Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Contest Update

I haven't forgotten the extremely serious Toonistration contest, which was supposed to conclude on Monday the 27th. I got exactly two entries, which will be making their appearance in this space soon. Despite the fact that the contest is goofy, what inspired it qualifies as moderately interesting. I am preparing a few thoughts and examples on the subject. Look for the Toonistration Round-Up on September 3.

Image: Scooby-Doo sticker pack, Hanna-Barbera Productions. I bought these in the supermarket line several years ago. A distribution landmark of sorts, I guess.

Back to School!

Running a little behind, due to the preparation of syllabi and the like; classes begin today. In honor of visual communication education, here are images by two of the most influential and charismatic teacher-illustrators in the history of the profession: Howard Pyle (who founded the Brandywine School beginning in 1895 in the employ of Drexel University, then on his own property and terms after that) and Robert Weaver (whose instruction marked a generation of students at the School of Visual Arts in New York from the 1960s through the 1980s).

Images: Howard Pyle, An Attack on a Galleon, Illustration from “The Fate of a Treasure Town” by Howard Pyle. Harper’s Monthly Magazine, December 1905; Robert Weaver, visual essay on the derelict Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for Sports Illustrated, August 5, 1974. The accompanying article "In the Catbird Seat," was written by Roger Kahn, fresh from his celebrated memoir of the '57 Dodgers, The Boys of Summer (1972).

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Considered Paean to Goodnight, Moon

My last post explored conceptual territory in spatial conventions, which some might find a teeny bit academic. But at the end of that logic train, I pulled in (quite happily) at Goodnight, Moon station. Here's what I wrote, which I have pondered for the last day:
Finally, the combination of informational and experiential spaces finds an especially pleasing and appropriate home in children’s literature...[specifically in] the classic domestic array of Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight, Moon...[the pleasure of] this book has a great deal to do with its perfect blend of knowledge and experience, of itemization and immersion.
The argument that gets us there can be tracked here.

Having spent a great deal of time with this book in years past, always in the intimate company of my then-small sons, I think this is formulation is correct. The reader/listener/viewer of Goodnight, Moon works back and forth between the methodical enumeration of beddie-byes to various items and friends, and the gradual darkening of the room and corresponding glow of the nighttime sky. The child is satisfied by the act of checking off as she tumbles toward the experiential murk of quietude and slumber. For our part, we revel in the complimentarity of knowing and being. Because in the most important ways, we never cease to be children, if we know what's good for us.

Bravo and thank you to Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. The book is 60 years old this year. That's a lot of gentle night-nights.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Territory V: Spatial Displays for Information

Illusionist pictorial space operates on a small set of foundational principles. The most basic of these principles is called vertical placement, which can be described thusly: the lower on the picture, the closer to the viewer. The reverse is true, too: the higher the position, the more distant the item. Everyday experience confirms this. Other fundamental principles include overlapping and proximate color contrast, the latter a component of atmospheric perspective which holds that items closest to us will be characterized by the highest color contrasts, of both value and chroma (or saturation). Ditto for distinctness: crisp in front, smoky in back. Conventional landscape pictures operate according to these principles. Distant mountains are hazy and bluish. One of Philip Guston’s best social realist paintings reproduced below provides a demonstration of these principles in a modern spirit.

This Frederick Richardson from the Volland Edition Mother Goose emphasizes spatial separation through the atmospherics of contrast. In this case, darker denser things in front, smokier low contrast passages far off. The vertical placement rule is used to exaggerated effect, due to the point of view above the children. Both the Richardson and the Guston employ a horizon line, the latter restricted to the upper left corner of the format.

These rules apply to pictorial spaces which aspire to engage us experientially. (And of course there are many more such rules, especially the assortment of rational procedures that go with linear perspective, but they are not of concern here.) But there are other kinds of spaces which are more symbolic and readerly. We perceive these spaces very differently. The picture plane cannot be pierced by imaginary participation; rather, mentally we scan and span the conceptual surface of the image. Below, an 1851 instructional card by John Emslie for James Reynolds and Sons:

In pictures like this one, image units operate like visual integers or language characters. They relate to one another in the structure of the diagram, but they retain their integrity as individual units. And of course that’s where pictures started, back in the mists of proto-language.

