In The Book of Circles, his companion volume to the popular Book of Trees, Manuel Lima takes us on a lively tour through millennia of information design. Three hundred detailed and colourful illustrations cover an encyclopedic array of subjects, drawing fascinating parallels across time and culture.
Frontispiece to The Continental Harmony (1794), a book by William Billings containing dozens of psalm anthems and hymns. Billings was a prominent early American choral composer. This illustration represents the score for the tune “Connection” as a four-stave, circular piece of music, which starts at the top of the outermost ring and works its way to the centre.
Part of a series of experiments exploring how to visualise the content of the Guardian newspaper in an artistic and engaging way, a diagram showing the popularity of fifty-four news articles. The concentric circles group articles into colour-coded categories (e.g., life and style articles are shown by orange, technology by cyan, and science by blue), with the least popular category positioned in the centre. Word counts for each article are noted within speech bubbles.
Pie chart displaying the statistics for an average day of the author, plotting various data such as number of emails sent, miles run, or cups of coffee consumed. Between 2005 and 2015, information designer Nicholas Felton meticulously documented his daily activity to create his Personal Annual Reports, compilations of information graphics that give an overview of each year, set out in the style of corporate reporting. The project is an exploration of how to graphically encapsulate the activities of an entire year, as well as how we can glean data from rapidly changing technology
Chart measuring time through sins, as described in the Bible, displaying an inverse relationship between longevity and sin. Longevity decreases from Adam (the first man) to Moses at the same time that sin increases. The outer ring, read counter clockwise, moves through the major events of the Old Testament. Relevant biblical verses that reveal someone’s age are cited, and the average age for an epoch is shown underneath (coloured rings).
Lithograph of an ophidea, a type of echinoderm similar to a starfish. Ernst Haeckel was a German biologist who published a series of detailed lithographs, Kunstformen der Natur (Art forms of nature), over the course of five years. These images of microscopic biology have been hugely influential on both the arts and science.
Click here to find out more about Manuel Lima’s books.
It is a sad truth that there is still a gender bias in the art world. The facts speak for themselves: an audit of the art world in 2013 showed that every artist in the top 100 auction sales was a man, and just 8% of public art in central London was created by women(1). During Frieze week, the busiest time in the art calendar, a mere 33% of solo shows were by women(2). Between 2007 – 2014 the Tate Modern granted women artists solo exhibitions only 25 percent of the time(3).
To put it plainly: works by women artists are still worth far less than similar works by men from the same generation and location.
BUT things are changing and Chronicle Books are adding their voices to the battle cry of groups like the Guerrilla Girls with a new book; Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order).
Historically, major women artists have been excluded from the mainstream art canon. Aligned with the resurgence of feminism in pop culture, Broad Strokes offers an entertaining corrective to that omission. Art historian Bridget Quinn delves into the lives and careers of 15 brilliant female artists in text that’s smart, feisty, educational and an enjoyable read. Replete with beautiful reproductions of the artists’ works and contemporary portraits of each artist by renowned illustrator Lisa Congdon, this is art history from 1600 to the present day for the modern art lover, reader and feminist.
I love waking in my studio, seeing my pictures come alive in the light. Sometimes I feel it is myself that kicks inside me, myself I must give suck to, love . . .
—ADRIENNE RICH, “PAULA BECKER TO CLARA WESTHOFF”
IT IS A TRUTH universally acknowledged that the annus mirabilis of twentieth-century Modernism occurred, quite specifically, in 1907 in the city of Paris, making way for everything that was to follow.
Every movement loves a start date. But, of course, Modernism was well underway before 1907. The Romantics had already depicted a world devoid of organized religion, but soulful and sublime; Realists had given us the heroism of everyday life (“How great and poetic we are in our cravats and our patent-leather boots,” said Baudelaire); the Impressionists faithfully captured on canvas the play of light across skin, field, water, and air; and Post-Impressionists took such facts to the unseen world of spirit and emotion, what Symbolist (and proto-Expressionist) Edvard Munch called, “the soul’s inner pictures.”
So what happened in 1907 that branded it ground zero of twentieth-century Modernism?
One of the oldest things in art: the female nude. As painted by two men.
In the spring of 1907, former Fauve bad boy Henri Matisse showed his Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), an unclothed woman in the odalisque tradition (reclining, Orientalizing, sexualized) reduced to disjointed color, line, and form.
As if summoned to a duel, Picasso answered by painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a shocking and disorienting brothel scene credited with ushering in Cubism. “The contest for the supremacy of the avant-garde was being fought in the arena of the female nude, painted large in scale,” writes Cubism scholar Natasha Staller. Contest is certainly le mot juste in this case.
Yet that contest was underway before 1907. The previous year, a nude as groundbreaking as those by Matisse and Picasso had already been painted, by a woman. In Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait, Age 30, 6th Wedding Day, the unclothed subject is the artist herself. Standing life-size, she stares out at us, comfortable and impassive. From the waist up she wears only an amber necklace that rests between her small breasts. Her left hand holds a kind of skirt or drapery around her waist, while her right rests—protectively? meaningfully?—above her protruding belly.
It’s painting as manifesto, not one brushstroke less so than Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. In a New Yorker interview, art historian Diane Radycki describes Modersohn-Becker as “the missing piece in the history of twentieth-century Modernism.”
