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Category: art and illustration (Page 2 of 12)

Photography at Tom’s Garden

Senicio talinoides at Tom's Garden

Senicio talinoides at Tom’s Garden.

If anyone is interested in my garden photography, have a look at Tom’s Garden. The current post is a May Day assessment, from which this image is drawn.

Art and illustration at rightreading.com

This post will be sticky in the “art and illustration” category. This is the parent category that includes graphic design, photography, photoshop, and typography posts, so there will be some redunduncy with those child categories.

For a gallery of some of my own artwork, click this screenshot:

Typography at rightreading.com

This post will be sticky in the “typography” category. There it will head posts on type from blog.rightreading.com. My own thoughts on typography, beyond what is below, can be found at The Typehead Chronicles.

Photography at rightreading.com

This post will be sticky in the “photography” category. Most of my photography these days is either travel or garden/nature. There are a lot of the latter at Tom’s Garden: recommended! At one time I had a photo-specific blog on this site, and there was a lot of travel photography here and there. I will gradually make all of that accessible from this sticky post on the category page.

Exhibition Review: China at the Center, at the Asian Art Museum

In London in December 1598 a group of actors and other theatrical professionals, part of a company called the Chamberlain’s Men, armed themselves with “swords, daggers, bills, axes, and such like.” In the bitter cold they waited for nightfall in the northeastern suburb of Shoreditch, “a disreputable place, frequented by courtesans.” Their target was an abandoned entertainment complex called The Theatre, where they had performed for several years until being barred by their landlord over political and financial disputes. Now, under cover of night, they systematically disassembled the theater and transported its timbers to a warehouse by the Thames. Within months they would use them to build a new theater south of the river.

But what to call it? The group felt the need to rebrand. Competitors had sprung up all over town. The generic name “The Theatre” would no longer distinguish the company. Their creative team, which included the shareholder, playwright, and actor Will Shakespeare, set to work. The name they came up with was “The Globe.” It would be “a wide and universal theatre.”

What made the globe such a compelling brand at the turn of the sixteenth to seventeenth century? For one thing, it was during this period that the world became truly global in the sense that regular trade — of ideas as well as goods — connected all of the inhabited continents. Thanks to the new maritime traffic, adventurers, diplomats, traders, and missionaries spread throughout the world. Among them was a group of Jesuits who gained access to Ming China. The most famous of these was an Italian, Matteo Ricci, who arrived in Macau in 1583, established connections with Chinese literati, and lived in that country until his death in 1610 (when Shakespeare was working on The Tempest).

China had once explored the far reaches of the world in giant ships under the direction of the eunuch Zheng He, but the Chinese had concluded that there was little in distant parts that was up to their standards, and they had officially curtailed such oceanic expeditions. An illicit maritime commerce based in south China was winked at, but it extended mainly from Southeast Asia to Japan, leaving much of the world unmapped by the Chinese. So Ricci and his fellow Jesuits armed themselves with celestial and geographic knowledge derived from the new scientific developments and explorations of the Europeans.

The European astronomical refinements impressed the Chinese, whose emperor derived authority from the “mandate of heaven.” With the long-lived Ming dynasty showing clear signs of decay, it was worth scrutinizing the skies more carefully for augurs of change. Not only that, but the distant world was increasingly knocking on Chinese doors. The Portuguese had been first, but now the Spanish had become involved through their outpost in the Philippines. Even upstart nations like Shakespeare’s Britain were starting to dip their toes in distant waters. Who were these barbarians with their great ships?

Ricci found a keen audience for his geographic knowledge. In 1584—when Shakespeare was twenty and learning his trade—Ricci, with the help of Chinese colleagues, produced a large woodblock-printed Chinese-language map of the entire world. It was an extraordinary achievement that eventually came even to the attention of the dissolute and reclusive Ming monarch, the Wanli emperor. Ricci was called to the capital, where, in 1602—around the time Shakespeare was writing Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cresida, and All’s Well That Ends Well—he created an even grander and substantially updated map. It incorporated Asian knowledge of the world obtained from Ricci’s Chinese colleagues as well as new geographical information that had arrived from Europe.

Ricci map of 1602

A Complete Map of the Ten Thousand Countries of the World, 1602, by Matteo Ricci (Italian, 1552–1610), with Li Zhizao (1565–1630), printed by Zhang Wentao (dates unknown). China; Beijing. Six-panel woodblock print; ink on paper. Owned by the James Ford Bell Trust, Held at the James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota.

