odd thing to read a book where the protagonist is so very flawed and horrible, but yet you can see why so many people were swayed by his charisma.

I wanted to integrate some of what I find beautiful in Victorian design, but try to keep the book from going over the top. Along with Calista, our fearless editor, we decided to create interstitials for each chapter. Not only did it offer an opportunity to create suspense within the story, but it gave me a fun design challenge. How do you create a Victorian page that doesn't distract when, by nature, Victorian design wants to be over-the-top? What I wound up with was a hand-drawn frame, painstakingly mimicked from a traditional Victorian one but with slight variations in line, unevenness in stroke, and variations in size—all in an effort to call back the little imperfections that gave Victorian design its charm. I combined each frame with a small piece of spot art from the chapter ahead. Tiny image with ornate surroundings, just this time missing that silly pointing finger.

The thing that makes BOOTH so striking in my eyes is the contrast between these deep brown pages and the gorgeous colors for the book. The colorist Hilary Sycamore did such a phenomenal job. She created a variety of palettes each based on the mood and location of each scene. The result reflects back upon this era of people determined to put on a face of eloquence through ornamentation. Bright pink scenes of posh Victorian life, often taking place the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the rich, contrasting the yellows and oranges of the seedier settings, the brothels and bars where the conspirators laid their plans. And then the scenes in the theater...dark, moody blues with thick blacks...and only the slightest bits of red. Haunting red.

Victorian Interior Scene in BOOTH by C.C. Colbert and Tanitoc Scene in BOOTH by C.C. Colbert and Tanitoc Scene in BOOTH by C.C. Colbert and Tanitoc

Full Wrap-around Cover for BOOTH (who is hiding in that "O")

The full cover is above, since I love to see it that way, and wonder how many people really look at books the way I actually create them onscreen. Below is an even more fasinating study...Booth's actual WANTED Poster. Note the ridiculous changes in text, the pointing finger that makes $100,000 have to be a smaller type than $50,000, and the fact they forget to mention Booth's name specifically as the Murderer. Or should I say THE........MURDERER.

Get to know Victorian Design!
Here are some of my favorite entries and collections of images:
HEADACHE PILLS! (also proof that some type in this era was actually quite stunning and well-done by any modern standards) 
BABIES SHAVING! (for some reason, this does seem safe to me) AND CUCUMBER THEFT!
A GREAT STUDY ON PUNCH MAGAZINE...okay so that one wasn't that funny, but this is a great article on a magazine which many modern illustrators thank for the rise of this form of art being taken more seriously...and we like that very much.

October 23, 2009

Hiding Under the Covers (well, really "Jackets," but that doesn't make as good a blog title)

Fun Game for all you Design Dorks out there (a title I proudly wear like a Girl Scout badge I stapled on since I was way too Grrrl and lazy to sew)!

Pull out all of the jacketed books on your bookcase and one by one peek underneath. To make it even more interesting try to guess whether there will be anything hiding—be it art, a subtle emboss, some foil, or a water stain from that time you fell asleep reading it in the bathtub (NOTE: that last one doesn't count...and seriously if the book was that boring why do you still own it?) Guessing is like calling the eight ball for people who's coordination lies more in kerning than in cues. You'll be surprised which ones have little hidden gems. Surely that $50 collector's edition you scrapped up enough money for at the very end of a convention will, right? NOPE! But winds up that cheesy Phyllis Diller book someone bought you as a joke is hiding a gorgeous embossed green foil design. Who woulda guessed it? They say you can't judge a book by its cover but this seems to prove you can't judge a case by its jacket either.

:01 doesn't often do jacketed hardcover books, preferring fancy french flaps and keeping the price of full color books a bit less "ak! I must now move to a cardboard box!," so when I see a beautiful case treatment I can't help but drool.

