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Posts Tagged ‘illustration

“The greatest value of a picture is when it forces us to notice what we never expected to see”*…

Detail from Richard Waller’s “Tabula colorum physiologica …” [Table of physiological colours], from Philosophical Transactions, 1686 — Source.

One of the most demanding challenges for early modern scientists was devising how best to visually portray their discoveries to the public. In the absence of any sort of technology for automatic visualisation, like cameras or scanners, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century natural philosopher had to rely on drawings and subsequently woodcuts, etchings, or engravings to turn an experimental finding into a reproducible and publicly accessible demonstration. This was a laborious, expensive, time-consuming, and often problematic operation. Negotiated between several parties involved in the world of image-making, such as draughtsmen, engravers, and printers, the results were inevitably compromises between the intentions of the researcher and the possibilities of the printing press. For example, what a drawing could express with shading, washing, and chromatic nuances, printed illustrations could only approximate through a binary system of black and white, resulting from the pressure of an inked copper plate against a page.

The problem of efficient imaging was particularly felt during the early years of the Royal Society, a scientific institution founded in London in the early 1660s and today still regarded as one of the most prestigious institutions of scientific research in the world. In its early decades of activity, the Royal Society established itself as one of the central forces of the Scientific Revolution, with renowned members such as Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. Members of the Society used to meet on a weekly basis to discuss ongoing research on a variety of subjects, such as physics, mathematics, biology, astronomy, mechanics, geography, and antiquarianism.

Soon after its foundation, the Royal Society sought new ways to increase visibility and maximise its public reach. From this emerged the Philosophical Transactions, a monthly peer-reviewed journal, the first of its kind, featuring extracts from the Royal Society’s weekly research meetings. Founded in 1665 by the Society’s Secretary Henry Oldenburg and still published to this day, the Transactions are regarded as the first and longest-running scientific journal in history, as contributions were the result of original explorative studies into natural and mechanical matters informed by the Society’s culture of experiment — part of what today we generally call science.

The Transactions were printed in small quarto format (about 17x22cm) with up to about a dozen articles per issue and could be purchased for the price of one shilling, about £5 today. The journal was a pioneering learned publication, with exceptional frequency and aimed at a diverse public of curious researchers. As such, especially in the early years, its contributors were often preoccupied with how best to communicate their ideas and discoveries through the immediacy of mass-producible visual media. A closer look into a selection of these articles demonstrates the extent to which natural philosophers were prepared to re-invent the production and consumption of images with new and often odd strategies for representing the world. This was a process of endless hands-on experimentation, often pushing beyond the traditional confines of the printing house…

From infographics to digital renders, today’s scientists have ready access to a wide array of techniques to help visually communicate their research. It wasn’t always so: “‘More Lively Counterfaits’– Experimental Imaging at the Birth of Modern Science.”

* John Tukey

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As we “show don’t tell,” we might spare a thought for Earle Dickson; he died on this date in 1961.  Dickson, concerned that his wife, Josephine Knight, often cut herself while doing housework and cooking, devised a way that she could easily apply her own dressings.  He prepared ready-made bandages by placing squares of cotton gauze at intervals along an adhesive strip and covering them with crinoline.  In the event, all his wife had to do was cut off a length of the strip and wrap it over her cut.  Dickson, who worked as a cotton buyer at Johnson & Johnson, took his idea to his employer… and the Band-Aid was born.

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“The covers of this book are too far apart”*…

 

010_Tom_Adams_Christie_Hollow

 

You can judge a book by its cover, it just depends on the talents of the artist and their understanding of the book they are illustrating.

Tom Adams (March 29, 1926 – December 9, 2019) was such an artist. His covers to novels by Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, John Fowles, Kingsley Amis, among others added greatly to the book and made them stand out on shop shelves making them all highly desirable. Indeed many of Adams’ covers are great artworks in their own right.

Adams career started with a bet. He was working as an illustrator for Jonathan Cape in 1961, when design director Tony Colwell made a wager with Adams that he couldn’t come up with a trompe-l’oeil design for the first novel by John Fowles. Adams design for The Collector exceeded Colwell’s expectations and helped make Fowles’ dark tale of kidnapping a best-seller. Fowles described Adams design as: “the best jacket of the year, if not the entire decade”…

01_Tom_Adams_Fowles

Understandably, Adams’ design attracted considerable interest from other publishers. Patsy Cohen, the design director at Collins was greatly impressed by Adams work and commissioned him on spec to design a cover for Agatha Christie‘s novel A Murder is Announced

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Adams used a variety clues from Christie’s tale. He avoided the traditional tropes of the detective (or in this case Miss Marple), a dead body, or the shadow of some menacing murderer. His style owed more to the symbolists and to the surrealists, which became particularly notable on book covers for Christie’s Destination Unknown and A Caribbean Mystery. Adams said symbolism leant itself to surrealism. It opened up a whole new way of illustrating crime fiction…

His covers for Christie’s novels also impressed Lou Reed, who commissioned Adams to come up with the design for eponymous debut album in 1972…

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More about Adams– and more examples of his exquisite work– at “Murder by the Book: Tom Adams’ Brilliant Agatha Christie Covers.”

* Ambrose Bierce

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As we inspect imaginative invitations, we might send pulpy birthday greetings to Frederick Schiller Faust; he was born in this date in 1892.  Much better known by his pen name, Max Brand (though he had 17 others), he was an extraordinarily prolific author– he published over 15 million words of prose.  Among his more famous creations were Destry Rides Again (probably the best know of his many Westerns) and the character of young medical intern Dr. James Kildare, who featured in a series of pulp fiction stories and then over several decades in other media, including a series of American theatrical movies by Paramount Pictures and MGM), a radio series, two television series, and comics.

