Pictures within Pictures within Pictures

Noma Bar: Graphic Story Telling by Noma Bar. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 9780500021293. 400 pp.

Gene: This is a continuation of last Wednesday’s Book Wow! in which you shared Design is Storytelling. In my book’s title “story telling” is two words. It is filled with graphic designer / illustrator / artist Noma Bar’s work. (He also does sculpture, but it’s mostly images.) Most are flat and each tells a story. This is one of my favorites: Which Came First?  It’s a chicken inside a question mark where the dot on the bottom is an egg. The illustration asks the question posed by the title.
Sarah: That’s really nice!
G: Most of Bar’s images do this, they have several images embedded in them and that’s his genius. They tell the story, but sometimes only if you know the story in question already. Let me show you some of my favorites.
This is a penguin made with a light bulb shape for the white and yellow, part of an IBM campaign called Smarter Planet. It implies environmentalism and energy.
This one is based on two dogs he saw, one was sniffing the other’s butt — part of the dog’s back end and tail for the face of the other dog.
S: In negative space!
G: These are for movies. In the image for Silence of the Lambs, the grate on Hannibal’s muzzle is a black lamb. In Taxi Driver, the space above and behind a cab forms the shape of a gun. In Jaws, the shark’s mouth forms the shape of a swimmer’s foot.
S: Oh yeah!
G: It’s hard for me to notice these types of details. Illustrations done in negative space seems to confuse my mind, it’s very hard for me to see them sometimes.
S: You have to work at it a little bit and that makes them a little sticky.
G: My grandmother had a knocker on her carport door that was the back end of a cat, but I didn’t see it for years. Everyone said it was a cat and laughed but I thought it was some kind of bird and that they were insane. And then I finally saw it one day.
S: Like the Weyerhauser logo. I thought it was clippers or pincers for a long time. I didn’t see the tree.
G: There’s a tree?
Here are some of the sculptures Bar did, including one of Pinocchio as a ping pong paddle, with a paddle for the eye.
S: Oh, and a hand holding a ping pong ball for the smile!
G: There’s a lot of fun stuff here. This is for the TV show Madmen. The collar of a man’s shirt is the skirt of a woman. Her legs are the white of the shirt, the knot of the black tie doubles as her panties and the rest of the tie is the empty space between her legs. Brilliant.
Here’s the London Underground symbol done with mice. It’s cool, but it needs some context — if you’ve never seen the regular symbol for it, it won’t mean much.
Some of my favorites are the movie images. Here’s Audrey Hepburn’s face created with elements of her look.
S: Have you seen Scott C’s book Great Showdowns? You have to know the movie because it doesn’t tell you what they are.
G: Here’s my favorite image in the book, for the movie Pulp Fiction. Vincent is below and in front of the character played by Samuel L. Jackson, and Vincent’s hair is his buddy’s badass mustache.
And there are penises later in the book, some very smart and funny images, my favorite of which features a penis as a dog, for an Esquire article by Mels van Driel containing a list of facts about “man’s best friend.”

Storytelling for Good and Evil

Design Is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2017. 9781942303190. 160 pp.

