Category Archives: design finds

It’s a visual feast.

Park Slope Methodist Book Sale Finds

This weekend was one of my favorite annual Park Slope traditions: the Park Slope Methodist book sale!  Every year, this neighborhood church collects thousands of book donations (and CDs, and records) of every kind, and the BK literati flock to pick up hardcovers and paperbacks for just a dollar or two.

This year, I tried to exercise some restraint – after all, I’ve got books spilling out of the shelves in my room as it is!  But I did manage to pick up a few art and home-related titles (I was in a non-fiction mood), that are really fun!

My favorite book of the day is A Book Of Garden Flowers by Margaret McKenny and Edith F. Johnston (Macmillan, 1940). Margaret McKenny turns out to be a renowned Washington State naturalist, and I later found some of her enthusiastic letters about mushroom hunting. But the piece de resistance is Edith Johnston’s GORGEOUS lithographs of flowers! Each one is more beautiful than the next (so much so that I almost scanned the whole book!). Take a look . . .

Truly lovely, no?

I also picked up a couple of cookbooks that I’m really digging:

The Pleasures of Slow Food by Corby Kummer (Chronicle Books, 2002). – This glamorous coffee-table volume takes a warm glimpse into the “slow food” movement – where hand-crafted cooking methods enjoyed among company take the place of modern American fast-food culture. I can only hope that I’ll get around to cooking soft-shell crab bisque or pickled herring with apples and creme freche, because the photos are absolutely drool-worthy!

Speaking of photos, I’d never normally buy a cookbook without them, but this little gem caught my eye and I think it’ll be most useful! Edible Pockets For Every Meal by Donna Rathmell German (Nitty Gritty Cookbooks, 1997) is a super-simple guide to all kinds of dumplings, turnovers and “pasties” ( . . . whatever those are!). You can mix-and-match various dough/roll recipes with endless combinations of fillings from different cultures.  Check out how friendly the design is:

Want some of these delightful titles for yourself? Make sure to be on the lookout for the Slope’s book sale next February!

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Belated BEA Busyness

Well, it’s been another one of those times where my blog has hit a bit of a lag!  My life these days is crazy busy, personally and professionally, so I really can’t complain.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for writing about my experiences or keeping up with my social media presence.  So now that I’m comfy on the recliner on vacation in Bemidji, it’s time to play a little Walking In Public catch-up…

First off, if you haven’t headed over to my new gig as a columnist on the blog, Publishing Trendsetter, you want to go to there!  The site is full of great advice and insight from young professionals on those either in their first few years, or looking to get into the industry.  As for me, I’ll be bringing the visual inspiration with the column, Design Candy.

A few weeks ago, I kicked it off on Trendsetter with my favorite design finds, head-to-head, from the publishing extravaganza of the year, BEA.  But I had a lot of favorite moments that didn’t make it onto that post.  For some reason, most of the Big 6 publishers disappoint – their large space isn’t utilized with books, but posters/video screens that don’t make an impact.  It’s the indie publishers (plus the usual suspects in Chronicle, Candlewick and Abrams) that make up the best exhibits.

Missed BEA the first time around?  Check out my highlights now:

Chronicle Books: Is designer heaven – no one even comes close to these guys in my book.

Abrams: They always pull out all the stops, this time with a giant snowglobe.

International: Saudi Arabia is by far the friendliest, but I love looking through all the foreign-language books.

Candlewick Press: No pics of the display, but note the presence of actual kids’ books.

Workman: Fun exhibit full of books, and I got a Sophie Blackall Missed Connections poster – my favorite swag of the day!

Enchanted Lion Books: Nice use of the full jacket proofs on the background.

Mo’s Nose: These self-publishers pulled out all the stops with cool display and marketing.  Plus, I think the idea of an app based on a scratch-and-sniff book is hilarious.

Hyperion: Okay, I have to be honest, this is not on my favorite list.  I just have to ask… what is with the harvest cornucopia?!  I can’t help but laugh at this one.

And, of course… here’s Penguin:

AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers Exhibit

On Monday, the Art Department took a field trip to see the AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers of 2009 exhibit.  It was a worthwhile show to attend, but I had mixed feelings about it.  For one, the non-traditional gallery presentation (above) brought both advantages and challenges.  I loved the low bleacher set-up for books, because I could sit and relax while browsing heavier volumes.  But the bleachers did the covers a huge disservice; not only did you have to bend down repeatedly to pick up each individual cover, you had to flip the card over to even see the image.

