Monday, December 28, 2009

The Flying Islands of the Night

A few weeks before Christmas, I was reading up online regarding Franklin Booth, one of my hero illustrators. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to check ebay to see if anything associated with Booth might be available. Boy, was I ever not disappointed! It turned out that there were a couple of copies of this rare gem about to go for what seemed to be really bargain prices. I immediately jumped into the bidding for one of them (the better of the two) and actually won it—and for considerably less than I was willing to offer as a final bid! So of course, what did I do? When it came in the mail, I gave the package to my wife unopened and told her that she could save herself any further trouble: just wrap this and put it under the tree for me, thank you very much. Christmas Day having come and gone, I’ve certainly been enjoying my newly acquired jewel of a book for the past few days, which indeed arrived in remarkable condition for its near one-hundred-year-old age. (It even has an intact dust jacket!)

The Flying Islands of the Night is a fantastical three-act play in verse by James Whitcomb Riley, an American writer and poet whose mostly humorous and sentimental verse received notable attention and acclaim in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two or three editions of the book had already been published when, in 1913, The Bobbs-Merrill Company put out an exquisite new edition with illustrations by Franklin Booth, a rising luminary in what would prove to be illustration’s Golden Age, and a fellow native, along with Riley, of Indiana. This edition solidified Booth’s reputation as a first-rate illustrator and also, in all probability, rescued this work of Riley’s from complete obscurity. For as far as literary merits go, the work itself is perhaps only slightly better than mediocre. The story indeed contains some imaginative embellishments, but manages to be rather undramatic and predictable on the whole. Riley’s verse, for all to which it aspires, meanders in realms of obscure tediousness for much of the time, with lurching outbursts of real brilliance here and there. (The better portions achieve an almost Chestertonian caliber.)

But again, it is Booth’s illustrations which really make this book. Booth is known primarily for his richly detailed and masterfully composed pen and ink drawings. These were featured in some books, but even more notably as spot illustrations for stories and as full-page advertisements in magazines such as Scribner’s, Good Housekeeping and National Geographic in the early twentieth century. His pen is in evidence here (albeit in comparatively subdued presentation) on the end sheets and title pages, but The Flying Islands of the Night is the most celebrated example of his work in color, executed with what appears to be a combined technique of pen and watercolor. Sixteen such color plates, tipped in on heavier, off-color stock and covered with a sheet of vellum (onto which one or two lines of the appertaining verse are printed in brown ink), embellish the story throughout. Booth’s rich imagination, his penchant for soaring compositions, his sumptuous use of “negative” space, and his love of pattern—all typical features of his work in both black-and-white and color, are on full display in each of these. Just a few more representative examples:

Monday, December 21, 2009

What’d I Say?

Finally got around to watching Ray (2004) this weekend, thanks to Netflix. (I know, I am way behind.) Loved the music, of course. (My maternal grandmother had some Ray Charles LPs which I got turned onto sometime in my early teens. They’ve passed down to me and still get spun with regularity on my studio turntable.) And I really appreciated the nice graphic vignettes that are sprinkled throughout. (It’s so inspiring to see graphic design being employed in movies in the digital age in ways that just weren’t feasible or even possible in earlier days.) There are some great performances here, some interesting (sometimes painful) character development going on, and some really nice dramatic touches throughout. In particular, I thought the theme of blindness was handled with artfully balanced sensitivity—it was certainly prominent, but not played up to the point of becoming all-consuming, as it might have been. (Incidentally, I’ve always been struck by how often the lyrics in Ray’s songs employ the idea of seeing…see the girl with the red dress on?…I can see that far away look in your eyes…still in peaceful dreams I see…you are my sunshine, etc. Also, a somewhat random observation: isn’t it rather strange how many famous musicians—Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley—have been haunted by dead siblings?) On a more sobering note, without getting too raunchy or debased (PG-13), the film offers a straight-up portrayal of the uglier side of Mr. Charles’ sin-riddled double life—the kind of in-your-face negative example which is helpful for husbands and fathers to be confronted with from time to time.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Howard Pyle and the Battle of Nashville

Today and tomorrow mark the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville, a very significant event in the the history of my native city. The outcome of that battle was sealed a fortnight beforehand when Confederate commander John Bell Hood dashed his distinguished army like a porcelain pitcher against the well-entrenched Federal troops at Franklin. Following that disaster, the greatly diminished and demoralized remnants of the grey-clad army proceeded to “besiege” Nashville, which amounted merely to making a nuisance of themselves by camping out on the hills south of town and waiting to be driven back. This inevitable event was delayed by two weeks of miserably cold and icy weather (under which the Confederate troops again suffered much the worse), until a break in the wintry conditions allowed Union General George Thomas to begin the counter offensive on the 15th. The ensuing battle raged for two days—along the present-day route of Woodmont Blvd. and Thompson Lane on the first day, and along present-day Harding Place and Battery Lane on the second.

About forty years after the battle, Howard Pyle, the foremost illustrator of his day, was commissioned by Minnesota State Capitol architect Cass Gilbert to paint a large-scale depiction of the battle. (Minnesota lost a large number of her sons in the Battle of Nashville, particularly in the taking of Shy’s Hill on the second day.) The result became one of the most famous depictions of the Civil War, and it hangs in the Governor’s suite of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to this day. I do not know if Pyle actually visited the site beforehand, or if he worked from photographs, or relied solely upon his own vast imagination. But if, on a cold, overcast day like that almost a century and a half ago, one visits the locale he depicted, where opulent houses dominate the once muddy cornfield where thousands of men fought and hundreds died, a renewed appreciation of a truly great artist’s ability to capture the essence of an event through his work is gained.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Power of Limits

I checked this out from the library thinking that I would probably just skim it, but I got so engrossed in it that I read the whole thing. The topic is one of perpetual fascination to me, perhaps bordering on a minor obsession: the pervasiveness of certain geometric patterns and harmonious mathematical relationships all throughout the created order, and most specifically, the relationship known as the golden ratio, or .618…. This unique and remarkable ratio manifests itself virtually everywhere one turns, in created works of both Divine and human origin: spiral galaxies, hurricanes, sunflowers, the chambered nautilus, the human hand and ear, notable works of architecture and graphic design, ancient Greek pottery, paintings by the likes of DaVinci and Seurat, musical harmonies, and a Boeing 747, all just for starters.

No book could possibly be said to cover the topic exhaustively, but this is one of the more thorough treatments I’ve encountered on the subject. It explores numerous examples of this sort of thing which I had never even begun to consider. There are really fine illustrations and diagrams (many of them quite intricate, detailed and beautiful) on every page. So, in terms of a surface-level analysis of the phenomena, this book is superb.

