Right Reading

concept to publication

Blog cleanup

After 15+ years of blogging — formerly daily, now much less often — I find myself with a lot of outdated posts. I intend now to go through and delete a lot of them. Some I will be updating and reposting. I hope this will make the blog leaner and more useful.

A Test of Adobe Super Resolution

Adobe recently released a new feature that expands on the existing “enhance details.” Super Resolution uses artificial intelligence to increase the resolution of camera raw images. It does this astonishingly well.

For now, the easiest way I have found to access the feature is to open an image in Adobe Bridge. Then a right click will bring up the enhance feature. I have read that the same workflow is available in Photoshop, but that doesn’t seem to be working for me. This will no doubt be coming to both Photoshop and Lightroom soon.

Slater Mill

I started with this image of Slater Mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The image was taken April 17, 2015. The original image is 4032 x 3024 pixels, 69.8 MB (reduced in size here). That’s plenty big enough for on-line work (too big to even upload via WordPress), but I applied the Super Resolution enhancement, and I ended up with an image that is 8064 x 6048 pixels, 139.5 MB.

It’s easiest to see the result in the following detail comparison. For the purposes of the web, even this detail comparison is reduced in size from the original enhanced image. I simply scaled up the original image, on the left, in Photoshop to match the size of the enhanced image.

Comparison of original (L) and Super Resolution-enhanced image (R) details.

The enhancement looks very natural and completely unforced, free of artifacts. This is an astonishingly effective new feature from Adobe. Is it needed for all of your images? Certainly not. But if you want to crop to a small portion of an image, or if you want to make a very large print, this is a great tool to have. I’m blown away by what Adobe has been doing with AI recently, and this may be their best work yet.

Detail from a Photoshop sky

A First Test of Photoshop’s New Sky Replacement Feature

Photoshop 2021 has introduced some AI features that are a mix of exciting and disturbing. Want to make your crazy uncle look younger and less angry? Just use the “facial age” and “anger” settings under the “neural” filter.

The new version of Photoshop also introduces a “sky replacement” feature under the edit menu. It offers a range of adjustments for brightness, temperature, color, etc. You can use preinstalled skies or provide your own. You can also scale them and flip them, and you can adjust the edge masking. It’s pretty extraordinary, yet quite easy to use.

Point Pinole view

Nine Views of Point Pinole

All taken 14 April 2020 with a Samyang / Rokinon 12mm f2 (wide-angle) lens.

Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole Point Pinole

My Watercolor Palette

I have settled, for now at least, on a watercolor palette that I think gives me good flexibility. And delight! You could certainly make do with fewer colors, but I love the pigments just for themselves. It’s amazing how modern technology has brought such beautiful pigments and hues within the reach of so many people, when once a dab of lapis lazuli (ultramarine blue), for example, cost a fortune. I’ve arranged my colors in an approximate color wheel (complementaries more or less opposite each other).

My watercolor palette as a color wheel.

I’ve assigned a number to each color, and noted their pigment numbers. Because color names are so imprecise, and the same name can be made from different pigments and look quite different from different vendors, it is best to think in terms of pigments. Vendors use a consistent numbering system to reference the base pigments, and these numbers are shown on the tubes. The pigments are the usually mineral constituents of the colors, often immersed in a binder such as gum arabic. (The best online guides to pigments I’ve found are by Bruce MacEvoy and Jane Blundell.) Many people prefer single-pigment colors rather than mixes (which vendors call “hues”). I’m generally among them, but there are some hues that are also beautiful and behave well, so I have chosen some of these too. I’ve numbered my colors 1-12 according to their position on a 12-segment (tertiary) wheel. (Sometimes there is more than one pigment within one of the twelve slices, in which case they are numbered things like 7, 7.1 (falling between 7 and 8), etc. Earth tones appear in a fairly narrow segment of the wheel, and are lettered A-F. Payne’s Gray occupies the center.