But the main reason that I left ambivalent over the 50/50 exhibit encompassed more of my greater feelings about design in general.  Without a doubt, the books on display were creatively inspiring.  I loved thumbing through the photos and art, the lavish paper stocks, and the 3-dimensionality of a beautifully-presented package.  Books like these make me want to go home, stay up all night and make ART.  It makes me feel a little inferior that I’m not doing that kind of work already.

At the same time, though, many of these books get right to the heart of one of my greatest pet peeves: design for design’s sake. Design should always serve a purpose, complement its material, and make content accessible to its consumer. I love design because it places equal importance on being functional AND visually pleasing.  But many of the 50/50 books suggest the opposite. Type running into more type, or scattered across the page, or written in tiny Helvetica Bold . . . these things appeal to the hipster art-design community, but aren’t the best solution for the general reader.  Go ahead and be as artsy as you want, but please, let it make sense.

That being said, I’ve composed some highlights of the exhibit to present my case.  I’ll showcase my favorites, as well as some titles that really made my blood boil.

A perfect example to explain my point?  Two books, no type on the cover:


Afrodesiac (AdHouse Books) – Perfectly captures the 1970s exploitation and comic book crazes. The interior contains pictures, not words. Generally all-around badass.

vs.

Manuale Zaphicum (Jerry Kelly LLC) – Yes, the letterpressed interior is absolutely gorgeous, but I found a blank cover for a book about a type designer to be annoying-ironic, not funny-ironic.

See what I mean?  Okay, now on to some favorites:

Pictorial Webster’s (Chronicle Books) – Gimme gimme gimme those vintage engravings!

What Is Affordable Housing? (MTWTF) – A clear, accessible and handy guide that speaks to non-designers, but doesn’t sacrifice a bit of design. Bravo!

Silhouette: The Art of Shadow (Gabriele Wilson Design) – My pick of the “elegant art books”.

The Monsterologist (Sterling) – Oh hey, it’s a children’s book!  One of two, the other being Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types (Werner Design Works, Inc.).

One Million (Think Studio) – Scanning through a million dots is a great way to give abstract numbers some concrete, visual interest.  Image

And now, the best-of the pretty, “touchable” books:

The Original Of Laura (Knopf) – A beautiful way to showcase Nabokov’s last notes with removable versions of his original index cards.

For Jean Grolier And His Friends (Jerry Kelly LLC) – This 500-page doorstopper is an exquisite tribute to fine bookmaking, but I don’t feel worthy to flip through it.

Riley And His Story (Matthew Rezac Graphic Design) – The typographic cover made this one stand out, and I love the layered cut-out trim sizes of the the interior pages.  A moving book of photographs.

Wine Labels (Eduardo del Fraile) – Using cork as the cover and a vertical trim size are perfect examples of out-of-the-box design that actually make contextual sense.

Edward Gordon Craig (Base) – The slice of bright green peeking out from the inside redeems this from the . . .

Helvetica Wall of Shame!!!

50/50 Designers, why do you so often use Helvetica (or something close to Helvetica), when there are an infinite variety of typefaces in this world?!  Is it just so that you can appeal to the hipster, “modern design” consumer with such ease that you don’t have to think about finding something better suited to your project?  For shame!

Note: Some of these books are truly great, but it doesn’t save them from THE WALL.

Everybody Dance Now (Pentagram) – The fun rainbow foil makes this “history of the hipster parties” book… but just barely.

D’Apostrophe (ZAGO) – Love the 3-D cover, but there are plenty of other typefaces that “resonate with the notion of geometry and living forms within positive and negative space.”

MEC (Mevis & van Deursen with Danielle Aubert) – Juror’s comments: “The design and type selection are as cerebral as the work”.  Enough said.

Fabrizio Giannini: Live Without Dead Time (Sidi Vanetti) – Akzidenz-Grotesk = same thing.

SVA Undergraduate Catalog 2010/11 – Also in the “almost-Helvetica” doghouse, but props to them, because I can’t help but look at this book and get jealous.  Why did Pratt give us nothing like SVA’s promotional material?

At this point, you may be asking, do I just have an illogical beef with hipster design and sans-serifs?  Maybe.  Luckily, this is my blog, and I get to rant about it here.

Top 5 Things To See/Know/Do This Week

Since the week has been so crazy for me preparing the Spring 2012 picture books at work, here are a few announcements/discoveries to keep y’all busy:

1. Seems that Coralie Bickford-Smith, senior cover designer over at the UK’s Penguin Books, has been on everyone’s brains lately . . . I received two links to her in the past few days!  I have always been a huge fan of her Clothbound Classics series, but I hadn’t seen her full site.

