Vogue at Burlington Arcade

There’s an exhibition of Vogue covers along Burlington Arcade in Piccadilly at the moment that’s worth catching if you are in the area.

sdr

My favourite (of course) is the black and white Irving Penn cover for June 1950. Look at those eyes. Fantastic.

 

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Picasso Ceramics at Sotheby’s

Picasso ceramics 3

By chance on Bond Street because I needed to take a photo of the Atkinsons building for my nearly finished book on Mrs Dalloway and caught the last day of the exhibition of ceramics by Picasso at Sotheby’s.

The extraordinary vigour and certainty of his line, his playfulness and use of colour never fail to enthral. And always that feeling of excitement being in the presence of work imagined, moulded, touched by that ferociously creative genius.

With ceramics and prints there is also the temptation towards recklessness that you could actually buy one; take away a work bearing that iconic signature.

Being sensible was helped by the fact the ones I really liked (inevitably) still retained a hefty guide price. In any case, ownership is not the key issue; it’s the capacity to enjoy the work that really matters. (Nonetheless …).

The work dates largely from the 1950s when, aged 65, Picasso moved back to the south of France after the war –

While staying with the printer Louis Fort in Golfe-Juan, the two came across Madoura and this led quite simply to the artist’s engagement with the pottery traditions of the area. There was also an influence on a personal level as the artist met his second wife, Jacqueline, when she was working in the Madoura pottery studio in Vallauris. She began to live with Picasso in Paris in late 1954 and they together moved to the villa La Californie in 1955. (Lucy Rosenburgh)

And of course it was one of the ‘Jacqueline’ earthenware dishes I wanted most.

Jacqueline Dish

Jacqueline’s strong features, her prominent profile, and her dark hair and eyes are readily found in much of the art Picasso made during these joyful years. Earlier portrayals often depict Jacqueline with her abundant hair covered by a headscarf, as seen in these two red and white earthenware empreinte. In the empreinte, the artist’s carved and modelled plaster mould would be pressed into the clay, leaving the unpainted impression as the only decoration. Picasso developed the method at the Madoura studio, inspired by the process of print making. (Lucy Rosenburgh)

Jacqueline 2

And more, just because…

Picasso ceramics

 

Picasso ceramics 2

 

Offline and Online Convergence

Moleskine Smart NotebookThe partnership between Moleskine and Adobe on a new Creative Cloud Moleskine notebook promises to be a notable step forward in the convergence of the offline and online worlds.

The notebook and accompanying app enable you to turn hand-drawn sketches directly into fully workable digital files.

How does it work ?

You draw in the notebook, take a photo using the cloud-connected Moleskine app on your iPhone, and a vector version (SVG file) of your sketch is automatically transferred to your Adobe Creative Cloud account, where it can be edited in Photoshop or Illustrator.

Whilst the app can be used on any paper, the dot markings on the pages of the Moleskine notebook provide a frame of reference to help remove distortion (from paper or lens) and optimise the image.

This partnership is the latest step in Moleskine’s digital journey, and perhaps the most significant yet to seek to bridge the gap between paper and screen.

As a quintessentially analogue product, Moleskine’s investment in developing products to link real to virtual is obviously a strategic move to remain relevant in an increasingly digital world. It promises to offer the tactile, satisfying feel of sketching with pen or pencil on paper with the convenience and versatility (in terms of sharing and editing) of digital.

In short, enabling us to have our cake and eat it.

Earlier Moleskine efforts to link analogue to digital are nowhere near as flexible or neat. For example, The Moleskine Livescribe Notebook enables editable digital text, but you have to use the Livescribe ‘Smartpen’ which does not really offer the same feel as writing with a pen or pencil (leaving aside the cost of the pens and decidedly mixed reviews regarding how well they work).

The Evernote Business notebook enables easy incorporation of hand-written notes into Evernote (and has some nifty features so that you can separate parts of the page and add tags) but the text is not editable.

Does the  Creative Cloud Moleskine work? – I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but it is available in Europe from December 15.

Past and present: Design is how it works

The Word

The good thing about magazines – I mean the actual, real, glossy paper ones (glossy not mandatory) is that you can sometimes find them, years, long after you’ve forgotten you ever had them, in the back of the desk drawer, under the sofa or wherever. Like this issue of The Word magazine. And that wonderfully tactile act of flicking through the pages brings the past back to life with the intensity of Proust’s madeleine.

