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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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This year marks 100 years of the establishment of the Bauhaus school of design and we (along with the rest of the world) are celebrating the occasion with a poster.

Bauhaus is one of the most recognizable names and most important institutions in the history of design and particularly modernist design which – as you may know or not – is very much what we love. So working on the poster was pure (math-tinted) pleasure.

We drew several iconic Bauhaus designs isometrically (celebrating Bauhaus artists’ – and ours – fondness for isometry) and arranged them into a number 100.

You can buy the poster on the Bazaar or Society6.

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Our version of the logo for the centennial.

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This detail includes Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt’s tea infuser and pot by Wolfgang Rossger & Friedrich Marby.

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This detail includes furniture from Gropius’ office and nesting tables by Josef Albers.

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This might be our favorite piece of Bauhaus design: chessboard by Josef Hartwig.

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Happy Bauhaus 100!

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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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As we hoped, the ongoing cleaning of our basement has turned out more illustrated classics. Today we continue with our adoration of Jerzy Flisak. This book we found is titled, more or less, To Be Someone and with Someone and seems to be a guide for 13-year-olds or so on how to be better people and how to work better in a social group. While the book is not necessarily the most exciting read for us, the illustrations certainly make us smile.

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Chapter title page.

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And now for something a little different. While we usually show you modern books for their beautiful illustrations and design, sometimes we want to spend time on gorgeous classics (the more so now that we’ve embarked on the humongous job of cleaning up the basement with all the books stored there).

We’re starting with a book not from our collection but borrowed from our friends, Z&A, specifically so that we can document the illustrations. The book is called Everyday Politeness and is a 1970s collection of advice on good manners and polite behavior. Each chapter is illustrated by Jerzy Flisak, a master of Polish design and illustration. While history of Polish design abounds in great talent, Flisak has always held a special place in our heart. He is the one illustrator we remember by name from beloved childhood books and, in a way, he’s one of the people who made us more interested in drawing.

Flisak used clear, light line in his mostly black and white illustrations and his works prove a great sense of humor.

Title page (messy typography is typical for the period).

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Chapter on dancing.

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The beginning of the chapter “On Holidays.”

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Chapter on smoking (the sentiment here is close to our hearts).

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Chapter on romance.

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“In the Theater”

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“Celebrations”

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That basement we mentioned is full of other Flisak-illustrated books so if you like what you see, be sure to stay tuned for other old-school gems.