Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a Decades-long Quest for a Long Lost Literary Volume

Bibliophiles (and perhaps few others) will appreciate this: I completed a holy grail quest of sorts this past week, finding something for which I have been searching for the better part of three decades!

When I was 14–16 years old, my family spent two years living and working on a dairy farm in New Hampshire. We occupied the second floor of a mammoth three-story (plus a cavernous cellar) antebellum mansion, situated on a grand hilltop, overlooking the Connecticut River, the fields, and the grounds of the picturesque estate. The house included a modest library with some interesting volumes, many of them antique. During one winter spent there, probably with sub-zero temperatures outside and knee-deep snow covering the ground, I huddled in the evenings in my bedroom, reading – and becoming utterly enthralled with – an old, a magnificently illustrated edition of Robinson Crusoe.

By the time we relocated back to our native Tennessee a couple of years later, I had other things on my mind, and the thought of taking the foresight to record the publisher, publishing date, and name of the illustrator never occurred to me. Throughout the intervening years, I have searched the proverbial literary haystack (there are hundreds of illustrated editions of Robinson Crusoe, it being one of the top contenders for the title of Earliest Novel Ever Written) – used bookstores, ebay, estate sales, etc. – in vain for a copy of the very same edition, which I would recognize immediately. (Nor was I ever able, as a professional illustrator myself, to identify other illustrators from the period – late 19th or early 20th century, as I estimated, correctly as it turns out – whose work seemed a match for the drawings in my own recollection.)

But on Wednesday of this past week, I stumbled on a big clue in the library of Belmont University (where I teach a typography course during the spring semester), and spurred on by that discovery, I paid a visit on the day afterwards to Vanderbilt University’s library, where I found it! (Vanderbilt’s campus is within easy walking distance of my office, and I frequently stroll there during breaks from work, enjoying the magnificent trees, architecture, and, occasionally, the library.)

My long sought-after edition was published in 1900, by R.H. Russell (apparently an imprint of Harper & Brothers), with illustrations by the brothers Louis and Frederick Rhead, (who were in turn younger brothers to another noteworthy illustrator from the era, George Wolliscroft Rhead).

With this information in hand, tracking down and procuring a physical copy of my own should now be feasible, and, in the meantime, I’ve discovered that is available online in a variety of electronic formats.
But for now, I shall revel in the fact that, up until this week, I had last held a copy of this edition in my hands approximately 28 years ago – ironically, the same length of length of time “poor Robin” was marooned as a castaway on his lonely island (lonely, that is, at least until Friday came along).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Good Night, And Joy Be With You All!

“The Parting Glass” was probably the most well-known farewell song among English-speaking peoples until Scottish poet Robert Burns penned the New Year’s Eve staple “Auld Lang Syne” in the late 18th century. A year or two ago, the former song was featured in a noteworthy commercial promoting a brand of Irish whiskey, which you might have caught sight of.

Of all the money e’er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I’ve ever done,
Alas! It was to none but me.
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To mem’ry now I can’t recall.
So fill to me the parting glass:
Good night, and joy be with you all!

Oh, all the comrades e’er I had,
They’re sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e’er I had,
They’d wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call:
Good night, and joy be with you all!

If I had money enough to spend
And leisure time to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in this town
That sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips,
I own she has my heart in thrall.
Then fill to me the parting glass:
Good night, and joy be with you all!

The tune associated with “The Parting Glass” is actually a variation on another old Celtic melody most commonly associated with the Irish lyrics “The Star of the County Down.” (For one fine version, check out this online video, beginning at about the 3:00 mark.) But the same tune has also been set to many other texts, including the hymn “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.” The melody (appearing in both variations mentioned above) is used as a recurring motif in a recording that has really captured my fancy during the last couple of years: Perceval: La quête du Graal (The Quest for the Grail), Vol. 1, by the early music troupe La Nef. The album recounts, in French, the legend of the Arthurian knight Sir Perceval. (Although for other Tolkien fans out there, certain portions might just as easily be imagined as coming straight from the House of Elrond, telling the exploits of Beren and Luthien, or some other tale of Middle Earth.) Here is one extended excerpt, the latter half of which is exceptionally beautiful.

And so, on this New Year’s Eve, Anno Domini MMXIV, as we bid farewell to the year behind and anticipate the year ahead: Good night, and God be with you all!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Yahoo! Update: Yeah, I (Almost) Called It.

So, roughly thirty days ago, I predicted that Yahoo!'s month-long buildup to their new logo unveiling would culminate with a final design not too dissimilar from the sans serifed iteration that was kicked off in the “Day 1” slot. So how do my skills as a would-be design prognosticator stack up? I think I’ll give myself a solid "B". In essence, the final design is indeed an echo of “Day 1” (which in turn is a fairly conservative re-working of the original, belied by some of the more radical departures feigned at over the course of the last month, as I had anticipated): all caps, sans serif (with some subtle flaring and cupping), with basically the same arrangement and proportions of the respective letters. The final is decidedly more fragile-looking, with its much thinner weight, aforementioned nuances, and hints of sculpted shading, and I’m not so sure when all is said and done that “Day 1” wouldn’t have served them better. I’ve also got my doubts about the kerning: it looks alright when viewed small, as it typically appears at the upper left of their homepage, but viewed at larger sizes a rather unsettling rift between the “Y” and “A” seems to emerge. That could be addressed by the creation of slightly different versions for use at varying scales, but I think that would represent a less than ideal concession, at best, if not an outright failure of design. But at any rate, I suppose if the results are somewhat mediocre then it can be said that they were achieved by modest (but not tawdry) means: by conducting the re-brand via an in-house team, they avoided the two extremes of (outright) crowdsourcing and exorbitant payment to an (often equally mediocre) corporate i.d. leviathan.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Yahoo!: Thirty Days of ?