What I find much less satisfying, however, are the author's attempts, interwoven with increasing emphasis as the chapters progress, to discover what this all means on a deeper, spiritual level. Though he never articulates such a position explicitly, it seems that he would probably be on good terms with what has since become the Intelligent Design movement. (This book was originally published in 1981.) As a Christian however, I am firmly convinced that the doctrine of a personal, Trinitarian Deity is the most obvious point of convergence for all the universally imbedded testimonies to intertwined unity and diversity which this book is dedicated to exploring. Though not really surprising, it is nonetheless disappointing to see this conclusion ignored by the author in favor of an unsatisfying and impersonal hodgepodge of eastern dualism, mysticism, and vaguely beneficent evolutionary principles. (That last point is especially a very interesting notion, one which I think would be most difficult to harmonize with Darwin’s theory of natural selection.) At any rate, had the author been able to rise above all this, I might have given the book at least four (out of five) stars.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Credenda Agenda on Christian Artists

One of my long-time favorite magazines/websites has now become just one of my favorite websites. That particular disappointment, as well as the broader trend which it represents, is something that I’m struggling to come to terms with. Oh well, maybe I’ll try to work through all that in some future posts. In the meantime, Doug Wilson just published a worthwhile article there on the necessity for Christians to carefully navigate around—and perhaps even in, from time to time, as circumstances may require—what might be called The Cult of the Artiste, a peculiarly modern contrivance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cervantes and Poe

I’ve recently finished Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which I enjoyed immensely, despite its epic length. (Over one thousand pages in print; 35 discs on audio CD.) At some point in my reading/listening, I was reminded of a vague association of this work with Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem Eldorado. An initial search through my own volumes and online hasn’t turned up anyone who has made the case for any deliberate allusion to Cervantes on Poe’s part, but I think that such a case could certainly be made. And with that said (drumroll, please), I will now venture to offer my own amateur contribution to the realm of literary criticism, based on my own notes jotted down during the course of my recent read/listen:

Exhibit A: In sunshine and in shadow,… This phrase, or at least one very like it (the original was written in Spanish, after all), appears in PtI, BkIII, Cap1, where Don Quixote says “…and this is so true as that there hath been a knight that hath dwelt on a rock, exposed to the sun and the shadow, and other annoyances of heaven, for the space of two years, without his lady’s knowledge.”

Exhibit B: The name Eldorado refers of course to the fabled city of gold for which the Spanish conquistadors searched in vain throughout the western hemisphere. (And of significant note, Poe first published his poem in 1849, the year of the famous California Gold Rush.) On several different occasions in Cervantes’ novel (twice in the chapter referenced following, in fact), Don Quixote says something similar to this: “ I would have thee know, friend Sancho, that I was born, by the disposition of Heaven, in this our age of iron, to renew in it that of gold, or the golden world.” (PtI, BkIII, Cap6)

Exhibit C: The very curious and unique phrase mountains of the moon also occurs in PtI, BkIII, Cap6: “…the dreadful noise of that water in whose search we come, which seems to throw itself headlong down from the steep mountains of the moon…”

Exhibit D: And speaking of spectral shadows: “…the knight errant without a lady is like…a shadow without a body to cast it.” (PtII, Cap32)

Exhibit E: Lastly, there is the more general appeal to the overall tenor of Poe’s poem, concerning a wearied knight who is prodded onward (by Death himself?) to ride on in the face of almost certain death, a theme which is virtually omnipresent in the account of Don Quixote, the following serving as just one example: “ Let the remembrance of Amadis live, and be imitated in everything as much as may be, by Don Quixote of the Mancha; of whom may be said what was said of the other, that though he achieved not great things, yet did he die in their pursuit.” (PtI, BkIII, Cap12)

Taken in conjunction with the above observation that Poe’s poem was published during the frenzy of 1849, this last point raises some interesting possibilities. Assuming that Poe did have the Gold Rush on his mind, what opinion is he conveying with regard to it? Was it a manly, heroic pursuit of wealth and fortune in the far West, in the face of manifold difficulties and dangers? Or was it a fool’s errand, destined to end in disillusionment, financial ruin, and even (for more than a few) death? Or was it inexorably—and Quixotically—something of both?

La Bella Principessa

A painting that surfaced within the last dozen years—and which you too could have bought from Christie’s back in 1998 at an unbelievable steal of around 20 grand—has now been confirmed as an original by none other than Leonardo himself! Read all about it here. Quite an astounding discovery!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Power Corrupts; PowerPoint Corrupts…Pointedly?

Along the lines of the previous post, I was reminded of a couple of spots I read a number of years ago in Wired Magazine, exploring the aesthetic and intellectual ramifications of PowerPoint. Interesting and rather amusing stuff on this subject first from musician/visual artist David Byrne (remember Talking Heads?) and also from Yale professor Edward R. Tufte.

Umberto Eco on the Lost Art of Handwriting

Here is a brief but thoughtful piece from a thoughtful guy on both the causes and the consequences of the decline of the handwritten word. Following are a few condensed observations that this article inspires, and which may be food for some further exploration: The tools we use shape us, for better or for worse, in ways which often escape our awareness. In addition to the obvious forms of liberation which technological innovations bring about, every new technology also tends to impose limitations which are often overlooked in the rush to embrace its benefits. An appropriate balance between pragmatic utility on the one hand and aesthetic integrity on the other is often complicated and tricky—but needful and important nonetheless. Form and content have a much closer relationship than we often tend to acknowledge.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Economics in One Lesson

Economics is one of those topics on which I've intended to get better educated for some time now. The events since the latter half of '08 have definitely bumped that intention up several notches in my list of priorities. The first problem I really had to tackle was figuring out where to start, which is to say, deciding exactly what and whom I should be reading. I knew just enough to determine that pretty much anything from a Keynesian perspective—which, with differences that are in the final analysis inconsequential, has represented the mainstream positions of both the political right and left for the last several generations—was out. Also out was any nonsense coming out of the far left, i.e. socialism or fascism, unfortunately including a number of Christian writers who have adopted these positions and labored to make them somehow compatible with their Faith.

Eventually I found out about the Austrian School Economists, generally liked what I was hearing from that perspective (with important qualifications noted below) and decided to dive in by first tackling Henry Hazlitt's (1894-1993) well lauded primer Economics in One Lesson. Turns out that it was a great choice. Who would have ever thought that a book on economics could be a page turner on par with an Agatha Christie novel? Far from seeming stale or out of date (the volume was first published in 1946 and last updated by the author in 1979), the material is immanently relevant given our current state of affairs, and delightfully readable to boot. I started off underlining what I thought were key sentences from the Prologue and Chapter One, and then gave up when I realized that the whole thing needed underlining! (Just read the first two-and-a-half pages from Chapter One on Amazon and you will see what I'm talking about.)

Hazlitt's thesis statement, for which the book as a whole is simply a cyclical reiteration is as follows:

…the whole of economics can be reduced to a single lesson, and that lesson can be reduced to a single sentence. The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.(p17)

In each chapter of the book, Hazlitt re-illustrates this fundamental principle by applying it to matters such as government subsidies, government attempts at manipulating supply and demand via price fixing, controls on imports and exports (including tariffs), rent controls, minimum wage laws, inflation, and a number of other all too familiar phenomena.