Riso Circles

An Exhibit of Riso Printing and Community at San Francisco State University

I attended an exhibit of Riso printing presented at San Francisco State under the auspices of the faculty and students of the Design Gallery class of the department of Visual Communication. And now I want to do Riso printing!

Riso is a kind of marriage of photocopying and silkscreening.
Artistic effects reminiscent of silkscreen can be achieved through the low-cost photomechanical process, in which ink is mixed from separate colored drums.
Riso printers from around the world shared samples of their work, some of which are shown here on the center tables. On the left in this photo is an interactive portion of the exhibit in which visitors can apply colored fingerprints to see the effect of different color overlays. On the right are highlights of student interviews with Riso printers from around the world.
Contributed work can be seen not only on the tables and display stands but also on the far wall.

In the words (almost) of a famous possum (and I would vote for him now), I GO RISO!

detail from Harmonia Macrocosmica

Scientific Historica: How the World’s Great Science Books Chart the History of Knowledge, by Brian Clegg

Scientifica Historica font cover
Scientifica Historica front cover.

Ivy Press
October 1, 2019
6 x 9 in., 272 pages, 320 illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-7824-0878-9

As a one-time member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Northern California Book Reviewers group, I have done quite a few book reviews over the years, but never have I been so tempted to simply reduce spread after spread as I have with Brian Clegg’s Scientifica Historica. This book is simply visually brilliant. The selection of images as superb, they are beautifully printed on quality paper, and the layout is excellent. Unfortunately, the text does not match the visual content in excellence.

Finally, the Brexit discussion is getting serious

Best American Essays 2019 coverA bit of personal news: My essay “La Vie en Rose” was selected as a notable essay of 2019 in Best American Essays 2019, edited by Rebecca Solnit.

“One morning in 2016, keepers at the National Aquarium of New Zealand arrived at work to discover the institution’s inventory of octopuses unexpectedly halved. Mild-mannered Blotchy remained in his tank, his expression revealing nothing. But Inky, his bold erstwhile companion, was nowhere to be seen…. “

The Nature of Plants: An Introduction to How Plants Work, by Craig N. Huegel


University Press of Florida
April 1, 2019
6 x 9 in., 274 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8130-6408-6

Plants live their lives just as we do, surrounded by loved ones, competitors.and enemies; seeking to find harmony and health; and hoping to leave behind a legacy of well-adjusted progeny capable of carrying on after their demise. Like us, they have evolved complicated pathways and behaviors to accomplish this. We are not really that different …

Craig Huegel’s The Nature of Plants is a thorough introduction to the features and functions of plants (with an emphasis on flowering plants). Though Huegel has been a professor of plant biology, he says he is “a gardener first and a biologist second.” Consequently, his aim in this book is “to teach gardeners and others who love plants how to apply plant biology to make their work with plants more successful and to unlock some of the mysteries in a practical way so that more gardens thrive and fewer plants die.” He hopes, along the way, to also give “a deeper appreciation for how intricate and interesting plants are.” While he may be more successful in the latter aim than the former, this is a brilliant book that deserves a place on any gardener or plant lover’s shelf. (I got the copy I used for this review from the library, and after reading it I ordered a personal copy for the permanent collection.)

The most striking thing about Huegel’s approach is the agency that he attributes to plants. He sees plants as actively making decisions about how to deal with their environment (even suggesting that these decisions may be directed by a sort of brain in the rootball). “Plants,” he says, “are far more complex than we have traditionally perceived them to be; in some ways they are even more complex than animals…. Plants must do everything animals do while remaining in the same location for the duration of their lives.” At times the tone may come across as anthropomorphizing, but readers should be able to decide for themselves to what extent to interpret such views of plant behaviors as metaphors.

