Tuesday, 11 November 2008

handmade nation

...along with the news of a very welcome election result, last week brought a message from America of a different sort to my door - an exciting parcel wrapped in brown paper.

Inside was a copy of a brand new book, Handmade Nation, sent to me all the way from Boston by lovely Meighan.

Meighan is the curator/author of the beautiful blog my love for you is a stampede of horses, where right now amongst many other things, you can find pictures from studio visits, images from artists' sketchbooks, meercat brooches, a q&a with artist christian rex van minnen and temporary unicorn tattoos, plus new work from a huge range of emerging artists.

Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft and Design investigates today's new wave of craft - a vibrant movement of artists, crafters and designers working with both traditional and nontraditional media to create highly innovative work that's a world away from the traditions of floral embroidery and cross-stitch samplers. Authors Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerel have travelled 19,000 miles across the US to document this new craft revolution, which fuses traditional handcraft techniques with radical thinking, punk and anti-capitalist culture and the DIY ethos, and frequently crosses the boundary between craft and contemporary art. The book will also be accompanied by a documentary film of the same name due for release in 2009.

This beautifully-presented and inspiring book brings together profiles of 24 artists, designers and makers working with everything from embroidery to rug-hooking, shoe-making and paper-cutting, documenting their work, inspirations and methodologies as well as their work environments and processes. The profiles are accompanied by an interesting and thought-provoking selection of texts which explore the 'handmade' phenomenon in more detail, focussing on some of the related cultural and political issues. Essayists include Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Callie Janoff of the rather fabulously named Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of Craftivism.com and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty. Particularly interesting is the essay by Garth Johnson of extremecraft.com, 'Down the Tubes: In Search of Internet Craft,' which highlights the role of the online crafting community, emphasising the importance of the web both as a tool to market and sell products via sites like Etsy.com and as a platform to share ideas, network and collaborate.

With lovely illustrations and lettering by Kate Bingaman-Burt (including a beautiful timeline mapping the rise of craft's new wave that evokes Sara Fannelli's artist timeline at Tate Modern) Handmade Nation is a fascinating snapshot of the contemporary craft phenomenon in the US. The book also provides a valuable context for the movement, touching on the political ideologies at its heart; however, I would have been interested to read more critical writing unpacking some of these ideas in greater depth, investigating the potentially revolutionary agendas of craft's new wave, and positing what the possible futures of the handmade movement might be. Altogether though, there's no doubt that Handmade Nation is a hugely enjoyable read, packed with ideas and inspirations. Here's to the continued rise of DIY, art, craft and design!

For more information about Handmade Nation check out the blog and the official website. There's also a q&a with Faythe Levine on my love for you is a stampede of horses, and an interview with both authors in NYLON here. There are lots of other people jumping on the 'craft' bandwagon at the moment, most recently India Knight in last week's Sunday Times with this article on 'credit crunch chic'.

Whilst I was checking out the Princeton Architectural Press website, I also spotted this new book, A Year of Mornings. The book documents another interesting blog-based projects, 3191, which has a good story behind it. On the morning of December 7, 2006, Maria Alexandra Vettese and Stephanie Congdon Barnes each took a digital photo of everyday objects randomly arranged on their kitchen tables and, unbeknownst to one another, uploaded them to Flickr. Noticing a surprising similarity between their images, they decided to continue to document their respective mornings by posting one photo to a shared blog each weekday for a year - 3191, their site is named after the distance in miles between their homes in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. This new book brings together a range of images from the original Year of Mornings project, but Maria and Stephanie have already embarked on a new collaborative photographic project, entitled A Year of Evenings, which you can see here.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Where I'd like to be

The NY Art Book Fair takes place between 24-26 October.

The NY Art Book Fair is Printed Matter's annual fair of contemporary art books, art catalogs, artists' books, art periodicals, and zines offered for sale by over 140 international publishers, booksellers, and antiquarian dealers, and this year features artists including Michael Gondry and Johnathan Monk.

As if that wasn't enough, the following weekend brings Editions Artists Book Fair.

I want to be in New York!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

coming soon...

I am excited about this new book from Princeton Architectural Press, due out in the UK in November.