To sum up, I really enjoyed and profited from this book, and plan to read further on this topic from other writers of the Austrian School. That said, I don't want to hold forth a generally glowing review without acknowledging that these guys do have their own blind spots and that those are not insignificant. As a Christian, I am bound to affirm that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). That includes wisdom and knowledge in the area of economics. Through the mechanism of common grace, I believe that the Austrian Economists are generally right-on in their astute observations of how the economic aspect of the world works and are generally far less deluded than other competing schools of thought on the matter. However, their essentially secular viewpoint does leave them open to certain deceptions and shortcomings, the chief of these being the fundamental assumption that man is basically good and that his greatest problem is not sin but ignorance. In addition, I must also bear witness that true and enduring freedom and liberty—in all their various forms, including economic—are blessings that are only found in Jesus Christ. Any attempts to idolize individual freedom and liberty by abstracting them and attempting to construct a comprehensive worldview around them (e.g. Ayn Rand, a noted favorite of both the Austrian Economists and their Libertarian political chums) is just as much doomed to frustration, failure and wretchedness as any other false ideology.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Okay, this is a confession inspired by the previous post: I actually take the time to manually insert smart quotes and apostrophes (those would be these “ ” ‘ ’ instead of these " " ' ' , which are given by default) into the HTML code for all the posts on this blog. Isn’t that sad? (Yep, I even got that last one.) That’s one reason why I don’t post more often than I do. Oh and trust me, there’s even more inane stuff that I would fix if my HTML skills were up to the task!

Max Kerning

This walks a rather fine line between humorous and just a bit creepy, but it’s definitely worth checking out. An amusing and well executed caricature of the overly-fussy tendencies to which most graphic designers are prone, to varying degrees of course. :)

Thanks to my ole pal Jay Thatcher for steering me to this.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Just found out about this promising typographical resource from some other designer friends. (Gratias, Lord Pinnix, and Kristi too!) And be sure to check out the great article Behind the Typedia Logo Design, by astounding and renowned logo and ambigram creator John Langdon. (Sheesh! Is that enough hyperlinks for such a short post?)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Gallery of Famous Logo Redesigns

This is pretty interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original Apple logo before. I agree with most of the writer’s and commentators’ assessments, though I can’t believe they didn’t include the recent AT&T (whoops! I mean, at&t) redesign in the mix.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Colligo, Ergo Designo

I’ve been casually thumbing my way through Instant Graphics, an inspiring look at the creative processes of other designers, particularly those whose work relies heavily upon collage and the appropriation of clip art, found objects, ephemera, etc. One of the recurring themes brought out in this book is how people who are designers also tend to be avid collectors—collectors even (especially?) of things that many other people would deem “junk”.

Many designers and illustrators are explorers and archivists of their immediate environments, scouring the city streets, parks, river banks, gardens, markets, and even their own studios, for objects, textures, and source material…many designers inevitably find themselves becoming collectors and/or curators of certain types of imagery or objects—insects, sports cards, magazine clippings, old catalogs, engravings, or prints. Some develop a fascination with a specific type of image or object—perhaps from an accidental find—and set about actively researching and building collections of them, which, in turn, begin to influence their subsequent work. —p24

Sean Adams, of AdamsMorioka, has the following to say:
“I have never met a designer who is not a closet collector of something. Whether it’s thimbles, Japanese packaging, or rocks, everyone has one collection. Being a collector is just like being a designer; you don’t choose to be a designer, it chooses you.”—p98

As one who can certainly identify with this, I am driven to muse: do we become designers because we are obsessive collectors?…or is the impulse to collect driven by one’s work as a designer?…or is it all a vicious cycle with no beginning or end? I confess to being a collector of books, magazines (most notably National Geographic), newspapers, LP records, old photographs, letters, documents, postcards and correspondences, wine bottles, timepieces, posters, maps, prints, 8mm film and projectors, old shoes, spent rounds of ammunition, currency and coins, fragments of flooring, windows, hardware, masonry and woodwork culled from old buildings and other structures, samples of nature (flowers, leaves, bark, nuts, bones, feathers, dead cicadas, turtle shells, sea shells, and rocks), drawings that my kids have made, nautical and/or astronomical paraphernalia, and anything having to do with trains.

How about you? What collections do you keep? Or perhaps I should ask, what collections keep you?

Bad Type Sighting, 090723

Once again, an elegant script is given “the treatment” in hands that weren’t quite up to the task. Spotted outside Hardee’s in Sequatchie, Tennessee.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Strike a blow for tasteful design and sound economic principles all at the same time! The Ludwig von Mises Institute offers some snappy merchandise and apparel, including some items featuring this version of their logo—an attractive typographical arrangement of a font which looks vaguely familiar to me…

The Austrian Economists T-Shirt Collection is quite whimsically subversive as well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Logos

A couple of new logo projects to show off:

a suite of logos for LifeWay’s choral music preview subscription clubs…

and another for a surgical practice in Chattanooga, TN.

Case Study: The Advent of Evangelicalism cover

This is a project I completed a few months back, but it has occurred to me that it provides some useful examples of the range of sensibilities and breadth of knowledge that an effective design solution often demands. Starting with the most obvious, a successful designer must of course possess a competent grasp of the principles of visual communication: rhythm, proportion, balance, color, etc. But a truly successful designer is no mere visual arranger; compelling design must accomplish much the same things that a compelling poem must do. The best design trades in currency minted of metaphors, allusions and associations. In fact, though graphic design is usually thought of in strictly visual terms, it can in many respects be said to bridge the gap between the literary and the visual arts since it deals very heavily in both words and imagery. In addition, a reasonably well-rounded knowledge that extends into other spheres and disciplines (science, mathematics, literature, music, history, religion, etc.) often proves a very handy thing for a designer to have. That sounds pretty lofty, and the truth is that (thankfully, in fact) not every job is that demanding—sometimes the basic skills of a decent visual arranger are enough to get you by. But it’s certainly nice to be able to take advantage of the opportunities when the job calls for a bit more thoughtfulness.

Case in point: this project was a redesign of an academic title which originally released in Great Britain.

The book is a scholarly re-examination and assessment of the relationship between the Christian evangelical movement and the Enlightenment, both of which came into their own in the eighteenth century—rather heady stuff, to be sure. (Though I myself admit to having some degree of unprovoked interest in the topic, I suspect that places me on the outer fringes of the bell curve.) The publisher wanted something a bit more, shall we say, “inviting” than the original cover design, in the hopes that someone (other than myself) without a PhD in Theology might be persuaded to pick it up, at least.

I provided three initial designs to the client: one tending toward elegant, the second rather understated or even minimalist, and a third adopting a more edgy and contemporary grunge attitude. The first was the initial favorite until concerns began to be raised that the scope of the material was broader than was suggested by the use of the single period image (of John Wesley). Finding and securing rights to additional images of that kind (along the lines of what was done on the original, British edition) proved to be unfruitful, and so the second concept, the one with the open window, was moved to the number one slot and came out on top at the end.

