concept to publication

Month: June 2009

Scholar’s Accoutrements

This 19th-century painting by Yi Ungnok is in the form of a large screen. It is an excellent example of the Korean painting motif of chaekkori, or scholar’s accoutrements. (The screen is in the collection of the Asian Art Museum.)

Chaekkeori paintings depict items from a scholar’s study. They always include stacks of books, brushes, ink sticks, inkstones, scrolls, and antiquities.

Scholars reading this may wish to post in a comment or e-mail me “chaekkori” paintings or photos of their own studies to extend the tradition into the 21st century.


The Typehead Chronicles of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typographer

This site has been around, in various forms, for a long time. It began as an auxiliary to the Mercury House book publishing site that we put up in December 1994. At that time it was my personal page on the MH site, and so at first it developed a kind of resume-like structure, hints of which can still be seen here if you look hard enough.

One result of this sprawling accretion of 15 years of content of various sorts is that it’s become a bit difficult to keep everything tidy and up to date. So, after I got hacked last fall I patched the vulnerabilities and removed the garbage and restore everything as best I could.

But is wasn’t until I got a comment asking about typefaces over at the Asian Art Museum site that I realized that I had reverted the typehead section of the site to an older iteration that was unsatisfactory in several ways. So I’ve spent a part of today getting the section in better shape. I’ve improved the navigation of the pages and generally tightened things up a bit.

I’m afraid the discussion of faces tends to favor the traditional and doesn’t get much into many of the interesting contemporary faces that have been created in recent years — that is an assignment still to be completed.

Generally for each face I show a sample (mostly without, so far, comparing the many different digital versions that may be available), highlight identifying features, discuss the designer and history, talk about the qualities of the face and how it might be used, and give a few quotes from type designers or users about the face. For example, here are a few quotes about Bembo (a face I like and have used often):

  • “Bembo roman and italic are somewhat quieter and less faithful to their sources than Centaur and Arrighi. They are nevertheless serene and versatile faces of genuine Ranaissance structure.”
    —Robert Bringhurst
  • “On the whole it has to be said that while the first italic [Fairbank] has too much personality the second [Bembo italic] has too little. While not disagreeable, it is insipid.”
    —Stanley Morison
  • “Tolerable but uninspiring.”
    —John Miles (RN)

There is much more that I need to do to make The Typehead Chronicles truly top-drawer, but there is some content there that might be of interest just the same.


Designing a book on Southeast Asian Art

Over at the Asian Art Museum blog I’ve written a post briefly outlining some of the issues involved in designing Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950. I oversaw this project; the book was designed by Tag Savage of Wilsted & Taylor.

There are special issues for American designers when working with Southeast Asian subjects. This book demonstrates, I think, how they can be successfully addressed.


Whos to say whats best?

I once edited some books by Guy Davenport, who said that he didnt want any of those hideous quotation mark thingees to appear anywhere in his books. As it turned out, that wasnt really a big problem for anyone.

Now some folks are proposing that we also ban apostrophes, claiming that its easy to read text without them. Considering that hardly a day goes by that one doesnt wince at wrongly used examples, the proposal has a certain appeal.


What do these books have in common?

  • Maurice Bendrix, The Ambitious Host
  • D. B. Caulfield, The Secret Goldfish
  • Vivian Darkbloom, My Cue
  • Nicholas de Selby, Country AlbumGwendolen Erme, Deep Down, Overmastered
  • Andrew Hibbard, The Chasm of the Mind
  • Robin Penrose, Domestic Angels and Unfortunate Females: Woman as Sign and Commodity in Victorian Fiction
  • Boris Alekseyevich Trigorin, Days and Nights
  • Harriet Vane, Murder By Degrees

Answer after the break . . .

Friday roundup

“Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil


The dangerous world of butterflies

Here’s Peter Laufer, three or four of whose books I published at Mercury House, on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


The strange passage of time

Ineachday put up some old family photos. Can this blurry fellow really have been me once?

(Yes, this is a rare personal post on Right Reading.)


(He)art and commerce

Take my word for it that the image at right — sorry I don’t have a better version — represents the painting The Dead Christ supported by the Virgin and Mary Magdalen by Marcantonio Bassetti (1588-1630). It’s a work that the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge wanted to purchase for £175,000.

Now consider the second image, the logo of the Art Fund, which offered £80,000 toward the purchase of the Bassetti. Maybe not quite as gallery worthy. Unless you ask the Art Fund, as they insisted that in order for the museum to receive the funding their logo had to appear alongside the artwork. To his credit,Timothy Potts, the museum’s director, declined the gift, saying:

Logos are the currency of marketing and commerce and this introduces a promotional element into the galleries that we regard as an unnecessary and unacceptable distraction – no matter how worthy the object of promotion.

Here we see an unintended consequence of branding run amok — logos are proliferating like tribbles. These days there will be several of them on every copyright page I work on. Praise be to Mr. Potts for drawing the line at letting them into gallery labels!


via David the Designer


Blind testing search engines

Which search engine gives the best results? Sure, Google’s by far the most popular and has the largest infrastructure. And there could be interface preferences to take into account. But just in terms of sheer relevance of results, which is best?

Barcode scanning a personal library

Want to store your library information on the web? Want to be able to computer search some of the content? Entering ISBN numbers too much trouble? Try this tip from Google employee Matt Cutts.


100 best novels quiz

How many of Modern Library’s hundred best novels of the 20th century can you name if you’re given the names of the authors? Fine out here.

I was doing okay until I got to Samuel Butler.


Amazing athletes

This is via Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s twitter account. He writes “These ladies are amazing athletes -even back in the day!” Be patient — the fun starts about one minute in.


15 years of work in 45 seconds

The design firm Pentagram was recently honored for its long-term collaboration with the Public Theater in NYC. The video includes more than 300 pieces.


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