Sarah: I came to Design is Storytelling thinking it would be more about storytelling as applied to designing objects, but it’s more about using the different techniques of design to influence people. And it ends up boiling down to a lot of stuff about designing a product or service or experience people want and want to interact with.
Gene: Like the Chipotle customer line?
Sarah: Yeah. This is a chapter on the narrative arc, and as an example, how you get food at Chipotle vs. at McDonald’s.
Gene: What’s the takeaway?
Sarah: In Chipotle, there’s a defined place for you to go, there’s an interaction that takes you along the line, and then you finish, get the food, pay and you go. In McDonald’s you stand in one of several lines and talk to someone, someone else makes the food, and then it’s delivered to a different spot by a person you’ve never seen before while you’re waiting in an area that’s undefined so you just sort of mill around. The design is not as good.
Lupton brings in a lot of real world examples: how grocery stores are set up, how they draw you through what you buy; how each IKEA is set up…
Gene: The belly of the warehouse!
S: …and she makes a point, people say IKEA is a maze but it’s not, it’s a labyrinth with a defined path that you’re supposed to take.
Gene: Is that the difference between a labyrinth and a maze?
S: Yeah, in a maze you don’t know where you’re going and you might have dead ends.
G: I thought this book was going to be all about graphics.
S: No, the writer is a design instructor, and so in the section on storyboards she shows how to use them to walk people through any potential problems with people interacting with a product or service. How do you find the points where people are going to get annoyed, where it won’t work, and how do you explain the problems in a way so that the solution is exactly this product, which you need. So there’s an ongoing example of people riding their bikes and then wanting to take a bus but its bike rack is full, or a friend offers a ride but their trunk doesn’t have space for your bike. So how do you do multi-mode transportation that includes bikes?
But then she’ll also talk about the storyboard being the product, like an app, that will take you through the actions someone could take and what it will look like when those actions are taken.
And then there’s a whole chapter on the storytelling Rule of Three. In some part she acknowledges that this is based on some particular Western mode of thought and storytelling. (In other cultures’ traditional tales, this rule doesn’t apply.)
G: That’s why foreign films often feel so different, right? Because they don’t use the same basic structure. They feel unfamiliar. It’s one of the reasons I love foreign horror films — I never know what’s going to happen next.
S: So she talks a lot about good design vs. bad design, how to predict future problems and opportunities. There’s an example on future outcomes for a museum where most of their users are researchers but not many regular people. Where did it want to be? A ton of visitors or just a few? A blockbuster exhibition where there’s a ton of folks but nobody can touch anything, or something more interactive. It’s a way to think about the future.
So more and more of this as you read is going to sound like the times your library system made you do focus groups. These are all of the vocab words that seemed so foreign to me as a library worker about how to think about the future and options and all the sort of creative thinking focus group stuff. One of the things she gets into is emotion and how it plays a huge part in our decision making, even though we think we’re rational when making decisions and interacting with things. And how patterns of experience can give patterns of reaction. (There’s a great example about people putting their hands in buckets of cold water.)
She talks about how Starbucks is an experience. If you were just buying coffee you’d buy cheap coffee, but it is an experience of attention and setting and all of this other stuff. They write your name on the cup! There’s nice music! It smells good.
G: Does that mean the guy driving his Porsche is having a better experience than I am driving my Honda?
S: Probably. She gets into this stuff and it starts to sound like mind control. Trying to get you to use things. Making you like them better because of small changes not based on the product itself exactly, but its personality.
G: You mean it works the same but looks different?
S: Yes. There’s this thing about gendered products. Chapstick is gender neutral, but EOS doesn’t appeal to men. Changing something’s color can change people’s assumptions about it. Greenwashing — trying to make a product sound more ecologically friendly than it is. This can just about the physical packaging being green. That alone makes people assume something is ecologically responsible. There are other messages you can send with other colors.
There’s a page of how we find what’s different in two images, what we notice and what we don’t. Affordance. Eye mapping.
G: I want to say for the recording, you’re skimming over a lot of points but this book is full of graphics that illustrate all of these and more. Right now there are a lot of dots and letters and stuff on the page, and they’re making me aware of where my eye is drawn. It’s an exercise in how to emphasize different things. It’s making me think about library displays, and the non-design of them — we can build a great display but it will change as books are checked out and somewhat randomly replaced with whatever available.
S: This is a nice rundown of all of these design ideas, particularly in a commercial context, and how they can be used for good or evil, to confuse or inform.

Wow: Adventure Time!

Adventure Time: The Art of Ooo by Chris McDonnell. Harry N Abrams, 2014. 9781419704505.

Sarah: I am a terrible person to lend books to. I have the biggest to-read stack in the world, so if you loan something to me your book is just going to live at my house for a while.
Gene: This book of mine lived at your house for… six months?
S: Yeah. I’m very sorry!
G: It’s okay! I gave it to you to review because I couldn’t make a coherent pitch for it. But I am glad to be getting it back.
S: It starts with the background of Pen Ward, who designed and created the Adventure Time cartoon, with some of his art from before he worked on it then some art as he was developing the show.
G: Is he an animator?
S: Yeah, he’s a cartoonist and animator.
G: What was that first cartoon he did? There’s art from it in here…
S: Flapjack. There are his notes as he built up the Adventure Time world, figured out who the characters were, what it looked like…
G: Was he making a series bible in the form of notes?
S: It’s interesting, because this was when they were still working it out. Eventually there’s series bible stuff. Like this, “How to Draw Adventure Time.” They do new ones every few years, because the style evolves. Here, “Can Finn’s mouth leave the circle of his mask? NO.” So it will look like this, but not like that.
Continue reading “Wow: Adventure Time!”

Go Outside and Paint

Colors of the West: An Artist’s Guide to Nature’s Palette by Molly Hashimoto. Skipstone, 2017. 9781680510973.