Here’s Kate Bush back in December 2011 saying “I’ve got no plans to tour again, but never say never.” And possibly in the very act of saying these words, repeating them probably for interviewer after interviewer asking the same question (she’d just released her album 50 Words for Snow), the germ of an idea begins to form in her mind – ‘what about, instead of touring, I stay put and get the audience to come to me?’ And hey! three years later…

Also, this being December 2011, there is an obituary of Steve Jobs. Actually a very good one by David Hepworth. It includes this brilliant quote which identifies the understanding of design which propelled Apple’s success:

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s the veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not we think design is. It’s not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works.”

The Word did not itself survive to review the Kate Bush ‘tour’, but I’ve just discovered that the best bit of the magazine – the podcast – is back. I’m not sure if it’s in any way a regular thing, but anyway it’s a hugely enjoyable 40 minutes or so of chat, and somehow works in the way the magazine didn’t. The lead for Word podcast 223 (just released) will give you an idea of the kind of thing you can expect:

In which Mark Ellen, Fraser Lewry and David Hepworth consider U2’s album, the rum work done in the name of the “rock doc” and the proper duties of a household cat

In other words – content worthy of the name. You can find it on hipcast and iTunes.

Talking about Steve Jobs and lost things, I’ve also recently discovered his ‘lost’ interview, which also contains a lot of good stuff on product design and development, and the importance of making great products. It dates from 1995, when he was still running NeXT Computers. Six months later he rejoined Apple and the rest, as they say …

“I said No.5 because it’s the truth!’

As the year and the holiday season draw to a close, it’s time to ask – who won the Christmas ad battle?

They had an unfair advantage, but the Chanel No. 5 Marilyn Monroe ad, making use of what is unquestionably the best celebrity endorsement ever (and which didn’t cost them a penny), surely knocked the competition out of the park.

The 30-second ad, in gorgeous black and white interspersed with a bit of period saturated colour, recalls the heyday of movie glamour and the Mad Men era.

The voiceover uses a recently discovered audio recording from 1960 in which Marilyn recalls her famous interview with Life Magazine, in 1952, in which she revealed her love for the most casually named (but most beautifully packaged) perfume:

‘Marilyn, what do you wear to bed? So I said I only wear Chanel No.5’

Of such stuff the dreams of brands are made. (With apologies to Prospero).

With her perfect pout, sensuous curves and blonde curls, the ad also reminds us why Marilyn remains a potent sex symbol and icon of glamour.

With all good wishes for 2014.

Happy-New-Year

The Balkan Wars

Balkan Wars Running Sheets

Today received the running sheets for ‘The Balkan Wars’, my latest book design project. Always slight trepidation mixed in with the excitement of seeing the printed book for the first time. Happily all in order.

This is my first book project with versions being published in three languages (almost) simultaneously – English, Macedonian and Albanian. Being published in the UK by I.B.Tauris in association with The Centre for Albanian Studies. Looking forward to the book launch in Macedonia in a couple of weeks.

Balkan Wars Cover

Are cards taking over the web?

Have you noticed how cards are gaining traction as a new web design standard, a response to the need to make content work across the widest range of formats, from desktop through tablet (landscape and portrait) to mobile – and potential new devices such as Google glass.

twitter cards

Benedict Evans pointed to the changing face of Twitter, and the potential it opens up for content marketers, in his post Twitter, canvases and cards:

Then Twitter pivoted … and took control of the interface. The obvious thing that it did with that was to deliver a predictable offer for advertisers. But the more interesting thing to me was that it created a canvas – which is now turning Twitter from a protocol to a platform.

Twitter is turning ‘Twitter cards’ into a platform. You can embed video, or slides, or music – all sorts of things. You can embed a call to action that will harvest the account’s email address. And, increasingly, you can drive acquisition – of Spotify users, or apps, or customers. And thanks to retweets these cards can end up anywhere on Twitter, far beyond the original poster’s network.

What are cards?

Cards give a quick shot of information, a summary, with the ability to link to more content. You can also mimic cards in the physical world, with content on the reverse, turning the card with a click.

Cards can be used to provide an aggregated approach to content, a screen filled with nuggets of information (i.e. cards) assembled by the site according to your previous interactions, very much like Pinterest which provides a different home screen for every user, based upon your previous pins.

