Thursday, July 26, 2012

There Will Be A Quiz

 A diagrammatic illustration or an illustrative diagram by a) Harald Bukor, b) Karl Peschke, or c) Oswald Voh. From Wheels, Sails and Wings: The Story of Transportation, a Golden Press book first published in German by Bertelsmann in 1959. All three illustrators are credited on the title page, but individual images are not identified as being by one or the others. The text is credited to Fred Dietrich and Seymour Reit, though I'm not sure if that's the English text or the German one. The Golden Book version came out in 1961. Admirably lucid illustration throughout.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Big Day!

Last year on this date I wrote a post noting my mother's birthday, and my associations between it and the Apollo 11 landing, which occurred on that date when I was 8 years old. Today I am happy to note that Mom is eighty years old today. Healthy, busy and strong (like the woman in the Vogue cover illustration above–dated, like Mom, on July 20, 1932.)

Here, with her big sister Judy. Is she killer in that beret, or what?

Joyce Carol Bevan was born in Detroit to Olive (Waddington) and Cy Bevan, Canadians who'd emigrated from Ontario. Although the city had prospered in the 20s, Detroit was a rough-and-tumble place after the Crash through the mid-1930s at least. At that point the end of Prohibition had blunted crime, and New Deal programs were beginning to soften otherwise stubborn unemployment. The demand for automobiles, rising all through the Roaring Twenties, had collapsed. Recently I heard my Mother talking about the family leaving town during polio outbreaks, which was a new one on me.

Below, a wrestling poster from 1932 for an event at the Olympia in Detroit, featuring Ed "Strangler" Lewis.

Cut to present: To celebrate Mom's eight decades, we planned to gather as a family at my brother David's place on Lake Martin, in Alabama, for the week bracketing the Fourth. We had a wonderful time. Mom went out on a Sea-Doo!

Last year I wrote: Ideally, I'd show a picture from earlier in her life. I sorely wish I had a copy of a particular photograph taken when she was a girl. It reveals her to be the cutest little girl in the history of little girls. She's standing with her dad Cy, mom Olive and sister Judy on the docks in Fort Lauderdale (or Boca Raton, I can't remember) with a giant fish. The old man is grinning over the catch, Olive is stylishly deflecting, and smiling Joyce Carol Bevan is an electric little thing.

Well, I don't have that photograph handy, but we recently went through some photo albums at my folks' house in Ohio, and brought some back to St. Louis. My son Drew scanned the stack of 'em. 

 Past and present!

We decided to do a tee shirt for the family gathering in Alabama. It was Lori's idea to use one of these photographic images on the shirt, and she and Drew did some work to get the project going. I chose one from the options and added a halftone screen when I took it a bitmap.  

These are lousy photographs, but you get the idea. The figure and JOYCE were big on the back. On the front of the shirt, small over the breast, we added the nickname she was given when my brother David and his pals were in high school, and she was a guidance counselor: The People's Choice. She always rolled her eyes at that. Anyway, the women's shirts were blue on yellow, and the men's were yellow on blue. 

Here's the whole group in their shirts. Some of my very attractive family members are not particularly well featured in this photograph. Backs of heads, etc. Sorry. (All seven grandchildren were there save one, Danny, who's in China and thus exempted.)

Finally, a George de Zayas Collier's cover from June of 32. (I didn't like the July offerings I was able to track down.) Here's hoping that you and Dad look up from your reading and have a true celebration. Happy Birthday, Mom!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Strange Spells

Note: This post is about three weeks old, and was begun as the U.S. Olympic Trials were getting underway in late June in Omaha. Hence the swimming references. It took until now to wrap up the rest of the material. Be warned: this is one meandering post, going from bits of memoir to design talk to cultural reflections, from 19th century German illustrated allegories to Instagram.

I have always enjoyed working on design + illustration projects for clothing. Tee shirts & hats, etc. There's something so tangible about a garment! Seeing one's work walking around in the world on somebody's back is always fun. I'm in no hurry to launch a clothing brand, mind you; my work on these projects is a sort of hobby.

