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Category: art and illustration (Page 2 of 12)

Help wanted: Italian painting specialist

quirinal fresco

Help! For the book I’m working on I’m trying to identify the painters of these frescos in the Quirinale (the Italian equivalent of the White House). They depict foreign ambassadors to the Vatican, and I’d also like to identify the ambassadors — but first things first.

quirinale frescos

I’ve consulted several books in both English and Italian but remain uncertain about the attributions. My best guess at this point is that the top two are mainly by Carlo Saraceni, the third one by Agostino Tassi, and the last one perhaps by Giovanni Lanfranco.

quirinale frescos

Among the ambassadors are Robert Sherley, Aliqoli Beg (not entirely sure who that is), Emanuele Ne Vunda, Hasekura Tsunenaga, and Luis Sotelo (the last a Franciscan missionary and not an ambassador per se). Can the Turkish and Persian ambassadors be distinguished by their styles of turbans?

Even if you don’t know the answers to these questions, if anyone can point me in the direction of an obliging Italian painting specialist I could be in touch with about this it would be a great help. Thanks!

Monkeys and squirrels in trees

This image is by the great Mughal painter Abul Hasan (I devote a few pages to him in the book I’m currently working on). Usually called “Squirrels in a Plane Tree,” it was painted by the artist when he was about seventeen. The solid flat background and stylized elements reflect the Persian painting tradition. Later Hasan would move more toward Western-style naturalism.

When I showed this image to Ellen she said, “Oh, the reason you like it is because it looks just like Caps for Sale.” “You’re right!” I said. I hadn’t thought of that comparison, but when our girls were little we used to enjoy that book by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was about a cap peddlar who carried his caps stacked on top of his head. One day he went to sleep under a tree (the cover inverts this, with the peddlar in the tree and monkeys on the ground).

caps for sale cover

While he was sleeping his caps were stolen. Looking up, he saw many monkeys in the tree, each wearing one of his caps. “You monkeys you!” he demanded. “You give me back my caps!” (Eventually he gets them back.)

Stylistically the Caps illustrations and the Hasan painting are not as close as memory made them seem. One of the most obvious differences is that the trunks and branches of the Caps tree are nothing but white space, an interesting strategy. By contrast, in Hasan’s painting the trunk and branches of the tree are one of the most volumetrically shaped elements in the painting.

Despite the differences they do share something of a similar spirit. And both are wonderful.

Author photo

thomas christensen author photo

My author questionnaire and author photo for 1616: The World in Motion are due this week to Counterpoint Press. My daughter Ellen, who is a brilliant photographer, among other things, took this photo from the roof of her apartment overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland. It was raining lightly at the time, and later that day ice would fall from the sky.

In Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms the author photo is defined as “Pictorial fiction. Authors always choose photos that emphasize that quality in which they feel most deficient.” So what does this say about me? I dunno — but I will say, as a guy who has been cutting his own hair for years, that I don’t think the hair looks too bad.

Pantone Chip Cookies

Kim Neill at tells you how to bake them.

Another unmemorable post

It’s unmemorable because it’s set in Georgia. Or at least that doesn’t help, according to Eightface, who cites a study that purports to show that students remember material better when it is set in something like Comic Sans Italic or Haettenschweiler than in some unassuming face. The idea, apparently, is to slow down reading speed. Of course, if you want to slow down reading

there R other wa
ys to accompli
sh the sam
e thing.

Travel photo: Castel Vecchio Museum courtyard, Verona, Italy

castel vecchio museumcourtyard, verona, italy

While we’re in Verona, here’s a picture from the courtyard of the Castel Vecchio, which is a handsome museum indeed. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect they slyly chose the planting to coordinate with the banner for the Maria Morganti show.

Travel photo: Venetian gondolier

gondola on a canal in venice, italy

This photo amuses me because the gondolier reminds me of the Eric Blore role in the Astaire/Rogers film Top Hat.

eric blore (manservant in top hat)

Travel photo: a street in Verona

Please bear with me while I post a few photos from my recent trip to the Veneto and Upper Adige.

I travel with a little (maybe 12-inch) tripod, but for photos at dusk like this one I usually just set my camera on something steady, like a trash bin or fire hydrant, in order to get a longer exposure. Usually I’m able to hold the camera steady for quite a long time in such situations.

Project Thirty-Three

lp graphic design

Project Thirty-Three aims to connect the dots:

The seemingly infinite number of vintage record jackets that convey their message with simple shapes like the dot never ceases to amaze and amuse me. Project Thirty-Three is my personal collection and shrine to these expressive dots along with their slightly less jovial but equally effective cousins; squares, rectangles and triangles, and the designers that make them come to life on album covers.


via Swiss Miss


Google font API

google font api - example typefaces

Google has quietly introduced an API (application programming interface) for web fonts. This could potentially result in better — and also worse — web typography — depending on the skill and knowledge of the people who implement it. Unfortunately only a small minority of font users these day take the time to educate themselves about the print tradition.

