Archive

Observed

We know, we know. We still don’t update regularly – but we will, once the seasonal madness is over (which mostly means everyone wants to finish everything before New Year). However, we have a treat for you today. A while ago the Museum of Gdynia showed an exhibition of old Christmas cards from the time of People’s Republic of Poland (which we missed) and then printed a book about the phenomenon (which we failed to buy – still beating ourselves up about that). But we did buy a few of the reprinted cards in the gift shop and wanted to share them with you.

They were drawn by amazing Polish illustrators, working in traditional techniques and evoking an atmosphere of Christmases long ago: snowy countrysides, carollers, things that were already becoming a thing of the past as the cards were drawn. This generation of illustrators also coupled skilled observation with a subtle sense of humor. Enjoy!

Józef Wilkoń and a countryside sleigh ride.

Zbigniew Rychlicki, depicting a Christmas decorations stall – the thing that has definitely not become one of the past and is even multiplying, together with all the Christmas fairs.

And our favorite, Adam Kilian, working in his own, unique technique reminiscent of classic etching.

Check back later this week for our own Christmas card of this year and have a good pre-Christmas time!

First of all, we heartily apologize for the unseemly hiatus. In addition to the usual deadlines and organizational problems, this time included a hospital stay and recovery and this really messed up our schedule. Anyway, we’re back now and today we wanted to show you one of the books from our bookshelf that is frequently reached for by both us and our kids.

It is a full collection of little rhymed theater plays written by one of the best and funniest Polish writers for kids, Jan Brzechwa. Not only are these plays great reading, they were also incredibly illustrated by Magda Kozieł-Nowak and while scores of illustrators have tackled Brzechwa’s iconic poems, her illustrations have quickly become one of our favorites.

The best of these little plays retell famous fairy tales: Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Red Riding Hood and others, in humorous and modernized versions. Kozieł-Nowak’s illustrations capture the whimsical storytelling and fill its world with hand-painted characters full of life and personality. She has a great touch for watercolors (or maybe gouache? or poster paint? looks water-based) and adapting illustrations to page layouts. And while the style of the book is consistent, each play has little visual features that differentiate it from the other ones. We feel this book deserves more recognition for all the fun it provides.

Cover page.
The prince from Princess and the Pea. Look at how the paint and the paper texture are used. Also, the little dog.
You have to love this wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.
Puss in Boots must be our favorite with the use of those swirly lines reminding us of French 18th century fashion. That, and this hair, of course. Such intelligent illustrations.

It’s this season again! The season to talk about seasons. Last year we showed you the amazing book by Blexbolex, this year a different one, but just as much of a treat: My Four Seasons by one of the most recognizable and recognized Polish illustrators, Dawid Ryski.

The book can serve as a season primer, telling a story of a five-person family (the fifth person being the dog) and how they experience all the seasons of the year. It’s told through simple yet lavish illustrations in Dawid Ryski’s characteristic style, which includes masterful simplification that does not eliminate detail and beautiful color palettes. We especially appreciate the ability to make all the seasons seem appealing because, let’s face it, they’re not all created equal. Don’t even try to convince us they are. But at least they all fuel gorgeous illustrations!

As you can see, there are so many things to love about this book: how all the environments, while different, are consistent when it comes to colors and the level of details, how there’s something fun to do in every season and the sweet, idyllic picture of a family life.

With the pandemic limiting access to art events, we have recently learnt of a fantastic one, and held in the open so it’s virus-free. It is a part of a women art festival and this particular outdoor installation has been created by our friend, Anita Wasik. After childbirth she took up embroidery and developed it now into a project integrated into a beautiful green area in Gdynia.

The installation is called Genesis and consists of 12 embroidered objects the author half-jokingly calls “pussies” that have been installed into 12 tree hollows. You can walk around the park and find them, on purpose or by accident. We love this project for two quite different reasons. One is that it looks fantastic. And also shows mad embroidering skills. The other one is more political: it feels like in some environments anything relating to either women or nature these days is, if not downright dismissed or met with hostility, at least considered a lesser subject. So art which manages to combine these subjects, potentially opening a door for an interesting discussion about the relationship between the feminine and the natural, but without being obvious and ugly, as political art often is, get our highest marks. Also, we love trees and tree hollows, so this endears the project to us even more.

If you happen to be in Gdynia this summer make sure to check out Genesis.

(All photos courtesy of the author.)

Continuing our post-Christmas nostalgia, this week we want to share a lovely picture book that our son got from Santa, Lots by Marc Martin (it’s translated as “A Million Things” into Polish so the cover looks rather different).