These pictures start out editorially as visual lists, but become pictorial sets. The distinction has value. A list is a linear progression, while a set is multipolar and relational. Visual thinking tends to be more relational. (The linearity of the comic strip is an exception). Such images often appear in children’s picture books or reference works. Below, a charming spread from J. Otto Seibold’s Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe which provides such a set of boat types.

Note that the rule of vertical position does not apply in this case. The gondola is no closer to us than soda-pop boat.

But sometimes these distinctions are less clear. Some pictures operate in a synthetic mode which combines informational space with traditional pictorial space.

Mr. Lunch paddles across the world under a sky of constellations which are arrayed in an informational format. Plainly the stars are “behind” the globe. Vertical position rules apply.

Here is a fascinating example of an image which pretends to operate in a traditional pictorial format, but really doesn't. This beautifully crafted chromolithograph from 1894 exists for the sole purpose of displaying a large number of bugs for reference purposes. Said bugs are frolicking in a meadow near the base of a tree. The image provides the traditional foreground, middle ground and background which we associate with landscape painting. The horizon line is clearly established a little more than two-fifths up the format rectangle. But this traditional backdrop is accomplished through a crazy manipulation of scale and point of view. We'd see no such spatial sweep, were we focused on a raft of buzzing crawling critters. The horizon would disappear well above the upper edge of the format, because we’d be looking down at least by a few degrees. So the backdrop is pure illusion which plays no role in the informational work of the picture. That work is done by the image units which are systematically arrayed on the visual surface of the image—I hesitate to use the word foreground, because the entire space is fake. Drop everything behind the bugs, and you get an informational array, not unlike Seibold’s boats, albeit with more scale variation and less hieratic arrangement. The image below is my schematic of the visual data points in Schutzeinrichtungen II.

Slightly greater densities occur toward the bottom of the image area, which one would expect, though to a much much greater degree, in a landscape approach. All in all the distribution of units is quite uniform.

Finally, the combination of informational and experiential spaces finds an especially pleasing and appropriate home in children’s literature. Here, the classic domestic array of Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight, Moon.

The happy sigh we associate with this book has a great deal to do with its perfect blend of knowledge and experience, of itemization and immersion. Informational images embedded in experiential contexts provide a meeting place for epistemology and ontology. May sound a little grand, but I actually think this. More soon…

Images: Stuart Davis, Landscape with Garage Lights, 1932; Philip Guston, Martial Memory, 1941; Frederick Richardson, “Cold and Raw the North Winds Blow,” in the Volland Edition Mother Goose, 1915; John Emslie, “The Earth’s Annual Revolution Around the Sun,” James Reynolds and Sons, London, 1851; designer uncredited, infographic on the development of the letter E, The World Book Encyclopedia, 1964 edition; J. Otto Seibold, Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe, 1994; illustrator uncredited, Schutzeinrichtungen II, Lexicon, 1894; Clement Hurd, spread from Goodnight Moon, 1947.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Coming: Display!

In coming days, I'll be posting another round of thoughts about informational images. In particular, I'm interested in the problem of display: how do we see everything we need to see for the given purpose? Can the image and its conventions be made transparent? (That is, do we get the information we need without reflecting on the visual contraption by which we got it?) Is transparency a good idea?

Also, get out your drawing pads and fashion an entry in the first annual Graphic Tales Toonistration contest! Deadline Monday the 27th at midnight!

Image: Scorpion magnet art, D.B. Dowd + Visual Communciation Research Studio, Washington University, MySci K-2 science project. 2005-06.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Middleton's Geography

It is easily forgotten that images have done and continue to do informational work. I observed recently in the context of an Audobon image that formerly informational images are now valued primarily for their (to contemporary eyes) picturesque qualities. William Ivins' Prints and Visual Communication, a wonderfully dense and crotchety book (Harvard University Press, 1953) provides an extensive narrative of technical innovation in the development of what he calls the "exactly reproducible pictorial statement," but the best part of his argument has to do with the irrelevance of artistic values in the history of printing and printmaking. Although he worked as the curator of prints at the Metropolitan for many years, he comes away from a career's worth of investigation into the printed image with a profound respect for practical image-making and communication.

I'll provide more detail when time permits about Mr. Ivins' book, which retains great value today. Were he alive (1881-1961, a remarkable lifespan for the history of image reproduction technology) he would be delighted by CAT scans, commercially available satellite photography and electron microscopy, not to mention other image technologies.