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The Asian at Fifty: First Impressions

AAM loggia

AAM loggia

In 1966 the Asian Art Museum opened as a branch of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. As a condition of the second of two major major gifts of artworks to the city of San Francisco from industrialist and Olympics head Avery Brundage (who can currently be seen portrayed by Jeremy Irons in the movie Race), the museum was separate administratively from the de Young, though that distinction was probably lost on most visitors. Brundage’s collection was extraordinary, and the museum’s holdings remain San Francisco’s most valuable asset—apart from its real estate, and we all know how that has gone.

In 2003 the museum moved to its current home in what was formerly the main branch of the SF public library, repurposed for the new use by Milanese architect Gae Aulenti. Now it is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its original opening to the public, and I attended a press preview for the opening of two special exhibitions, China at the Center: Rare Ricci and Verbiest World Maps and Hidden Gold: Mining Its Meaning in Asian Art. A third special exhibition, Pearls on a String: Artists, Patrons, and Poets at the Great Islamic Courts, opened Feb. 26 and will continue until May 8. In the coming days I plan to review all three of these exhibitions.

So how does the museum look on the occasion of its 50th? I’m happy to report that the answer is: spectacular! There are a couple of walls devoted to museum history in the space between Osher and Hambrecht Galleries (which the museum calls the Vinson Nook) and along the corridor behind its gift shop (which it calls the Hamon Arcade). But the display is tastefully done and not excessive. My fear was that the anniversary displays would be excessively self-referential, as was sometimes the case for past museum celebrations. But someone at the museum must have realized that however interesting such material may be for staff, board, and donors (and those interested in city history), it is not as compelling to most visitors as are actual artworks.

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New York Public Library provides hi-res images for free use

"Tri-boro Barber School, 264 Bowery, Manhattan, , 1935-1939, by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Photograph; gelatin silver print, matte. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Tri-boro Barber School, 264 Bowery, Manhattan, 1935-1939, by Berenice Abbott (1898-1991). Photograph; gelatin silver print, matte. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.

It’s encouraging to see libraries and museums beginning to make public domain images freely available, increasingly providing high-resolution scans or photos for downloading. Historically, they have guarded images of objects in their collections as a private source of income. Count the New York Public Library among the honorable elite who have made their pd images available to be shared. The library has just put up more than 180,000 images in hi-res free for the downloading. Highlights of the collection include photographs from the Farm Security Administration and Works Progress Administration, Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, Walt Whitman papers (1854–1892), and early film shorts.

Car and homemade trailer on U.S. 101 near King City, California. Man and wife middle-aged, from Wisconsin. "Old Man Depression sent us out on the road ... You don't know anything about how many people are living in trailers till you 'hit' Florida, 1936, by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Photograph. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Car and homemade trailer on U.S. 101 near King City, California. Man and wife middle-aged, from Wisconsin. “Old Man Depression sent us out on the road … You don’t know anything about how many people are living in trailers till you ‘hit’ Florida, 1936, by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965). Photograph. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

 

 

50 books designed

I realized recently that I’ve designed at least 50 books (those are the ones I can remember). No wonder I feel as tired as Madelaine Kahn in Blazing Saddles. I made a page documenting this dubious achievement. Click the image below to visit it.

50 books designed by tom christensen

 

River of Ink: the cover

river of ink cover

This is what I’m thinking of for the cover of my new book, a selection of my essays. We’ll see if my publisher likes it.

I’m happy again to also be the book’s designer/typesetter. The image is a photo I took of the Castel San Giogio, an early castle (ca. 1400) in Mantua, Italy. Mantua is built amid lakes rather like my old home town of Madison, Wisconsin.

For the cover I darkened the water, but not so much that it is just a solid color–it still retains reflections, although that is hard to see in this image.

Fun with panoramas


Stitching together photos can be great fun in the proper context. I think the Piazza del Duomo in Milan counts as one of these. This photo was taken 5 April 2013 with an Olympus E-Pl2. I stiched the images together with Olympus’s own photo software, called Olympus ib, but I’ve uploaded the result to a new service I found called Dermander, because I like its scrolling and embedding functions. Its a bit bare-bones (I wish it had the capability of selecting where to begin the scroll), but in contrast to Clevr (a service I’ve used before), it does allow full-screen panoramas (click the play icon and then the full-screen icon at upper right).