“Cézanne is the father of us all,” is a line attributed both to Picasso and to Matisse. Certainly it’s true he fathered them both.
It’s equally true that Modersohn-Becker is mother to an alternative strand of Modernism: psychologically probing, personally brave, flagrantly and unrepentantly female. Think Frida Kahlo and Alice Neel, Ana Mendieta, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, Cindy Sherman, Catherine Opie, and countless more. The list is eminent and long.
* * * * *
I like to picture Modersohn-Becker in a cold Parisian flat, in the spring of 1906. She’s waited until the light is good, but sun in May is weak at best. She’s stripped to the waist, chilled, and alone but for her camera. She’s left her husband, her parents, and her sisters behind in Germany. She is there, in a foreign city, because she has no choice. This is where she first saw Cézanne, Gauguin. Where the ancient art of the Louvre—Egyptian, Etruscan, Roman—waits for her every day. The Old Masters are there, too, of course. And in the galleries, so much that’s new. Something entirely fresh is happening in art; she must be part of it.
She’s painted nudes for years, German peasants, even old women and young girls, from the village of Worpswede. Here in Paris, it’s not so easy. Models are a professional lot. They must be paid—in francs, not in trade or promises—and, just now, she has no money.
But what luck, she has herself with her. She smiles and adjusts the light, the lens, and steps back. She varies the tilt of her head, takes one photo with hands to necklace, another with them resting across the flat plane of her stomach. She plucks small flowers from a jar on her bedside table, the first buds of spring, and holds them before her as she stares into the camera.
She develops the film, likes what she sees.
As soon as she wakes each morning, she paints. Paints all day while the light lasts. She forgets to eat. The work is enough; it sustains her. Though she grows thinner, in paint she grows fuller. She gives herself a wholesome round belly, big with promise. She is as full of potential as a bud in spring.
When she’s done, she steps back. She knows she’s becoming something at last. Never again will she apologize when saying she is a painter.
She signs this self-portrait P. B. Though she notes the day as her fifth anniversary (or sixth wedding day) of marriage to Otto Modersohn, that’s done now. She uses only the initials of her maiden name: Paula Becker. I made this.
A friend from home, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, stops by soon after, catching sight of the new work. He eyes his friend’s swollen belly on canvas with concern. Rilke believes art must trump life. A child would be a disaster.
He should relax. Paula Becker is not pregnant.
* * * * *
Modersohn-Becker painted the first female nude self-portrait in Western history. It is true that Artemisia Gentileschi likely used her own body as the model for her Old Testament heroine in Susanna and the Elders, but that’s not the same thing. In Self-Portrait, Age 30, Modersohn-Becker is her own heroine. She is artist, subject, object, metaphor, nature, and actor.
Compare the not-pregnant, but pregnant-looking artist, here, to her flourishing forebearers in paint: Botticelli’s famous curving Venus in La Primavera, for example. The goddess is not with child, but is part of a (nearly) baffling allegory pertaining to the fertility of all creation. Or consider the female half of The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait by Jan van Eyck. On seeing it (if you have not, trust me), the inevitable first question is, “Why is the bride pregnant?” She’s not. Round-bellied women, believe it or not, were considered the most beautiful.
Though revolutionary, Modersohn-Becker is more than aware of the past. She is Botticelli and his Venus, Jan and his full-bellied bride, in a cold Parisian garret in spring, procreative as all hell.
By the time Modersohn-Becker painted her first nude self-portrait at the age of thirty (she went on to do six more), she’d been grappling seriously with art for a good decade, ambitious from the start.
When I was twenty-two, I read this, written by the artist in 1897 when she was my same age: “I walk along the boulevards and crowds of people pass by and something inside me cries out, ‘The beauty I have before me, none, none, none of you have.’” By the time I read those words, I was in love with New York and in love with the idea of writing, though I’d done little outside the academic.
In a course on German Expressionism, our professor, Gert Schiff, had shown one of Modersohn-Becker’s nude self-portraits and mentioned he’d put a volume of her translated letters and journals on the “class hold” shelf in the library. At the break, I raced upstairs, found the book, and moved it to “my” chair in a study room. Books on class hold could not be checked out.
I spent the next week at my boyfriend’s place on the Upper East Side so I could get to school early and get dibs on the book. Mornings I waited on the cold sidewalk for the building to open, vainly warming my palms on cardboard to-go cups of too-milky tea. Once in my chair upstairs, I devoured Modersohn-Becker’s words, wanting to know, in order to re-create, her recipe for making oneself an artist.
* * * * *
It was her diaries and letters, not her paintings, that first made Modersohn-Becker famous. Rilke, her close friend, refused to act as editor and begged his own publisher not to release them: “For where do they let us learn that this accommodating creature, who met the demands of family communication so compliantly and cooperatively, would, later, seized by the passion of her task, renouncing all else, shoulder loneliness and poverty?”
Where else but in the paintings themselves?
Though the writings don’t always pertain directly to her art, I’m so glad they were revealed. They give us the backstory, and all the conflicted emotion behind that story.
Modersohn-Becker’s father (named—unfortunate in our Harry Potter age—Woldemar) had insisted she train as a governess. There’d be no hinging hopes on marriage, much less the utter fantasy of art. But his driven daughter snuck in art training when and where she could. She never had her father’s blessing (“I don’t believe you will be a divinely inspired artist of the first rank—it would have shown in you well before this”), but then neither did Cézanne.
