Saturday, March 1, 2014

Display That! (Examples + Commentary)

When I started this blog in 2007, I identified several subjects of interest: graphic connoisseurship, broadly speaking; the relationship between cartooning and illustration; the culture of popular images and artifacts; and informational images.

Since that time I have continued to teach synthetically-oriented courses in communication design. These experiences are designed to address illustrators, designers and hybrid types. In many respects my own work has a hybrid sensibility. (Above, an evening's worth of stargazing observations, Cassiopeia Does the Twist, Utah 2008; below, period automobiles from "Shanghai Pictorial," Spartan Holiday No. 1, 2012.)

I'm working with my wonderful colleagues Amy Auman and Scott Gericke in Word and Image 1–a really fun if challenging course to teach.   

We're in the early stages of a new project: a Collection Poster. Each student has been assigned a topic (e.g., mammals, firearms of the Napoleonic Wars, echinoderms, summer apparel). They are to research the subject, then develop a collection of 8 to 20 items to present on a poster measuring 16 x 20 inches. Their approach can be taxonomic, historical, primarily decorative, explanatory (How a Steam Engine Works), or some combination of thereof. It's an awesome problem; we're jealous of the students who get to work on it!

Today I'm pulling old and new sources together to provide a sense of just how big the world can be on such projects. Many students, when presented with the problem, experience it as a limitation. "Why would I make a poster that just shows _________? That's boring." Well, it might be. It also might be fascinating, delightful, eye-opening, wonderful.

Here are some samples of images which display groups, things, people, sites, processes, etcetera. These x samples are varied, but certainly not exhaustive.

Cross Section of Human Skin, from the 1965 World Book Encyclopedia. A black-and-white drawing enlivened and clarified with tints. Given a good key drawing (no small thing) it would take about 30 seconds to do this by multiplying the black layer in Photoshop and throwing a little color behind it.

Several variations on a theme: figures displayed to show relationships or actions on a single plane. Fremont petroglyph, Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, photographed by my friend and colleague Stan Strembicki a few Mays ago. He climbed up on a ledge to shoot this one, just as I was beginning to figure out that you can drive into Nine Mile Canyon, but you can't drive out the other end. Big bummer.

A WPA poster promoting a play; note the arrangement of the figures and the effective and efficient use of 3 colors. (Richard Halls, 1936.)

A character sheet presenting the cast of The Jetsons, 1961 or 62. George, Jane, Judy et. al., may have been designed by Ed Benedict–they betray his sense of shape. I have never been able to find a character design credit for the show.

For comic relief, plus drawing meets photography, on the distressingly named Captioned Drawing On Windows Because Work Gets Boring. I cannot find an attribution. Possibly Gamera.

Reasons to buy a 1960 Dodge Polaris, especially if you're female.

Polyp Types, Hydra. An essay in line weight, by Elizabeth Buchsbaum, from Animals Without Backbones, 1937. I have written about her before. (I would really like to locate her drawings for exhibition purposes. I once heard from someone in the Buchsbaum clan, but then the line went dead. Anybody out there?)

Matisse's Red Studio, from 1911.

Map of France, from the Geographical Panels in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. Stefano Buonsignori, 1576. I stood in this room in 2003, agape. I bought the ridiculously expensive book, which sits among my atlases of various cartographic and typographic personalities. A really beautiful thing; lovely color and variation in treatment.

Global Emissions, Good Magazine. Data underscored by image, but not subordinated to it. It seems like a metaphor, but really isn't. More like a simile, I guess.

A fragment of the Astor family real estate empire, published in toto on a broadsheet on January 1, 1899 by the New York World. Google Street View before the fact.

In the urban vein, here's an illustration from This is London, by Miroslav Sasek. Okay, it's deep space, so not strictly informational, but look at the handling of the cars. None of them overlap. They're simultaneously units of information and decorations.

The Swedish graphic designer Olle Eskell. Clear rules, elegant decisions, charming and comic result.

This may not be intelligible, but who can gainsay its urgency? Children are ferocious intenders. I love this thing. Megalomanical obelisk with tapeworm? By the incomparable Francesca Ryan. (I pumped the contrast on the pencil, producing that somewhat over-the-top yellow. Not Francesca's fault. Bad art direction!)

Spearheads. A Scandinavian expert memorably named Worsaae catalogued Viking artifacts in the British Isles in 1846-47. This is one of 12 watercolors (No. 3, to be precise) to appear in An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1851-52. 

A positive/negative flip on traditional display, combined with whimsical narrative. Another piece by Olle Eskell: a Graphis cover from 1962.

More old stuff from Britain. Specimens from a book of English fossil finds; "Eocene Shells at Bracklesham" from The Geology and Fossils of the Tertiary and Cretaceous Formations of Sussex, by Frederick Dixon. 1850. This (and a thousand other printed pictorial excavations) at the wonderful blog Bibliodyssey. To some degree like the spearheads above, a stone wall built from tiny pebbles and varied rocks, mortared with negative space.

Speaking of calcified stuff: cetaceans (whales) as artifacts as well as a kind of 3D chart, at the Galerie de palĂ©ontologie et d'anatomie comparĂ©e in Paris. What a wacky place. My photograph, from last summer. 

Game boards provide excellent case studies in systematic display, from the purely geometric (Kolor-Blox, via sushipot, circa 1935) 

to the more pictorial (Snakes and Ladders, forerunner of MB's Chutes and Ladders.) Snakes is creepier, but way cooler, too. 

Finally, to pay my respects to the terrible winter gods who are threatening to rough us up well into March, I offer an ode to meteorological phenomena, crammed into a tidy rectangle. Courtesy of John Emslie, London, 1844. 

Happy composing!

1 comment:

Erik Petri said...

Hi Douglas. Its great to read your blog and experience all the different artistic directions and types of visual communication you examine and explore. With your interest in information graphics and illustration you should see if you could get a hold of "Jagt" (about the history of hunting)by Swedish artist Gunnar Brusewitz - its one of the most beatiful and stilized books I have held in my hands. The way that Gunnar Brusewitz mix info graphics with illustrations - you would love it too. You can google Gunnar Brusewitz but the if you want to get a hold of the book, you have to buy it from an online used bookstore here in scandinavia. Let me know what you think of Gunnar Brusewitz work. Thanks for all the visual inputs - I hope to meet you again at the illustration conference in July