Now, I can hear some folks muttering that I pulled a fast one over on the client here by throwing together some run-of-the-mill type and a rather blithely irrelevant image, probably blowing a good deal of smoke in the form of trumped-up rationalizations and explanations in the process in an attempt to sell the concept. Actually, not at all. While this concept is the most simply executed of the three on the one hand, it is also the most thoughtfully executed on the other. The open window and the breeze-blown curtain allude to the Evangelical movement as a genuine “breath of fresh air” within the broader context of Christianity and to the Great Awakenings of the period as much-needed revivals and stirrings of God’s Spirit. (The word “spirit” carries the literal meaning of “breath” or “wind” in all the important ancient languages—Hebrew, Greek and Latin—and appropriately, the work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is often accompanied by wind, e.g. Acts 2.) The image is also carefully cropped such that the muntins of the window at the upper right suggest a cross. As a final stroke, the font used on this cover was given special consideration: it is Baskerville, originally cut by Englishman John Baskerville in the 1750s—a thoroughgoing Enlightenment typeface if ever there was one—and its choice is intended to subtly reinforce the ties to the historical period with which the work is concerned.

Of course, probably fewer than one peruser out of a hundred will correctly identify all of those allusions and associations (particularly the last), but that really isn’t the point. Their sum total lends the sort of synergistic confidence to the design itself which generally speaks affirmingly to the onlooker, whether or not he or she can articulate precisely why, and that is what makes such subtleties an important part of the design process. And at any rate, I at least know they’re there—and now that I’ve spelled out my intentions as the designer after the fact, you do as well.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Art’s Self-justification

“Art needs no justification. The mistake of many art theorists (and not only of Christian ones) is to try to give art a meaning or a sense by showing that it ‘does something’. So art must open people’s eyes, or serve as decoration, or prophesy, or praise, or have a social function, or express a particular philosophy. Art needs no such excuse. It has its own meaning that does not need to be explained, just as marriage does, or man himself, or the existence of a particular bird or flower or mountain or sea or star. These all have meaning because God has made them. Their meaning is that they have been created by God and are sustained by Him. So art has a meaning as art because God thought it good to give art and beauty to humanity.”

—Hans Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, pp229-230

Modern Art and the Death of a Culture

Originally published almost forty years ago, this work has certainly lost none of its relevance for those seeking an understanding of the forces behind the downward trajectory of both western art and western culture over the course of the last three centuries or so. This assertion in itself might seem a rather odd one to most folks—didn’t the problems (for both art and culture) really start during the 20th century? Actually, no.

Rookmaaker argues quite persuasively that the seeds of nihilism and despair were actually sown during the “Enlightenment” period of the 18th century and the obvious problems which began to manifest themselves in the 20th century were the resultant harvest. The intervening 19th century may be viewed as a period during which these matters were working themselves out and during which much art that might be deemed “beautiful” was still being produced, but the problems were there nonetheless, and with increasing clarity, as a mere scratch to the surface reveals.

Beginning in medias res, with the medieval period (it isn’t really necessary to go back further in time to prove his point), Rookmaaker demonstrates that there was a time when physical and spiritual realities coexisted comfortably and formed a seamless whole, both in the thoughts and lives of people and on the painted canvas. This view persisted, remarkably in some respects, even through the Renaissance and Reformation periods.

It was the Enlightenment, with its dogged insistence upon rationality and empiricism as the only standards for gauging “reality”, which drove the seemingly irrevocable wedge between the natural and the supernatural. Artists (and everyone else, for that matter) since that time have come under increasing pressure to choose between the two. The predominant approach has been to reject the latter in favor of the former, resulting in a growing crescendo of meaninglessness and despondency. Certain movements (Romanticism and certain enclaves of Christian art) have sought the opposite approach of asserting the supernatural over the natural, but with limited success, largely because at heart they have continued to accept the fundamental dualism of the Enlightenment view.

My only reason for not rating the book more highly is that, although Rookmaaker’s insights are keen, I find his style a bit exacting, and the increasingly depressing nature of the material begins to weigh down on you after a while. (I actually started this book a good while back and had to take an extended break about two-thirds of the way through before finishing.) There’s great stuff toward the end though, so don’t fail to persevere if you encounter the same difficulties!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Theatre of the Absurd

“There are enormous pressures in our world that seek to induce mankind to bear the loss of faith and moral certainties by being drugged into oblivion—by mass entertainment, shallow material satisfaction, pseudo-explanations of reality and cheap ideologies. At the end of the road lies Huxley’s Brave New World…”

—Martin Esslin, as quoted in Hans Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, p218

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Last Emperor

My wife and I re-watched this Best Picture Award winner (1987) together last night. For those unfamiliar, the film is a biopic about the last Chinese Emperor, Puyi, who assumed the throne in 1908 at just under three years of age, and lived (in deposed obscurity) well into the Communist era.

First, there are a few things I don’t like about this movie. Whether this reflects some personal bias on the part of the film’s director and/or producer or represents a sort of compromise which was necessary in order to secure and retain the good graces of the Chinese government (which made the astonishing allowance for the movie to be shot in the Forbidden City) I couldn’t say, but there is a subtle yet definite attempt to tug the viewer’s sympathies in the direction of the Communists. The manifold cruelties and atrocities perpetrated by the Reds are conveniently ignored or somehow painted quite benignly for the most part, while those of others (the Japanese) are not. Most notably, the warden of the Communist prison is portrayed sympathetically as a stern yet essentially kind-hearted individual interested in genuine “reform”. (Incidentally, my dad has travelled extensively in China and was actually in the train station in Harbin, which is featured in the opening scene, right around the time of the filming. I was discussing this with him today and he concurred with the above assessment, while offering further insight into some of the political intrigue alluded to in the film.) There are some scenes of decadence that, despite restrained handling, are a bit hard to watch and this fact, taken in light of the film’s 164 minute overall length, does create a bit of a drag in the latter half.

Be all that as it may, the movie certainly didn’t win nine Academy Awards for nothing. It is a very moving drama, full of very deep ironies which provide much meditative fodder on how much the world can change within just one lifespan. It is gorgeously shot and boasts perhaps the most stunningly beautiful opening credit sequence that I know of—a graphic designer’s garden of delights. (I have access only to an old VHS edition and am wondering if any of the recent DVD or BluRay releases include any special features which highlight this aspect of the production?) The score is delightful (some of it composed by David Byrne of Talking Heads fame), and, while the storyline is decidedly un-redemptive, there is nonetheless a very touching stroke of magic in the final scene which amply rewards the viewer’s willingness to endure the more tedious stretches of the film’s middle portion. All told, it exemplifies the cinematic medium in that it tells the story primarily by showing the story, in graphic images which leave an indelibly rich impression upon the audience’s psyche.