This version is downsized for web viewing. The original comprises seven large images.

panorama of piazza del duomo, milan

Canon Powershot A630 vs. Olympus PEN E-PL2

Pixels or sensor size? Consumers have been trained to judge cameras by their pixel counts, But there are other factors that may be more important to image quality, in particular lens quality and sensor size. Recently I purchased an Olympus PEN E-PL2 camera. This is one of the newish breed of interchangeable lens mirrorless digital cameras that have near-DSLR-size sensors in bodies almost as small as those of point-and-shoots. It’s a good camera for me because much of my photography is travel related, and DSLRs tend to be too heavy and conspicuous for travel work (If I had the budget I would upgrade to the newer OM-D E-M5.)

On a recent trip I took both the Olympus and my old Canon A630 (which was more of a photo enthusiast camera than the current Powershot line, which to me is barely an upgrade from an iPhone camera), and I found that I used the Canon point-and-shoot more than I expected to. Among its advantages are its smaller size, which allows it to be slipped into a pocket and whipped out instantly (the Olympus is a little too big for this, except maybe when equipped with a pancake lens), its shorter time lag time between shots, its silent shutter (the PEN’s is fairly loud), and its swivel view screen, all of which make it well suited for inconspicuous street shooting — it draws virtually no attention. The Canon is also good in low-light situations, when I might not bother to pull out the PEN (unlike the more recent but expensive OM-D E-M5 in the same line, low light is not one of its particular strengths).

But how does the image quality compare? Photography sites tend to do comparisons between comparable cameras, which makes sense if you are shopping in a particular segment. It is less common to compare cameras that are significantly different in nature. But I was curious how great the difference would be between such cameras, and I made a quick, unscientific comparison. The results indicate the the larger sensor size and better optics of the Olympus are (as would be expected, or at least hoped) a distinct upgrade from the Canon. (The Canon is 8 megapixels, the Olympus 12.3 megapixels, but I don’t think that is sufficient to account for the difference in these images).

The Canon images are on the left, the Olympus on the right. The first obvious difference is in color. Olympus has the reputation of producing satisfying jpegs out of the camera without post processing (I’m mostly shooting jpg with the occasional raw; these are jpegs), but I’m not sure in this case that the color of the tomatoes is more accurate from the Olympus than the Canon — though I do think the Canon overdarkens the countertop and stove. (These images are reduced in size and sharpened a little to compensate for the reduction but otherwise not manipulated. They were taken without a flash.)

The difference becomes more apparent (even when reduced to the tiny size of these blog images) when we zoom in. Most obviously, the Canon fails to capture detail in the tomato sprigs, while the Olympus captures individual hairs.

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There is also a clear difference in the cameras’ ability to capture the quality of the tomatoes’ translucent plastic container (the angles of the shots are slightly different).

Bottom line: no surprises (thankfully), but I think it is interesting to see just what the degree of difference is between a relatively top-of-the-line point-and-shoot and a typical mirrorless camera. For people who want high-quality images from a small camera, I would recommend the Olympus PEN series.
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Olympus E-Pl2

P3070267

This photo of a jade plant in front of the fireplace was taken with my new camera, an Olympus E-PL2. This is a mirrorless camera in the micro four thirds format (so called for the 1.33 in. size of the sensor, I think). The best thing about the fairly new mirrorless cameras is that they employ near-DSL-size sensors in point-and-short-sized bodies (although eqipped with anything other than a pancake wide angle lens they are not really pocket sized). Within the mirrorless category, the u4/3 system is nice because some major camera manufacturers (notably Olympus and Panasonic) got together and agreed on specifications for the system. This means that within the u4/3 system you can buy a camera body from one company and make use of a lens from another company. The E-PL2 is a couple of years old, but it was offered at a great price, and the lenses are the same as on the current models (such as the OM-D-EM5, which is great but lists for $1300 on Amazon).

For more examples, I have some garden photos like this one posted at Frisco Vista.

apricot blossoms - P3080274

And low-light examples like this one from the Asian Art Museum’s Terracotta Warriors show at 7Junipers.

terracotta warrior (kneeling archer)

Paris under water

This photo is one of a series of dark, atmospheric photos by Arnaud Labgraph showing the Seine at high water.