Google’s font system involves referencing fonts stored at The open source license fonts are then served up by the Google servers and should appear on your web pages without your needing to upload or embed them. There are instructions here.

Only a small number of fonts are available at present but no doubt the list will grow. I wonder what the type designer community will think about this.

100 meters of humanity

hoegsberg photo

For the 100-meter-long photo of which the detail above is a part Simon Hoegsberg shot one-hundred seventy-eight people, “in the course of twenty days from the same spot on a railroad bridge on Warschauer Strasses in Berlin in the summer of 2007.” Impeccably stitched together into one enormous photo, the images create something like one of the great narrative scrolls of the East Asian tradition. Check out the full image here.


Via Substraction.


How to pick a typeface: The flowchart

how to pick a typeface flow chart

You could do worse. Click the detail to view the entire chart at inspiration lab.

Mistakes designers make

Tara at Graphic Design Blog lists seven mistakes beginning designers make. It’s a pretty good list — I see the first item a lot.

  1. Producing two or more design concepts that are very similar
  2. Adding things in rather than taking them away
  3. Concentrating on features rather than benefits
  4. Not targeting the right audience or having enough gravitas
  5. Not presenting the finished design in the best way possible.
  6. Not sketching first
  7. Underselling your design work

Read more at Graphic Design Blog.

“Books” in the age of the IPad

books on an infinite plane on the ipad platform

Craig Mod makes an interesting case for celebrating the (supposed) demise of “disposable books” — he elaborates at some length a simple distinction between books where the content and form are integral and those where they are independent — and welcoming the IPad as a reading platform. Here’s a sample:

We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.

These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.

Once we dump this weight we can prune our increasingly obsolete network of distribution. As physicality disappears, so too does the need to fly dead trees around the world.

You already know the potential gains: edgier, riskier books in digital form, born from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. New modes of storytelling. Less environmental impact. A rise in importance of editors. And, yes — paradoxically — a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in that last paragraph were true! Unfortunately, part of this is fiction writing. Check out the NYT bestseller list and see if you can observe “a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.”

To me the most interesting part of Mod’s argument is his vision for booklike content that disposes of the metaphor of the page, as shown in the image above (the image is Mod’s). In this vision the content metaphor is not the bound book but the East Asian handscroll, on which stories were rolled out continuously from one end to the other rather than proceeding page by page.

The book is a perfected technology, but why should the electronic platform inherit the binding metaphor?


Link: Books in the Age of the IPad


Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, Sentinel, Catacumba

Who or what are Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, and Catacumba?

a. Captains of vessels in the fleet of the early seventeenth-century Dutch adventurer Joris van Spilbergen.

b. Winning dogs in the hunting dog category at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

c. Characters in a new Star Trek television series to be released next fall.

d. Other.

. . .

. . .

. . .

The answer, of course, is “other” — these are some of the best typefaces of 2009, in the opinion of I Love Typography. Another favorite from this set is the amazingly extensive (and expensive) Trilogy, shown below. An interesting selection, worth checking out (the type sample is clickable).

Rag or justified?

rag or justified? These are preliminary design pages for a new book about the art of Bali. The font is Garamond Premier Pro. The image is a cool piece by I Ketut Ngendon (1903–1948) called Goodbye and Good Luck to Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, 1938 (Batuan, Bali. Ink on paper. Mary Catherine Bateson).

The pages are the same, except that in one spread the main text block is ragged and in the other it is justified. I’m curious which version people prefer.

What’s your type?

what's your type?

The latest iteration of this hoary shtick comes to us via Pentagram. To play along, use the password CHARACTER.

Early 20th-century scenes of Paris

Eugène Atget made a number of interesting sets of photos of aspects of Parisian life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has made a number of them available on the web. This is a detail from a photo of the Cabaret Alexandre, 100 boulevard de Clichy, printed between 1910 and 1912 from a negative taken in 1910. Great stuff! (I love the way the type echoes the form of the doors in this one.) See more here.

Vatican type

Yesterday I showed some ancient inscribed letterforms from Ostia Antica. Today we flash forward some seventeen hundred years to this inscription over a gate in the Vatican complex, which is dated 1831.

I don’t like this one so much. Whoever inscribed these letters was clearly working from typeset models. But the thin lines, right angles, and sharp serifs of the Romantic period are the result of developments in typesetting equipment and papermaking that have nothing to do with letterforms inscribed in stone.

These kinds of incongruities often result when work in one medium is transferred to another without consideration for the essential character of the medium.

Classical letterforms from Ostia

Here is some handsome lettering from ruins at the ancient port city of Ostia, west of Rome. I don’t know what period this fragment dates to, although the age of Hadrian always seems to be a good guess.

For comparison, here’s a sample of the typeface Trajan (the movie font!), designed in 1989 by Carol Twombly for Adobe based on inscriptions on Trajan’s column in Rome. They might just be the effect of the centuries, but I prefer the softer serifs of the inscribed letters in the photo. I also like their less regular vertical axes.

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