This is easily adapted to the mobile screen by using a ‘deck of cards’ structure. As described by Insideintercom:

This [mobile] is driving the web away from many pages of content linked together, towards individual pieces of content aggregated together into one experience.

Google+ cards

Google has also moved in this direction, with a frequent appearance of a right hand panel in Google results and the re-design of Google+.

Cards offer scalability, flexibility and a clean look from desktop to mobile. A way to provide the user fast access to the information she wants, whilst also allowing space for serendipity – for putting content in front of the user that he didn’t know he wanted. Not wholly unlike the kind of experience (that used to be) offered by flipping through the racks at a record store.

Self promotion follows!

Want to know more? Or need a copywriter who knows how to make a modular approach to content work for you? Then do get in contact.

Nymphette, I think I love you

It’s getting close to the day I see a printed copy of the Biographical Dictionary back from the printers. As ever, excitement mixed with some trepidation, especially since I have not seen the proof.

I was looking for typographic adornments or glyphs to use in the design and found Nymphette. Perfectly named and perfectly shaped. Can’t wait to see it in print – for real.

Nymphette

Launch of ‘Birth of Albania’

It’s always good to see a project come to fruition, especially one that you – and many others – have put a lot of work into: in my case, the design and production of the book. So it was great to attend the launch party for The Birth of Albania at the Albanian Embassy in London last week.

Written by Nicola Guy, the book explores how an independent Albania first came into existence, and how later actions during and after the first World War by the Great Powers in partitioning ethnic Albanian territory gave rise to problems that are still unresolved.

Fittingly the book is published, by IB Tauris in association with The Centre For Albanian Studies, in the centenary year of the declaration of the Independence of Albania (from the Ottoman Empire), in Valona on November 28th 1912.

The book is set in Adobe Caslon Pro, a font that I think works really well for books. The front cover features a detail of an illustration originally used on the front cover of the Italian journal La Tribuna in 1914, and depicts the 1914 uprising.

In the photo above Noel Malcolm, Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, is speaking, with His Excellency Mal Berisha, Charge d’Affaires at the Albanian Embassy in London, at left and the author, Nicola Guy, to the right of the picture.

Edward Lear in Albania

Happy Birthday Edward Lear. Google’s reminder that today is Edward Lear’s 200th birthday is a good prompt to get Edward Lear in Albania down off the shelves, a book I had the opportunity to produce for IB Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. It’s one of the book designs I am most pleased with, and still the only one that has inspired a reader to enquire (via the publisher) what font is used: Goudy Old Style.

The book essentially covers the Albanian part of Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans, documenting the 15 months in 1848-9 this intrepid traveler spent exploring the countries around the Mediterranean.

In the journals and drawings he vividly describes the remote landscapes in which he traveled and the people he met along the way, and the pleasures – and many inconveniences – of journeying in such rugged and often perilous countryside.

Describing Albania, he writes

Luxury and inconvenience on the one hand, liberty, hard living and filth on the other.

Yenidje and Vodhena, drawn at the scene in pencil, later in the studio ‘penned out’ in sepia ink then coloured using watercolor washes, based on notes he had made at the scene:

Here, in the entry for October 4th, he describes the landscape around Skodra:

Perhaps the grandest of all the views of Skodra was from the rock eastward of the bazaars; the castle, the mountains above – the ruined town below – the river winding beneath its bridges into far distance, form one of the finest pictures. As the sun was sinking low, its rays, clouded through the day, lit up the northern side of the landscape brilliantly, and from the steep castle hill – my last halt – nothing could have been more splendid than the rich foliage and glittering dwellings on the one side and the dark ranges of deep blue and violet hills against the bright sky.

Edward Lear in Albania: Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans

Joanna

Eric Gill is far from an example of an ideal parent, but I enjoyed this note (at adobe.com) on ‘Joanna’, the typeface he designed in 1930, released by the Monotype Corporation in 1937:

He created the typeface for the printing firm of Hague & Gill, which he formed to give his idle son-in-law an occupation, and named the design for his daughter. Only the Caslon foundry cut it for hand composition. It is, as Gill himself described it, “a book face free from all fancy business,” with small, straight serifs and a spare elegance that makes it notably attractive and distinguished.

 

Aubrey Herbert

The Aubrey Herbert book launch at Portcullis House, with Kate (far right) “looking Albanian.”

