Tag Archives: gallery shows

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.


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.


New Artist Showcase: Danny Quirk

This is a post in a series of interviews featuring up-and-coming illustrators, in a celebration of the first annual Illustration Week.  Enjoy!

Danny Quirk

Website: http://www.behance.net/dannyquirk

Blog: http://danquirk.blogspot.com

Your work is incredibly realistic. What is your process of completing a painting?
Everything is a staged photograph, collaged/comped in Photoshop, and that finished ‘comp’ is my sketch. From there, if I have time I’ll draw it out, or else graphite transfer the image onto paper. From there, just start painting away. ha. For the Marines series, bought uniforms/guns/props (all current to date/location) and used that as reference. If there’s one thing I can’t stress more ESP for realistic artists, it’s DO YOUR RESEARCH/ HAVE SOLID REFERENCE.

It just makes a world of difference in the final.

The anatomical ones are actually lots of fun to do. Generally speaking will ‘dissect’ a region of the body and photograph it. How I go about this is I’ll draw the anatomy ON the body, exactly where it would fall under the skin in permanent marker. From there, paint flesh tone latex over the anatomy, and have the subject cut it/peel it open, so when photographed, there will be the exposed anatomy in slight perspective as it would move with the body.

What gallery shows has your work been in lately? How did you pursue those opportunities?
They started off a lot with restaurant gallery places, and kind of worked their way up from  there, a really awesome place everyone should check out is G2 Ave A, it’s  free to show in, and the artist keeps 100% of the sales (shown there 3 times so far). From there showed in the 320 studios, and then did a showing of the military pieces in the 69th Fighting Regiment’s Armory. There were others in-between, but I won’t bore y’all with that. haha. But one MAJOR thing learned from these is network your asses off. Go to shows, be proud of your work, and talk to people, form alliances with those who are similarly different to you. It’s easy for galleries to turn down 1 artist at a time, but the more you have coming in, with strong work of similar themes/different styles (or vice versa) they’re less apt to turn you down, giving yourself another opportunity to be seen, and fact of the matter is, you just never know who could come through and see it.

How did you get into drawing Celtic knotwork?
Haha, it’s kind of embarrassing, but I was always fascinated by it, but never knew how to do it… My freshman year at Pratt, there was this girl I was totally head over heels for, and decided I’d break the news with an elaborate Celtic love letter. haha. Needless to say the feelings weren’t reciprocated, but it got me hooked on learning more about knotwork/means of construction, and to this day, it’s probably my favorite genre of work to do.
What excites you about Medical Illustration? Do you have any advice for other illustrators looking to get into the same field?
What I love about medical illustration is it is probably the ONLY field in illustration (or art for that matter) where work outweighs the worker. Plus, hyper technicality/realism is the only acceptable way to produce it.  Sadly, it requires a lot if extensive schooling (which is generally the main deterrent) but as soon as you’re out, almost guaranteed a JOB, not freelancing, but a real job. ha. Starting pay is roughly $60,00 a year, but if you’re talented/knowledgeable, not uncommon to exceed $250,000 a year off the work. Generally these top dogs work with law firms/pharmaceuticals, but that’s actually where most the ‘work’ comes from. Law firms need artists to illustrate/educate the jury in medical malpractice cases, and pharmaceuticals need artists to show how their products work. ha. One thing I’d offer to those interested (I totally regret not doing) is DON’T major in art, major in science/minor in art. There’s much more of an emphasis on science aspects and such that you’ll be at a massive disadvantage upon being accepted. First year is basically graduate level med school, which is why I’m taking a bunch of science courses as we speak. ha.

If you could meet any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Hmmm, being a massive Tool fan/appreciator of his work, I’d say Alex Grey. But that’s a borderline cliche answer coming from me. ha. Dead though, it would definitely have to be Jean Baptiste Boughry… He was an anatomist/surgeon/artist, and spent 25 yrs making his book “Atlas of Human Anatomy and Surgery”. It’s  pretty much my Holy Grail. Work is amazing, deliciously detailed, and totally worth every penny. It sucks as an anatomy book though for anyone not familiar with the body because nothing is labeled, but absolutely gorgeous work. If only I could have been one of the hundreds of flies on his wall and seen his process.

The Original Art Show Opening Reception Recap

Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the 30th Annual Society of Illustrators’ Original Art Show opening reception!  It was a crowded, swinging party full of the best children’s book illustrators of the year, plus the editors, art directors/designers, friends and family who support them.