Sarah: I got this book, Colors of the West, it’s a gorgeous book and the writing is wonderful but I realized I am the worst person to review this. I’m an indoor kid, I don’t go to a lot of state or national parks, I’m not a visual artist, and the author does a lot of amazing programs for my library so there’s no way I can be objective. So I gave it to my friend Bibi to review. You have a degree in art, right?
Bibi: Yes, a couple of them, actually.
S: And you actually go to national parks and camp and hike?
B: Yep.
S: So what did you think?
B: It’s fabulous. It really reminded me of places I’ve been. I would turn a page and say, “Oh, I’ve been to Olympic National Park!” Hashimoto really captures the feeling of the places she paints. There’s a painting of a pueblo in New Mexico and I remember being there and trying to take photographs and they just did not get the essence of the place. Her painting did, it caught the light and the feeling of it.
S: She’s got paintings of animals in the book, too, wild animals, and I know she sometimes uses stuffed specimens from Seattle’s Burke Museum and the Audubon Society as models.
B: I love how she will pick certain animals and not do a big background, just really make the animals the center of the paintings. She gets the character of their actions and how they live in their environment. It’s really sweet.
S: This book isn’t just her paintings and her views of these places, it also teaches how to use watercolors, techniques and materials.
Continue reading “Go Outside and Paint”

How to Take the Gravel Road

If Found Return To Elise Gravel, translated by Shira Adriance. Drawn & Quarterly, 2017. 9781770462786.

Gene: This is Elise Gravel’s sketchbook. It’s got this nice elastic band on it, to hold it closed like a real sketchbook! Like the elastic bands on Moleskine notebooks.
Sarah: Yeah!
G: Do you know Elise Gravel?
S: Yes, I read her books Jessie Elliot Is A Big Chicken, I Want A Monster, The Rat
G: What is that series called…? Disgusting Critters! Did you read The Great Antonio?
S: Yeah!
G: I like her drawings, she has a very loose, fun style. This is her book about making art and creativity. It has an emphasis on just letting go and drawing. Look, the endpapers at the front are deer, with the most marvelously simple pictures of plants that I’ve ever seen. And the back endpapers…
S: (gasps) OH!!! Those shrimp are great! They remind me of Ed Emberley‘s drawings.
G: Yeah, very much so. The book is all done on graph paper. What I really like about Gravel’s work, I’ve realized, is her lettering. She just has so much fun lettering in different colors, outlining and coloring around words, she’s clearly having a great time. Basically she says that her sketchbook is just full of complete nonsense. After her kids go to sleep she just draws, paints, puts anything she wants to in her black notebook. It contains all her bizarre ideas, she doesn’t critique herself at all, and in the morning her kids look at it and they all have these crazy ideas about what she drew.
Continue reading “How to Take the Gravel Road”

What do you need?

Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz And The Art Of Peanuts by Chip Kidd and Geoff Spear. Abrams, 2015. 9781419716393. 304pp.

Sarah: People ask what is the use of core strengthening classes? Look, I can grab a book from behind me and move it out front.
Gene: (revealing the book with a flourish) A heavy book like Only What’s Necessary?
S: Ooooh.
Gene: It’s beautiful, so you can tell at a glance that it was designed by Chip Kidd, who is the best book designer in the world because he’s the only book designer I can name.
S: And I can’t stop touching the cover because the ink that makes up Charlie Brown’s face is in relief.
G: The thick boards make it feel like a box, so they give reading the book the sense of opening up a box of treasures. The endpapers are comic strip art. But after the title page, there is a two page spread of those tiny paperback Peanuts comic collections we grew up with. These pictures elicit pure joy from me because I read them as a kid. They’re creased and imperfect and wonderful.

S: I have no idea why we loved Peanuts and Garfield so much because I think we didn’t get any of the jokes!
G: I disagree — I think we did. Chip Kidd has designed several books on comic books for Abrams. One is on Batman, and it’s full of objects and art from Kidd’s collection. It’s also got what I think is the first Batman manga translated and published in the US. It convinced me that I don’t need to own every collectible that I love, I can just have photos of them. Then Kidd did a similar book on Shazam, who was my favorite superhero when I was a kid. I think I loved him because he’s a kid who magically becomes a super powerful adult. And this is his Peanuts book in that vein. It is full of so many amazing things.
Continue reading “What do you need?”

Foreign Everywhere

Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini. Rizzoli, 2013. 9780847842131.

This is a huge, heavy book printed on textured paper that is really satisfying to touch, and the colors in the illustrations are bright and eye catching. The book itself is in an unknown alphabet, but you can recognize the layouts of chapter headings, tables of contents, illustration captions, and sidebars. (It reminded me of Lewis Trondheim’s book A.L.I.E.E.E.N, which is also written in an unknown language.) It appears to be some sort of guide to a bizarre world: one diagram shows the life cycle of a plant that grows into a finished chair, another shows a picnic table built on a slant so that crumbs fall to the ground while a plate is perched on a wedge that keeps it level. There are pages of bizarre machines, alien flowers, and outlandish costumes. (It reminded me of the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, too.) Some of the illustrations are visual puns, others are just plain odd. Aside from some nudity and one (non-explicit) sex scene in which the couple gradually turns into an alligator, I think this is a great book to share with kids: it made me think about how information is structured, plus every page would make a great story-starter.