Each spread shows an interesting place on Earth: some are about cities, some about natural territories, picking out curios, fascinating animals and memorable constructions for an idiosyncratic, personal catalog of the wonders of the world. The illustrations are painted with a mix of lightness and precision, with distinct color palettes that don’t shy away from gray (as watercolor painters sometimes do). The author’s enthusiasm (if not uncritical) for the variety and richness of the things that make up our world is contagious.

Antarctic, water paints work great to show ice and water.
I have a feeling that in the original book everything was written by hand but the typeface chosen for translation actually works surprisingly well.
The wonders of Asia.
Paris, how we miss you!

As Santa was generous with our book gifts this year, we are happy to share the first one: a monograph on Stockholm Design Lab, a studio from, you guessed it, Stockholm, who we’ve been admiring for a while. Their truly impressive portfolio of work includes nothing less than the identity for the Nobel Prize.

The book is also impressive in its own right: solid, hefty, generous with white space, leaving you a lot of air to admire the designs. It is not afraid to spend an entire spread on a single blown-out image and it even uses hotstamping inside the book. Yes, inside. SDL’s designs are characterized by a certain austerity, minimalism and focus on ideas that is sometimes hard to pull off in client work and that makes it all the more impressive that these designs came into existence.

A case of the beautiful golden hotstamping inside. There are more.

CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-01

This month’s re:commendation comes illustrated as we are sharing a beautiful picture book by Coralie Bickford-Smith, The Song of the Tree. Ms. Bickford-Smith is the incredibly talented designer behind our beloved Penguin Clothbound Classics, many of which decorate our bookshelves (still not as many as we would like). She uses her skill with ornaments here as well to tell a poetic story of a bird, a tree and the tree’s other inhabitants.

CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-02CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-03CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-04

This is a lovely story about growing up and opening up to one’s surroundings. And we are especially awed by the design and illustrative skill exhibited here as well as by the careful attention paid to the print production. The book is printed with three spot colors creating a vivid, yet minimalist color palette. (It is also clothbound.) Each spread is a carefully planned composition, wowing with the level of detail and reminiscent of the work of a printmaking artist. Finally, something both we and our older son enjoyed immensely, the spreads reward the reader for paying close attention: various characters of the story – the different animals inhabiting the tree – appear and reappear throughout the pages. Sometimes you need to look for them more closely, which recreates the excitement of the explorer in a wilderness (or how we imagine it, anyway). This is one of the prettiest books we’ve acquired for a long time.

CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-07CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-06CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-08CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-11CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-10CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-09CBSmith-song_of_the_tree-book-end

milton-glaser-stencil-1929-2020

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Milton Glaser, one of the icons of the twentieth and twenty first century design. He’s been one of our idols and we’ve been admiring some of his work at least since design school. Milton Glaser was an accomplished teacher and spoke wisely about design and other issues. We were particularly impressed with his adherence to the philosophy of abundance (honestly, something we could all use more of). Even though we understand why some people call for a new approach to the history of design, less focused on individual creators and more on movements and communities, giants like Milton Glaser prove that it will always be necessary to celebrate the genius of individual people. We hope Milton’s heaven is beautifully designed!

And here are some of the most iconic (or most fun) Glaser designs.

Our favorite bar none, the celebrated Dylan poster for Columbia Records. Not only is it a wonderfully memorable image, it’s about Dylan.

redesign-glaser-dylan

A pasta ad poster which looks better than a whole lot of fine art we’ve seen.

redesign-glaser-pasta

A poster for the School of Visual Arts, with such a smart use of the very matter of poster.

redesign-glaser-secret_of_art

Of course Glaser’s probably most famous design is his I ♥ NY logo that he used for this 2001 poster calling for solidarity in New York.

redesign-glaser-nymore

An identity for Minneapolis Institute of Arts that recalls the architecture of the school.redesign-glaser-mia_logo

Glaser created a bunch of fun typefaces that played with the modernist letter. This is his famous Glaser Stencil:

redesign-glaser-stencil

And Baby Teeth, the more experimental one, was used for instance on the Dylan poster.

redesign-glaser-baby_teeth

Finally, Glaser was one of several (but not many) designers who created the full set of Shakespeare covers. His illustrations have a poetic quality.

redesign-glaser-shakespeare_covers

(And a little tribute to the Dylan poster. Here‘s our original Dylan artwork to make the context clear.)

milton-glaser-dylan-by-redesign-studio