The dominance of received wisdom in the late medieval period worked against true reportage by imagemakers. Ivins observes the significance of certain botanical illustrations, composed from observation as opposed to recopying previous prints, the latter a slow motion bastardization process in which all information was lost to mindless standardization of form.

Reportage of the world in visual form has its roots in the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. Middleton's Geography (London, 1778-79) provides an example of the demand for visual news of the world, even if (or especially because) exaggerated. My wife scooped these up at an estate sale on my behalf a number of years ago.

Images to accompany geographical travelogues were typically produced from verbal descriptions. Middleton's engravers sat deskbound in England working heroically if also comically to realize others' reports in visual form. Above find an attempt to capture Cheneyesque efforts to gain the truth in Ceylon. Below, a Peruvian rope-bridge.
Images: various plates from Middleton's Geography, published in London 1778-79.

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Toonistration Contest

Dan Zettwoch (of Redbird and Fuelman fame) has commented on the illustrator versus cartoonist nomenclature thread and provided us with a memorably pithy summary: "there is...a pre-supposition that cartoonists draw bug-eyes and sweat droplets and illustrators cross-hatch pirate scenes."

And that supposition would be...correct! Perhaps it will be possible to cross-breed these approaches. Thus, let us have a synthetic drawing contest. I invite electronic mail and message-in-bottle submissions for the Platonic version of this idea, the Zettwochian illustration-cartoon blend, a perfectly-balanced centaur of eyeballs and hatching (or something like that). Subject matter to be selected from the following: 1) musketeers, 2) frog princes, 3) baker-men, 4) ingenues, 5) personified automobiles, and 6) other.

The man below has chosen to rely on industrial means to generate the perfect hybrid image, but his hopes are doomed. I will post the most distinguished entries in this most sober of all contests in ten days, on August 27.

Images: By nature I am an optimistic person, but when, on an unhappy day, I am persuaded that the world is indeed headed to hell in a handbasket, I often ascribe some causality for same to the loss of open-ended Lego play; this image captures perfectly the contemptible rise of the right-way-to-assemble Lego product, designed to come in at exactly the proper price point for a harried parent en route to a somebody else's child's birthday party at the local cheese pizza and skeeball parlor; package graphic, Lego Pirate set, circa 2000; animation still, Tezuka's Mighty Atom (Astro Boy) Episode 1, in which the bereaved Frankenstinian/Geppetoesque Doctor Boyton creates a mechanical boy to replace his son, killed in a cartoon car crash. 1963.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Starkdale in Italy + Online Viewing

I mentioned a while back that my recently completed animated film, Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio, has begun to appear in film festivals. I’m pleased to report that for the next month, the film will appear in a digital film festival based in Florence, and that it may be viewed online along with 39 other animated shorts.

When I started the project, I envisioned it running on large flatscreen monitors in an ambient setting—I didn’t think of it as a movie in a standard sense. The pacing is purposely slow, and the project is offered as a kind of visual essay. I created an early version of it for an exhibition curated by Todd Hignite on underground and alternative comix, and in that context I built the narrative with voice bubbles and typography. I had not contemplated the realities of teeny type on small screens at video resolutions, since I thought it would run on giant flatscreens from a quicktime file. As a result, the online viewing experience poses legibility challenges at smaller file sizes. I almost certainly goofed up the compression as well.

The film traces a simple action. Snyposis:

An ensemble cast of four people and a lost elk make their way through suburban landscapes of commercial opportunity while trying, or not trying, to process dispatches from Iraq and the Middle East. Mortimer, Lisa, and Sniffy address the audience directly in voice bubbles, offering their own perspectives. Mortimer is certain that everyone is lying; Lisa belives that life is 'a beautiful pageant.' Richard follows stories in the paper extolling precision bombing. Much of this is punctuated by interludes of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune, 'This Guy's in Love with You,' a dreamy musical setting for the avoidance strategies that occupy, but begin to trouble, Lisa. Meanwhile the elk works his way across Starkdale Township toward an uncertain end.

The festival includes five categories, including animation. The Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio page offers two choices: a button marked ADSL (the smaller player) and Full Resolution, which is slower to load but larger onscreen. (The animations will not load over a wireless network; you have to be on an Ethernet to access them). The type is easier to make out at the full size, though it's still a little blurry. But I’m pleased to report that the sensibility of the piece comes across very clearly at either scale, and it’s good to be able to present the project to a wider group. I will be eager to hear comment from any Graphic Tales viewers.