Here are some of my favorites hiding in my bookcases (click on the images for larger views):

Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari Hidden Art in The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame and Dick Cuffari. The cover image is um...weird to say the least. Weird in a way I utterly love. As we all know Mr. Toad gets carried away. Quite literally. Beautiful line-art of Toad slightly more sane underneath as he brushes his...hair?

First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger with Jacket First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger with Jacket removed If you have yet to see a Laura Vaccaro Seeger book in person and care anything at all about book design you MUST get to a bookstore or library right now. Seriously don't even finish this sentence. She is, without a doubt, the modern master of the concept book and a true genius when it comes to playing with interaction between jackets and cases. FIRST THE EGG (which was a stunning cover before all those awards it had to go and win—geez Laura!) is probably my favorite reveal of hers as the chicken and the egg swap places, while still sharing the same beautiful paint through a clever die-cut.

THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai Backwards Author on Flap for THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai Front of Author Pic and Backwards Text under the jacket for THE OTHER SIDE by Istvan Banyai One I did guess right was that Istvan Banyai's THE OTHER SIDE would have something amazing on the other side. So many little touches of brilliance here, but my fav would have to be the back flap with the author facing the wrong way. Take off the jacket and see the author's face...plus all of the text from the outside backwards as if it bled right through.

Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi Okay this is one you MUST click on to get the full effect. Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi's HOUDINI THE HANDCUFF KING has some stunning hidden artwork under that cover continuing where the front image left off and escaping once again.

At the risk of making this entry give WAR AND PEACE a run for its money here's a gallery of my other favorites. I'd love to hear what books you find on your bookcases that have gorgeous hidden art. Feel free to comment below or just friend us on flickr and post them there silently if you are feeling shy.

Clyde Fans Book 1 by Seth Under the Jacket of Clyde Fans Book 1 by Seth Walter Dean Myers's MONSTER Walter Dean Myers MONSTER without half jacket Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? by Shel Silverstein
Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? by Shel Silverstein THE CLAWS COME OUT by Pat Lewis Case for THE CLAWS COME OUT by Pat Lewis McSweeney's Issue 13, ed by Chris Ware Under the Cover of McSweeney's Issue 13, ed by Chris Ware
A Natural History of Giraffes by Ugo Mochi and Dorcas MacClintock A Natural History of Giraffes by Ugo Mochi and Dorcas MacClintock Under the Jacket of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith Ellen Raskin's FIGGS & PHANTOMS Ellen Raskin's FIGGS & PHANTOMS

October 09, 2009

Texture Field Trip: The Making of the RESISTANCE, BOOK 1 Cover

Wrap Around Cover for RESISTANCE, Book 1

I've always been a big fan of wrap-around covers. I have a habit that whenever I get a new book I always take off the cover and open it flat, look at the case, look at the spine...see it the way the designer did on screen, flaps out, all of the pieces together...a visual conversation of the whole package. 

Color Variations on Resistance When Leland Purvis sent along a thumbnail concept of this great art for RESISTANCE, BOOK 1 (a SPRING 10 book written by Carla Jablonski, with some pretty incredible art by Leland telling the story) our entire floor was buzzing over it. Playful, strong, and sets the tone of the series which chronicles the French Resistance during WWII and the children who got involved in the fight.

Realistic coloring wouldn't have made the cover as strong so I started to play around, inspired by the palette of the book which is a lot of beautiful blues and browns. I made over 20 until I had pushed myself too far. Got to the point of "world's ugliest color scheme" and then worked my way back. (You guys don't get to see THAT one, though I blame that fourth one down in the image on the left on me watching GHOST DAD earlier that week. NOTE TO OTHER DESIGNERS: Don't watch Bill Cosby movies and design at the same time. Listen to someone who learned the hard way.) After all the variations, I realized I had been on the right track in the beginning. Something quiet so a shock of red for the band would be impossible to ignore.