One final, personal tidbit. I have long admired the font (Carlton) which is used for the main title, and have employed it myself, both in the masthead for this blog and in my own company logo.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Looks for 2 Old Brands

These overhauls to a couple of eminent brands have caught my eye recently—and produced similar reactions of ambivalence.

I have always been a fan of the (old) Jack in the Box logo. It is so tightly executed yet appropriately playful. The double tilting of both the box itself and text inside is pure genius, as is the delightful typography of the letterforms, which are so audaciously intermingled, yet with such subtle craftsmanship that the eye hardly even notices (e.g. the HE and OX). Frankly, I don’t see why this mark couldn’t have continued to serve the chain triumphantly for years or even decades to come. That said, I can’t exactly say that I hate the new logo either, though there are some peculiarities to it that may or may not grow on me. I can’t decide if the visual pun that drives the whole thing (Jack is literally in the box, get it?) is really clever or just oh-so-obviously trite. (On second thought, is Jack actually in the box or on it?) Anyhow, I think I might have been more willing to acknowledge the former if they (they being the corporate suits, no doubt and not the designers) hadn’t been such chickens and given in to the compulsion to spell it out anyway at the bottom. The overall look is certainly playful enough, but I’m not sure that the understated and quaint whimsy of the smile formed by the leg of the k conveys quite the spirit of wackiness that folks have come to associate with the brand, with its laugh-out-loud television commercials. Speaking of which, I’m rather astounded that Jack Box himself didn’t manage to insinuate his own image into the new identity somehow. Seems that would have been a no-brainer. At any rate, a professional hats off to Duffy & Partners for creating a new brand that definitely has some nice touches and conveys a spirit of creative fun, particularly in the few glimpses I’ve managed to get of the look as it has been extended into various other applications (packaging, etc.).

A stronger case could certainly made for updating the venerable Holiday Inn logo, though I’m not sure that even here I wouldn’t have opted for a more subtle reworking that would have retained more of what the former version had going for it. That left-leaning italic was just too distinctive to warrant complete liquidation. And maybe I’m just weird but I even kind of liked the orange, seven-fold flower/star/severed Tic-Tac thingy that graced latter manifestations of the old mark. The new mark is definitely eye-catching; I noticed it right away the first time I drove by one of the updated locations. It also definitely follows the established trend of logos in the digital age relying more upon gradations of color and "tricked-out" applications of highlight or shading (often rather illogically rendered, as here) to capture the eye than upon sturdy craftsmanship of the forms themselves. Used in one color only (for which the need these days is admittedly rather scarce, if not quite to be ruled out altogether) this mark would appear quite generic, perhaps even homely. The new typeface does have a certain appeal, though I again think I would have tried very hard to give an even stronger nod to the original, both in the name and in the H icon. Interbrand gets credit for this one.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Gold of Havilah

Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there.
Genesis 2:10-12 (NKJV)

These seemingly parenthetical remarks in the midst of the creation narrative provide some fascinating insights with regard to the dominion mandate, or the cultural mandate as it is sometimes called. The very fact that it seemed worthwhile to the Holy Spirit, speaking through Moses, to note the presence of gold within the land, along with the added pronouncement of its goodness (an echo from Chapter One), is significant and a cause for meditation. Scripture, along with much uninspired human literature and poetry down through the ages, often casts a hue of disfavor upon the natural glimmer of gold. To be sure, the inordinate lust for gold is a sin which brings a great curse, but that is all a result of the Fall. The gold itself, and by extension man’s thoughtful appropriation and use of it, is proclaimed as an unqualified good here in the pre-Fall context.

The gold and precious jewels mentioned here can be taken as a synecdoche for all of the precious resources which God saw fit to embed within the earth at creation. The obvious expectation is that man would discover and seek them out, extract them from the soil and rock, study and analyze them, and subject them to various processes of molding and transformation, culminating in their glorified use for a variety of practical and aesthetic ends. This has man, as a sub-creator, mimicking God’s own actions as described in the previous chapter wherein God creates, then further transforms what has been created by a process of division, separation and refinement (light from darkness, waters above from waters below, dry land from water, one kind of light from another kind of light, etc.).

Gold and other valuable resources are only in exceptional cases found just lying around waiting to be picked up. Locating them and separating them out from the other, less valuable elements typically takes a lot of effort. (Again, we see that the principal of work is not a result of disobedience.) Proverbs 25:2 says that It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. God did not lay out everything in easily accessible terms for Adam and Eve, the king and queen of his new creation, right from the beginning. It would seem that God’s original plan for mankind involved a process of maturation wherein man was to employ his faculties of thoughtful observation and creativity (recall what has already been noted with regard to tending and keeping) to guide the creation through a progression of glorification.

In many obvious ways, this stands in direct opposition to the radical environmentalism which is currently in vogue. It should be noted though, that traditionalist or reactionary conservatism is also just as much to blame in ignoring biblical principles of thoughtful stewardship as laid out in Genesis and elsewhere. (Deuteronomy has some poignant examples.) Practices such as clear cutting and strip mining naturally result in a curse rather than a blessing.

As a final observation, a glorious prefiguring of the cross can be seen operating on at least a couple of different levels as we consider these things. It is noteworthy that there are four rivers flowing out of Eden and into the lands beyond. Symbolically at least, if not literally, these four rivers would be regarded, particularly to the ancient mind, as stretching out to the “four corners of the world” in a cross-shaped pattern. Some scholars (e.g. James Jordan) have sought to do some informed speculation as to what the progress of history might have looked like had the Fall not interrupted. It seems likely that man, in fulfilling the commandment to multiply and fill the earth, would have spread outward from the garden and the land of Eden, most likely along the convenient routes of the four water courses mentioned above. This motion would likely not be in one direction only but would involve a sort of ebb and flow: initial forays into the outlying lands, followed by revisitations to the garden sanctuary, followed in turn by progressively longer, farther and more permanent journeyings to the hinterlands. As the gold, precious stones and other resources were discovered by man in these other regions, they would be carried back to the garden in order to enhance its own glory and, gradually over time, the borders of the garden itself would be expanded outward. Step by step, the whole of creation would be transformed from glory to magnificent glory until the whole earth were a vast horticultural temple.

But the Fall did interrupt, as we are painfully reminded after a few brief moments of such tantalizing reverie. However, an essential and often over-looked aspect of the Good News is that everything that was lost in the Fall has been regained in Christ – plus much more! This spectacular vision is no daydream; it is the inexorable reality toward which our world is being carried, suggestions to the contrary by the circumstances of any given moment notwithstanding. We can take great encouragement and inspiration, knowing that our faithful labors – in the arts or in any other lawful endeavor – are used by Christ as decisive means for manifesting His Kingdom in our midst with ever-increasing clarity and glory.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Mozart + Branagh = Pure Magic!