Photography is one of the diverse interests of this mainly book publishing-related blog, but I have been largely inactive for a while as I have been at work on nonvirtual projects. I hope to get back to more regular blogging now — we shall see — and what better way than with a post drawn from my colleague Jason Jose’s Faith Is Torment blog?

How well do you see color?

color challenge

I proof color professionally in my job as a museum publications specialist, and I feel like I’m pretty good at it. So I was pleased to get the confirmation of a perfect score in this interesting color test. Give it a try!

 

Font Shop plug-in

The Font Shop plug-in allows trying before buying. According to the FS webpage, “The FontShop Plugin Beta allows designers and other type enthusiasts to try out FontShop fonts directly inside Adobe® Photoshop® CS5 and CS5.5. You can preview any of the over 150,000 FontShop fonts for free, in the context of your own artwork. This is a great new way to find the perfect typographic fit for your project.”

Cats as typefaces

cats as fonts

Gotta say, this is purrty well done. More like this over at Bombi(llo).

Color psychology

pantone color swatches

I was thinking the other day about how my color preferences have changed over time, and that got me looking at a few pop psychology websites about color preferences.

The basic problem with these sites is that there are particular hues and then there are their concepts. So if a site asks you to rank your preferences by clicking on color swatches, you might say, “I like red, but I don’t like that red. Whereas if you are asked to quickly name your favorite color without thinking about it and you name red, you are most likely thinking of the concept of redness rather than of a particular hue.

Of course the notion of a favorite color is ultimately absurd. Red would be meaningless without all of the other colors to juxtapose with it. From the designer’s point of view, colors take meaning from how they are used in relation to other elements.

But as a sort of amusing parlor game it can be interesting to wonder about why one’s preferences change. As a child if you asked my favorite color I would have said blue — that’s the color I usually picked when choosing board game tokens, for example. As a young adult I would probably have given you a lecture about color philosophy and how existence precedes essence and why that is relevant to de Saussurian linguistics, but if (quite justifiably) hit over the head and forced to pick I would have said yellow. Now I find myself increasingly drawn to green, and when I go clothes shopping I often wish there were more greens offered (there are few).

I noticed that there is a great deal of disagreement on the various sites about what your color preferences “mean.” According to one representative site, a preference for blue reflects a conservative, reliable, sincere, trusting, and trustworthy personality; a preference for yellow a cheerful, fun, creative, and analytical bent; and a predilection for green a practical, down-to-earth, stable, balanced, compassionate, and calm nature. Sure.

A few years ago I read a couple of erudite books on color in art by John Gage, former head of the Department of History of Art at Cambridge University. Gage looked at color from a variety of different disciplines. I found his surveys interesting, but I find I have retained little of what I read in his books. It’s probably because I favor the wrong colors.

Turkey Day

turkeycock by mansur

North American Turkey, ca. 1612, by Mansur. Victoria and Albert Museum, IM 135-1921.

In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a painting of an American turkeycock by the great Mughal painter Mansur (from my forthcoming book 1616: The World in Motion). Mansur was the greatest Mughal painter of natural history subjects.

It was an area in which the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, was deeply interested. A world in motion brought to his court many strange and curious creatures, which he invariably directed his painters to document. In 1612, when a large number of birds and animals were brought to his court from Goa, he wrote, “As these animals appeared to me to be very strange, I … ordered that painters should draw them in the Jahangirnama [his reign journal], so that the amazement that arose from hearing of them might be increased.”

Among the birds brought from Goa was this American turkey painted by Mansur. Like Abul Hasan (who painted the cover image of my book), Mansur ranked high in Jahangir’s esteem, and the ruler gave him the title of Nadir-ul-asr, “Unique of the Age.” “In the art of drawing,” he said, Mansur “is unique in his generation.” He ranked him together with Abul Hasan, saying, “In the time of my father’s reign and my own, these two had no third.”

Jahangir was proud of such creatures in his menagerie as flying mice, tailless monkeys, zebras, yaks, cheetahs, West Asian goats, Himalayan pheasants, dodos, ducks, and partridges. He had many of the foreign animals bred in captivity. When he received a strange animal he typically would record a verbal description of it before having its likeness painted. In 1616 he was presented with an Abyssinian elephant, noting that “Its ears are larger than the elephants of this place, and its trunk and tail are longer.” His concern for accuracy and completeness of documentation led to a naturalistic approach to paintings of natural history, of which Mansur was the foremost proponent.

Human flowers

human flowers

More like this at Web Designer Depot.

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!

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