Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: design (page 1 of 2)

Cassiodorus College

For a few years, starting around a decade ago, I blogged at The American Conservative. Sometime in the not-too-distant past, they memory-holed all my posts — without bothering to inform me that they’d be doing so. Classy move, folks! Anyway, I might occasionally re-post stuff I wrote there — assuming I can find the drafts on my hard drive. (If I were desperate to retrieve anything, which I’m not, I could of course eventually find it with the Wayback Machine.) Here’s one to accompany my School for Scale idea. 

I think the world needs a quirky and extremely rich venture capitalist to fund my great project, Cassiodorus College. Tag line: Where the New Liberal Arts Meet the Old. Foundational courses will include:

Memorization and Recitation. An introduction to mnemomics, both through modern techniques and history. Books assigned will include The Art of Memory by Frances Yates and The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci by Jonathan Spence. Attention will be given to memorizing long poems, long speeches, meaningful numerical sequences, and nonsense.

Reading: Natural and Formal Languages. An exploration of the very different skills required to read natural languages and formal languages, especially computer programming languages. A key question will be: Why is computer code easier to write than to read, while natural language is generally the other way around. Attention will be given to the neuroscience of reading but also to the conditions under which reading can be intensely pleasurable.

Composition: Natural and Formal Languages. A course devoted to the exploration of three compositional modes: writing English essays, writing computer code, and the mediating experience of writing English essays while using markup languages, primarily HTML and LaTeX. The first part of this course will begin by having students spend extended periods hand-writing memorable poetry and prose in commonplace books, alternating that with typing into a terminal code examples from Donald Knuth’s Art of Computer Programming. Only very gradually will they progress to writing their own essays and their own code.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Stolen directly from Edward Tufte, whose books will be our texts. However, we will also explore the ways in which the various software tools available for making graphs, charts, and the like constrain our organizational and display choices. We will also give attention to the principles of excellent design, including the design of text.

Mathematical Reasoning and Rhetoric. An introduction to mathematics as a mode of thinking and a subsequent exploration of how the best principles of mathematical reasoning are routinely defied when numbers are presented to the public. Tufte is useful here too, for example, on how faulty presentation of data can lead to disasters.

Care of Plants and Animals. An idea stolen from W. H. Auden, who said that in his “daydream College for Bards” every would-be poet should tend a vegetable garden and care for a domestic pet. A great idea not just for bards. 

Please get in touch if you’re filthy rich and want to bankroll this glorious endeavor. 

Gorey as designer

Rosemary Hill on Edward Gorey:

Gorey’s first book, The Unstrung Harp, was published in 1953, the year he moved to New York. He was working for Anchor Books, a new imprint of Doubleday, set up for the production of ‘quality literature … in mass-market paperback format’. Despite his own literary ambitions and the fact that he was trying and failing to write a novel, Gorey wasn’t employed on the editorial side but in the art department, where he worked variously as a cover artist and book designer. It was here that he hit on the form and order that [his former teacher John] Ciardi saw he needed. Having no training in typographic design, he found marking up layouts for the printer difficult. In an early example of what Dery calls his avant-retroism, Gorey decided that rather than look up all the fonts and calculate the point sizes it was ‘simply easier to hand-letter the whole thing’. The use of manual processes to imitate technical ones became an essential feature of his work. The delicate cross-hatching that gives his monochrome illustrations the velvety depth of 19th-century engravings was all done by hand with a crow quill dip pen. Having worked out his modus operandi, Gorey became ‘fast and competent’ at his job and used the rest of his time at the office to produce his own books.