I’m not gonna lie – I was a little nervous about being there with so many people I admire, but don’t actually know.  But I wasn’t nervous enough NOT to go, and I’m so glad I did!  There were quite a few Penguin people there, so I wasn’t without my fellow assistant-types.  But the cool part was getting to briefly meet some awesome Putnam illustrators, and put faces to names for industry folks who were wandering around the event.  From the moment I ran into Eric Carle on the stairs (within 2 minutes of being there), my mantra of the evening was turning around, only to look at someone’s name-tag and go, “Whoa, I’m two feet away from ___________!”

The awards ceremony filled me with pride for being in the children’s book community. All of the winners were excited to be recognized by their peers, and there wasn’t one speaker who didn’t seem like a lovely, humble person.  Silver medalist Dan Santat, especially, seemed touched by the award and reminded us that this is one of the few occasions where illustrators, usually holed up alone in their studios, get the chance to be validated for the great work that they do. Aw.

The Gold medalist, Renata Liwska, is a huge illustrator-crush of mine, and I’m so glad that she won the top award of the year for The Quiet Book!  Her adorable animals are just up my alley, and I can’t wait until her book with Philomel, Red Wagon, comes out this winter.  The cutest!  Check out some of her sketches (believe it or not, her finishes are digital) on Amazon as well.

The highlight of the evening, hands down, was getting to hear Eric Carle accept his Lifetime Achievement Award. At 81, Carle is a champ for coming all the way down to NYC. Though his “senior moments” came out just a bit when he mixed up a few of his own life details (he has had quite a lot of experience!), his wisdom was more than clear. The laughs came when he mentioned that he “never really thought of himself as an illustrator” – says the creator of the most famous picture book ever. But I thought it was so interesting how he described the relationship between his graphic design/advertising background and the way that he composes his illustrations.  Carle said that every picture book spread he makes, he designs as a poster. Bold color, clear compositions, graphic shapes. Isn’t that incredible?

The award that hits closest to home is the Founder’s Award, which is given to an up-and-coming talent in the field (this year, it was Hyewon Yum).  Now, here’s how I feel about awards: they’re nice to get, but they don’t really matter. With so many equally talented people out there, awards like these are full of out-of-your-control factors like the tastes and predisposition of the judges. So don’t bother thinking about it, because there’s really not a lot you can, or should, do to “try to win” an award.

That being said. I WANTSSS IT. The Founder’s Award, I mean. I have too much competitiveness in my bones not to want that award someday (at least a little). And with the board books already published, that means I have one chance to win it.  In short, my picture book debut better be smashing.

But enough about awards.

It was way too crowded to check out all of the books and art displayed at the Original Art Show, so I’m going again with the rest of the Putnam crew in a couple weeks.  I’ll report back on my findings later!

Must See Shows, Part 2 – Bound For Success

Bound For Success

May 19th – July 31st, 2010, The Grolier Club

Okay, don’t hate me, but I seem to be much better at advertising closings than openings.  So while Bound For Success: Designer Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition is almost over, it is SO freaking amazing that you must make a point to go in the next 48 hours!  Really!

Bound For Success is an international showcase of bookbinders, organized by Designer Bookbinders, a British society for contemporary book arts.  For this year’s competition, the world’s best bookbinders were given the specially-commissioned anthology, Water, and asked to create an exterior that reflects it.

This ain’t yo’ momma’s book cover design – hand bookbinding is a fine art unto itself.  The creativity in concept and material blows anything created by traditional publishing out of the water (pun intended).  Leather, needlework, found objects, glass, resin, paint, plastic and wood, such as the book of the grand prize winner, Alain Taral of France (whose binding of “pear wood covered by a myriad of exotic veneers”, shown below), are used.

What interested me about the exhibit was that it made me approach the book in a whole new way.  As an illustrator, art is content – words and pictures on the page that tell a story in 2-D.  But for bookbinders, the pages themselves were almost irrelevant.  Sure, no doubt each artist carefully designed their look around Water, but in the show, the book exteriors became 3-D sculptures.  You could barely even see that there were pages behind the glass displays, let alone flip through the contents.

I actually loved that these fine art bookbinders were all about 3-D material.  It was fascinating to read through the alluring, mysterious techniques used (especially because I don’t know what they mean!): exposed hinge stitching, deckled edge paper, morocco goatskin leather, concertina fold, hand-sewn endbands, gold foil inlay, lithograph, applique…  mmm!  I spent the entire time in total awe, knowing that no matter how hard I tried, my craftsmanship could never even come close to that of these world-renowned bookbinders.