So I watched the whole thing on YouTube last night and my initial enthusiasm was confirmed – and then some! This really is a delightful film and a wonderfully fresh adaptation of Mozart’s great opera, The Magic Flute. If you are a fan either of Mozart or of Branagh (and who shouldn’t be?) you really should check this out. The production has strong echos of Moulin Rouge, despite being decidedly less dark overall. (And of course the music is superior!) Branagh has received some criticism for a few of the casting choices, but I really don’t find fault with anyone; I think most are really superb in their respective roles. My only complaint is that the discernability of the lyrics is rather inconsistent, especially with the choruses and ensembles. But that just sort of goes with the territory of opera and doesn’t really present much of a problem – you pretty much get what is going on anyway. If you watch on YouTube, follow the posts by operafan1975. They are numbered sequentially (Overture, Act 1.1, 1.2, etc.) and pretty easy to follow. Also might not hurt to read a short synopsis of the libretto, if you’re unfamiliar.

Let me mention one specific thing which I find intriguing about this production. Mozart, as many are perhaps aware, was a devoted follower of Freemasonry, and this opera was originally conceived as an embodiment of Masonic beliefs and ideals. (Mozart composed the music and his friend and fellow Freemason Emanuel Shikaneder wrote the libretto and also performed the part of Papageno in the first performances.) What this amounts to, in the original version, is a rather thickly spread adoration of Enlightenment rationalism on the one hand and the infusion of a good deal of quasi-pagan mumbo-jumbo on the other, both of which have always made this opera rather off-putting for me. But in this adaptation both of those aspects (especially the second) are considerably downplayed and there has even been a subtle but effective replacement of much of the original symbolism and language with that which is more explicitly Christian. All very interesting and rather surprising. I can’t say what Mozart and Shikaneder would have to say about it, but I’m delighted that Branagh opted to give it that delicate fine-tuning. As a result, the gospel, latent in virtually all myths and fairy tales, shines forth in this work with even greater clarity.

This is one I’d like to own (to say nothing of simply being able to watch in greater clarity!), and I really hope it is available in the U.S. soon.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Where’s Branagh’s Magic Flute?

I was not even aware (until I stumbled across it on YouTube) that celebrated Shakespearean interpreter Kenneth Branagh has produced an English film adaptation of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. I’ve watched the trailer, opening sequence and some snippets from the rest and I am sold! The World War I-ish re-imagining of the rather bizarre and fantastical singspiel seems to work delightfully in Branagh’s creative hands. But here’s the kicker: looks like you’ll have no other option – no realistically viable one for the foreseeable future, anyway – than to watch as much of it as you can on YouTube. (A far less than ideal choice for a number of reasons, but what’s a fellow to do?) The film is going on three years old, but despite modest critical acclaim elsewhere it is not available for distribution in any form in the U.S. To paraphrase this L.A. Times writer, “What’s up with that?!”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Nashville Unrealized

Here are some of the more notable images that go along with that Nashville Scene article referenced in the previous post.

The Public Square: Emmons Woolwine and Frederic Hirons, 1937

The Pinnacle: Henry Bledsoe, 1977

Growing the State Capitol: Harry Frahn, 1917

Growing the Downtown Post Office: Tuck Hinton Everton Architects, 1989

The Central Loop, General Neighborhood Renewal Plan: Clarke & Rapuano, Inc., New York, December 1963

Form, Function and City Planning

I read an interesting piece in a local rag yesterday regarding Nashville Metro Council’s plans for future development of the downtown area. Urban planning is a very tangled web of competing concerns and I don’t really pretend to be equipped to offer any detailed critique. But since it involves two things I hold dear, design and my native city, I take an interest. The upshot of this article, which I find refreshing at least, is that aesthetic and pragmatic concerns appear to be receiving more equal weight than in bygone days. Of course, one matter leads to another and there is always a question of which aesthetic is being embraced, what its guiding principles are, etc. And of course, the pendulum can swing too far in either direction. But if folks are at least beginning to realize that function shouldn’t be allowed to browbeat form, as it has for so long now, we will not despise the day of small beginnings.

This article also reminded me of another fascinating one which the Nashville Scene ran several years ago regarding past proposals for re-making downtown Nashville which were (thankfully, for the most part) never realized. (At least none of them in full. Unfortunately the online version of this article is severely hamstrung by the fact that the accompanying architectural renderings from the original edition are left out. Perhaps I will scan some and post myself.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009


And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof.
Genesis 2: 19 (AV)

In addition to dressing and keeping the garden, Adam was also given the privileged task of naming the other creatures which inhabit the earth. Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that naming and names are very significant things in Scripture. Juliet’s dictum notwithstanding, (What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.) it takes but little consideration to realize that names have tremendous power to influence our perception of a thing. Just start by considering your own name. Have you ever considered how your life might have been influenced differently if your parents had given you a name other than the one they had given you? For better or for worse, people would perceive you differently – and you would perceive yourself differently – if you wore a different name. What the net effect of this would be is impossible to say, but it would undoubtedly make some sort of difference. (And to date this post by referencing current events: does it matter whether we call it Swine Flu, or the H1N1 Virus – or Mexico Flu, as Israel’s Health Department has decided to do? Is the chosen name going to affect how people react to it? Which name do you think is going to stick?)

As an initial consideration, we should be reminded that God Himself has a Name and that Scripture attaches great importance to this fact. (Ex 3:13-15) God’s Name is to be carefully guarded. (Ex 20:7) Next, it should be noted that the act of naming in Scripture represents authority, which is an obvious aspect of dominion. The fact that Adam (Man) is charged with naming the creatures is a symbolic aspect of his authority over them. Adam also names his own wife – twice! (2:23; 3:20) Eve names her own children (4:25), a maternal privilege which is generally (with exceptions) observed throughout Scripture. (Gen 29 & 30; Judges 13:24; 1 Sam 1:20; Luke 1 provides an interesting variation on this custom.)

Naming also involves creative application of the faculties of observation. Some commentators have referred to the short stanza surrounding Adam’s first instance of naming Woman in Genesis 2 as the first poem. Sometimes the scrutiny exercised on the part of the one naming involves taking stock of the qualities of the person (or thing) being named or their surrounding circumstances. (Esau, Gen 25:25) Sometimes it involves a look backwards in time. (Manasseh, Gen. 41:51) Sometimes it involves a look forward, often in the prophetic sense. (Abel, Gen 4:2. Interestingly, the name means vanity or emptiness, but is also very similar to the Hebrew word for pastureland.) Sometimes it is various combinations of the above. (Ichabod, 1 Sam 4:21)

So naming is an important aspect of man’s general calling to exercise dominion and, to offer a glimpse at where this might lead in some future posts, I would submit that it has particular relevance to those involved in artistic pursuits. In brief, others have observed1 that it is possible to view creative works of art in every media as instances of naming, which I think is a very interesting line of thought to pursue.

1 Veith, State of the Arts, p147; Wilson, Credenda Agenda v9 n1

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Welcome Home, Mr. Wilson.