But it still felt too static and flat for a story with so much action, spying, running, disguises, and danger. It wasn't working, so I decided to add some texture. Sure I could have made fake bricks in photoshop or thrown a simple filter in, but what fun is that?! This was an excuse for a Texture Field Trip!

If you live in NYC and haven't yet become a wanderer, you're doing it wrong. I could argue it's the greatest place in the world for people watching...and texture hunting. A few hours of walking around NY and brooklyn and I had over 60 new textures on my camera. I'm a firm believer you should always have a camera on you, especially if you are a designer or tend to run into Hulk Hogan a lot. (I swear that guy is stalking me.) There's just something so beautiful about naturally aged architecture, broken concrete, bricks who have seen a lot of things...though if they could talk, I'm not sure I'd want to hear the stories. That first wall below was stunning close-up. The picture didn't do it any justice.

Texture Field Trip: Union Square NYC AKA the most beautiful brick wall in the worldTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint BrooklynTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint BrooklynTexture Field Trip: Greenpoint Brooklyn Texture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYC AKA THE WINNERTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYCTexture Field Trip: Union Square NYC

Can you spot the winner? Click on any for larger versions and feel free to use them, since it will give me an excuse to go on another Texture Field trip in the future. Though honestly...wouldn't you rather go hunting yourself? There's a lot of beauty if you look around you a bit and everything can be a texture if you use it right.

Hand-lettered Resistance Cover Paint Logo Up Close

I didn't want the wall to look like a photograph in the end and I definitely didn't want it to overpower the art. I'm really happy with how it turned out and proud to have this as my second :01 design. Despite the fact I am constantly drooling over fonts, I've gotten really into hand-lettering lately. (Note if you are a fontophile and don't subscribe to these newsletters you are missing out.) But there's just something about hand-lettering that makes me connect more emotionally with a book. This is definitely not a light book. Sure there are funny and sweet moments, but it's dark, real, and inspirational. Creating the logo by hand made me feel connected with the kids in the story. My own attempt to say "take that" against the oppression France faced during the dark times of their Nazi occupation.

September 24, 2009

Translations of a Wordless Book

Back in the day when I used to work in a cubicle almost a FULL ten feet away (my previous job was for :01's parent company Roaring Brook) I had the pleasure of sitting right next to one of my favorite things. The Bookcase of First Second Foreign Editions—something I love so much I feel the need to capitalize all of the letters of the words to describe it.

It's fascinating to see which covers stay and which get switched. Which logos undergo font-overhauls and which countries seem to think all of the text of a book should be stuck on the outside of as well as the inside. My personal favorite was ROBO UND HUND, the German edition of Sara Varon's classic, ROBOT DREAMS. Rough translation: ROBOT AND DOG with their new subtitle "Wahre Freundschaft Rostet Nicht" a.k.a. "True Friendship Does Not Rust." I was so smitten that my favorite translation widget and I spent almost two hours in an attempt to order it from a German website. Two hours well spent.

What I loved most about the German edition, and later on the French edition, was that it had been completely translated...despite the fact most people consider ROBOT DREAMS to be a wordless story.

American Edition of Robot Dreams German Edition of Robot Dreams French Edition of Robot Dreams

There is such beauty in the language of sound effects around the world. A "Gasp" becomes a startled German "Schluck" and a French "OOOH" of surprise. The "Shiver Shiver" of a snowman becomes "Bidder Bidder" in Berlin and "glagla glagla" in Grenoble. (Also can we stop and take a moment to appreciate that these are images of a snowman shivering. While he may be chilly, it warms my heart.)

American Edition of Robot Dreams German Edition of Robot Dreams French Edition of Robot Dreams

There are a few more examples on the First Second Flickr page, Including translations of my favorite panel and the panel that kills me every time. Reading ROBOT DREAMS in any language always makes me cry. Bunnies can be so cruel!

Robot Dreams Sara Varon's Wordless Book in Three Languages
(French, American, and German editions of ROBOT DREAMS, on top of a sneak peek of my messy desk and George O'Connor's ATHENA, my current design project.)