On her own, Modersohn-Becker discovered the artists’ colony of Worpswede near her hometown. It had been founded in 1889 by two art students, Fritz Mackensen and Otto Modersohn, as part of an embrace of a naturalist movement romantically fixated on nature and the ennobling qualities of shoveling ox dung and burning peat.
It was in Mackensen’s drawing class for his female students that Paula Becker met the sculptor Clara Westhoff in 1899. The young artists became intimate friends, working together, dreaming, talking, planning. They were soon joined by the poet Rilke, who seemed a little in love with them both (“I am with you. Am gratefully with you both, / Who are as sisters to my soul.”). But it was Clara he married.
In Modersohn-Becker’s Portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff, painted in 1905, just a year before her flight to Paris and breakthrough self-portrait, she depicts her friend all in white, a dramatic contrast to her dark hair and the red rose she holds to her chest. The rose was Rilke’s flower, used often in his poems. His wife looks out of the picture to her left, her face a mask of forbearance and longing.
The painting illustrates how crucial ancient art was to Modersohn-Becker’s burgeoning late style. Her figures are simplified, monumental, and timeless. But they also demonstrate her grasp of Modernism’s penetrating psychology, its flatness and powerful form married to mysterious symbol.
Becker often used flowers in her portraits of women, archetypes of nature, of beauty, of femininity, but also mysterious in the way they are often held up for the viewer, a secret sign we sort of understand, the way we comprehend things in dreams.
* * * * *
Modersohn-Becker’s visits to Paris began on January 1, 1900. In the first six months, she wrote effusive letters back to Worpswede, entreating others to come experience the transformative new art there. Several Worpswede artists came, including Otto Modersohn, eleven years her senior and one of the colony’s founders. His sick wife, left abed at home, died three days after he arrived. Three months later, he and Paula Becker were engaged.
Otto Modersohn is sometimes painted as the bad guy in the story of his artist wife, but he loved and admired her. She had a studio outside their home in Worpswede (as did he), painting from nine in the morning until seven at night, with a two-hour break midday for family lunch, prepared by a cook. She had more support than most women artists, of any era. But even with that and with yearly visits to Paris, she struggled. A rural art colony, Worpswede looked backward while Modersohn-Becker saw the future. “She is understood by no one,” wrote her husband, who tried to understand.
While working on her Portrait of Clara Rilke-Westhoff, Modersohn-Becker wrote her mother, “That one is so terribly stuck when one is married is rather hard.” Rilke-Westhoff herself later wrote, “Paula threw one piece of peat on the other through a little squeaking door in the kiln, as one tear after another rolled down her cheek while she explained to me how very important it was for her to be out ‘in the world’ again, to go back to Paris again.
“‘When I think of it, the world’—she said.”
In early 1906, just days after Otto’s birthday, Modersohn-Becker fled Worpswede, intending never to return.
* * * * *
In letters from Paris she begged Otto not to try to win her back. At the same time, she asked for money. As a married woman, she had none of her own.
Practical necessities were a constant problem—food, heat, model’s fees—but still, her art flourished. After only a few months in Paris, she broke through to a powerful new style. Shortly after painting the life-size Reclining Mother and Child II she wrote her sister Milly, ecstatically, “I am becoming something—I am living the most intensely happy period of my life.” Then she asked Milly to send money.
Traditionally, a reclining nude is a come-hither sign of sexual availability, whether cloaked in mythology (Titian’s Venus of Urbino, say) or Orientalizing romanticism (Ingres’s Grande Odalisque) or straight-up prostitution (Manet’s Olympia). In these and hundreds (thousands?) of similar works, a nude woman stares undefended at the viewer, welcoming his gaze. It is impossible to presume the viewer is anything but a man; it is presumed for us.
But in her Reclining Mother and Child, Modersohn-Becker broke with three thousand years of convention. Her mother and child face each other, oblivious to any viewer. They do offer sensuality, but it’s one of food and touch and warmth and animal love. For each other.
Equally groundbreaking, Modersohn-Becker does not fear a woman’s body or what it’s made for. Her monumental mother reclines with breasts, navel, and pubic hair exposed. Her hairstyle and features are undifferentiated, masklike, in imitation of ancient or non-Western sources. She is as timeless as the Venus of Willendorf, which is about how far you have to go back—the Paleolithic—to find a frank and frankly unsexy pubic view.
In addition, the artist has entirely reimagined the nursing mother and child. Not as Virgin suckling a holy (male) child, or as earthy peasant wearily opening her blouse, but as Woman, Mother, Nude offering sustenance and love, and getting those in return from a child whose sex we do not know.
Modersohn-Becker’s nude mothers are powerful and protean, also natural. As artists are. As this artist and woman is.
Critics have sometimes sensed a conservative streak in Modersohn-Becker’s mother and child paintings, an obsession with womanhood’s being bound up in motherhood. But Modersohn-Becker’s vision has a feminist core. She wants it all: art and child.
We don’t know whether the artist was pregnant when she made Reclining Mother and Child II, but she likely was. If not quite yet, then soon.