Maxbrand_001 source

 

“There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away”*…

 

BQR-Vol.-1-No.-12-1916-Bookworm

 

Nor indeed, to transport pests, it seems…

In Micrographia, a “study of the Minute Bodies made by the Magnifying Glass”, London, MDCLXVII, one of the earliest publications issued under the authority of the newly-formed Royal Society, Robert Hooke described in Observation LII the “small silver-colour’d Book-worm”, “which upon the removal of Books and Papers in the Summer, is often observed very nimbly to scud, and pack away to some lurking cranny”. The third figure of the 33rd scheme pictures a monster so formidable-looking that Blades (Enemies of Books, 1896) may be forgiven the suggestion that Hooke “evolved both engraving and description from his inner consciousness”… [source]

Hooke

Bookworm (Fig. 3, top) in Hooke’s Micrographia

But as later observation confirmed, Hooke was on the money…  Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and one of the board of trustees of the Bodleian Library — called the Curators — of the Library reported in the first Volume of the Bodleian’s Quarterly Record

‘In October 1915 I received from a Paris bookseller, M. Lucien Gougy, three volumes of the Histoire abregie de la derniere persecution de Port-Royal. Edition Royale, MDCCL.’ In one of the volumes Osler found a living book-worm, of species Anobium hirtum, ‘not a native of England, but met with occasionally in the centre and south of France.’

In true scientific fashion, Osler arranged for a portrait of the larva [the image at the top of this post] to be made by Horace Knight, natural history illustrator of the British Museum. Knight sent the picture in September 1916, apologising that he had ‘been waiting in hopes the larva would pupate, but it has not even commenced to make a case…’.

Bookworms and the Bodleian: “The Bodleian Quarterly Record, Vol. I (1914-16); and Osler’s ‘Illustrations of the book-worm’.”

* Emily Dickinson

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As we devour books, we might recall that it was on this date in 1890 that Alfred Harmsworth published the first edition of Comic Cuts, the first British weekly comic paper.  A savvy publicist, Harmsworth relentlessly advertised the then-amazing fact that his paper was only a halfpenny an issue.  Indeed in his manifesto in the first issue he wrote:

How is it possible for any one to provide an illustrated paper… for a halfpenny? Well, it is possible to do it, but that is all. I feel sure that the public will appreciate the fact that they are getting full value for their money, and will therefore buy the paper in immense numbers weekly.

And indeed his comic book was published from 1890 to 1953, lasting for 3006 issues– during which time it inspired the birth of an industry, as other publishers began to emulate him,  producing rival comic magazines.

 

“Short was good in a book”*…

 

Kleon

 

With the kids in the house all day I am finding it terribly hard to concentrate when reading. Hopefully you’re the opposite, and having a fine time, tackling Moby-Dick or War and Peace or Ducks, Newburyport or whatever. But, if not, here, copy and pasted from an old newsletter, are some of my favorite short books:

Novellas:

Short stories:

Lectures:

Memoir:

Poetry:

Comics:

Art:

Staying sane:

Biography:

Essays:

You could read many of these in a single afternoon. Happy reading!

(Buy from your local bookstore or Bookshop if you can.)

Characteristically-good advice from the estimable Austin Kleon (@austinkleon): “Short was good in a book.”

* Charles Portis, Gringo

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As we concentrate on the compact, we might send charming birthday greetings to Ludwig Bemelmans; he was born on this date in 1898.  An author, illustrator, and artist, he is best known for his six Madeline picture books.

In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines… the smallest one was Madeline…

800px-Bedtime_story_-_Madeline

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220px-Ludwig_Bemelmans source

 

 

Written by LW

April 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“A map is the greatest of all epic poems”*…

 

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A marmot hiding in plain sight in the Swiss Alps

 

Errors—both accidental and deliberate—are not uncommon in maps (17th-century California as an island, the omission of Seattle in a 1960s AAA map). Military censors have long transformed nuclear bunkers into nondescript warehouses and routinely pixelate satellite images of sensitive sites. Many maps also contain intentional errors to trap would-be copyright violators. The work of recording reality is particularly vulnerable to plagiarism: if a cartographer is suspected of copying another’s work, he can simply claim to be duplicating the real world— ideally, the two should be the same. Mapmakers often rely on fictitious streets, typically no longer than a block, to differentiate their accounts of the truth (Oxygen Street in Edinburgh, for example).

But there is another, less institutional reason to hide something in a map. According to Lorenz Hurni, professor of cartography at ETH Zurich, these illustrations are part inside joke, part coping mechanism. Cartographers are “quite meticulous, really high-precision people,” he says. Their entire professional life is spent at the magnification level of a postage stamp. To sustain this kind of concentration, Hurni suspects that they eventually “look for something to break out of their daily routine.” The satisfaction of these illustrations comes from their transgressive nature— the labor and secrecy required to conceal one of these visual puns…

Slipping one past one of the most rigorous map-making institutions in the world: “For Decades, Cartographers Have Been Hiding Covert Illustrations Inside of Switzerland’s Official Maps.”

* Gilbert H. Grosvenor (President of the National Geographic Society, first editor of the magazine, and champion of cartography [and photojournalism])

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As we hide Easter eggs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1345– according to 14th century scholars at the University of Paris– the Black Death was created… from what they called “a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius, occurring on the 20th of March, 1345.”

AKA the Pestilence, the Great Bubonic Plague, the Great Plague, the Plague, or less commonly the Great Mortality or Black Plague, the Black Death was actually transmitted by fleas who had fed on diseased rats.  It killed an estimated 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

More on “the greatest catastrophe ever.”

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Spread of the Black Death in Europe and the Near East (1346–1353)

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Written by LW

March 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

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