The Golden Ratio: The Divine Beauty of Mathematics, by Gary D. Meisner

Golden Ratio cover

Race Point Publishing
Oct 23, 2018
91/4 x 113/8 in., 224 pages
ISBN: 9781631064869

I have often used the golden ratio in my design work. I have to confess that this sometimes reflected a kind of laziness: the golden ratio is always pretty sure to look good, and it is easy to implement. But why does it look good? Partly because its proportions are found throughout nature and in the human face and body. But devotees of a mystical bent in the tradition of Pythagorus — those who, like Johannes Kepler, find the signature of divinity in the mathematics of the natural world — will feel that the importance of the proportion goes beyond that.

Gary B. Meisner’s The Golden Ratio: The Divine Beauty of Mathematics, a handsome, richly illustrated oversized hardcover book, attempts to explain the ratio and demonstrate its occurrence in art and nature. He begins by defining the ratio and considering its unique properties.

In my work I tend to think of the ratio in terms of rectangles, which are often the building blocks of book pages. In Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style, for example, he describes a method for setting a type block in the shape of a golden rectangle in an ISO-sized page:

Bringhurst on golden section

La Vie en Rose

"La Vie en Rose" was named a notable essay of 2019 in Best American Essays 2019, edited by Rebecca Solnit.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


One morning in 2016, keepers at the National Aquarium of New Zealand arrived at work to discover the institution’s inventory of octopuses unexpectedly halved. Mild-mannered Blotchy remained in his tank, his expression revealing nothing. But Inky, his bold erstwhile companion, was nowhere to be seen. 

Sometime during the night, it turned out, Inky had worked his way through a small opening at the top of the tank where a cap plate had been set slightly ajar. From there he had descended to the floor and suckered his way eight feet across it, trailing a tell-tale drippy track. At that point he slid through a six-inch-diameter, 160-foot-long drainpipe — he could probably hear water noises through it — and plopped into Hawkes Bay, an arm of the vast South Pacific. Whether resentful of his imprisonment or simply curious and adventurous, Inky had returned to the sea. He was free!

It’s hard not to see some sort of intentionality in Inky’s great escape, a crafty octopean consciousness at work. But René Descartes would have been unconvinced. According to Descartes, only humans possess the nonmaterial mind that he called the res cogitans (the realm of thought). Inky, he would have said, possesses merely corporeal materiality, so his behavior must somehow have occurred within what Descartes called the res extensa, the realm of noncognitive substantiality. Cogito ergo sum, Descartes said — one of philosophy’s most famous, and most self-centered, phrases. And something of a fallacious, or at least presumptive, one: what exactly is this “I” that he posits from the presence of thought? Descartes thought, so he thought he was somebody. He did not believe creatures such as Inky could claim the same. 

But in 2012 a group of scientists publicly took issue with Descartes. The occasion was the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in Cambridge, England, focusing on “Consciousness in Humans and Non-Human Animals.” It assembled, in the words of the Declaration on Consciousness that it produced in a public signing witnessed by Stephen Hawking, “a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists.” The scientists found that by stimulating parts of animal brains, even without a neocortex (the most recently evolved part of the human brain, associated with the senses), they produced behaviors consistent with similar effects associated with emotions in humans. 

If I Only Had a Clue

I could pass a pleasant evening
Reading A. J. Liebling
Or Sartre or Camus
Getting smarter by the hour
I could be a Schopenhauer
If I only had a clue

I’d do textual exegesis
On Auerbach’s Mimesis
And Casimiro de Abreu
I’d read Gaston Bachelard
I’d know all the Communards
If I only had a clue

Oh, I could tell you who
Translated Du Fu
And Murasaki too
And then I’d parse
The Popul Vuh

I’d be quite the literatus
Like Nikos Kazantzakis
And Charles-Louis de Montesquieu
I’d know Flaubert’s semi-colons
I’d recite the Song of Roland
And I’d do it all for you
If I only had a clue

Detail for a p[hoto of Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the New Millennium

Cover of SF Chronicle Boos Review

A friend and I were talking.

One of my favorites is Italo Calvino, she said.
Oh, yes!… I used to review some of his books for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Which ones?
My favorite was Six Memos for the New Millennium.
I love that one! Can you send it to me?… The review, I mean.
Maybe? That must have been around thirty years ago. But I think I do still have some old reviews in a box. I’ll see if I can dig it out for you.