* * * * *
I remember the very moment I saw Modersohn-Becker’s work for the first time, sitting near the front of the Institute’s lecture space, in the mansion’s former ballroom. Professor Schiff was a few feet away, peering into his notes at the lectern. He’d fought on the German side in World War II, was captured by the French, and then came to New York, where he lived among the bohemians at the Hotel Chelsea. A few years ago I read this by Patti Smith in her memoir Just Kids, from when she lived there: “Occasionally I would bump into Gert Schiff, the German scholar, armed with volumes on Picasso.” I smiled, picturing Schiff just as he was at the lectern twenty years later, hunched over a text on art, rumpled, wry, impassioned.
A slide of Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace popped up, many feet high beside him, the crystal chandeliers and mirrored gilt walls of the room disappearing behind a woman’s pale torso. Schiff glanced up, looked startled, then gave a sigh—of what? Recognition? Admiration? I followed his gaze. An ample nude seen from the waist up, body turned toward us, her eyes cast somewhere to our right. She stands before a sky-blue background filled with vines and flowers. She wears an amber necklace—warm gold against peach skin—and in her pulled-back hair are three small pink flowers. She holds two similar flowers against her chest, the one in her left hand turned upward between her breasts.
“They are,” Schiff said beside her, “nearly the same color and shape as her areolas.” His German accent slipped softly on the s’s.
It looks so clinical written down, but sounded beautiful to me then. Unlike every other nude we’d seen in the course, she was sensual but not sexual, brimming with health and strength. So unlike her Nordic and Germanic peers, slashing, sultry nudes as she-wolves and sex objects, devourers and meat.
I was stunned by the painting, trying to take notes, but not wanting to look away. When Schiff said it was a self-portrait, I almost dropped my pen. When he said that here, this artist was pregnant, I did. Somehow, I hadn’t known such a thing was possible. I didn’t know you could have a child and make great art, I really didn’t. Maybe not entirely a surprise that I didn’t know. Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace is the first pregnant nude self-portrait in history.
Years later, when I was teaching a yearlong Survey of Modern Art course at Portland State, I lingered on Self-Portrait with Amber Necklace with my students, in a lecture hall ten times the size of the old mansion ballroom where I’d first encountered it. Like Schiff, I pointed out the small flowers and the artist’s nipples and how she was, like nature, lovely, generative, eternal. I mentioned the child inside her, and the work without. I glowed at the lectern with admiration for such a woman.
When grading finals, where the painting had been one of the slide IDs, more than one student parroted back what I’d said about it, then added comments about the nipples and flowers like, “Which is weird,” or “I still don’t get why anyone would do that,” or “Maybe being pregnant made her act strange.” I went back and made a small stack of the exams with such comments. They were all male.
* * * * *
Otto Modersohn showed up in Paris unannounced, just a week after his estranged wife had completed her Self-Portrait, Age 30, 6th Wedding Day, signed with just the initials of her maiden name. She was painting Rilke’s portrait—another model she didn’t have to pay for, like herself—when Otto burst in.
In the beginning she resisted his entreaties, but then, finally, she took him back. Who knows why? Money? Loneliness? Love for him?
They lived together in Paris through the summer before moving back to Worpswede. Modersohn-Becker had by then created a handful of revolutionary nudes, including her two self-portraits and the monumental Reclining Mother and Child. And she was well along in her first pregnancy.
Before leaving France that fall, she could have seen exhibitions by Rousseau, who was her neighbor, as well as Courbet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Rodin, Derain, and Matisse. She might have seen the latter’s incendiary Blue Nude just as she was packing up her own revolutionary nudes for her return to a small German art colony still fixated on the previous century. But she was untroubled, certain of her breakthrough.
She did write a chilling letter to her sister Milly in November: “I look at it this way: if the good Lord allows me to create something beautiful once more, I’ll be happy and content just as long as I have a place where I can work in peace, and I will be thankful for what part of love comes my way. As long as one stays healthy, and doesn’t die young.” Possibly no surprise that a woman coming near to giving birth in that era might think of death.
* * * * *
Later that same month, Modersohn-Becker gave birth to a daughter, Mathilde. Photographs show a beaming mother and screaming baby, both healthy and thriving.
The mother and artist kept telling visitors: “You should see her in the nude!”
As was common practice, the new mother was put on two weeks of complete bed rest. After one week, she complained of leg pains. After two, she was allowed up. She braided her hair, weaving roses in it, and asked for her daughter. Suddenly she was in pain. She raised one leg, then collapsed. Her last words: What a pity.
Every graphic, like every story, has a point of view, and New York is rife with map-making possibilities, thick with mythology, and glutted with history. You Are Here: NYC assembles some two hundred maps charting every inch and facet of the five boroughs, depicting New Yorks of past and present, and a city that never was. A Nightclub Map of Harlem traces a boozy night from the Radium and the Cotton Club to the Savoy and then the Lafayette; Wonders of New York pinpoints three hundred sites of interest, including the alleged location of Captain Kidd’s buried treasure; the Ghostbusters subway map plots the route from Astral Projections Place to Stay Puft Street; and a rejected proposal of ornate topiaries illustrates a Central Park that might have been.
Take a peek at a few of the maps included in this unique tour of NYC.