Handmade Nation documents today's growing contemporary craft movement, incorporating artists, designers and craftspersons who are inspired by radical politics, the punk movement and DIY aesthetics, as well as traditional handiwork techniques. The book brings together 24 makers from across the US working with a variety of traditional and non-traditional media and methodologies to provide a microcosm of today's crafting community, played out through a range of spaces such as websites, blogs, online stores, galleries, artists studios, independent boutiques and craft fairs. Documentation of makers, their works, their work environments and their processes are accompanied by discussions of how they got started and what motivates them, plus texts by Andrew Wagner of American Craft Magazine, Garth Johnson of Extremecraft.com, Callie Janoff of the Church of Craft, Betsy Greer of Craftivism.com, and Susan Beal, author of Super Crafty.

The people behind Handmade Nation, Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl are both based in Wisconsin. They have a blog, and there is also an accompanying Handmade Nation documentary (you can watch a trailer online on their website) in which director Levine travels to 15 cities to explore the burgeoning 'handmade' community in the US.

The illustrations and lettering for the new book are drawn by Kate Bingaman-Burt of obsessive compulsion fame - I am completely addicted to her wonderful blog, what did you buy today? in which she posts an illustration of something she has purchased each day.

Best of all, if you hop over to the wonderful my love for you is a stampede of horses blog right now and leave a comment, you'll be in with a chance of winning a copy.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

in praise of the penguin

‘Good design costs no more than bad design’ - Penguin founder Sir Allen Lane

Now I know that Penguin Books is not a visual arts publisher; however, in any discussion of books, art and design, the famous black and white bird does tend to pop up its cheeky little head.

Most people know the now-legendary story of how publisher Allen Lane, on returning to London from a weekend at the Devon home of Agatha Christie in 1934, having tried unsuccessfully to find something to read at Exeter station, suddenly realised there was a significant gap in the market for good quality but affordable paperback books. It was in fact Lane’s secretary who initially suggested Penguin as a “dignified but flippant” name for the new publishing company: Lane himself, who emphasised the critical importance of cover design from the start, devised an early version of the famous three-panel cover, and the office junior was sent to sketch the penguins at London Zoo for a logotype. Over the years, Penguin’s design was developed and refined under the direction of the German typographer Jan Tschichold during the 1940s and the Italian art director Germano Facetti in the 1960s.

Of course, today, we recognise Penguin as being synonymous with iconic design: Penguin mugs and tote bags can be purchased from the Tate Gallery; a Penguin exhibition was shown at the Design Museum in 2006; and in 2007 the company launched the inaugural Penguin Design Awards dedicated to supporting the very best in emerging book design talent. In recent years, two eminently covetable new books dedicated to the beauty of Penguin books over the years, and if you're anything like me (ie. a geek about books in general, and book design in particular) I imagine you'll find them both very hard to resist:

Penguin by Design: A Cover Story (Allan Lane, 2005) is a comprehensive design history of seventy years of Penguin paperbacks. Author Phil Baines charts the development of Penguin’s distinctive design through an investigation of individual titles, artists and designers as well as typography (got to love that Gill Sans), and the famous Penguin logo itself. Lavishly illustrated, the book reveals not only how Penguin has established its identity through its cover design, but also how it has become a constantly-evolving part of the history of British visual culture, influencing the wider development of graphic design, typography, typesetting and illustration. Filled with intriguing snippets of information (apparently back in the day a Penguin paperback would set you back a mere sixpence - that’s 2.5p - which was then the price of a packet of 10 cigarettes) the book is also strangely evocative: perhaps because of the special place Penguin books (not to mention childhood Puffins) occupy in most of our hearts, flipping through these beautifully designed pages is a uniquely nostalgic and moving experience. You can buy it online here.

Seven Hundred Penguins (Penguin, 2007) makes an intriguing companion volume: a fascinating selection of seven hundred of Penguin’s most important and influential covers, ranging from the publisher’s earliest days to the end of the twentieth century. Selected by Penguin’s staff, the collection brings together everything from well-known design classics to unexpected and quirky treats - perfect coffee-table fodder. Buy it online here.