And I did. And here it is.

How to back up raw camera files online for free without data loss

If you shoot raw rather than jpeg and have a decent camera your files are likely to be very large. Of the online storage options, Google Photos has the best search capabilities for finding particular shots. But Google’s free service only applies to “high resolution” files rather than the originals. To create these files, Google will take your raw files and compress them into jpegs that do not exceed 16 MB. If you google this process you will find comparisons that seem to show that the compression is not bad, and in many cases the compressed files are difficult to distinguish from the originals. Still, this somewhat defeats the purpose of shooting with a good-quality camera as opposed to a smart phone. Unfortunately, uploading the original files (as opposed to letting Google compress them) can get rather expensive if you shoot a lot (like me, as I bracket all my photos, resulting in three versions of every shot).

Amazon Prime offers free unlimited storage of raw camera files, which is great, though in practice, their uploader seems quite slow for some reason. Still, this will provide online backup of the unaltered original files. However, the Amazon service, unlike Google’s is not smart enough to capture the exif data, which in raw is stored in separate .xmp files. This means that all your raw photos will be thrown in a big basket called “undated.” I find this unsatisfactory because in a crisis if I had to depend on this it would be an enormous headache to sort through this big random basket of files.

My current solution is to upload the raw files to both services, letting Google compress the files. That way all of the dates and shooting information are available in Google Photos, but if I need the originals I could get them from Amazon by searching for the file name (in practice, everything lives in local storage, but it’s a good idea to have online backup as, well, a backup (I also use iDrive to backup my whole computer.)

I think this solution should work fine. Until the vendors change their terms, that is!

Swiss Exhibit, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Swiss Pavilion, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

The Swiss pavilion won the Golden Lion national pavilion award for presenting “a compelling exhibition which was enjoyable while tackling the critical issues of scale in domestic space.”

The concept of the exhibition was to expose the ubiquitous white intteriors and familiar bland fixtures of contemporary architecture by playing with issues of scale.

The curators’ statement:

“The interior of housing is the most familiar of architectures. Perhaps for this reason, it is also a kind of terra incognita. Photographs of unfurnished flat interiors have only recently become commonplace in architectural media. If the increased prominence of unfurnished flat photographs seems strange, it is precisely because the performance of housing’s interior surface has historically been predicated on the ‘suppression’ of its image. By foregrounding the appearance of the architectural enclosure, the images imply a challenge to the tradition of the inconspicuous interior and anticipate an alternate architectural sensibility through which to reimagine housing’s interior shell. Svizzera 240 celebrates the promise of the unfurnished image by constructing its theatrical counterpart, the house tour, within the Swiss pavilion. On this tour, the plan’s promise of control over scale, organisation, and function, is undermined by the representational deficiencies of the image in an attempt to highlight the latent plasticity of the world’s most popular habitat.”

Garamond Premier Pro

garamond premier pro
Working with Garamond Premier Pro for my book on Persian ceramics, I have been impressed by the range of sizes and weights the typeface includes. There are regular, medium, semibold, and bold weights for each of the sizes. In addition, the display size offers an extra-light weight in both regular and italic.

UPDATE: Since writing the above in 2008 I have used Garamond Premier Pro in my books 1616: The World in Motion and River of Ink: Literature, History, Artas well as in books designed for others, such as Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance by Natasha Reichle.

Different fonts are provided for four type sizes: caption, regular, subhead, and display. The caption fonts, for example, have large x-heights and heavier strokes in order to hold up at small sizes. The display fonts have elegantly modest x-heights and light stroke weights suitable for presentation at large sizes. The header for the image above is the medium display weight (to balance some of the dark fonts,including the caption fonts, which would not ordinarily be used at this large a size. The fonts also include a full range of diacritics and foreign-language characters.