I wrote, directed and managed the production design; Wesley Gott and Melanie Reinert ably handled sequential shifts at art direction and animation; many people helped in the production art process; Frank Oros produced a terrific sound design and incidental music; Anna Donovan, Mike Costelloe, Lori Dowd and Skye Giordano helped get the thing out the door at the very end. I am very grateful to all.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Territory IV: Professional Labels

Bob Flynn over at Drip! asks a question posed by many: What am I? Specifically he wonders whether to call himself an illustrator or a cartoonist. He kicks the subject around for several paragraphs, then concludes: "I've decided that maybe the word to best describe my trade is "cartooning," making me a Cartoonist. This is what...earlier pioneers described themselves as (Winsor McCay, T.S. Sullivant, Otto Mesmer, and Milt Gross...) ...[they] dabbled in the realms that I'm interested in (Illustration, Animation, and Comics)'s [an]exercise in knowing where I fit it in with my predecessors and contemporaries."

These words are loaded for those who use them. I commented thusly to M. Flynn, whom I know well:
Bob, I think your query is an intriguing one. I have been thinking about this for awhile now. I'm not so sure whether the title of "one who makes x" (cartoonist, illustrator) is as important as the thing made: an illustration, or a cartoon. Are they apples and oranges, or apples and spaceships? One tends to be more interpretive (of a text, or an implied one) and the other more independent, self-justifying. The issue of sequence does not capture the gag cartoon, so I'm not convinced that the multi-panel question is a decisive one. Really, illustration is a function, and cartoon is a language. Ultimately, I think that the key question is this: what is a cartoon? The answer will be more complex than one suspects. For the record, I think that yes, you are cartoonist, because you make use of cartoon languages to make what you make. A certain kind of visual conventionalization. You've always made cartoons. All of your "illustrations" are cartoons at heart. Finally, these are not equivalent terms, yet they stand in for intertwined and (somewhat) rival domains. Worthy of more thought...
The cultures of cartooning and illustration are distinct, and were substantially more so 100 years ago. Then the illustrators thought of themselves as painters with a purpose; they were academically trained and comparatively literary in orientation, even in advertising contexts.

By contrast, the cartoonists saw themselves as visual vaudevillians, and were often apprenticed or self-trained. There are of course many interesting points of overlap. For example, Austin Briggs, who became an illustrator's illustrator, started out in comics under Alex Raymand and banged out the Flash Gordon dailies 1940-1944. The adventure strips, in particular were produced in more illustrative styles.

This is a subject that deserves more consideration. Is it true, as I pose above in an offhand way, that cartooning is a language, and illustration a function? The variety of styles in contemporary illustration does suggest that the term can no longer be tethered to a particular approach, if ever it could, even in the beginning. Shall cartoons be defined by a related set of visual conventions, deployed in a variety of settings? Here's an interesting test case: is a late Philip Guston painting the work of a painter or a cartoonist? Although he uses as cartoon language to form his objects and characters, there can be no doubt that the objects deserve to be classified as paintings in more than a material sense.

Finally I think that these questions point out a larger problem, which is a lack of a unified field theory for the description and analysis of commercial images. These labels--more often than not, fashioned from singularly maladapted language forms--point out the difficulties posed by empirical comparisons in the absence of a larger rational framework. Have no fear: over here at Graphic Tales we're banging away in the garage on new theoretical frameworks designed to make such questions more useful and productive.

Meanwhile, I think that Bob Flynn's final thought, that these questions make the most sense in a conversation among contemporary practitioners, seems dead on. "...[An]exercise in knowing where I fit it in with my predecessors and contemporaries." In the meantime, I am sifting through the very same questions in my own studio, in an indentical spirit.

Images: Philip Guston, San Clemente, 1974; Bob Flynn, Bewilderment, posted at Drip! ( on November 15, 2006; J.C. Leyendecker, Arrow Shirt Ad, circa 1930; Austin Briggs, Flash Gordon daily strip, 1940; Guston, Painter's Table, 1970; D.B. Dowd Sam the Dog, episode 81, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1998.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Mixed Bag Nite: Two Portraits and a Diagram

Two character studies from late last year: a girlishly appointed elderly woman at a Christmas Eve service I constructed from memory, and a really big guy I secretly drew on a napkin in a Bob Evans. Unlike John Hendrix, I'm generally too self-conscious to draw in church (or in public most anywhere). Although I did once make an information graphic on the back of the program to communicate to my sprawling teenage son exactly what his posture looked like, which I handed down the pew to him. Recreation below:

