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Yesterday we went to Ikea to search for some unexciting stuff for our bathroom and it took us so long that we didn’t have time to go to the cafeteria. But we were hungry so we dropped by the food store to buy cookies. And boy, was it a great decision.

A few years ago we found online a gorgeous cooking book Ikea published as promo material with cookie recipes and the most beautiful minimalistic photos of food we’d ever seen. You might have seen this one: with all the ingredients arranged in geometric patterns. We ogled the photos and admired the idea but were sure the book was not available as such outside of Sweden. Well, as you have sure figured out by now, this is exactly the book we spotted among Swedish jams and cookies, and quite cheap at that. We pretty much squealed with delight (and I clearly saw two guys looking at us like “ew, crazy people”). Even though we didn’t exactly buy what we’d gone for, the trip was an unquestionable success.

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The book has thirty recipes, each illustrated with the spread with ingredients and one with the finished product. All photos are great but the ones with ingredients are particularly memorable. It had virtually zero impact on our decision to buy the book but the recipes actually look quite inviting too.

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(And yes, we bought the mice starring in the photos for our baby, who’s not big enough for cake or cookies yet.)

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If you’ve been following us for a while you might have noticed that we are huge fans of Marianna Oklejak, an illustrator whose style mixes freshness of children’s drawings and adult humor. Every now and then we share her work and time has come to show you our newest acquisition (well, we got it for Christmas but it still counts as new).

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This is a special book in that Oklejak is for a change not illustrating someone else’s work but doing that whole illustrator-as-author thing. And she’s great at it! She draws inspiration from Polish folk art and reinterprets its motifs.

Polish folk art is quite rich and can be visually exciting. Every region had its motifs, color schemes and ornaments, as well as unique techniques of decorating things. This tradition withered to a large extent when people got more interested in the “modern”, industrial design. Folk art got relegated to decorating tourist souvenirs and became viewed as embarrassing. But it’s been having a sort of renaissance now that many designers, particularly interior designers and such, began to draw inspiration from the traditional motifs in a modern way (which also gets trashy sometimes, but often it works amazingly).

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Oklejak’s book uses folk motifs as elements of her fun compositions but adds an educational element. The spread above simply shows various types of local headgear (and only the one with peacock feathers is at all recognizable these days).

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This awesome spread uses stripes from traditional skirts as elements of a landscape full of fields (which is also a typical Polish landscape so that works great).

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Two different folk dance spreads! Do they play Polish folk? (Hopefully not, it’s not great.)

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Traditional lace tablecloths as autumn clouds.

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And paper doilies as snowflakes.

We’re happy that the book has already won an Ibby award because in addition to the fairly obvious educational value it has so much more: a sort of quirky atmosphere that manages to combine tradition with a more modern feel and to celebrate local identity.

 

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Eli, no! is a delightful little book by Katie Kirk. We found it a long time ago online when it was still waiting to be published and waited impatiently for the book that we could buy. It’s a story of a dog named Eli and all the things he does that make his owners scream the title of the book and it will ring quite true to any dog owners out there.

The book is illustrated in a simple vector style with bold colors and unobtrusive typography, which results in a fun, modern look. But its greatest appeal lies in how each spread reflects an observation of some typical dog behavior – and how well these are translated into the book medium.

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(Is this the Louvre in the background? That would be quite awesome. But it’s certainly an awesome squirrel.)

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The next two are possibly my favorite spreads, one with food, one with letters:

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And a heartwarming conclusion (spoiler, I guess):

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Today we thought we would show you a slightly different side of us. You might have already noticed – or not – but we are huge fans of boardgames. We have a decent collection and we enjoy particularly games with a story. However, these are not always great design-wise. We thought every now and then we might show you some of the games we find interesting in this aspect and share our love for the material side of gaming.

Because the weather makes us think of all things foggy and gloomy we are starting with Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. This is a pretty unusual game in that it’s a set of ten puzzles to solve and once you’ve solved them, you’re more or less done. However, we really love Sherlock Holmes and we don’t have all that much time for gaming (truth be told, we’ve finished two cases so far and we’ve had this game for a few years) so we bought the game despite its limited replayability.

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The box (which is only average, compared to some other elements) contains ten booklets with case studies, a map of London and two cool ideas: ten copies of The Times and a directory of various London addresses. Even though we’re not absolutely delighted with everything about the design of the game, particularly with some typographic choices, overall we find it climactic and entertaining.

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Each case is described in its own booklet, loosely stylized to an old look through stamps, ornaments and old paper texture. We’re generally not huge fans of this style (though we do like the wallpaper at the beginning) but we get why game designers do this. In fact, it’s not easy to come up with a reasonable alternative for a game like this one.

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You use the map of London in order to decide where to go next. The map has Scary Holmes (I’m assuming it’s not Jack the Ripper, much as he looks it) in the corner.

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(It also has negative kerning in the street names and I’m not sure about the sans serif but I like the gloomy colors offset by pink.)

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But it’s the other two elements that make the game so exciting and immersive. The directory list all the people that appear in the cases and many practical places like restaurants and tobacco makers and it’s your decision who’s relevant to the case and who you’ll visit. It also has very cool initials.

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And finally our favorite element: The Times for each day a case is being solved, with information about various relevant and irrelevant events. As if that wasn’t cool enough, the information from the newspapers adds up so that you might need a side note from day one to solve case number four. That’s pretty awesome – and slightly overwhelming.