Once upon a time, I was a college student at Kenyon, in central Ohio. Upon my arrival as a freshman, I vaguely intended to swim for Kenyon, a totally dominant power in Division III. (The men won 31 consecutive national titles until Denison broke the streak in 2011.) Of course I figured out almost immediately that a) I was slow by these people's standards and b) I was probably sick of the sport anyway, and it was time to move on.

The image above is from Gerlach's Allegories–on that, more presently–and is captioned wassersport, or water sports; offered as an illustration of Kenyon's natatorial exploits, and a celebration of the 2012 Olympic Trials in swimming, which began today in Omaha.

My discouragement was a blessing. On the day I got cut from the water polo team, I resolved to audition for a play, and later witnessed an a capella concert by twelve guys in blue blazers, and decided to audition for that group, too.

As it happened, I got cast in the play–The Good Person of Szechuan, by Bertold Brecht–and within a week had stumbled into that singing group. Although I took art courses at Kenyon, my experience in drama and music dominated my college years. (Meanwhile, I majored in history.) The men's a capella group was known colloquially as the Kokes, short for Kokosingers, named after the Kokosing river that snakes through that part of Ohio. (The accent is on the second syllable of Kokosing.) Touring was a cultural education, to understate the case. 

No more memoir needed, but that much is required to set up the discussion of the tee shirt I worked up for a reunion event back at Kenyon over the Memorial Day weekend. It's a beautiful place, perched on a hill surrounded by verdant swells that run to the horizon–though the county in which the college sits–Knox County–has been the state's poorest.

I sought to capture something of that pastoral quality while also honoring the rollicking musicianship and rakish humor that go with such groups (which are, of course, pretty conventional affairs).

Four years ago I designed a baseball cap for a similar event, shown at the top of this post. The owl references Kokosing, reportedly an Indian word meaning "owl creek." The bracketing date makes a connection to the year the group was founded. Many have passed through it since, of course. It said Kokosingers on the back, in a blackletter face.

This time we settled on a long-sleeve black tee.

For some reason, I had been looking at a suite of prints that my wife wisely scooped up at an estate sale a few years back. Gerlach's Allegories–a turn-of-the-20th-century German enterprise–relies on personification to create high-minded yet silly and grandiloquent representations of the arts, etc. Just the sort of thing that drove insurgent modernists batty. What claptrap!

Consider this:

on its face, a goofy cultural product. Mostly draped women, posing with musical instruments, offered as embodiments of the arts, echoing the tradition of the classical Muses. But when you think about it, the level of artifice is fairly modest by postmodern standards.

Here are several figures from these allegorical plates:

The first, above, is a detail of the left panel in Plate No. 1, shown in toto above. She's L'amour, natch.

A second, from another ensemble set. Plate 5. Animato: lively music.

And finally, the introduction of a Satyr, a half-man half goat associated with Pan, and pipe-playing. The Satyrs were Dionysian fellows, friends of song as well as grape. The Satyr here does his allegorical bit in Plate 43.

Cut to tee shirt design problem: pastoral setting, musical content. 

There is a college song set to a traditional hymn tune that goes:

Old Kenyon, we are like Kokosing,
Obedient to some strange spell,
Which urges us from all reposing,
Farewell Old Kenyon, Fare thee well.

Every Kokes concert finishes with this song. At the very beginning of the project I'd zeroed in on "some strange spell" as an opportunity. Now, I thought, Satyrs + Nymphs would give me music and  mischief. Through Dionysian inference, drinking and sex might also be involved. A sort of Midsummer Night's Dream, with an emphasis on the Roman. Plus Pan's pipes could easily stand in for a pitchpipe, a staple of a capella singing.

So I went to work on some figures. I based my Satyr on the Gerlach's print. (Immediately I wondered: what was he doing with his right hand? Is he listening for the melody?) I also worked up a Nymph, based loosely on the L'amour figure above, particularly her weight and her left arm.

Because the pencil came right off a sketchbook page, I didn't have the luxury of adding extra paper and working out the scale and spacing relationships in the pencil. (I also redrew both figures about ten times, so the paper was beginning to give out.) So I made a few notes to myself and scanned the page. I made adjustments in Photoshop, creating an implied space that puts the Satyr closer to the viewer, with the Nymph further back.

Ultimately I discarded the Satyr's upstage "listening" gesture, and let him brace his weight with that hand instead.