Hmm. I can’t help but wonder what’s really behind the month-long tease leading up to the unveiling of the new Yahoo! logo. Could it be a more controlled and camouflaged form of crowdsourcing (a trendy technique which has, in its rawer form, at least, a justifiably dubious reputation)? Perhaps Mayer and Co. will spend the next two weeks analyzing the reactions to the options presented here, and then the two weeks afterwards making any tweaks or adjustments which that data might recommend to their existing designs before finally unveiling the winner on Sept. 5? In any event, I certainly agree that the current logo, with its extended, slab-serifed font, is way overdue for an overhaul, and I’m furthermore guessing that the new logo will probably closely resemble the all caps, sans serif iteration shown at the beginning of the video. . .but we shall see.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

God is Friendship

Here are designs I completed recently for the title God is Friendship, by author Brian Edgar. The version on top featuring the familiar DorĂ© engraving ultimately won out, but the alternate design below was an early favorite also worth showing off. (The illustration in that case—the hands playing off of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam—was done by moi.)

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Darker Road

Here are some spot illustrations and a map I did recently for L.B. Graham’s forthcoming fantasy/sci-fi novel The Darker Road.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

LifeWay Credit Union: Banners & Brochures

Really?! Is it already mid-April?! Sheesh!

I would be remiss if I failed to make mention of this recent opportunity to show off my corporate side: here are samples of some recent pieces produced as part of a re-brand for LifeWay Credit Union. I’ve had lots of fun working with That Writer to come up with these concepts (thinking of the banner ads, especially).

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another One Waters

I’m working closely with the good folks at New College Franklin right now. Here’s a mark I developed for their new fundraising campaign that’s just being rolled out.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Shaping Their Future

Here are two cover designs (final design plus one alternate comp) I produced recently for author Guy Chmielski’s new book Shaping Their Future. The illustration on the alternate comp is mine, but so is (this isn’t often the case, hence my drawing particular attention to the fact) the photograph on the final. (Who knows? Perhaps this will be the beginning of a new trend?)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements

This project was quite a long time in the making, but the subject matter is more than worthy of the efforts involved. The story of the settling of my native region is one that features numerous examples of near-superhuman heroism and sacrifice. Residents of Nashville ought to at least recognize the names of Timothy Demonbreun, James Robertson, Charlotte Robertson, and John Donelson, if simply due to the fact that those names have been lent to various streets, buildings and other landmarks around town. But their legacy (that of the Robertsons in particular), and that of many of their still more obscure colleagues—Thomas Spencer, Kasper Mansker, Anthony Bledsoe, John Buchanan, and William Hall, to name a few additional notables—is worthy of much wider recognition and adulation. When the first permanent settlements were established in the Cumberland River Valley, the United States were still fighting to gain their independence from Great Britain, and the ultimate survival and success of those settlements, in many respects made all the more difficult by the fact of that larger conflict, played a very strategic role both in that struggle itself and in the subsequent development and westward expansion of the new nation. Had those settlements failed, and they very nearly did fail, subsequent U. S. history would no doubt have turned out quite differently.

So, given my pre-existant enthusiasm for the subject matter, I was excited as all get-out when, way back in 2010, I was tapped to help out on this project, a detailed, year-by-year narrative based on meticulously researched and compiled firsthand accounts of the settlers themselves. More than two years, over a dozen revisions, and just over 800 pages later, I’m still excited . . . to be done! No, seriously (okay I’m sort of kidding about that . . . I know that Paul will empathize) I’m incredibly pleased with the results and with the contributions I was able to make to this important work. For the record, those contributions included updating and finessing an existing (and voluminous!) interior layout which had already been touched by a couple of other designers, consultation on the production of numerous maps featured throughout, logo design, book cover design, business card design, consultation and guidance during the self-publishing process, social media integration, art direction for a promotional video (thanks Ricky Burchell and B4 Entertainment!) and web design (thanks to Tim Brown of Graphos Designs for development!). These books are hardbound and feature smyth sewn binding, which, taken in consideration with the enthralling story contained within the pages, makes them worth every penny of the $70 asking price. Copies are available directly from the author via the website.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Living Numbers

Back in early January I gave a presentation for a local group of men who get together regularly to hear lectures and to engage in discussion on various topics, theology most frequently, but also economics, science, moral/ethical/social issues, literature, and the arts. My presentation was focused on an overview of biblical numerology, the study of the significance and symbolism which Scripture assigns to certain numbers, and how we see that significance confirmed virtually everywhere we look, both in the natural world of God’s own making, and in the creative works of mankind. Along the way, I take numerous excursions into the disciplines of geometry, music, biology, architecture, the visual arts, and astronomy. An audio recording of the lecture as well as a pdf of my accompanying Keynote presentation are available here. There seemed to be a good deal of enthusiasm among the group for this topic, and the whole process—preparation, presentation, follow-up discussion—was a great deal of fun. My thanks go out to our hosts (Tom and Sylvia Singleton) and all the other folks who were in attendance. Perhaps there are others out there who would also take an interest in this topic, and if you have a chance to listen and/or browse through the pdf, I trust you will find it fascinating. And as always, I’d be delighted to hear your feedback, as well as any additional insights of your own on the topics covered.

Friday, January 25, 2013

American Airlines Rebrand

With all due respect to Massimo Vignelli, some of whose objections are legitimate, on the whole, this is nonetheless simply AWESOME!