Garamond Premier Pro was designed by Robert Slimbach on the model of the roman types of Claude Garamond and the italic types of Robert Granjon; it represent a reworking and expansion of the earlier Garamond Pro. It is available in OpenType from Adobe.

I sought to maintain the fidelity of the metal type as revealed in the specimen material—rather than taking a more subjective approach, such as attempting to reproduce artifacts of letterpress printing, or at the other extreme, modernizing form through heavy-handed stylization or drastic structural modification. I feel that by overtly imitating the appearance of an outdated technology, a digital type can appear antique, or even quaint, while excessive stylization can diminish the organic properties inherent in a hand-cut type. With Garamond Premier, I followed the details of line and form displayed in the original metal type as much as possible in order to reveal the ideal that I felt Garamond and Granjon were trying to achieve in their work. By preserving subtleties of shape, a level of fidelity is maintained that would normally be clouded by the noise-generating effects of letterpress printing on handmade papers. Throughout the design process, I repeatedly returned to the original proofs to ensure I was preserving details I felt were essential to the design. At the same time, I often felt it necessary to carefully adjust shapes and parameters in order to harmonize the varied work of these two individual designers within this single type family.
— Robert Slimbach

Most posts on typography

Printing Revolution, 1450-1500

I received this catalogue of an exhibition at the Correr Museum in Venice from the amazing Scott Newstok of Rhodes College in Memphis, who always seems to be a step ahead of me on whatever I’m working on. The exhibition, curated by Cristina Dondi, runs through April 30.

The catalogue features a striking design by the Sebastiano Girardi Studio. It includes well-thought-out graphics and artwork on mostly black backgrounds, printed on Fedrigoni Sumbol Tatami White paper. I like the design, though it was impossible to tell from the cover and title page (above) whether the title was “Printing Revolution” or “Printing Evolution.” The design cleverly implies both and gives them seemingly equal weight. That’s great, but a potential problem for librarians, booksellers, and book shoppers.

The Blend If function in Photoshop

I am learning that the Blend If function is one of the most powerful in Photoshop. This video from Phlearn is a good overview of the function.

I think one of the best uses of the tool is to moderate the effects of Photoshop’s
“clarity” slider. While the various sharpening modes make universal pixel tone adjustments based on differences with their neighbors (sometimes creating the white halos of oversharpening), clarity focuses more on midtones while adjusting for large tonal areas (as I understand).

But while clarity can enhance apparent detail in mid to light areas, it can seem artificial in dark areas. The way to control this is to apply clarity and then use a gray Blend If to remove the effects from the dark areas. (I still typically do an overall sharpening.)

I learned this from Nick Higham (his page references an early version of Photoshop but the principle still applies)

San Marco

The Harrowing of Hell Mosaic, Basilica San Marco, Venice

The Harrowing of Hell, Basilica San Marco, Venice
Click through to Flickr and expand for a larger view.

This mosaic is one of four on the upper level of the basilica of San Marco (behind the loggia where the horses reside) flanking the main door to the plaza. From left to right facing the basilica, they depict the Deposition (entombment), the Harrowing, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Christ.

The harrowing of Hell, also called the Descent into Limbo and the Anastasis, among other variants, took place between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Then Christ is said to have descended into the realm of the dead to reclaim the righteous and carry them to heaven.

By the early seventeenth century the original mosaics from the thirteenth century had badly deteriorated—the only remaining original mosaic is the one above the left portal, depicting the arrival of St. Mark’s body—and replacements were commissioned and executed in 1617-1618. The mosaic work was done by Luigi Gaetano based on cartoons by Maffeo Verona. The mosaics are made up of tesserae—small pieces of colored glass, stone,and enamel set in plaster.

The inscription appears to read “Ovis Fractis Portis Spoliat Me Campio Fortis” but I think the first letter is probably a Q and the V represents a U, as was formerly common. Then the Latin could be translated as something like “He who breaks down doors and carries me off is the mighty one.”

Location of the Harrowing of Hell mosaic on the Basilica San Marco facade.

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