Much hilarity resulted. Note that this, too, is an informational image!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Territory III: The Informational Image

An abbreviated post for the moment. I'll gather the appropriate bibliographical data (from a machine other than my laptop) in the coming day or two. [Image information now below.] But for the time being, consider this: the world of Art has long trafficked in hierarchical distinctions, known especially to designers and illustrators as "fine" and "applied." In prior periods, especially ones given, in reverberating habits of mind, to vertical distinctions of merit, art theorists were perfectly comfortable with the establishment of hierarchies within art. Typically, history painting ranked first, and still life came in dead last. The modernists reversed this order, celebrating the humble (and purely visual) disdaining the grandiose (and literary).

As visual communicators, we may be quick to chortle over these silly rankings, especially as we know the blunt end of them. But informational illustrators are not immune to such hierarchical judgments within the realm of design. A moment's reflection will show that editorialists outrank the informers. Name a significant informational illustration. Okay: how about the plates from Gray's Anatomy, published in London in 1858. So who created the plates? The wikipedia entry on the subject does not contemplate the question, let alone answer it. Who made the plates for Diderot's Encyclopedie? Anonymous tradesman-engravers. The few broadly recognized examples of informational images--e.g., Audobon--are not valued for the knowledge they encapsulate, but for the picturesque effect they provide.

As my prior post on plasticism pleads [Bring the alliteration under control. --ed.] the manipulation of space and form--and for information, data--requires intelligence and adaptive visual thinking. Information designers claim this territory proudly. Review any Tuesday's New York Times "Science Times" section you'll find extremely subtle but very clear-headed visual representations of data.

But these constructions are rarely substantially, and almost never chiefly, pictorial. Illustrators tend to prize the personal, and so do not willingly claim informational images as valuable territory. A pity, and worthy of review.

I bought this 1846 meteorological greatest hits plate along with a handful of other such instructional cards from an antique print dealer in Arkansas. It bears the notation James Reynolds & Sons, 174 Strand, London.

The Science and Society site in the UK provides this bibliographical data, which includes an illustrator/engraver credit to John Emslie:
Meteorological diagram 'displaying the various phenomena of the atmosphere', identified by a key beneath the illustration. One of a selection of 44 scientific teaching diagrams, drawn and engraved by John Emslie on geology, geography, astronomy and natural philosophy. This hand-coloured engraved plate is taken from a series published and probably written by James Reynolds of 174 Strand in London in 1850-1860 in response to the popular demand for information on developments taking place in science and engineering as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Superbly illustrated images with a related text were presented loose in a portfolio so that they could be passed around a class or lecture room or used as posters.
Below find a scan of the printed text on the back of the card.

Images: an uncredited, somewhat zany pictorial graph from a story on the American economy in the January 5, 1953 issue of Life magazine. I will return to this suite of illustrations in another post; John James Audobon, watercolor illustration of the Crested Caracara, or Brazilian Caracara Eagle (polyborus plancus), painted near St. Augustine, Florida on November 27, 1831; Pablo Picasso, Still Life with Skull and Pitcher, 1945; the work of the distinguished Mr. Emslie; an illustration of the neurological system from Meyers' Lexicon, a German encylopedia from 1894.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Defining the Territory I: Rockwell Addendum

I received the following via email from Jeff Pike:
Last week I was in Hannibal [Missouri] and revisited the Rockwell originals for the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn editions he illustrated. As I recall, they were an important commission for Rockwell – just back from a depressive cure in Paris. One can readily see the early modernist influence (most especially Degas) to Rockwell’s standard visual vocabulary, most particularly in the Huck Finn work. There are powerfully painted passages to be sure. I know he worried about his relationship with the “fine arts”, ultimately dismissing the heavily one-sided argument by publicly claiming “only to be an illustrator.” I was reminded how little actual illustration (that is, text inspired) he made, and your observation of the majority of his work being genre painting within the European tradition.

The last bit is a reference to a footnote in my essay from the Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women's Magazine 1940-1960 catalogue:
Norman Rockwell was really a genre painter who worked for a commercial audience—a kind of visual Dickens, as opposed to an illustrator—insofar as he proposed almost all of his own content. Art directors assign projects to illustrators in response to particular project needs and expect tailored solutions to solve the given communication problem. Rockwell was in position to determine his own content in response to very general project needs, like seasonal ones.