Well, what are you still reading this blog post for??  Get yo’self to the Grolier Club, stat!

Must See Shows, Part 1 – EARTH: Fragile Planet

image: Bill Carman‘s painting for EARTH: Fragile Planet.  Buy a print.

Like every other scarf-loving New York resident, the oppressive heat wave this summer has sent me fleeing for the most air-conditioned corners of the city.  And what better place to spend a few hours avoiding the burning sidewalk than art galleries?

Recently, I’ve hit up three very different exhibitions that I’m more than happy to recommend!  Here’s number one… it has been up for months (while I’ve apparently been living in a cave), act quickly and go before the end of the week!

EARTH: Fragile Planet

June 3 – July 31, The Society of Illustrators

This group exhibit of 120 illustrators showcases editorial and artistic commentary on the state of the environment today, using a variety of media including digital and traditional painting, video and sculpture.  To make the wide range of work more cohesive, the show is divided into five categories: water, wildlife, earth, air and energy.

Overall, it was poignant for me to see more illustrators getting involved with the environment, in light of all my thinking about the recent Gulf oil spill catastrophe.  Here were some of my highlights:


Peter de Seve, Thar She Blows (sketch)

De Seve’s character work (he’s known for the creatures of the Ice Age franchise and the Philomel book Duchess of Whimsy) is so fantastic that even a sketch stands out.  His New Yorker cover idea reminds me of the Ripple sketch blog that’s raising money to save wildlife affected by the oil spill.  Check out Peter’s own post on the show here.


Betsy Lewin, Blue-Footed Boobies (watercolor)

Ted Lewin, Impenetrable Forest (watercolor)

I’m always excited to see the work of my alma mater’s favorite couple… as a watercolor artist, I’ve been looking up to them for years!  Ted’s densely forested piece was right on track with his other work, but I was surprised at the realism of Betsy’s beautiful watercolor piece.  The book from which it’s excerpted, Booby Hatch, shows an early side to her art, pre-Click, Clack, Moo, that I wasn’t familiar with.

Tim O’Brien, Giraffe In The Alley (oil and gouache)

Even though I never took a class with Tim O’Brien, I was already on the lookout for Pratt professors.  But my mouth literally dropped open at the sight of his contribution to the show!  His imagery, of a giraffe in a dark alley, was right out of the sketches of a children’s book dummy I created years ago – High Hopes.  For artists, seeing someone else’s art with the same concept makes one’s skin crawl (I used to fear it before critiques).  In this case, though, I just had to marvel at the hilarity of such a strange image being thought up twice.  See his post on the evolution of the piece here.

Tim O’Brien vs. Annie – so weird!


Britt Spencer, Footprints Through Appalachia (gouache)

Like Peter de Seve, I’m a big fan of Britt Spencer’s animated characters and his true-story Philomel book (again!) about the giraffe (again!) who became famous.  More importantly, though, his personification of the “giant” mining industry, tromping through the delicate green Appalachians, brought up an issue I don’t often hear about.  Since Footprints Through Appalachia is a smaller piece, I loved its pairing with Justin Gerard’s Strange Friend, (mixed media) below.  Understated but meaningful.


Rudy Gutierrez, U Kill Me, U Kill U (acrylic on canvas)

Rudy was one of my all-time favorite professors (I signed up for his class year after year!).  To me, he is the master of storytelling through a unique visual language.  Whenever I’m reflecting on my style and questioning whether I’m being true to myself, I always go back to the advice I’ve received from him. This large piece is no exception to his way with words!  The violent energy of his painting only further brings out the poetry written throughout, and it is impossible not to really feel something on viewing it.  Truly inspiring.


Materials for the Arts, with Liz Lomax, 3-D illustrator, and Eric Lewis, sculptor

As I was checking out the downstairs gallery, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the short video on loop, and I’m so glad I finally sat down and paid attention!  The video documents two of the exhibition’s 3-D artists, Lomax and Lewis, visiting Materials For The Arts, a warehouse that collects donated items to recycle and supply to schools and cultural arts programs and organizations.  Tons of materials and found objects of every kind, otherwise trashed, are brought to their warehouse, where artists and educators can pick through for only the cost of a “thank you”.

It’s an absolutely amazing program, and I encourage everyone to take advantage and help MFTA keep being so successful!  If you have extra materials lying around your studio, please consider donating here.  And don’t forget to see the video and Liz’s work here, and with Eric’s work here!

Can’t get to the show in the next few days?  Get more on Earth: Fragile Planet at their Tumblr page!