You Are Here: NYC – Mapping the Soul of the City by Katharine Harmon is out now | Princeton Architectural Press
Labels are sticky. They’re great for organizing your cupboard; but when people put clingy, hard-to-remove labels on themselves, it can prevent creative growth. And sometimes labels have incorrect information! That’s why what’s inside the can matters. Your inner critic may have slapped on any number of labels: “Imposter,” “Just a Mom,” “Cubicle-Dweller,” “Self-Taught Amateur,” “Art School Dropout.” It’s time to get some warm, soapy water and start peeling those limiting labels off, so that we can see what’s actually inside.
WARNING: THIS LABEL MAY STOP YOU BEFORE YOU START.
Before we talk about the contents of the canned goods, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common labels. These are a handful of the stickiest culprits who, for some misguided reason, think they get to cover the entire surface of the can. Well, I’m sorry, but labels can’t have that kind of real estate. You can be more than one thing at a time! You’re not “just” a mom, a student, an accountant, a retired schoolteacher. You’re so many things— including creative. Let’s take a peek at the fine print:
“I’m a parent.”
This is big. But wearing this very important label doesn’t mean that you can’t be other things, too. Being a parent can be all-consuming. It can also be—it will also be—exhausting. And when you’re consumed and exhausted, it’s likely that your art practice or even all your creative urges will get pushed to the back burner. It’s difficult to find time and energy for creative pursuits when you have your parental label on, but you will be a happier parent and a better one if you give yourself time and space to be a creative person, too. The key in this situation is speed! You don’t have time for huge creative projects (don’t worry, you will again), so finding quick hits of creativity is what you need. An Instagram a day is a great place to start, because let’s face it, you probably have your phone out to take zillions of photos of those sweet little faces in your life. (There is a list of thirty jump-starter ideas in chapter 8 if you need a little help deciding what to photograph each day.)
Another thing that your artist’s soul will thank you for: one hour a week that is just for you. Not one hour to catch up on errands, or sleep, but one hour to feed your creative needs. Ask your partner to stay with the kids, or get a sitter. Now leave the house! Spend that weekly hour in a place that inspires you creatively: a gallery, a beautiful bookshop, an artsy café, the beach. Bring a notebook and jot down any thoughts that come to mind. As the kids get older, these outings can happen more frequently and last longer. And then, when you emerge from the sleep-deprivation stage, you won’t be starting from scratch— you will have enough of these inspiring hours under your belt that when you do have a bit more time, you’ll be ready with an entire notebook full of starting points.
“I work in a cubicle.”
This just in: You can be a creative person who also works in a cubicle. It’s true. All sorts of people have “non-creative desk jobs” and are insanely creative the minute the clock strikes five. Whether you enjoy your day job or not, making time and space to be creative will bring you joy. You are probably tired at the end of a long day, and the weight of your “I work in a cubicle” label may be dragging you down, but it should not be used as an excuse. It’s as simple as this: If you want to create, make time to create. Schedule it. Use the program you book meetings with to book creative meetings with yourself. Thirty minutes a day, one hour a day, whatever you can fit into that week. Mark Bradley-Shoup, a practicing artist and lecturer at the University of Tennessee, has some really smart advice for his students who are about to graduate. He tells them that, even once they have a full-time job, they also need to treat their studio practice like a job. It’s not frivolous; it’s important. He advises them to block off as many hours each week as can fit into their schedules, and then commit to being in the studio for that amount of time. No excuses. You show up on time for your desk job every day, and you need to show up on time for your creative life, too.
“I live in a tiny town.”
Hey, me too! And also, who cares? Thanks to the Internet, the world has gotten a whole lot smaller. Publishers in New York can find you through your blog, and galleries in Paris can find you through your Instagram feed. I have to be honest: For a long time, I worried that I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist or curator unless I lived in a cool loft in Brooklyn. As much as I love New York, that delusional excuse isn’t even close to the truth. Can you imagine if every creative person in the world lived on the same corner of the planet? Different places give different perspectives. No matter where you are, own that perspective, and see it as a strength.
“It’s too late.”
You don’t have to drop everything you’ve been doing for the last however many years, go back to college, write the next great fiction novel or paint a masterpiece for the Louvre by next week. Start by adding thirty minutes of creativity to each day. That may mean one drawing per day, one photo per day, or even plating the perfect meal each evening—whatever it is, make a tiny bit of time for this new creative endeavor. It may lead to an entirely new life that you didn’t even know was waiting for you.
“I’m a fraud.”
No matter what field you’re in, you may feel this way; it doesn’t apply only to the creative world. Any time you push yourself to do something new, something out of your comfort zone, you run the risk of feeling like a fraud or an imposter. What if people do find out that you weren’t trained at the best culinary school in France? You just happen to be really good at making pastry. And this is not just an issue for self-taught people, either. Someone with a BFA in painting might feel like a giant imposter if he/she decided to take up photography, or wedding planning, or even art curating. I was walking around with a giant “Imposter” label on my forehead when I curated my first few shows. I don’t have a PhD in curatorial studies; what if someone found out? They did.
No one cared. I worked hard and loved what I was doing, and, slowly but surely, the imposter label slid right off (maybe it was all the sweat). Ask for help, or fake it till you make it—either way will work. If you love what you’re doing, keep doing it. Eventually you’ll become an expert.