The reference to Dickens I meant by analogy. It turns out that Dickens was, in fact, a huge influence on Rockwell. His father Waring Rockwell read chapters aloud beginning around 1902, when the young artist was eight. Laura Claridge devotes an entire chapter to it in her biography: "A Dickensian Sensibility." Norman Rockwell: A Life. The Modern Library, 2003. Copyright 2001. Pages 52-63.

I'd post one of the Norman Rockwell Huck Finn illustrations, but have not been able to locate a decent digital copy for said purpose. Please send me one if you should come across it.

Image: Norman Rockwell, The Art Critic, Saturday Evening Post Cover, April 16, 1955.

Defining the Territory II: Plasticity

I have taught a lot of beginning drawing in my career. One of the most basic precepts of Beaux-Arts drawing study involves close observation of the thing at hand, often a nude model. It is axiomatic that one draws what one sees in this setting, and for good reason—learning how to look at something for what it really is, not what one imagines or remembers it to be, requires perception-altering doggedness. As a byproduct, the student often retains an unspoken authoritarian dictum to obey a monocular point of view on all things. That is, 1) if I can’t see it from here, it must not exist, 2) if I can see it, I must draw it, and 3) all true drawings are made with charcoal or conte crayon.

To the maker of functional images, these are nonsensical propositions. One must often take a plastic approach to spatial construction and the arrangement of form. (I am sometimes asked what I teach: the best, simplest answer I can give is “Advanced Pictionary.”) But it can take forever to retrain the mind to get past the Beaux-Arts drawing thing, even as the echo of that observational rigor retains its value. Making things up out of thin air typically produces maddening levels of vagueness (not ambiguity, a different thing altogether); dutifully rendering a subject generally yields a snoozeable result. But the integration of observation with a willingness to manipulate as required or desired offers real opportunity.

The modernist drive to split representation from its subject (that is, to open up a space between them, at the very least) included the ransacking of pre-modern art historical conventions, often to excellent effect. Jim Flora’s 1945 magazine cover, above, draws on spot color printing and the use of spatial registers, a la Egyptian art, to deliver a strong graphic narrative with clarity and visual independence from, but knowledge of, its subject(s), e.g., boats.

Flora certainly drew on modernism, including the work of Stuart Davis, with whom he shared an interest in strong color contrast and elemental graphic forms. But while Flora worked (more or less) to elucidate his subjects, Davis worked to obscure them in puzzle-like configurations. The Paris Bit is a 1959 reinterpretation of a 1928 Parisian cityscape from Davis’ expatriate interlude in France. He retains the monocular point of view associated with landscape painting, but litters it with letterforms; more importantly, the color assignations challenge and frustrate our spatial perceptions. Davis called these procedures “Color Space Theory.”

Many of these ideas can be traced to responses to modern graphic culture in its myriad forms, including package design, signage, and the like.

Plastic responses to form are especially important in typographic environments, and here is where the boundary between the picture and the letterform can break down, for both good and ill (usually ill, except in good hands). One such set of expert hands connected to an eye and a brain belonged to the type designer and illustrator Eric Gill, who constructs an unlikely but formally appropriate integration of a deposition scene with an uppercase A.

Even when a given pictorial space must be retained for the sake of continuity, a designerly approach to form can work. This frame from Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samuari Jack shows a dramatic moment a fight scene. Jack has just sliced a creepy spider-crab robot in half; after a terrible pause, oil shoots out from the severed lubrication system, dousing Jack in mechanical “blood.” The composition is extremely dramatic. Behind Jack to the lower left is a mesa-like outcropping that helps to retain our understanding of where we are, previously established by wide shots.

Illustrators and designers must learn to see pictorial form and space in plastic terms, or find themselves held hostage by other people’s rectangles.

Images: Jim Flora, Columbia Records Publication Coda, August 1945; Stuart Davis, The Paris Bit, 1959; a reworking of Rue Lipp, a Parisian view from 1928; Roadside signage, Beatrice, Nebraska, 2004; Eric Gill, deposition capital, The Four Gospels, Golden Cockerel Press, 1931; Still from Genndy Tartakovsky's Samurai Jack pilot, 2001

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Rueful Dishwasher

While the old man watches TV. He's gotta get out of there. (Part of an ongoing experiment with shape, interior line, and the descriptive tension between reportage and cartooning.)

And a detail or two.