Aubrey Herbert was one of a kind, and described by John Buchan (who based the character Sandy Arbuthnot in Greenmantle on Herbert) as

The most extraordinary combination of tenderness and gentleness, with the most insane gallantry that I have ever known – a sort of survivor from crusading times.

Very good to see the book – Albania’s Greatest Friend: Aubrey Herbert and the Making of Modern Albania: Diaries and Papers 1904-1923 – finally in print and available, overseen, as ever, by my good and indefatigable friend Bejtullah, prime mover at the Centre for Albanian Studies.

Published by I B Tauris and The Centre for Albanian Studies. Editors Jason Tomes and Bejtullah Destani. Book design by westrowc

[Photo by Jeni, for which many thanks]

On beauty

In his review of Roger Scruton’s new book, On Beauty, Sebastian Smee (in the Observer last weekend) begins with a wonderful quote from Updike (see earlier post) that, for most men, a naked woman is the most beautiful thing they will ever see. He continues:

He (Updike) didn’t say it was so for all men, nor did he venture an opinion on whether the reverse held for women. But the proposition, so bluntly delivered – as if centuries of hair-splitting philosophy and frenetic sublimation could be swept aside with one cheerfully ingenuous sentence – has always struck me as hard to refute.

just testing …

 

He ends with another excellent quote, this time from art critic Peter Schjeldahl (no, me neither, but clearly worth seeking out if the rest of his writing is this good):

Beauty is, or ought to be, no big deal, though the lack of it is. Beauty presents a stone wall to the thinking mind. But to the incarnate mind – deferential to the buzzing and gurgling body – beauty is as fluid, clear, and shining as an Indian summer afternoon.

Why am I taliking about this now? Because I am one of the (dwindling, to the mounting fears of the newspaper industry) people who paid £2 to read the article, by actually buying the paper, as opposed to reading it online for free (here!) – as Robert McCrum points out on page 24 of the same edition (22.03). And I finally found where I had put the Review section, and am only now reading it, on this sunny spring lunchtime, with a glass of wine. Well, not with an actual glass of wine, sadly. That bit’s virtual.

Whilst to my mind there are few objects more beautiful or satisfying than a well-designed (and well-written) book, I’m looking forward to the London Book Fair and the opportunity to see what digital readers are like. The cross-referencing possibilities are exciting, as well as the possibility of always having just the book you want with you, but the thought of empty bookshelves and no more leafing through pages is, well, disconcerting to say the least.

Moreover, without the urgency and finality of a print deadline, will books ever get finished? With the relative contingency and malleability of digital, will all works become, to a greater or lesser extent, ongoing …? Unfinished, until – the final deadline that none of us can dodge. 

But back in the here and now, I’m getting really excited that the moment of truth is closing in on one of my current book design projects. This is the cover design, which contains one small detail that will change before the print version. 

Now, where’s that glass of wine.

The beauty of good design

Danger - weir

… is that it ages gracefully. And stylishly. Because it has integrity.

This sign, alongside the Stour at lower Bryanston, says what it needs to say in a plain, simple, appropriate font, and just keeps on geting better as the years pass.

Photograph taken during a morning walk with the dog in the present cold snap. The winter festival (just kidding), with added illness, provided some time for reading, including Kingsley Amis’s classic first novel, Lucky Jim where he is already firing on all cylinders:

‘I just wondered,’ Beesley said, bringing out the curved nickel-banded pipe round which he was trying to train his personality, like a creeper up a trellis. ‘I thought I was probably right.’

Skewered in a single aside. An object lesson in making words work. Not far from Proust’s less harsh but equally damning characterisation of Dr Cottard in Swann In Love who was ‘never quite certain of the tone in which he ought to reply to any observation, or whether the speaker was jesting or in earnest …

And so by way of precaution he would embellish all his facial expressions with the offer of a conditional, a provisional smile whose expectant subtlety would exonerate him from the charge of being a simpleton, if the remark addressed to him should turn out to have been facetious. But as he must also be prepared to face the alternative, he dared not allow this smile to assert itself positively on his features, and you would see there a perpetually flickering uncertainty in which could be deciphered the question that he never dared to ask: ‘Do you really mean that?’

I was very pleased to be given This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes. A good, easy read which bounds along engagingly: Chocolat meets The Life of Pi, with added donuts. Enjoy.

Finally, with best wishes, a thought for the new year (where danger ahead also threatens). This from one of Jeanette Winterson’s recent newsletters:

Do it from the heart or not at all

Happy New Year.