If you want a taster of the kind of things this book has in store, Joe Kral has a fantastic flickr album of classic Penguin and Pelican covers to enjoy here.

Perhaps inspired in part by the popularity of these two titles, Penguin have recently published Penguin Celebrations, a selection of 36 of “the best books of their kind to be published in recent years” issued in covers inspired by the original, now iconic three-panel design. As with Penguin books of old, the series takes in fiction (orange), science (blue), mystery & crime (green), travel (pink), biography (blue) and essays (purple) - they are pretty hard to resist, even though they aren’t quite as nice as the originals.

And as if this wasn’t enough, other recent Penguin projects have included My Penguin, a series of classic Penguin titles ranging from Alice in Wonderland through to Crime and Punishment with blank, “design it yourself” covers. Six bands(Razorlight, Goldspot, Dragonette, Johnny Flynn and Mr Hudson & The Library, in case you’re wondering) got the ball rolling by designing their own unique covers, which you can view on the My Penguin website. There is also a gallery of reader’s own cover designs (sadly, submissions are now closed) which you can browse here.

And you've got to love the recently-issued series of classic adventures with Boy's Own-inspired covers designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith. You can check the full set out here on Première de couverture.

Given all this it’s perhaps unsurprising that Penguin books have become a key source of inspiration for artist Harland Miller. His recent monograph International Lonely Guy (Rizzoli, 2007) brings together a series of works inspired by literature, and by Penguin cover designs in particular, together with a series of essays and interviews with the artist by both fans and critics including Jarvis Cocker, Sophie Fiennes, Gordon Burn and Ed Ruscha. Nostalgic, bitter and witty by turns, Miller’s book is a million miles away from the Penguin mugs in the Tate Gallery bookshop, but what remains evident throughout is the artist’s intense interest in language and literature: paintings are rife with play-on-words, puns and textual experimentations combined with reappropriations of cover and author images (Ernest Hemingway, featuring in a painting entitled I'm So Fucking Hard is perhaps especially memorable) in a contemporary riff on Pop art. Buy it online here.

cool penguin collection courtesy of eifon. cute penguin picture by lord biro. both photos licensed under creative commons.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

books, art & design online (part 2)

I've been neglecting this blog recently, which I feel very guilty about, especially as it recently got a mention here on The Manchizzle, Manchester's very own "hub of blogging goodness."

However, this is partly because I'm still trying to work out the legality issues around using book cover images and illustrations on a blog. I suspect in the US this would be covered by Fair Use, but I'm not entirely sure of the position here in the UK, and from experience I know that publishers have different policies when it comes to use of images - even if you're just using them to accompany nice things you want to say about their books. Anyway, apologies if things are not looking so pretty around here at the moment while I'm sussing it out.

In the meantime, if you're feeling the need for some book-related visual loveliness, here are some book design sites I've recently discovered that may just fill the gap.

Covers is "dedicated to the appreciation of book cover design", and brings together a very comprehensive selection of book covers of all kinds for debate and heated discussion. It's the brainchild of Fwis, a US design firm based in Brooklyn, NY and Portland, Oregon. (Is it just me, or does it seem like Portland is totally the place to be at the moment? I think I need to go there - check out how cool their Independent Publishing Resource Centre is, for a start!)

The Book Design Review is a well-established book design blog written by Joseph Sullivan. As with Covers, Joseph documents book covers of all kinds, and there's not much here specifically focussed on visual art books or catalogues, but it's an interesting place to read about book design in general.

Similarly, Première de couverture is a blog exploring "the fascinating world of book cover design" authored by Montreal bookseller Thomas, who describes himself as a "curious (in every sense of the word) young man who always judges books by their covers." Thomas mainly posts about paperback fiction covers, and lovely, lovely Penguin books in particular (more on Penguin to follow) and has some great images to browse.

