i recently started working with a graphic designer who also happens to be a type designer.
a talented guy. working with him and talking about design have brought back memories about my design education, primarily about its formalism and especially the ‘manual’ part of my education. that is to say, the making. i was trained to make, to execute special formal exercises: drawing a letter, mixing a color, setting lead type. all to ensure we could present our ideas, understand the process and make a beautifully executed design and so that we would be knowledgeable about the myriad trades we would encounter as a designer. we were graded specifically on craftsmanship. i had wonderful opportunities to witness great designers do their magic. armin hoffmann stands out as one who had an extraordinary ability to execute his ideas. i once watched him cut out of black paper the perfect ’n’. truly, it was a marvel. the ’n’ was the first letter that we would start with in drawing a new typeface, but before we would get to the letter ’n’, we first had to master drawing straight lines, then diagonal lines, then a half circle and full circles, before we could even begin to start drawing a typeface. i have always enjoyed the making. for years, it was i who made the comps for our presentations. the images collected here are just that—comps. these are renderings, little paintings of book covers. remarkable, in fact. another find from the 26th street flea market here in new york. i have spent many an hour at this flea market and have seen it decrease in size over the years. it used to encompass four parking lots and one interior garage. you could wander for most of the day. these are just a selection of the many pages of book covers painted by an unknown chinese designer or artist. the skill and execution are remarkable. my days at making never resulted in anything quite this amazing.
i was fortunate to have taken chris van allsberg’s pen and ink classes at risd, in which you spent a great deal of time drawing—and i mean the most exacting kind of drawing. if you are familiar with his work, you know what i mean. i wasn’t terribly good, though i believe i was on the other side of competent. mind you, this was thirty years ago and long before chris had attained the stature he holds today. while drawing, i would often play a game with myself. i was using a dip pen then and occasionally a blob of ink would fall where it wasn’t supposed to. if this happened, i would stare at that blob and wonder what drawing could emerge from it. a face, a hand, an image that would come from the imagination rather than drawing what i saw. when i bought these cards, this memory returned to me. i have written about similar playing cards before but what makes this deck special is that each card is hand-drawn and unique. each card is a unique work of art. it’s a folk art deck and the cards, with the exception of the face cards, exhibit the most original depiction of each suit. every card is a canvas that tells a story: the fishermen; men riding donkeys; fencers and more. it’s like exploring someone’s truly wonderful imagination.
i don’t have an interesting story about these cards. i was not rummaging in an attic. i was not at some far-flung flea market. alas, they were found on ebay. evil ebay. it’s a love/hate relationship. i recall visiting a bookshop, a small one upstate, at a time when my partner still joined me in the hunt— a time long ago. i discovered a book with an alvin lustig jacket, one from the new direction series. lovely. not sure which one but they’re always hard to find and this one had no price. i brought it over to the dealer and he told me to wait a moment. he went to his computer—this was very early internet days—and brought up bookfinder.com. he typed in the title and voilà, a dozen examples of the book appeared. five dollars to fifty five. i was blown away. the search was forever altered. ebay has refined its search engine and now proposes ‘you might like.’ among the search results appear, i generally opt for ‘other items from seller.’ that’s how i found these cards. needless to say, i was in awe. i hope you are, too.
a primary love of mine is the czech avant-garde. i have many wonderful examples that i intend to share. here are four covers of typ, a journal for the printing industry. a friend in prague who deals in the czech avant-garde and whom i met through ebay said the following about this publication:
“it’s an unusual magazine as it was aimed at ‘yuppies,’ young people in sales and printing industries, etc. making some cash in the ‘30s—almost like a lifestyle mag for people in those emerging employment areas. published by sfinx – b.janda, i think it began circa 1926 and ran for many years. jindrich styrsky was very associated with sfinx covers and made a lot of their book covers anonymously. i’m in agreement with some other opinions that many ‘30s typ covers are by styrsky, usually the black-&-white ones with a large black-&-white photo in the center column. yours look later and styrsky died in 1942, so my guess is they are not styrsky.”
there are many reason why i find these cover engaging but primarily it has to do with type and image: the wonderful juxtaposition of the photo with typography. these are as fresh today as they must have been in 1947 when they were done.
stamps Viagra. mail. packages. paper. string. labels. writing. they all interest me. over the years when i travel i have actually mailed packages back to myself. empty pacakges no less. quite the confession, no? the united states postal service has so many restrictions on mailing a package. i have found none when mailing packages from other countries. take string for instance. forget about using string in the united states. when dealing with postal clerks in new york city, it might be better to have a root canal. mailing a package is a trying experience here in new york. every clerk seems to have their own rules. i have had one clerk refuse to mail my package and then returned to the line and gotten a different clerk and they accepted it. crazy. anyway i love seeing the markings that occur when a package is sent. in attending postal shows i learned so much about cancelations and their purmutations. there are dozen of books devoted to the subject. since i have been an avid ebayer and purchasing stuff worldwide i tend to save the packing envelopes. save. collect? that question is most certainly a future post. i have dozen upon dozen of these envelopes and packages. why? i wish i knew.