Friday, October 30, 2020

Cutty Sark: The Long Legacy of a Short Chemise

What do Ichabod Crane, one of the most famous ships to sail the seas, and a famous brand of Scotch whiskey all have in common? The short answer is . . . something short. To be less obscure: they all owe their existence to the Scots poet, Robert Burns – and a scantily clad witch whom he immortalized figures heavily in the mix.

Tam O’Shanter, one of the more lengthy poems of Burns’ (perhaps best known as the author of Auld Lang Syne), relates the experience (based on local folk legend) of the eponymous subject, a good-natured if somewhat derelict Scottish chap who, lingering overlate one night at a public house in the town of Ayr, must ride alone, in the midst of a brewing storm (literal and figurative), to his home and shrewish wife which await him in the countryside. Passing an abandoned church, he notices a light and a noisy din emanating from the midst of the ruins and creeps up close to investigate. There he sees a bevy of witches, warlocks, and other grotesque creatures dancing in a frolic, while the Devil himself plays the bagpipes.

One witch in particular catches Tam’s notice: a comely young, dark-haired damsel who is dancing provocatively, thinly clad in nothing but an undersized nightshirt. The sight causes the still-inebriated Tam to lose his wits, and he, forgetting both fear and discretion, cries aloud “Weel done, Cutty-sark!,” which roughly translates as “Way to go, you in the too-short night gown!” (Cutty, in the Scots dialect, means short, and sark denotes a shirt, or, in this case, a chemise or nightshirt commonly worn as an undergarment.)

Immediately, the lights are extinguished, and Tam, instantly aware of his folly, flees in terror, with the whole host of demonic spirits flying through the air in hot pursuit, right on his horse’s heels. Knowing, as all folks somehow do in such tales, that evil spirits cannot cross a stream of running water, Tam rides as hard as he can for the stone bridge that arches over the nearby River Doon. Just as he achieves the crest of the bridge, Nannie Dee (the pretty witch’s actual name, as we know from other sources) reaches out and grabs hold of the mare’s tale, yanking all the hairs out by the roots as Tam and Meg (the mare’s name) make good their escape.

Burns’ poem was first published in 1791, and achieved almost instantaneous renown throughout the English-speaking world. Readers of early American author Washington Irving will undoubtedly recognize immediate parallels with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820), with hints, perhaps, of Rip Van Winkle (1819). (The experiences of Tam O’Shanter certainly align with those of Ichabod Crane, the protagonist of the former tale, though in character he more resembles the hen-pecked, tavern-frequenting namesake of the latter story.)

In 1869, a ship that was destined to be the crowning achievement of the clipper era was launched from her birthplace, the yards at River Leven, in Dumbarton, Scotland. Her owner, London shipping magnate John (“Jock”) Willis, christened her Cutty Sark, probably in evocation of the supernatural speed of Tam O'Shanter’s paranormal pursuer. (And it was a connection not without precedent: the ship widely regarded as the first true clipper was the American-built Sea Witch, launched in 1846.) Cutty Sark’s hull was of a hybrid design: iron ribs within clad with traditional wooden planking without. Her figurehead was a masterfully carved image of Nannie Dee, painted ghostly white and clutching a horse's tail in her outstretched left hand.
At first it might have seemed that Cutty Sark’s diabolical associations, rather than bestowing any advantage, had instead called down a curse. A series of setbacks, disappointing performances, and even tragedies marred her early years. (On one ill-fated voyage her distraught captain committed suicide by throwing himself overboard.) Built with the tea run from China to London in mind, she served in that capacity for only a few brief years. With the opening of the Suez Canal, steamers had captured most of the tea trade by the late 1870s, and the clippers were forced to range for other less glamorous cargo. After several years hauling whatever freight she could command – coal, jute, timber, sugar, castor oil – and more bad luck – she limped into New York Harbor in the spring of 1882 in sorry shape and with a half-starved crew, thanks to the the neglect and incompetence of her then-captain – Cutty Sark was refitted in 1885 for the Australian wool trade.