Here’s an example, from a copy I bought at a used book store in, I think, 1976:

IMG 2347

gold dust and hero props

Annie Atkins is an immensely talented graphic designer who specializes in work for film — the image above is an example — and I’ve just started subscribing to her newsletter. In the newest installment she writes,

In early December I received a curious email from a Latvian man named Jānis claiming to have a large hoard of perfectly preserved but slightly yellowed paper from his great-grandfather’s 1930s stationery shop. Perfectly preserved but slightly yellowed paper is like gold dust in film graphics departments: no amount of tea-staining and ironing can make a paper prop look aged, but not like it was once dropped in a puddle. On The Grand Budapest Hotel the property buyer gave the graphics department three large boxes of paper salvaged from the old German Stasi offices, which felt so precious that we really only used it for making hero props. I only have about 20 sheets left from this haul now, so I ordered some more pieces from Jānis and, like he promised, it’s perfect. If you’d like to buy some, too, then you can use the code ATK20 for a 20% discount at his Etsy shop.

I had no idea that reproducing the look and feel of old paper was so difficult! Fascinating stuff. Also, check out the vintage toilet paper you can buy from Jānis:


Royal Museums, Greenwich: A manuscript globe, hand painted and lettered, representing in 3-dimensional form the maps of Mars published in the American astronomer Percival Lowell’s books, Mars and its Canals (1906) and Mars as the Abode of Life (1908) which developed Camille Flammarion’s views. The globe is mounted on a bronze stand. Emmy Ingeborg Brun was a Danish Mars enthusiast who made a small number of globes, many for presentation to particular individuals and institutions. Her inscriptions suggest that she viewed Mars as a potential model for Christian socialist cosmopolitanism on Earth. There are three inscriptions engraved into the globe’s stand. The title — Mars after Lowell’s Globes ca. 1905-1909 — is near the column. On one half of the edge of the base is a quotation frrom the Lord’s Prayer — Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. On the other half of the edge of the base is a socialist slogan — Free Land. Free Trade. Free Men.


Way too many fabulous images from vintage Hungarian pocket calendars, via Present & Correct: Kartyanaptarak.


Four NASA publications, 1972.

via Michael Grabois/Facebook


Petition to start using these names for tertiary colors…

This color wheel is from The Grammar of Painting and Engraving (1874) by Charles Blanc, translated from the French by Kate Newell Doggett.

Our current exhibition, Color in a New Light explores the Smithsonian Libraries’ collection through the topic of color. It’s on display in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum  until March 2017, though you can visit the online exhibition, including a Digital Library for the exhibition.


Dial M for Magnificent

From the book “Reinventing the Wheel”

a few thoughts on Chris Ware


Chris Ware is sort of the anti-Hergé.

He follows Hergé in two major respects. First, there’s the the clear-line style of drawing, which Ware seems to become closer to as his career develops — early on (in Jimmy Corrigan, e.g.) his lines are far thicker than Hergé’s. Second, the use of flat, smooth, often muted colors (Ware’s general palette seems to be close to Hergé’s nighttime and darkened-room scenes, though The Last Saturday is really bright, except for the gray hair of its precocious-child protagonist).

But in other respects he seems to be Hergé’s opposite:

Hergé Ware
action inaction
variety repetition
buoyancy depression
strong narrative arc non-linear scenes
visual flow geometrical rigidity

The chief interest of Ware’s art lies in the contrast between the obsessively neat, relentlessly balanced character of his drawing — it’s noteworthy that so many people assume that his work is drawn on computers, when in fact it’s done by hand (meticulously, and with frequent use of rulers and protractors) — and the chaotic, painful lives of his characters. Taken on their own, the words and thoughts of his characters would be monotonous, tedious — unreadable, I think; certainly of limited interest at best. Yet the placement of these stunted emotional lives into such an orderly, rational visual world creates an eerie, almost jarring dissonance that itself, perceived as a whole, is a kind of spiritual environment. That many of Ware’s characters are children, or appear to be children, and that so many of his artistic models are commercial art for children, adds to this eeriness.

I started making these notes because I thought I was going to write a long essay about Ware, but I’ve gotten stuck. And what I’ve gotten stuck on is this: I don’t know whether Chris Ware’s work has any substantial value.