These are a few of the most common labels that we slap on and may have a hard time seeing beyond; but, as you will see, there is so much more to each of us than these one-liners. Acknowledging, and owning, these labels is the first step in transforming them from creativity-halting excuses into a fascinating part of your unique story: You may be a parent from a small town who is also an insanely talented painter, or a self-taught musician who works in a cubicle by day and plays in blues clubs at night. Decide which part of the fine print you’re proud of and which bits are slowing you down. This is a description of you, after all. Make sure that all of your information is included and correct.
Your Inner Critic Is a Big Jerk: And Other Truths About Being Creative by Danielle Krysa | Chronicle Books | Out Now.
Kate Forrester, illustrator behind the bold illustrations in Celtic Tales, talks inspiration, loving what you do and the beauty that comes from stepping out of your comfort zone.
Every now and then I get sent a commission that really allows me to push the boat out and create something really special. So often my jobs are very heavily art directed and don’t require as much imagination as you would think but this was no such project.
Before I had even got my hands on the manuscript, I knew this project was going to be right up my street! When i spoke to Emily, the designer from Chronicle, I knew we would be approaching this with the same vision. As well as illustrating the stories, she wanted me to design various patterns and bring the traditional Celtic knot work into my work and those are the kind of details i adore. I knew that it would work well to keep the illustration quite simple and the colours flat – my work is often likened to paper cuts or silhouette art – so this balanced nicely with the decorative borders and end papers she had in mind. Despite the traditional nature of the tales, I knew from the start that i didn’t want my illustrations to be too quaint or conventional so this was a challenge to overcome.
Once I read the manuscript, I was even more excited to be asked to illustrate such a rich collection of stories. There were sea monsters, princesses and even a 3 headed giant! Being very character driven, it was quite different to my usual commissions which tend to involve hand lettering as the main starting point. But it was refreshing to do something different and out of my comfort zone.
As luck would have it, right about the time I accepted this job,there was a big exhibition at The British Museum on the art and identity of The Celts. It was such a perfect start to my research. The exhibition was brilliant – dark and atmospheric and featuring lots of knot patterned metal and ceramic tools in pleasing shapes.
The way I work is to sketch out the rough layout of each story illustration using pencil and pen on paper and fill in heavy areas of dark shades to make sure they are more or less balanced designs. I do not keep my sketches and they are not beautiful!
But I was happy to know that my roughs were accepted pretty much as they were with very little amends before moving on to the final images.
The next stage for me was to develop the colour scheme as this was to tie all the tales together and was to be quite limited (I think there are only 8 or 9 shades in the whole book.) I also saw this as a chance to inject a more modern element to the book with some nice clashing shades of coral pink and mustard yellow. Colour is always important in my work but for this project it was vital to get it right!
I guess the most laborious (but satisfying!) part of the task was researching and re-imagining the Celtic knot borders. Luckily my research at the British Museum had left me with a wealth of books and visual reference to draw from. Once the 16 designs were complete, the cover was a breeze. I simply chose my 4 favourite characters from the stories and used them as a starting point to fit in the rough layout given to me by Emily.
We tried a few different colour ways but i was very pleased when my favourite coral and teal version was chosen for the final jacket.
It was a dream project and I was so excited when the final book landed on my desk this week. I just hope everyone else enjoys reading those crazy , wonderful tales as much as I did!
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping,
suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door . . .
Paper engineer, David Pelham, has re-imagined Edgar Alan Poe‘s haunting poem; The Raven, through incredible paper craft; he is here today to share the process and inspiration for creating this awe inspiring book.
UNDER THE SPELL OF ‘THE RAVEN’ by David Pelham
In the grey drab days of the late 1930s my earliest memory took shape from within the confines of an iron-framed, high-sided hospital bed. Three years old and recovering from an emergency operation, I was visited by a very kind but rather gaunt giant of an uncle in a dark overcoat. I can still see him looming above me as he reached deep into his pocket, slowly withdrawing the most wonderful, the most dazzling and exciting toy I had ever seen: a toy that awoke in me a visual sense that has influenced and enhanced my life ever since.
It was a magical clockwork butterfly, its shiny tin wings printed in rainbow colours. To me it was the toy-most toy imaginable, joyful and strange, with wings flapping, colours blurring and merging to make more colours. This thrilling piece of clockwork poetry delighted me as it flitted noisily about upon my bed-tray, while outside the dark clouds of war were gathering ominously.
Today, over seventy years later, I still vividly recall my infant joy at the sight of my wonderful tin butterfly, and I believe that something of its bright colours and the visual excitement it gave me during those dark days have stayed with me, and have had a strong influence on my novelty books for the young.
I have had a lifelong passion for kites; their design, construction, performance, and, of course, their bright colours. In the mid 1970s while art director of Penguin Books I wrote The Penguin Book of Kites which is still in print today. This book later led on to a further large-format volume called Kites to Make and Fly, published in 1981 by Pan Books. When detached, the pages could be cut, folded and glued to create ten kites.
During the process of designing these paper kites I became captivated by the creative potential offered by the simple, low-tech immediacy of constructing three-dimensional sculptural forms out of nothing more than folded paper and glue. After an intensive period of self-instruction and exciting experimentation I found that my hitherto flat creative efforts were almost magically lifting off the page as pop-up entities into a dramatic extra dimension. This discovery had set me free, and my love-affair with pop-up books and paper engineering began.