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The newspaper is also hands down the best-designed piece of the game (and one of the best of all the games that we own). It’s also printed on paper that’s nice to handle.

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If this post made you want to play the game, you’ll be absolutely right to do so, by the way.

redesign-pnp-01Last week we showed you Dracula primer but we bought one more book from this series and this one is probably even more exciting because it’s not only a charming book but also a whole playset – based on Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. So you can teach your child to count horses, villages and pounds a year but you can also make your own Lizzy and Darcy figures and act the whole story (or, you know, a different story, as long as it has Regency clothes and carriages in it). If this is not awesome, we simply don’t know what is.

redesign-pnp-02This is the cover of the book, as it lies in the lovely box which doubles as a ballroom. And here are some spreads from the book. As you can see the main elements of the plot are faithfully recreated, including the finances.

redesign-pnp-05 redesign-pnp-06 redesign-pnp-07You can, of course, buy the book without the extra elements and it’s still quite wonderful but you would be missing out on a lot of fun:

redesign-pnp-03The practical box contains also boards with cutout figures and scenery elements, which you can assemble into the elements of your own PnP story. You can make Jane run off with a valet and raise sheep, why won’t you.

redesign-pnp-04 redesign-pnp-08Not only are the illustrations cute and the very idea highly enjoyable, we actually really like the production quality: the pieces are sufficiently sturdy and should probably survive quite a couple of games (at least we imagine so).

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redesign-dracula_primer-01If you think we’re done with showing you gorgeous books… well, you are wrong. We still have bunches of them left, waiting for a day when we feel like spending a part of Sunday photographing them. Yesterday was just such a Sunday and so enjoy this lovely little gem, a counting primer based on Dracula by Jennifer Adams.

It’s a part of a whole series in which classic novels are turned into books for little children (and obsessive designers) with simple yet quirky, charming illustrations. We saw them online a while ago and ogled them hungrily so when we found two (yes, one more is coming) during a book fair, we simply had to get them.

redesign-dracula_primer-06redesign-dracula_primer-05It’s quite lovely how the book turns the rather somber, gothic atmosphere of the novel into something children-friendly but not entirely devoid of the original gloom. And this is, predictably, our favorite spread. Notice the cute use of typography. And the wolves, of course.

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The heroes also look very cool:

redesign-dracula_primer-04redesign-dracula_primer-03We’re not showing you all the pages but rest assured that there are more gothic elements like garlic and even coffins. Overall, highly re:commended.

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As promised, today we want to share a few wonderful books we found in Paris. We spent a lot of time in museum bookstores and, as if that wasn’t enough to run out of money, we lived near a wonderful little bookstore specializing in art books and children books. I’m sure it was put there specifically to bankrupt us and it nearly did. But our collection grew again. In the post we will show you a few more French finds of our stay.

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As usual we enlarged our collection of Petit pop-up Panoramiques, which we keep showing you every time. In addition to Paris and Louvre, which we already had, this time we found the whole of France compressed into a small book of pop-ups. This one has more painterly, delicate illustrations than other books in the series, less humorous and more fashion-like, which we find refreshing. It also has so many places we’ve yet to see.

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In Musée d’Orsay’s bookstore we found a whimsical and quite charming comic Moderne Olympia, a story of Manet’s Olympia and her ambitions to become an actress. We haven’t read the whole story yet (our French might not be enough to get all the jokes, sadly) but the most lovely idea is that the story happens among famous pictures from the museum. Various scenes and characters are recreated from the paintings but, of course, in a different context. This is the kind of illustrative and intellectual fun that we always look for in art books and only sometimes manage to find.

re-paris-02 re-paris-03 re-paris-04And if one is not quite an art history expert the code at the last page is supposed to give you a list of all the paintings used in the story (we haven’t tested that yet but it’s certainly a good idea).

re-paris-10Now, I’ll admit at first sight I overlooked Romance. But once you give this book a few minutes of your time and take care to understand its concept, it’s quite breathtaking. It’s an entirely fresh experiment in storytelling, married with gorgeous illustrations and impressive technical savoir-faire (heh).

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The story expands from chapter to chapter and invites you to participate in telling it. Illustrations, words, even typography combine to add to the history, which makes it incredibly intriguing. It’s like a fairy tale that you heard million times as a child but always managed to find something new in it.

Additionally, and this is explained by the fact that the author has a silkscreen experience, it employes a neat technical trick. All the colors are special colors instead of regular CMYK and four special colors – applied with amazing understanding of how halftone works – create the whole color scheme of the book, including all the tints. This might not seem very exciting if you don’t think about the technical side of printing much but for us it was quite awe-inspiring.

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And finally our possibly favorite new acquisition, Oh! Mon chapeau. You certainly noticed the little fact that we are suckers for pop-up books but more often than not we are disappointed to find them matched with bland illustrations and lacking in creativity. None of this applies to Chapeau. It’s as creative as books get, with a wonderful understanding of what pop-ups can add to the story (for instance, it uses very well the simple fact that something can hide behind a pop-up). The illustrations (as, if fact, the whole technical part of the book) are deceptively simple but it’s rare to see simplicity matched with such charm and lightness. Many illustrators try to achieve it as it is, clearly, a trend of today but few manage in such a seemingly effortless way.

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In addition to the lovely Mondrianesque color scheme, the book has a difficult to define Parisian feel. Instant love.

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