Meanwhile, I'm off to the Liverpool Biennial opening later this week, where I'm sure I'll find lots of inspiration and books to covet, so back soon with more, I promise!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

books, art & design online (part 1)

It's surprising that beyond the sites of individual publishers or booksellers, there seem to be very few blogs or websites out there which are specifically dedicated to visual art and visual culture books and publishing. (If anyone knows of any good ones that I perhaps haven't stumbled upon, do drop me a comment and let me know!) However, today I thought I would post about a few of my favourite loosely visual art/book related sites. Here are some of my highlights:

OK, so I'm sure you know this one already, but BibliOdyssey is, frankly, a treasure trove. This amazing blog from enigmatic curator Peacay brings together an extraordinary and fascinating array of “visual materia obscura” gathered from online library and institutional archives. The result is an ever-increasing collection of curiosities - obscure illustrations covering everything from weird medical drawings to 18th century mechanical diagrams to childrens’ book illustrations. Each new collection of images is accompanied by a meticulously-researched commentary which makes for intriguing reading. BibliOdyssey is enormously enjoyable, as well as being a hugely valuable resource for artists and illustrators, and now you can also enjoy some of the highlights of the blog in book form. BibliOdyssey: Amazing Archival Images from the Internet was published by the fine people at FUEL design & publishing and features a foreword by Dinos Chapman. You can buy it online here.

Book by its cover is the brain child of New York illustrator and pattern designer Julia Rothman, and has to be one of my favourite book sites. Covering a wide range of visually-interesting books, from children’s books and comics through to fine art monographs, this beautifully-presented blog also includes unique handmade publications and individual sketchbooks that catch Julia’s eye, as well as interviews with artists and designers, such as this interview with Mike Perry of Hand Job fame. If you’re an illustration and sketchbook junkie like I am (more on sketchbooks to come!), this blog is an absolute must-read.

Judge a Book is a minimal pared-down blog showcasing the author's collection of vintage book covers from the 50s, 60s and 70s - in particular Penguins and some brill Pelicans. Posting can be a bit sporadic but if retro is your thing, it’s definitely worth a look.

Monday, 18 August 2008

how to be an explorer of the world

"...you are a detective. your mission is to document and observe the world around you as if you’ve never seen it before...”

The wonderful Keri Smith has announced a new book! How to be an Explorer of the World is all about exploring, collecting, observing and documenting the things around us. As with most of Smith's work, it's all about enjoying the mystery, inspiration and fascination of the seemingly ordinary and everyday. There's a tempting little teaser for the new book online here, though unfortunately it won't be out here in the UK until November. However, in the meantime, I'll be enjoying keeping up with Smith's well-loved blog, the wish jar journal, and enjoying some of her back catalogue.

Keri Smith describes herself as "an author/illustrator turned guerilla artist." As an illustrator, she has worked for a wide variety of clients from Random House to the New York Times, but she has gained particular success as a blogger and author writing about creativity in its broadest sense, and perhaps most especially about the fun and importance of creative and artistic play. There is a certain childlike naivety to Smith's work, which works well with her distinctive illustrative style: titles such as Living Out Loud may strike the reader as twee in places, advocating everything from painting pebbles in the back garden to making paper dolls in the quest to enjoy a creative life to the full. However, looking beyond the surface, Smith's books are also highly inspirational, referencing everything and everyone from eastern philosophy to John Cage and Charles and Ray Eames. In a recent interview, Smith explains her commitment to writing about creativity: "I love the idea of creating books that give people more of a direct experience with life instead of walking through it passively. Get up out of your chair and take a look at things around you... Turn off the TV... there is no time to waste. Aren't we all just aching for a bit of adventure?"

It is this "sense of adventure" that Smith's books aim to encapsulate, becoming a playful call to arms to artists of all kinds. As well as Living Out Loud, my personal highlights would be the ever-popular Guerilla Art Kit and Wreck This Journal, a book filled with prompts telling the reader how to systematically 'destroy' the entire book. As Smith explains "in this book good does not exist. The goal is to fill it up, to shift your perception of the blank page and the journal itself into a place for experimentation. Into a place... to do those things you were taught to never do (make a mess, destroy, fold down pages, write in books, play with dirt). This book IS the place." I treated myself to a copy earlier this year and have been thoroughly enjoying the destructive process, which feels enjoyably subversive and just generally naughty in a very good way. Check this out:

(You can see more journal wrecking inspiration at the wreck this journal website here.)