The idea of treating Edgar Allan Poe’sThe Raven in pop-up form was first suggested to me in 2013 by my wife, Jacqui Graham. Jacqui works closely with Clive James and would regularly check James’s sales on the Amazon bestseller list and elsewhere. While doing so she was struck by how often The Raven topped the poetry charts both in the UK and the US. After some further checking she was also struck by the number of distinguished translations of the poem that exist.
As she knew that my interest in the works of Edgar Allen Poe goes back to my schooldays, and that I had previously considered other Gothic ideas, she suggested that The Raven might make an interesting proposition. As usual she was right, and I spent the next six months or so pondering on the notion, assessing how best to distribute the eighteen wonderful stanzas of the poem through the seven spreads of the book in such a way as to maximise the drama, impact and dimensional potential of each spread while completely respecting and staying true to the text.
So vivid is the imagery of the text it was not long before I had the book planned and, while the paper engineering had its challenges, the structure of each individual tableau began to slowly emerge from the seven spreads of the book.
Pop-up books vary widely in complexity, and the degree of complexity obviously very largely governs the cost to the publisher, The Raven is a complex book with some very challenging assemblies and, while designing the book wasn’t easy, the real work starts when the printer is sent a blank dummy of the proposal. This assembled blank is accompanied by a make-up sheet showing all the die-cut shapes arranged jig-saw style. The pieces are grouped along with the concertina pages into which the pieces will eventually be fitted.
These sheets are generally referred to as ‘nesting sheets’, and if the complex die-cut pieces exceed the available area on the sheet then it’s back to the drawing board for modifications. This takes time of course, so the designer is then caught between – not so much as a rock and a hard place – but more between a budget and a schedule.
On receiving the designer’s blank dummy and the nesting sheet, the printer then cuts and assembles a number of copies of the blank, carefully timing the assembly process in order to help establish an overall manufacturing cost.
Several of these dummies are then sent to the publisher and the designer for approval. Much later they will send out printed proof sheets for the approval of the designer and the illustrator.
From the outset of The Raven project I had hoped to persuade the artist and engraver Christopher Wormell to illustrate the book. I had admired his work for many years yet had neither met nor worked with him. Prior to our first meeting – in order to convey something of the illustrative technique I wanted – I prepared a further dummy by montaging each spread with blowups of Victorian engravings to suggest the mood I had in mind. To my delight Christopher was very enthusiastic, and I knew at that moment that this book was no longer ‘my’ book but ‘our’ book, and that with Christopher on board it could become very special.
Communicating mainly by email I would send Christopher the refined die-cut shapes showing my rough drawings, along with reference material and so forth, and by return I would receive his preliminary sketches. These were magnificent, strong and assured drawings of such confidence and brilliance that they constantly brought to mind my complete dismay that drawing, the rudimentary skill of visual creativity, is – to our shame – no longer taught in our art schools.
Drawing is the discipline that lies at the very root of creative endeavour, as important to artists, designers, architects, engineers and scientists as is the written word. Similarly in music the understanding, appreciation and practice of scales and chords must form the rudiments of any real musician’s craft, so the ability to draw is essential to any real artist or designer.
The study of drawing not only concerns itself with making marks, it also develops scrutiny and perception, sharpening our ability to look rather than to simply see. It is an essential skill; a means of enhancing our perception of the physical world around us; a skill that helps us not only to observe, but also to convey, develop and present our creative concepts.
Although Christopher had never previously tackled the demands of a pop-up book he took to the task quickly and positively, constantly providing work that far surpassed that which was expected from the brief.
Some months later I was holding an assembled pass-proof, apprehensively turning each page, carefully scrutinising each little tableau in turn, checking that every one of my detailed adjustments had been carried out by the printer, the die makers and the assembly teams. All was in order. I was holding the result of three years of intensive work in my hands and it felt good.
The Raven: A Pop-up Book is out now. Find out more and buy your copy on our website.
This Saturday marks 400 Years since Shakespeare died. His influence can be felt in language, literature, popular culture and even in the narrative of English history.
At A&CB we have the privilege of working with some incredible books influenced by the Bard. Take a peek at a few of our favourites:
Cat Winters’ The Steep & Thorny Way,a thrilling reimagining of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, tells the story of a murder most foul and the mighty power of love and acceptance in a state gone terribly rotten.
“It was a beautiful book. With a beautiful story. I couldn’t have loved it more than I did. The Steep and Thorny Way is one of a kind.”Carina Olsen, Book Blogger
A skull held aloft, a lovesick donkey, a bloodied dagger: these familiar icons are instantly recognisable shorthand for the plays of William Shakespeare. In the four hundred years since his death, the Bard of Avon’s exalted place in the pantheon of theatre and poetry— indeed, all of Western culture— is unequaled.
This incredible new book from Princeton Architectural Press; Presenting Shakespeare, collects 1,100 posters for Shakespeare’s plays, designed by an international roster of artists representing 55 countries, from Japan to Colombia, India, Russia, Australia and beyond.
A Treasure Trove of Art, Design and the Bard.
In his engaging new collection, National Book Award finalist Gary Soto creates poems that each begin with a line from Shakespeare and then continue in Soto’s fresh and accessible verse. Drawing on moments from the sonnets, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream , Romeo and Juliet , and others, Soto illuminates aspects of the source material while taking his poems in directions of their own, strategically employing the colour of thee” and “thine,” kings, thieves, and lovers.