And, my goodness, take a look at her newest work!  I’m getting giddy looking at this Penguin Great Food series (link courtesy of Creative Review, via Ryan, extremely cool fellow designer/cubicle neighbor).  Each plate is based on vintage ceramic patterns, and I seriously can’t get over how gorgeous they are.

2.  Speaking of how the UK dominates beautiful patterned covers, let’s move along to White’s Books, a small London publisher directed by David Pearson (a former Penguin Books designer himself).  In a different way, these patterns draw the reader into other imagery and bring visually potent symbolism to distinguished classics. Thanks to Kevin Stanton, amazing paper-cut illustrator from the Illustration Week extravaganza, for referring me to Jessica Vendsen’s blog!

3. On a local level, I have to give a shout-out to a new show opening up in town: Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World).  I’ve mentioned before my infatuation with Maira’s work, and since she’s a Nancy Paulsen Books author/illustrator, I get to drool over her new children’s books on a regular basis.  Can’t wait to check out this exhibit of many of her best-known works, as I know it’ll be as original and out-of-the-box as ever.

Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) is on display at The Jewish Museum from March 11 to July 31, 2011.  For more info, check out this blog post, with plenty of links to get your Maira fix.

4.  Hey, did I mention I’ve been busy doing some freelance design work for Elizabeth Knight Jewelry?  If you’re in the mood to accessorize, head on over to her website, where you can find collections of nature-inspired, mostly silver work. When we stopped by a group sample sale last week, it was completely mobbed . . . so get this stuff while it’s hot, fashionistas!

As for me, I’m going straight for the Frog Pearl Necklace and Vertebrae Earrings.

5. Times are tough, folks. Amid the economy cutbacks, we gotta defend what’s worth spending money on. Support Planned Parenthood and writing programs like Reading Is Fundamental by clicking on the links, signing your name, and/or writing to your representative.  You’ll be standing up for millions of underprivileged children who gain access to literacy though RIF, and millions of adults who need access to life-saving care (like cancer screenings, HIV testing, and birth control).  Let’s keep our country healthy and wise.  Thanks!

Tarot Cards: The Art Of The Future

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with magic and the occult.  Blame it on Harry Potter.  I’m not a true believer or anything, but I’ve definitely been known to whittle stick wands (age 11), write fluently in the Runic alphabet (age 13) and ask everyone, “What’s your sign?” (last week).  What can I say… it’s my idea of FUN.

So last night, I sat down with my clairvoyant gypsy roommates to – what else? – have my cards read.  Normally a basic reading consists of 3 cards, but I decided to go for the big one – a 10-card celtic cross variation. The exercise begins with picking one card from the deck that represents yourself.  And since I don’t know much about the meanings, I chose simply on what visually “speaks” to me – and ended up with the 10 Of Cups, above.

The 10 Of Cups just so happens to be perfect for me!  Also known as the “Happily Ever After” card, the 10 Of Cups represents peaceful contentment and personal happiness.  The idyllic scene shows a man and woman, boy and girl, surrounded by the ones they love.  Since this is my “identity” card, it’s not that my near future holds sunshine and rainbows, but that the ultimate dream of family, friends and joy is what’s most important to me.  I couldn’t have said it better myself!

What else did my card reading hold?  Well, it was mostly work-related.  I’m supported by the Ace Of Pentacles – financial stability, thanks to a steady job, but I’m going to have a hard time keeping it all together soon (the Four of Pentacles, reversed). No worries, I’ll learn how to juggle it all in the end (the Two of Pentacles).  All in all, it sounded like an eerie premonition of… dun dun dun… student loans.  Also in the reading: a friends-based, party-loving lifestyle in my college past (the Three of Cups), and my roommates’ game attempt at relating the confident Ace Of Wands to “a new day” in my love life.  That’s pretty much it.

Even if you could care less about the readings, Tarot is full of incredibly interesting visual elements.  In most types of illustration, the pictures complement and draw out meaning from the words, but the words come first and foremost. But in Tarot, the illustrations ARE the meaning, the artwork holds all the power. Every composition and symbol on the card can be interpreted, so each kind of deck holds a potentially different future for the reader. With hundreds of decks from the 15th century to the present, that’s a lot of illustration divination!