Her new captain, Richard Woodget, proved an expert master, and together over the next decade they forged a legendary reputation that glimmers yet, like a sterling capstone on the glorious age of sail. The Australian wool runs proved every bit as competitive as the China tea trade had been, and Cutty Sark demonstrated at last that she could consistently outrun her old rival, Thermopylae, or any other vessel afloat – including even the new-fangled steamers if the winds were in her favor.
Sold to a Portugese shipping firm in 1895, Cutty Sark operated as a merchant vessel well into the 20th century, and after that as a training vessel by another English owner. By the 1950s, her unique prestige as the sole survivor of the clipper era led to the establishment of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society, which undertook a thorough restoration of the famed ship. Put on permanent display in Greenwich, she resides there to this day, despite extensive rebuilding following a devastating fire in 2007.

Thanks to the popular brand of Scotch whiskey introduced in 1923, Cutty Sark is a name known the world over, though the vast majority of its imbibers no doubt have little notion either of the term’s meaning or its origins. But for those in the know, it would certainly be fitting to lift a glass of Cutty Sark on New Year’s Eve, while singing Auld Lang Syne, in honor of the poetic ties that unite all of these themes together.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Flying Cloud: Around the Horn in Under 90 Days

On this date 169 years ago (August 31, 1851) the clipper ship Flying Cloud, on her maiden voyage, sailed into San Francisco’s Golden Gate and docked, having completed the 15,000 mile passage from New York via Cape Horn in the record-breaking sailing time of 89 days and 21 hours. At various points of the voyage, she logged speeds in excess of 18 knots (almost 21 mph), and covered as many as 374 nautical miles in one 24 hour period. While these rates of speed seem ponderously slow by modern standards, the fact that anywhere from 150 to 200 days was considered typical for the same passage just a few years earlier helps to lend appreciation for the sensation that a passage in less than 90 days caused at the time.

The clipper ships were the result of innovative construction on the part of several forward-thinking ship builders in the 1840s, who applied the sleek-hulled designs of smaller vessels to large ocean-going ships intended for around-the-world voyages. While unquestionably built for speed, more conservative seamen of the day doubted whether the clippers, with their knife-edged prows and slender proportions, could handle without foundering the rough seas and 50 foot swells that a Cape Horn passage could throw at a ship, but these fears were soon put to rest. And speed definitely meant irresistibly big profits for the owners: rapid deliverability of goods, especially tea from China during the 1850s – 1870s, realized huge profits for these ships which sometimes paid for their cost of construction many times over in a single voyage. Even after the advent of ocean-going steam ships by mid-century, it was decades before they could consitently outmatch the clippers (and their wind-driven successors, the steel-hulled windjammers) in speed, range, and reliability.

After selling his cargo of butter and cheese in San Francisco and scraping together a new crew (most of the original crew had immediately abandoned upon docking for the California gold fields), Captain Josiah Creesy weighed anchor and set off on another race across the Pacific for China and a load of tea to be delivered back in New York following a return passage around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. Throughout this and subsequent celebrated voyages (including one three years later in which the Flying Cloud bested its own time for the New York to San Francisco passage by four hours, setting a new record for an exclusively sail driven vessel that stood for 135 years) the ship was expertly guided by her navigator, who was none other than Mrs. Eleanor Creesy, wife of the captain! A Massachussetts native, she had studied the arts of navigation since childhood, with the intention of one day marrying a sea captain and accompanying him around the world, just as she was now doing. Up to date on all of the latest navigational aids and techniques of her day, she was one of the first to make extensive use of Matthew Fontaine Murray’s detailed charts of global wind patterns and oceanic currents, which had been laboriously compiled by the latter, whose own career at sea in the US Navy had been cut short by an injury which landed him a desk job – along with access to what he came to realize was a treasure-trove of information contained in ships’ logs stretching back decades, lying mouldering in the Navy’s archives and begging to be compiled and published.