Why shouldn’t you put your very own stamp on the classics?
With Knock Knock’s Love Sonnets by William Shakespeare and You, you get a chance to co-author legendary works of art right alongside lauded literary luminaries. Simply fill in the blanks with whatever sentiments you decide complete the work most fittingly, and voil! You’ve created a new literary masterpiece.
and of course, the Shakespeare Insult Generator! What could be better than insulting your friends and enemies in the Bard’s witty tongue? Nothing! You apish, beast-eating, abomination.
What is your favourite Shakespeare inspired book? Let us know on Twitter #Shakespiration.
The newest release from kate spade new york is all about throwing chic, stylish get-together’s…kate spade style!
From the entertaining (the music, the table, the guest list…)
to the food (wining and dining for all occasions)
to minding your manners (modernly!)
to showing off your style (it’s more than the stuff you own…)
all in good taste is the guide every modern hostess needs and it is a thing of beauty to boot!
So where do you start? start by setting the scene!
make preparing for the party as fun as the big event, with charming twists and personal touches designed to surprise and delight.
pick one thing and do it en masse1:
♦ string a thousand fairy lights above the garden.
♦ put out one hundred pillar candles.
♦ cover a table in six tiered cake stands instead of one.
♦ coat a ceiling in helium balloons (or hang at least thirty).
♦ fill large hurricane vases with foil-wrapped chocolates.
♦ cluster three christmas trees together for the holidays.
♦ place one or two disco balls on the floor of every room to cast a slight shimmer on white walls.
then, around the house, add a few extra touches:
♦ replace overhead and lamp lightbulbs with flattering twenty-five-watt bulbs.
♦ put a discreet piece of tape over dimmer light switches once you’ve set the mood.
♦ write “hello gorgeous” on the bathroom mirror in red lipstick.
♦ hook nice wooden hangers on your shower rod to turn it into a coat check.
♦ place floating candles in the bathtub (if not using the bathtub rail as coat rack).
♦ lay a fancy ashtray outside for smokers.
♦ lightly perfume the air by simmering fruits and spices on the stove (orange, cinnamon and cloves in winter; lime, thyme and mint in summer).
♦ adorn the bathroom with a dish of mints, box of tissues, crisp hand towels, extra rolls of toilet paper, a fresh gardenia2 in a bud vase and a chic bottle of liquid hand soap.
“i decorate the house to the gills. it’s quite unusual because we have all these toys that dance and sing.
people don’t let me put it a way so i keep it all up for months. i believe christmas is a state of mind. “ iris apfel
any obscure, weird, vintage or hybrid thing you want, you can probably order from etsy.
a gardenia is one of the world’s most fragrant flowers.
all in good taste by kate spade new york is out now. Find out more & order your copy on our website.
Author and artist Jayme McGowan is here to talk about how she made her beautiful picture book; One Bear Extraordinaire.
One Bear Extraordinaire is the story of Bear, a rambling one-man band, who wakes up one morning with a song in his head, but as he tries to play it, discovers that something is missing.
He packs up his camp, stuffs all of his instruments into his backpack and sets off in search of the mysterious missing thing. He meets other musicians along the way and comes to learn that every song sounds sweeter with friends by his side.
The seed of the story sprouted from an image I had drawn of a bear with a backpack over-stuffed with musical instruments. I developed the text of the story from there and the rest of the images followed.
I created the art using a process called “three-dimensional” illustration: I begin with a rough graphite sketch. Then, using colored pencils, I fill in the sketch – trying out different combinations of color to find the right palette. Once I’ve settled on a palette, I pull colored paper from my ever-growing collection of new and repurposed paper. I also hand painted many of the paper elements using watercolors.
I use graphite transfer paper to move the sketch outline onto the colored paper and then add details with ink and colored pencil. I cut out each piece of paper by hand and carefully assemble the pieces using tweezers and glue in order to build my characters, layer by layer. I then stage miniature scenes in a paper theater, using wire and clothespins to hold everything in place. When the scene is complete, I take dozens of photographs with a variety of camera settings, lenses, and light.
For our Bookstore of the Week are are taking you on a tour of Koenig Books Ltd, this is THE place for art, architecture and photography books and thoroughly deserving of the accolade Bookstore Of The Week.
An inspiring, German-owned independent bookshop specialising in art, architecture and photography books Koenig Books is a European institution. In London they have three branches; the original London branch is based in the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, a small branch in the Whitechapel Gallery and, our favourite, the newest store on Charing Cross Road. The latter is done out stylishly in black and every book is given space to show off its beautiful facade; books are displayed with their covers rather than spines facing out.
Koenig are known for their huge selection of interesting coffee table books, on topics like art, fashion and design. But they also stock a great collection of non-fiction titles on art theory and a good selection of rare magazines. It’s also a good place to find independent books by small publishers, handmade titles and zines.
It’s luxurious displays and wonderful selection of books cater to all price ranges and they always have a good selection of books at reduced prices in the basement. Plus, all of the London branches of Koenig have full access to the stock of mammoth arts bookshop Buchhandlung Walther Koenig in Cologne, so if you can’t find what you want they can order it in for you!
If you are interested in the arts this is a bookshop not to be missed, we always find ourselves delighted and mesmerised by their selection of books. Have you visited? Let us know what you thought!