It appears that noted skeptic A. N. Wilson has returned to the Christian fold. You can read about it here – and be sure not to miss the short little Q&A at the end. I love his references to things that God used to harass his consciousness throughout his decades of avowed atheism: language, literature, love – and the music of Bach.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Saint Dwayne

I was reading an article in a recent issue of Communication Arts the other day which contained some comments from another reader that piqued my interest. A quick investigation confirmed my suspicion that the sentiments were indeed coming from a kindred spirit. Saint Dwayne’s blog has some really great stuff and I commend it to your own reading. (I’ve also included it under my list of links to the left.) His full essay on designers and the books they read, which was excerpted in the aforementioned article, can be found here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Bought a new pair of tennis-shoes recently. (Those would be what non-Middle Tenneesseans refer to simply as sneakers or athletic shoes.) Anyway, my previous pair of ASICS had served me quite well (over-served me by probably almost a decade or so, actually) and a local store was having a good sale, so I bought another new pair of the same brand. I wasn’t aware of this before, but the little tag I had to clip off informed me that the name is actually an acronym standing for anima sana in corpore sano. This in turn is based on Juvenal’s mens sana in corpore sano. Either way, the meaning is essentially a sound mind in a sound body. Mens is properly translated mind and anima more properly soul or spirit, but it works – especially given that you’d otherwise be left with MSICS for a brand name!

That Hideous Strength

This is a very relevant book for our times. It’s also C.S. Lewis. Those two factors alone make it a more-or-less mandatory read – and one that is virtually guaranteed to be above average, at least. I do have to say, however, that I did not find it nearly so enjoyable to read as Lewis’ very best fiction (which would be Perelandra and Till We Have Faces, in my opinion).

While I embrace with satisfaction the overall trajectory of the narrative – cold, calculating rationalistic-materialism on the one hand effectively contrasted with enthralling, incarnate (and erotically charged) spirituality on the other – I do have to admit that I somehow found the ending rather anti-climactic. In addition, there are a number of elements here and there which I found quite puzzling and disjointed. (For just one example, what’s up with that one little segment of first person narrative in Chapter One which is never again taken up?) Perhaps some of this apparent lack of cohesion is by design, I don’t know. Lewis was a very clever one.

On the plus side, the book is chock-full of very interesting characters, some great individual scenes and is deliciously rich in irony. At times the satire (it took a while, but I eventually began to see why many reviewers describe the work as “satirical”) approaches laugh-out-loud intensity. So it really is a very good book. Probably the biggest thing working against it is that it follows right on the heels of Perelandra, which is positively sublime.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Please Kern Responsibly

Found this at Type for you.

I suppose no additional explanation is really needed. It looks like the clever folks who came up with this have applied it to t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc., to the delight of graphic design nerds everywhere.

Bad Type Sighting, 090316

In virtually any discipline, the via negationis, the negative example, can be an effective teacher. This is at least as true with graphic design and typography as it is with anything else, and in our era of aesthetic devaluation good examples (which is to say, bad examples) are to be found in abundance.

Case in point, this little photocopied beauty that struck me like a Three Stooges jab to the eyeballs when I opened a well-meaning card from a local bookkeeping business. (Pertinent information is blacked out to protect the guilty.) Y’know, I freely admit that my accounting skills are laughable. That’s why I hire a pro to do my taxes and provide consultation. But since these folks didn’t feel the need to hire a professional graphic designer to handle their promotion that got sent to this one (I know…times are tough), I feel all the more justified in rubbing it in a little!

If you insist, in the face of all protestations to the contrary, on doing it yourself, here’s a little typographical tip for you, free of charge: don’t use script fonts when any all caps work is required! (Or, vice versa, just refuse to use any all caps if you’re dead-set on using a script font. Or explore some other option like substituting a roman font for obligatory acronyms, etc.) That “Congratulations” is just painful. And the only thing scarier than the IRS itself is seeing the acronym spelled out in gaudy, flourishing, jostling, self-contradicting script capital letters. Kinda like those pantyhose commercials that Joe Namath did back in the 70’s. Ick! No thanks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Discrimination of NPR

I’m curious to know if anyone else out there has come to this same realization:

I like classical music and I spend a fair amount of time listening to NPR throughout the work week. I even scan their playlist online regularly just to see what’s coming up – whether it be something already familiar and prized or something unfamiliar that might be worth discovering. Or often I just listen rather casually and something nice that I hadn’t heard before gets played. And so I look it up, making a note of the composer and the composition’s name for further exploration later.

But after several months of this sort of routine it has begun to dawn on me that, with relatively few exceptions, whatever rules are out there governing what gets played on NPR are apparently not all that different from the rules which govern pop-oriented FM radio. Their playlist really does become quite predictable and tired after a while. The heritage which is “classical” music is so rich and so deep and so glorious – but you won’t really gain a healthy appreciation of this fact if all you’re ever exposed to is the rather stingy menu that NPR serves up during their regular air time. I mean, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is a beautiful piece of music, but didn’t we just hear it sometime during the afternoon last week – and the week before that too? Didn’t ‘ole Sergei write some other stuff that might be worth playing?! Sheesh!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love Those Ligatures!

I love to linger over a nice set of ligatures – almost as much as I love to alliterate.

What’s a ligature? Don’t feel bad if you have to ask. I was initiated into such typographical mysteries later than I care to admit. Be forewarned, however: once you discover them you will find it hard – painful, even – to live without them.

The sad fact is that certain lowercase letter forms don’t get along very well together. They can’t seem to keep their arms and ascenders to themselves and are constantly invading the space of their neighbors. The most notorious problem child of them all is f, who behaves particularly badly when placed beside l, i, j, k, b, h or another f. He is even known to cause problems with certain, ordinarily well-behaved punctuation marks when left unsupervised in their vicinity.

In the days when texts were written by hand, scribes often got creative in their handling of some of these letter combinations by binding problematic pairs (or even trios) of letterforms into a single, seamless unit when the situation called for it. (The word ligature comes from the Latin verb ligare, meaning to tie up or to bind together.) With the advent of moveable type, this practice was continued by the creation of separate metal casts for the desired combinations. In the era of digital type, the desired results are (in principal) produced most easily – if the producers of a typeface include the necessary ligatures as part of the font set, if the publishing software makers allow for them to be readily appropriated, and if the end-user knows or cares enough to bother about them at all – a chain of requirements which is tragically broken more often than not in practice.

Notice the variations in the following examples. (The text is set in Adobe Garamond Pro using Adobe InDesign.) In the first example, ligatures are turned off. (In InDesign, the ligature feature can be toggled on or off via the pull down menu on the Character palette.) Notice how the ffi combination in Officina creates some ungainly crowding and uncomfortable tangents, particularly between the terminal on the f and the dot on the i. (Adobe Garamond Pro is actually more generous than some typefaces, where you would find these letters actually colliding and overlapping most abhorrently.)