Next I inked the pencil to create more graphic forms. (No scan of that.) Then I rebuilt the forms in Illustrator, working with two-color logic. I kept the contrast low in the workfile, knowing that the image would have to work as a mid-value positive and a light value negative, all floating on a black field.

A working version:

Ultimately, I got the result I wanted: my Satyr may have less than honorable motives, but the Nymph on whom his sights are fixed will more than hold her own. Some on the reunion committee were confounded (Who's the Devil guy? That's weird.) but others were supportive. (It should be a little naughty and a bit weird. That's who we are, or at least were.)

So the picture went on the back of the shirt, pretty large, with the type as shown above. (That's Girard Slab Narrow Bold, from House Industries.)

This type went on the left breast. I supplied the accent because I hate hearing the word mispronounced, as in Koko the Clown.

Which is no knock on him, personally. 

Finally I have been looking at these allegorical women, utterly on display, high-minded and alluring, and I have been struck by how incredibly contemporary they are. I recently confessed via a tweet that I have become transfixed by the cultural slot machine that is Instagram. Refresh! And again! waiting on the next fix of visual data. An empirical bonanza, rapid fire evidence.

In addition to pets, hair braiding and frantically colored manicures (among many others), sultry self-advertising women make up an unmistakable subcategory of Instagram images.

Truly, all Gerlach's 19th century allegorical women are missing are iPhones and bathroom mirrors. Who needs all the grandiloquent costuming and the illustrator? Go straight to the source.

Then and now. Or now and then.

The above right image is from the Instagram feed of Ashley Nichole King, whose twitter name is @Karamelbombshel. And the color video still about halfway up is from Katy Perry's California Gurls, 2010. Directed by Matthew Cullen; Artistic Direction by Will Cotton.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Adventures in the (Dot) Matrix

Luis Sopelana commented this morning on yesterday's post, offering a link to mid-90s Casio products that used dot matrix typefaces earlier than I speculated yesterday. The one above translates Japanese characters into the same visual language.

Luis got me started rooting around in this question just a little more.

Above, a dot matrix typeface I downloaded for free. Note the descenders on the lower case letters, and the bump in the baseline on the upper case Q, to accommodate the tail.

Stephan Müller and Cornel Windlin designed Dot Matrix OT in 1991-98. Lineto, the type house Müller co-founded, publishes it and many other new typefaces. Both designers are based in Berlin.

A new offering from Lineto.

Both the free versions of dot matrix faces and the more interpretive ones (note, for example, that the lower case g in Lineto's Dot Matrix Two Regular goes one row below the baseline) were designed as responses to what may have been vernacular designs produced by people working for technology companies.

The Wikipedia entry for dot matrix printers suggests that the technology was invented in 1964, without specifying where or by whose brain/hand the innovation occurred. It does provide a narrative for early commercial releases:

"The LA30 was a 30 character/second dot matrix printer introduced in 1970 by Digital Equipment Corporation of Maynard, Massachusetts. It printed 80 columns of uppercase-only 5 x 7 dot matrix characters across a unique-sized paper."

And of course the screen display problem, which which is where all this started at a gas pump a few weeks ago, is related but different. But it's Saturday, and I got a long to-do list!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mixed Messages

I photographed this message on a gas pump near Michigan City, Indiana a few weeks ago. So robotic, yet so warm and welcoming. Come Inside for Hot Dogs. Who can say no to that? (I guess I can. I did.)

A young man who might have been called a soda jerk sixty years ago walked from the convenient store out to where I was pumping my gas. Why, he wanted to know, was I was taking pictures of the gas pumps? I suppressed the desire to say I was fixin' to blow him and his Burger King and his Super fuckin' Lotto tickets all to smithereens, but had to snap a few photographs prior to the deed.

Instead I explained: "You don't understand. I'm a graphic designer. I'm documenting this typeface."(Alternatively, "There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side...")

The pump-type actually is sort of interesting. What would you do if you needed an upper/lower alphabet sans descenders? I remember looking at early cell phones that used the same approach, if not the very same face, and thinking much the same thought.

In–I guess–1997? Sigh.