September 10, 2009

Victim or Vixen: Breaking the V-Blonde Pattern in Mystery Covers

Noticing patterns is a part of my job, so as I dove deep into research for my first :01 cover design, I couldn't help but notice the Mystery of the V-Blondes of Mystery.

The women on vintage and even contemporary mystery covers are, more often than not, busty blondes that generally fall into one or another simple category: Victim or Vixen. You'd think you'd be able to tell the V-Blondes apart by how scanitly dressed they are, but another pattern is that both types are often pretty disheveled in the clothing department. (Who knew ghosts and murderers loved fabric so much!) The true way to tell if they are a Victim or a Vixen is by their gaze. If they are looking directly at the reader they are a Vixen and are not to be trusted. They are the ones hiding knives in their shoes and poison in that cup of brandy. If they are looking away—namely at a ghost, creepy closed door, towards a dark alley or graveyard, or um... at their own hand (sorry that last one made me laugh too hard to not include it), they are a Victim. Their role is to be saved as the mystery is solved. And often not much more than that.

CAT BURGLAR BLACK was the first book I designed for :01. Whenever I start a new project I completely go overboard with research. This time it included pouring over old covers in all of the used bookstores I know, watching old mystery movies, and wading through the huge pools of mystery covers and posters so wonderfully cataloged on flickr by collectors. Two of my favorite flickr members let me use their scans in this post: THE WOMAN IN THE WOODS, whose photo stream is simply one of the best out there; and cover collector and artist MATTHEW KIRSCHT. I warn you, in case you have something important to do that doesn't involve designing a mystery cover, you can spend hours looking at their collections. I know I did.

What struck me most about the image Richard Sala drew for the CAT BURGLAR BLACK cover was how it played with this idea of the traditional mystery novel cover: the creepy unnatural glow of his gorgeous watercolor bleeds, a the beautiful girl as the focal point, eerily background and sinister landscape. But at the same time a quick glance made me realize four things. She is
1) not a blonde*
2) not a vixen
3) most certainly not a victim
4) alone—no skeletons, no men—just a girl who is about to have her own story. One she completely owns. K.'s stance is powerful. Her gaze isn't one of fear, but rather one of intelligence. She knows something we don't. And it's pretty hard to look at that image and not want to find out what it is.

*a white haired teenager? How bizarre!

I guess I should talk about the parts I actually designed and I could bore you with talk of foil and the ridiculous things I do when picking a style of it for a book cover: Walk into a room with lightbulbs; walk into a room with fluorescence; turn off the light and see if you can still read it; hold it at every possible angle a book could wind up on the shelf. Is it shiny enough? Is it too shiny? Too yellow? Too red? Why am I using foil for this? Am I accidentally writing the paragraph I just said I wouldn't? Why yes! Yes, I am!

I wanted the logo to be contemporary, to mimic the blue glow of the background and to be something else that K. was conquering. She stands above it and presses that G down into a defeated squiggle. (For those design-y folk who like to deconstruct things: if you ever need to make a box 4 lower case l's work wonderfully and sideways S's make great accents. Letters are just shapes, and often pretty beautiful ones.)

In my mystery binge, along with getting annoyed with all the pointy boobed bondes with tiny waists, I also learned of a designer/artist named Tom Adams. He was resonsible for reworking all of Agatha Christie's books in the 70's. Many of her previous covers had not only been overly narrative but were covered in V-blondes (more often Victims than Vixens, since, as I'm sure you know, Christie was a proper lady). Adams took these stories and gave them iconic and haunting covers, often with simple still lifes or collages, and when he did choose to include a blonde...or at least part of her hair, he broke the line of victim and vixen. The hair suggests she's in trouble, but her stare and faint smile in that picture says otherwise. The only way you'd know is to read the book. Which is exactly what it made me want to do.

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