Longfellow’s poem The Building of the Ship was inspired by watching the Flying Cloud take shape and then being launched from Boston’s shipyards.

Build me straight, O worthy Master! 
Stanch and strong, a goodly vessel, 
That shall laugh at all disaster, 
And with wave and whirlwind wrestle!
. . . And see! she stirs! 
She starts, — she moves, — she seems to feel 
The thrill of life along her keel, 
And, spurning with her foot the ground, 
With one exulting, joyous bound, 
She leaps into the ocean's arms!

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Discovery of Codex Sinaiticus

On this day in 1859, German scholar Constantin von Tischendorf, nearing the end of his third visit in 15 years to the remote Saint Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of (the reputed) Mt. Sinai, was invited to sit down for a drink with a young monk (the monastery’s steward) in his cell. Von Tischendorf showed the monk a copy of his translation of the Septuagint, published in Leipzig a few years earlier. (The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was produced in Alexandria, Egypt during the third and second centuries BC, under the direction of 70 – Latin septuaginta – Jewish Scholars. When New Testament authors quote the Old Testament Scriptures, they are usually quoting from the Septuagint, which is typically annotated in study Bibles as LXX.) The monk replied that he too had a copy of the Septuagint, and after retreating to the closet of his cell, brought forth an ancient codex (a manuscript bound in book form, as opposed to a rolled scroll) wrapped in a red cloth.

The codex in fact contained a complete copy of the New Testament in addition to most of the Old Testament in Greek (though portions were missing, because the monks had periodically used pages from the codex as kindling, as von Tischendorf had already discovered, to his horror, on one of his previous visits) as well as copies of some extra-biblical manuscripts, some of which were previously known only in Latin translations (The Epistle of Barnabas) or in name only (The Shepherd of Hermas). This mid-fourth century AD manuscript, which became known as Codex Sinaiticus, is still the oldest known manuscript of the complete New Testament in existence.

Von Tischendorf, being permitted to freely peruse the manuscript that evening, his last in the monastery, stayed up all night reading it. He recorded in his diary – kept in Latin, like a true scholar – “quippe dormire nefas videbatur – needless to say, to sleep seemed like a crime.” After much diplomatic wrangling, the manuscript was allowed to leave the monastery for study and copying. Today portions of the Codex reside in various places: Leipzig University, The British Library, and the National Library of Russia in Saint Petersburg. In 1975, during restoration work at the monastery, a forgotten room was discovered below a chapel in which were found many parchment fragments and 12 additional complete leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus, which remain at the monastery.

In addition to its importance as an early biblical manuscript, it is also an outstanding example of scribal craftsmanship, as Robert Bringhurst as pointed out. The text is written with a very even hand in resplendent Greek uncial script, arranged in four narrow columns on each page. Careful analysis of the proportions used in the layout reveal a scheme of exceptional cleverness and subtlety – just the kind of game that scribes, typographers, and designers at the height of their craft have enjoyed playing for millennia. The four columns considered as a complete text block express the reciprocal proportions of the surrounding page (that is, they are in the same proportions, but rotated 90 degrees). But, almost miraculously, if one were to remove the gutters between the columns, the entire textblock would collapse into a rectangle in unison with the page itself (same proportions, in the same orientation, just at a smaller size)!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Procedenti Puero

Today is January 1, the first day of the new year. It is also the eighth day of Christmas, a twelve day feast, which is superseded (on the thirteenth day) by the Feast of Epiphany (January 6). So, if you’re counting up from Christmas Day, today is the eighth day; if you’re counting down to the end of the cycle, there are five days left (including this one) before Epiphany begins. The principle numbers involved (1, 5, 8, 12, 13) are rich with meaning for those familiar with numerical symbolism, both biblical and general (the Golden Ratio, Fibonacci Sequence, etc.).