My colleagues who really are graphic designers are by now snorting out their lemonade. Seriously: I was under duress, people.

A second petroleum distribution official emerged after the first retreated. She might have been old enough to drink legally. I delivered the same story. She made it very clear that people are not permitted to take pictures of their equipment. I nodded ruefully, then drove off lickety-split, before The Authorities could be called in. 

Harrowing tales of outdoor photography.

But then again: Aw, never mind! Come Inside for Hot Dogs!

Meanwhile: Chili cheese fries all around if anyone can shed light on the typeface.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dear

We traveled to a family event in Alabama last week. As it happens, my wife Lori continued east to North Carolina directly following. I drove home with our son Drew. (Our other son Danny is in Shanghai, deep in third-level Chinese.) Today–July 9th–is Lori's birthday. As usually happens, when left to my own devices I live like a bear and work as compulsively as I wish. Hence I'm up close to 3:00 am, still at it. 

That's her, at the top of this post, presciently captured by Al Buell in a pinup painting circa 1950, reproduced in The Great American Pin-Up, published by Taschen in 2006. She's a fabulous babe.  

She's young at heart, too. 

Plus, she totally brings home the bacon. 

Soon, in fact, I'll trumpet her new company, involving her longtime specialty of media development–she is nothing if not an executive producer–for social media and online distribution. I'll wait for clearance on that. 

For now however, it's a warm happy birthday wish in a big old hot spell. 

Images: Al Buell, as noted; Maxfield Parrish, from The Golden Age, 1900; photograph by Wilhela Cushman for The Ladies Home Journal, November 1952, just as that publication made the transition to photographic covers and locked in its typographic identity.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Getting in the Zone

It goes without saying that I have been derelict in my blogging duties. I've got lots going on in, and in relation to, the studio. I also have a backlog of material, so will do my best to bring things up to date.

First, I spent June gearing up for work on Spartan Holiday No. 2, The Five Pagodas. No. 2 is a continuation of the Shanghai story that started in the first issue. More on that to come. As for getting underway, my spring teaching responsibilities crowded out the headspace necessary to begin, so I just delayed getting started. (I can execute to a plan when I am busy with academic [as opposed to studio] courses, but I can't think capaciously in the way I must in order to launch something big.) June involved sneaking up on the project. I've had the text written for months, so that hasn't been the problem; rather, I was preparing to create and then fill out a content dummy for the mag.

How to begin? For me, Step 1 involves camping out with sources that inspire me, especially formally. I have written before about the nourishment one gets from favored sources. I work through a pile of books and materials in search of images I want to live with for the duration of the project. After sifting these, I compose them in an arrangement: The Wall. 

Many of the same people appear as have shown up at other times, but there are new ones, too. In the shot above, an uncredited drawing of an astronaut from a package design; a Stuart Davis diptych, Deuce, 1951-54; W. W. Denslow's Tin Man from in the 1900 edition of The Wizard of Oz; a Maxfield Parrish illustration from The Golden Age, also from 1900; two frames from a Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse strip done under contract for Disney that appeared on November 20, 1933, from a detective plot line; a Japanese war print from 1895; a Lucienne Day textile design (one of several on the wall); a Chinese propaganda pamphlet from the Cultural Revolution era.   

Back to the astronaut: somewhere years ago I got this crazy Codemaster telegraph set, released in the late 40s or early 50s, packaged anew for the space age circa 1960.  First of all, I love the idea that interplanetary travelers will be communicate via telegraph.

But my visual excitement has to do with the juxtaposition of the linework in the astronaut and the abstract linear passages in the Davis. Under other circumstances, I might go off on an extended formalist-nerd riff about this, but not today. Just enjoying it for now, and recognizing, hardly for the first time, that the form-making enterprise of visual modernism drew on the resources of commercial imagemaking to a great degree, and vice versa.

Below, courtesy of eBay, an earlier version of the Codemaster set offered by Brumberger.

I've mislaid my camera; these blurry iPhone pics will have to do for now.

Soon my wall will break down, as sketches get pinned up to track progress. But I sure have enjoyed sitting in front of it for several weeks now. In a few months, I'll look back on the work I've made recently and see connections that aren't there yet. Fun is at hand.

Ready, set, go!