Some classic decks, like playing cards, are based solely on their suit:

Thoth Deck from SuperTarot

17th-Century Vieville Tarot from Alec Satin

Some contain a bit more symbolism:

Morgan-Greer Tarot from Auracana

Old English Tarot from The Card Reader

And others, well, are a bit more interpretive, illustrative, or just plain kitschy:

Housewives Tarot from Wizard & Witch

The Victorian Romantic Tarot from Auracana

I can’t get enough of the crazy variety of art on Tarot cards, so for more info, check out tons of decks at Tarot.com, a lot of useful basic info and videos at Big Tarot blog, and, of course, the Tarot Wiki.

From The Slush Pile: Hand-Lettered Type

While going through the slush mail today, I came across a pair of standout illustrators in a pile of recent UArts grads. Jim Tierney and Sara Wood, a young Brooklyn couple, have a fantastic approach to book cover design.  Their masterful combination of type, hand-lettering and drawing makes both of their portfolios equally impressive.

Check out Sara’s D. H. Lawrence book cover series, and Jim’s interactive Jules Verne thesis (there’s a video too!).  I put the cards up on the “Wall Of Stuff I Like” in my cube, right next to our other favorite hand-drawn type designer, Kristine Lombardi.  Lombardi’s cards have been up on our wall for ages.  While her cards have more of a feminine, fashion style (although I do like her Kids page!), they are the first thing that designers walking by are ALWAYS drawn to.  Check out a great interview (including the below image of her promo card) here.These designers got me to thinking: where’s the place for hand-lettered type in children’s books?  Before the age of thousands of freebie fonts on the internet (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!), hand-lettered display type was commissioned for book covers all the time. I recently worked on the anniversary edition for Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side, and I was so impressed to discover that the handsome title was calligraphed by the original in-house designer.And while I’m sure it took a lot more effort than downloading a font, there’s something careful, purposeful and yet whimsical to hand-drawn type.  So it’s no surprise that it is experiencing a rebirth of magnificently hip proportions. Now, type everywhere looks like this:Want 5,000,000 examples?  Just head to Flickr.  The New York Times.  Or anywhere.  I used to make fun of the fact that you could tell all the films addressing the teen “Napoleon Dynamite” audience (or that have Michael Cera in them) by their hand-drawn titles.In art school, we used to hear constantly, “if you want it to look hand-drawn, do it yourself.”  Designers, as a whole, have embraced this ideal. Children’s books, on the other hand, don’t have the same prejudice when it comes to handwriting typefaces.  Hand-lettering might work for display type, or a few very special people (ahem, Maira Kalman and Oliver Jeffers). But on the whole, handwriting fonts keep kids’ books looking consistent, read-able and changeable over 32 pages. 9 times out of 10, a handwriting font will actually look better than what you could do yourself. That being said, when it comes to display type and interesting details, I’m all for hand-drawn type in children’s books.  It’s fresh, playful and unique.  And with the rapid changes in technology, we may not need to draw type anymore, but I have a feeling that more lettering opportunities will open up for type designers anyway – just because we’re craving that physical, hand-created feel!

Stand Tall! Growth Charts

Anyone that knows me is aware that height is, um, sort of an issue for me.    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not generally insecure about my looks, but I think everyone has that one “sensitive subject” they’re not comfortable about themselves, and at 5’10”, being tall is mine.  And no annoying “But being tall is so great!” comments are going to change that.

So I could appreciate the levity and message of the latest book I’ve come across at work: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, and illustrated by David Catrow.  Molly Lou, the shortest, buck-toothiest, bullfrog-iest new girl in class, shines because she follows her grandmother’s advice to always, “Walk as proudly as you can and the world will look up to you.” She’s got confidence that (literally) bowls over the school bully, and it’s fantastic. This is the kind of both entertaining and meaningful read that makes me want to shove it in the New York Times’ snotty face and say, “THIS IS WHY PICTURE BOOKS ARE SO GREAT!”  Phew!  Anywho… moving on…

Designing “extras” for Molly Lou’s 10th anniversary got me to thinking about those handmade growth charts scrawled up the doorframes of classic American households.  Remember those?  Well, I wanted to see if there were some pre-made growth charts with a bit of design flair.  Turns out, you can pretty much find a colorful growth chart for kids on any theme – no matter how tall or small!

Here were some of my favorites:

Heirloom Boxed Set Growth Chartvia Design Mom

Grow-With-Me Scroll Chart – via Family Style

Chalkboard Paint DIY Growth Chart – via OhDeeOh

Basic Shapes Growth Chart – via Kids Crave

Up, Up I Go – A Fold-Out Book by Eric Carle (Chronicle Books)

Giraffe Wall Decal Growth Chart – via CoolLil

Who Tall Are You? – For Big Kids, aka. Adults