In the Christian calendar, this day is is celebrated variously as The Feast of Circumcision or The Feast of the Holy Name. (Jesus, in keeping with Mosaic regulation, was circumcised, and officially named, on the eighth day after birth.) It is a day in which a birth that brings forth new life is officially acknowledged, but also a day in which (through the bloody rite of circumcision) death is foreshadowed – but rebirth and glorious resurrection life springing from that death are also anticipated. It is a day both for looking backwards and looking forwards – for Christ, after all, as the Alpha and Omega, has superseded Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doorways and new beginnings, now relegated to servile obscurity. (“Why do we call it ‘January?’” many are heard to ask.)

The following medieval text has long been used as part of the church’s traditional liturgy on this day. (Some versions have many additional verses.)

      Procedenti puero | Unto the boy proceeding forth
      (Eia! Novus annus est!) | (Hey! It is a new year!) 
      Virginis ex utero | From the virgin’s womb 
      Gloria laudis! | [Let the] glory of praise [be given]! 
      Deus homo factus est, | God is made man, 
      Et immortalis. | And [yet] immortal.

      In valle miseriae | Into this vale of misery 
      (Eia!), etc.
      Venit nos redimere. | He came to redeem us.
      Gloria, etc.

      Christus nobis natus est. | Christ is born for us. 
      (Eia!), etc.
      Crucifigi passus est | He suffered crucifixion. 
      Gloria, etc.

      Cuius circumcissio | Whose circumcision
      (Eia!), etc.
      Nostra sit salvatio. | Is our salvation.
      Gloria, etc.

      Redemptorem saeculi | The Redeemer of the Age 
      (Eia!), etc.
      Laudent omnes populi. | Let all the peoples praise.
      Gloria, etc.

      Collaudemus Dominum, | Let us together praise the Lord,
      (Eia!), etc.
      Salvatorem hominum. | The Savior of mankind.
      Gloria, etc.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco

Eco is a brilliant writer and an encyclopedic mastermind who somehow manages to touch upon almost everything in the course of spinning his tale. As far as that goes, lovers of The Name of the Rose will not be disappointed with this one either: there is much here to marvel at and to ponder over, and, even at an excess of 600 pages, it grabs the reader’s fascination early on and doesn’t loosen its grip throughout. (The fact that it is divided into 120 – not an arbitrary number, to be sure – bite-sized chapters is a big help in that regard.)

But the occultism (including grotesque allusions to child sacrifice, forays into animistic voodoo, and such) gets pretty thick at times, leaving a reader with any properly-oriented spiritual sensibilities feeling like they need a good shower. And at some point, the astute reader will become aware of the fact that, just as the protagonists in the story are playing an elaborate game, piecing together disparate facts, clues, and associations to construct an intricately woven and (almost) convincing metanarrative, the author is playing a similar game with his readers. Ambiguity, uncertainty, irresolution, and doubt are precisely the point, to a large extent, but the end-game appears to be to elicit a resigned acknowledgement that there ultimately can be no metanarratives – though we desperately want there to be – and all attempts at imposing meaning on the meaningless cosmos amount to the deluded ravings of self-emaciated and bug-eyed conspiracy theorists. In the face of ultimate and inevitable meaninglessness and encroaching despair, simply put it all out of mind and enjoy the beauty that presents itself to you at the given moment.

Well, nice try, Umberto, but as well written, ingeniously devised, and (at times) fun your own elaborate literary conspiracy theory is, I’m not buying it.

My singular attempt at insightful literary observation regarding this work: just as each Canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy ends with the same word, “stelle” (“stars”), several of the ten major sections of this book, including the very last, end with a line containing the word “beautiful” or “beauty,” or with some simple expression of incidental beauty experienced or observed. (Beauty and symbolism are paramount themes in Eco's works, both fiction and non-fiction.)

A couple of gems definitely worth holding onto:

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”

“And someone else—was it Chesterton?—said that when men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything.”

Saturday, April 16, 2016

From Culloden to Cumberland

Today marks the 270th anniversary of the Battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746) – in which Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland (third and youngest son of King George II of England) destroyed the Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart (aka “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and “The Young Pretender”), putting a definitive end both to the latter’s rival claim to the British throne and to centuries of Scottish resistance to British assimilation.

