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During one of our recent trips to the library our son, who’s got a good eye for books (mostly, I mean; he gets distracted by popular franchises), picked out this little treasure we’re sharing today: The Egg.

The book is written and illustrated by the wonderfully talented Britta Teckentrup (whose work we didn’t know before) and it tells all (well, a lot) about eggs in a style that manages to be both informative and artistic. J loved all the facts about different kinds of eggs, particularly the really large ones. We loved the art, its combination of minimalism and humanism (not an easy thing to pull off). Together we had quite a few fun evenings with the book before the time came to return it.

“Egg collections.” Throughout the book the use of texture and color is marvelous.

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“Egg colors”

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“Inside the egg.” This gave J a pause.

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Size comparison.

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The biggest egg ever. J loved this fact.

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There’s an interesting section on nests.

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A section on eggs not laid by birds.

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And one about the meaning of an egg in art and religion. While J leans towards natural facts, we enjoy the cultural angle.

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What are your favorite lucky finds from the library?

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Last week died Bohdan Butenko, one of the great Polish illustrators. His work was truly unique. It was one of the staples of our childhood reading experience because he created and illustrated so many books (allegedly over 200). The Polish People’s Republic was not a great time in Polish history in many ways but the talented illustrators who worked then certainly made it a little brighter, Butenko being one of the most joyful of them.

His style is very easy to spot, with several characteristic features:

  1. Simplicity. The simplicity is often deceptive because frequently finding the kind of shortcut he was so good at is the hardest thing to do. But his drawings are certainly recognizable by the scarcity of details. (It is also tempting to try to copy this if you’re the kind of kid who spends their days with crayons and pencils.)
  2. Bold lines. His drawings were always executed in thick, black lines which enclosed the forms.
  3. Flat colors. He often created in black and white but when he used colors, he did it confidently.
  4. Humor. One of the most endearing qualities of his work, he always tried to make the subject matter funny and lighthearted.
  5. Text interpretation. Rather than drawing literally what the text said, Butenko usually added a little story to it in his illustration, often making it funnier.
  6. Hand-written words. He had a nice way with letters, too. He often used comic book balloons and combinations of various lettering styles (always pretty simple, though).
  7. Good sense for layout. He wasn’t the kind of illustrator who leaves the picture for someone else to fit into the text. Instead, he often designed the whole arrangement of the elements on the page, usually drawing inspiration from comic books. Some of our favorite of his books include layout design which sort of comicsifies the text. (Not a word, I know.)

We have photographed Butenko books from our collection to illustrates the points above but mainly to share his work with you and maybe to inspire you to dig further.

This is our childhood fave, Butenko’s interpretation of classic children’s poems by Jan Brzechwa. He takes the already fun poems and makes them so much more exciting, particularly by turning them into a sort of comic but also by his visual interpretation of some of the stories.

Title page. (The cover went missing many years back.)

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“How to Talk to a Dog”

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“Ram” and “A Hole in the Bridge”

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Sometimes Butenko illustrated for adults, too, This is his version of Philip Zimbardo’s classic on shyness, with the humorous illustrations making the theme much lighter. A hand-written cover is also a Butenko thing.

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“Get a very becoming haircut…”

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A children’s book about two cars dancing together. Pretty much a comic. (A favorite from my brother’s childhood, he was always into cars.)

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A book on geometry for children, notice how Butenko handles the page layouts.

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An interpretation of Kipling’s story about the domestication of a cat. This is a little bizarre but very interesting in its combination of the slightly somber, old-fashioned fairy tale with Butenko’s visual wit and energy. Also, the pagination is awesome.

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This is an example of his work for small children, telling stories without words through one of the classic characters he invented.

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And one more Brzechwa poem, this time laid out into an entire cardboard book.

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This is his work for older children, with black and white illustrations, a sort of action adventure tale.

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“…international bandits…”

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Do you have a favorite Butenko book? Or a favorite childhood illustrator?

 

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A few months ago we finished a book  for the Malbork Castle Museum.

The Malbork Castle is a world-famous heritage place, a 13th century castle built by the Teutonic Order (Malbork was then called Marienburg if that tells you more). It is a truly impressive historic monument well-worth visiting. The book is a scientific study of life in the castle at the time when the Teutonic Order lived there. It talks not only of politics and economy but also of minutiae of everyday functioning of this huge establishment.

The book’s design had to be sober not to distract from the academic content. Mainly, we had to make the information aesthetic and legible. We chose to use a golden-brown spot color for all the special texts in the book and for archival photographs which are printed in gold and black. The cover contains a golden-brown photo of the castle and the title is hotstamped in silver.

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We will share more photos of the book later but for now they’re not properly edited so check back soon.

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On Saturday we took a day off and made a family trip to the local zoo in Gdańsk. The weather was just right and we had a great time. In the souvenir stand we found an interesting book that we’re sharing with you today: Planeta zoo (The Zoo Planet), which tells a bit of a history of zoological gardens and introduces various animals from Gdańsk’s zoo. The book tells interesting stories about the animals living in the zoo and will make our next trip so much more informed for our son, who will know the names of some of the animals. It is illustrated by Grażyna Rigall, whose watercolor illustrations have quite a lot of character and include funny little details.

We particularly like the zoo’s effort to publish a customized souvenir, which is thoughtful, informative and well-executed. Too often local tourist attractions don’t use the material they have to self-promote: their own exhibits and buildings. We would expect similar publications in each museum and fun spot. So many creative people could be hired for that and so many lovely objects could be made as a result.

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It is this time of year again: the time of sharing the Christmas gifts we got. Probably the most impressive one is this book we kind of bought for ourselves: Vaughan Oliver: Archive. We supported the book on Kickstarter and then waited for it to get published – it managed to come a while before Christmas.

The book contains a number of materials designed or used for design by Vaughan Oliver, a design legend. It is impressively printed on Munken paper (always a plus), with a silkscreen-printed slipcase using a specially commissioned shade of orange-red. Overall, it is one of those books which work almost more by impressions than by content but remind you why print isn’t really dead whatever some people might say.

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Today we’re sharing another book we designed for the Museum of Gdańsk. It is the first one in a series of books which will examine the history of various districts of the city of Gdańsk. It focuses on one of the lesser known districts called Chełm and presents scientific articles about its history, starting from its oldest past and coming to quite recent events. The articles are illustrated with photos and, particularly, maps.

As is always the case with designing scientific books, one has to find balance between the clear and legible presentation of serious, and sometimes a little dry, subject matter and an appealing visual character of the book. We used a strong lead color (it will change for future books in the series) and modern, clean typography. Page compositions favor the central axis. The cover uses a fragment of a lovely old illustration showing the district in question. The typesetting was quite a precise job because of a number of long footnotes but we enjoy this kind of labor (we’re not party people).

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One of the coolest jobs we have done this year so far was the design of an exhibition and catalog “The Gardens of Gdańsk” for the Museum of Gdańsk. We have tons of photos but they’re unedited so they have to wait a while longer but today we wanted to share a sneak peek at the catalog. The cover has green hotstamping and a half-dust cover. Inside you can find a ton of garden-related images. More to come soon(ish).

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