Now ligatures are turned on.

Ahhhhh, that looks and feels so much better!

Open Type fonts such as Adobe Garamond Pro (for you professional users out there) also often contain extra “discretionary” ligatures which can be appropriated if so desired. (In InDesign, again go to the Character palette, access the pull-down menu and go to Open Type > Discretionary Ligatures. Also, going up to the Type menu and selecting Glyphs will open up a separate palette displaying the complete character set for that font – ligatures, punctuation marks, diacritics and other special characters – which you can explore to your heart’s content. Just place the cursor at the appropriate point in your text box and double-click on the desired glyph to manually insert.) Notice the ct in the example below.

While standard ligatures ought to be just that – standard use for anyone with even a modicum of typographic sensibilities – discretionary ligatures are a bit pretentious and distracting for normal body copy, though they can create some nice results when setting display text, if the added touch of sophistication is desirable. So, be sure to use them as the appellation suggests – with discretion.

Happy ligaturing!

Excerpt from James Jordan

Here’s a little secret I should let you in on: I have relatively few original insights when it comes to most of the stuff I'm posting. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due and in directing others who may be interested to the same wells which I have been refreshed from, I’ll be sharing some of those sources of inspiration as I go along. James Jordan has been a significant one. I’m currently reading The Sociology of the Church and I just came across (quite unexpectedly, in the midst of some seemingly very unrelated matter, I might add) this very nice encapsulation of some of the themes that I have been and will be touching upon in these posts. I thought it well worth sharing:

“The central ritual of the church is the action of Holy Communion. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, distributed it, and they all tasted (evaluated) it, and ate it. This six-fold action (taking, thanking, restructuring, sharing, evaluating, enjoying) is the key to the Christian life in every area. An artist takes raw material, thanks God for it, creates his art and distributes it (playing a concert, exhibiting a painting), and evaluates and enjoys it in fellowship with others. A businessman takes raw material, thanks God for it, works with it and shares it by means of the free market (exchanges it for a share of someone else’s goods), and then evaluates and enjoys it in fellowship with others. This is the Christian life, and it finds it [sic] most concentrated expression in the liturgy of the sacrament.”

—James Jordan, The Sociology of the Church, p189

Monday, February 2, 2009


And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…and the Lord God took the man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to dress and keep it.
Genesis 2: 8a-15 (AV)

In the previous post on this topic we explored Adam’s duty of dressing the Garden. Now let’s turn our attention to God’s charge to keep the Garden.

As quoted above, the AV renders this Hebrew verb as (to) keep. Most English translations stick with this rendering. The two notable variations would be (to) take care of it (NIV), which I think is rather weak, and (to) watch over it (HCSB), which I really like. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew verb can take the following meanings: to hedge about (as with thorns), to guard, to protect, to beware, to be circumspect, to take heed, to mark, to look narrowly, to observe, to lie in wait.

This conjures up a good many interesting things to consider. The most obvious meaning here is that God appointed Adam as a guardian of the Garden. There are some fascinating and rather ominous undertones here. Even in an unfallen world, Adam was supposed to be on his toes, to mark what what went on around him in the Garden – what was present there, what was done there, what was said there – to sift it all carefully and to be ready to act if some sign of trouble or danger manifested itself. Though one wonders what trouble or danger Adam could possibly have conceived of in his state of innocence, God of course knew what he did not: the serpent was lurking and would be looking for an opportunity to work mischief.

Adam was to be an observant creature – a watchful and thoughtful guardian. He was to examine each thing around him, assessing its latent potentialities – for good, but possibly also for evil (even though he as yet had no knowledge of evil, save perhaps by name only). A sense of foreboding certainly overshadows all of this because we know the rest of the story as recorded in Chapter Three. However, I would submit that Adam’s charge to keep has richer, more glorious and more constructive implications woven into it than these darker associations alone will reveal. Recall everything which was mentioned earlier with regard to dressing and let it sit closely beside the watchful observation which is enjoined here.

Taken together, the entire task would require a good deal of imagination and creativity on Adam’s part. Adam was not created to simply take things – save God’s own words – at face value. He was not created to necessarily accept things as they initially presented themselves to him. He was supposed to examine things up close, and then he was supposed to take a step back from things – to squint at them, to turn his head sideways and look at them cock-eyed. He was supposed to question. He was meant to dig. He was intended to investigate. He was created to explore.

Super Bowl XLIII ads

The planets of sports and advertising had their annual conjunction last night. I checked in somewhere in the second quarter and was in and out, so I did miss a few. There is a good re-cap along with some funny commentary here.,28757,1874549,00.html

My personal favorites:’s “Moose Head” ad
I laughed out loud.

Cash4Gold’s ad featuring Ed McMahon and M.C. Hammer
Again, laugh-out-loud funny – and timely.

Coca Cola’s “Insect Heist” ad
Cleverly creative and impeccably animated.

NFL’s Usama Young ad
A nice combination of humor and father-son sentimentality.


Pepsi’s “MacGruber” ad
I’m sure most MacGyver fans ate this one up, but it didn’t really do anything for me.’s ads featuring Danica Patrick
These were both tasteless and not really all that clever or all that funny.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Elements of Typograhic Style

Within a short time after completing my formal education and entering my profession, I became rather painfully aware that my training in the art and craft of typography had been sorely lacking in many respects. There is an incredibly rich history and a fascinating set of accepted principles and rules which govern typography, the skillful use of letterforms and typeset matter which is a very important sub-discipline of graphic design. These were practically occult to me early in my career. I had some vague sense that they were floating around out there and that others were aware of them and made good use of them, but they were as yet undiscovered by me. After I languished for a couple of years or so in this state, a helpful co-worker (eternal thanks, Jade!) recommended this book. My well-worn paperback first edition copy of Bringhurst’s respected manual still sits within easy reach on my shelf and I refer to it – sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of sheer delight – on probably a weekly basis, at least. I would say that its contribution to my career has been inestimable, though I have by no means begun to exhaust the vast store of knowledge on the subject and am always captivated to learn more.

There are those who will assert that rules have nothing whatever to do with aesthetic enterprises, to which I say Hogwash! Of course I will grant that the rules have to be employed with a rather loose grip and a free hand, especially when it comes to aesthetics. But even one intent upon bending or breaking the rules (which is appropriate and even obligatory from time to time) must understand them thoroughly if it is to be done with thoughtfulness and effectiveness. (This is true, incidentally, with respect to literature, poetry, music and any other art form as much as it is within the visual arts.)

For all its value, Bringhurst’s book is not without its flaws. In my opinion, these have more to do with what is left unsaid than what is said. (Some of the reviews on, while overwhelmingly positive, do highlight this fact. I would particularly Amen! virtually every critique offered by Erik Fleischer.) Hopefully the author can address these in a future edition. That said, I would consider this a must-have book for every graphic designer and a handsome edition to the library of anyone who has even a casual interest in typography.