The battle is a significant one for many reasons. For starters, it is noteworthy for being the last pitched battle fought on British soil. But its greatest significance lies in the events (and people) which it set in motion. Having spent the last several years reading a good deal of English and Scottish history, I’m convinced that an adequate understanding of the American Founding is impossible without a thorough knowledge of the earlier and parallel flow of historical events on the other side of the Atlantic pond. 

Would that time permitted me to write something more polished on the subject, but I’ll have to limit myself to spurting out a few brief facts concerning some of the things which can be traced back to Culloden and the associated Anglo-Scottish struggles.

  • Scotland experienced a great mass exodus following Culloden, as many despairing and discouraged citizens saw no better hope than to emigrate to the American Colonies and begin life anew.
  • Many who fought in America’s War for Independence three decades later were survivors of – or the sons of those who had fought at – the Battle of Culloden. 
  • Some of those who emigrated did so with the deliberate intent of living to fight again another day, perhaps half a world a way. Some of the leaders of America’s War for Independence (Arthur St. Clair being perhaps the most notable example) saw that struggle as a mere continuation of the same struggles of their homeland.
  • A number of geographical features associated with my own native region – the Cumberland Mountains, the Cumberland Plateau, Cumberland Gap, and the Cumberland River – owe their names to the Duke of Cumberland, aka “Butcher Cumberland.” Explorer Thomas Walker, who named them in 1750, was an apparent admirer, which I suppose testifies to where his own sympathies lay.
  • The original settlers of my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee were overwhelmingly of Scottish descent. The two acknowledged founders of the settlement, James Robertson and John Donelson, were sons of Scottish expatriates (albeit pre-Culloden). Ironically, the settlement was established (1779-1780) on a high bluff overlooking the Cumberland River, a name which could hardly have been more odious to anyone with Scottish lineage and sympathies.
  • The aftermath of the Battle of Culloden provides the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Kidnapped, and the story is virtually incomprehensible without a decent understanding of that historical context.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Enrique Granados: Centennial Commemoration

NOTE: This is an updated version of an older post.

On this day one hundred years ago (March 24, 1916), the composer Enrique Granados met an untimely, tragic and ironic end when the passenger ferry Sussex, on which he and his wife were traveling, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the English Channel.

Granados was a virtuoso pianist and composed primarily for that instrument, though a number of his works have been transcribed for the guitar, for which they seem exceptionally well-suited. His Twelve Spanish Dances are particularly delightful, and I especially recommend the 2003 recordings by father and son Celadonio and Angel Romero. The most famous of the twelve is No. 5, Andaluza, though I am especially fond of No. 12, Danza Triste (aka Melancholia), No. 4, Villanesca, and No. 7, Valenciana. (His Ideal Waltz, No. 8 among his Valses Poeticos, has become another favorite of mine.)

At forty-eight years old, his career was just beginning to blossom and his mind brimming over with unrealized musical ideas. In January of 1916, he reluctantly agreed to make a first-ever trans-Atlantic voyage (he was terrified of water) in support of his opera Goyescas, which premiered in New York. It was on the final leg of the return journey back to his beloved Spain that tragedy overtook him. Following the torpedo strike, Granados made his way to a lifeboat, and from there he caught sight of his wife struggling in the water. Despite his acute aquaphobia, he jumped in to try and rescue her. Both drowned, and his body was never recovered. They left behind six children. (To further underscore the irony, the ship had broken in two, and the portion which remained afloat, which included Granados’ own cabin, was later towed to port with the greater number of its passengers still safely aboard.)

Granados was apparently also a painter of some repute, after the fashion of his countryman Francisco Goya, whom he much admired. (He dedicated both an opera, as mentioned above, and a suite of piano compositions to Goya's memory.) I have not, however, been able to find any examples of his work as a visual artist.

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 Doré 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.)