Images from our new post, a visual history of colour wheels, charts, and tables: from simple circles to multi-layered pyramids, from scientific systems to those based on the hues of human emotion. Explore more here: http://bit.ly/1NBtj1E


houghtonlib: From the Houghton Instagram, a 1944 fine-press edition of Euclid designed by the great Bruce Rogers.

So beautiful.


Frontispiece to Charles Howard Hinton’s The Fourth Dimension (1904), a book all about the “tesseract” – a four-dimensional analog of the cube, the tesseract being to the cube as the cube is to the square. Find out more in our latest essay “Notes on the Fourth Dimension” – http://bit.ly/1Revr2B


There are some swoon-worthy abstract motifs in our collections.


[Four abstract motifs.] via NYPL Digital Collections.



Relative visibility of colors at a distance _Graphic presentation_ 1939

This is important.



Dan K Norris creates alternative movie and TV posters. Via Tim Carmody on Twitter.


A look at the production and dissemination of posters from Das Plakat.

Read about the history of Das Plakat in Steven Heller’s U&lc article, Das Plakat: the voice of German poster design (1910-1921).


Nadia Khodasevich-Leger (Russia, 1904 – 1982)

Abstract Composition 1922

I like this cover.

Via John Overholt, the permissible colors for decorating the interiors of Victorian neo-Gothic churches. It is necessary to avoid those garish colors that lead to “the utter destruction of repose.”


Swissted (via things)


Hubert Saget, advertising poster for Leica, 1930. Printed for Optician Koch, Zürich,  Switzerland. Via WestLicht


Justin Lortie


Miller Bros. 101 Ranch. Wild West Show. Daily review : program, 1929.

MS Thr 586 (25)

Houghton Library, Harvard University


It’s all about the Curtas (see also things magazine)


Paul Bacon, 91, Whose Book Jackets Drew Readers and Admirers, Is Dead

“He didn’t see himself as a sensitive artist; he was there to serve,” said Mr. Gottlieb, who worked with Mr. Bacon for many years. “If you rejected the first one, he was happy to do a 10th one. We worked and worked until it was right.” […]

When describing his approach to design, Mr. Bacon said he had learned to subordinate his own aesthetic impulses to convey the main concept of a book. “I always tell myself: ‘You’re not the star of the show. The author took three and a half years to write the goddamn thing and the publisher is spending a fortune on it, so just back off,’ “ he said in an interview with Print magazine in 2002.

Here’s a nice appreciation from Steven Heller:

[W]hen you look at Bacon’s jackets en masse, you realize you’re looking at a history of late-20th century commercial book cover design, a virtual legacy of eclectic lettering, illustration and typography prior to the digital revolution. Bacon was, after all, a product of an era of hand-drawn lettering, and type that was cut and pasted in order to achieve precise spacing. While this sounds archaic in a time when layered Photoshop imagery is the order of the day, Bacon’s work was appealing precisely for its handcrafted precision (as well as minor imperfections) and spot-on conceptual acuity that evoked the story rather than isolated passage.

That’s one helluva portfolio. RIP.

Iconic book cover by Paul Bacon, who died Monday at the age of 91

I had both of these editions back in the day. Both books blew my mind, though in very different ways.


Chromatic Wood Type

Happy Typeface Tuesday! These wood type samples are chromatic specimens from the William H. Page Wood Type Co., produced in 1874.

Shown here from top to bottom, the wood types are titled: Renaissance, Etruscan, Gothic Paneled, and Corinthian.


Death, What’s in it for me?, Harland Miller

SpaceX travel posters

More vital information here. Via John Overholt on Twitter.


“Yosemite and the Big Trees of California”

This advertisement, created in 1881, encouraged tourists to visit Yosemite in California. Yosemite was first visited by tourists in 1855 and was declared a U.S. National Park in 1890.


‘Bauer 8mm’, a French lithographic poster, circa 1960