The roots of Swiss typography lay in the Bauhaus. But Swiss Typography is very different from Bauhaus typography. And the Basle variant of Swiss Typography differs from the Zurich variant.
A classicist of Swiss typography, he has dedicated more than 50 years to this field and has been acclaimed in Switzerland and internationally, the winner of many international awards. Not only a designer of books, but also a writer – his book “Detail in Typography” has been translated into 11 languages.
The speaker shares his wealth of experience in book design and exhibiting. How are the two related?
A leading European typographer of the classical school of typography, yet also a trend-setter in this field, he is the author of several books for artists and typographers, and of the only typography guide published in Lithuanian, “First Aid for Typographers”. He is a multiple award-winner for book design.
What can we decipher from graphic art of the past? What were Soviet Lithuanian Children’s book illustrations like and why are they being exhibited in India?
One of Lithuania’s best-known art critics specializing in 19th and 20th century Lithuanian and European art and its milieu, and the history of applied art, she is the curator of many exhibitions of book illustration and book art, including “Illustrarium: Soviet Lithuanian Children’s Book Illustration”.
How to choose the right typeface: various selection criteria and some helpful tools.
A graphic designer in Berlin where he runs his own studio together with Malte Kaune. Kaune & Hardwig specialize in typographic solutions for publications and visual identities. Recipient of the Walter Tiemann award, F. Hardwig advises users, makers and sellers of fonts. He serves as co-editor of Fonts In Use and the German MyFonts.de and contributes articles to various type-related journals.
My work method through collaboration with another creative person
Ania Nalecka works at the Tapir Book Design Studio in Warsaw. She is a book designer and creative director, as well as exhibit consultant and curator for Sputnik Photos. First-tier award winner of many international book design competitions, such as “ParisPhoto/Aperture”, the New York Photography Festival, “Photography Book Now”, exhibit curator workshop leader and lecturer throughout Europe.
Laura Klimaite is a Lithuanian freelance graphic designer based in Berlin. Two years ago she graduated in Graphic Design from ArtEZ Institute of Arts (Arnhem, the Netherlands), where she was taught by Thomas Castro (LUST), Vinca Kruck (Metahaven), Remco van Bladel and other internationally renowned Dutch graphic designers. The program is known for its conceptual thinking and experimental typography.
Laura’s wide understanding of different graphic design schools is based on her practice: she has a Bachelor’s degree in design from Vilnius Art Academy (Lithuania), studied Visual Communication at the Bergen National Academy of Arts (Norway), interned at Esen Karol LTD design studio in Istanbul (Turkey). Laura has lectured and led workshops related to typography. Currently working with a diverse range of clients and projects, her focus is on editorial design, and she collaborates with her sister Indrė Klimaitė (www.ilegal.nl) on larger projects.
Every year the Stiftung Buchkunst book competition in Germany has two juries of experts select the 25 most beautiful books. Selection is based on concept, graphic design and printing, with special attention to innovation and originality. This is one of the most influential book art competitions in Europe. The contest is so highly esteemed, that this year there are as many as 756 competitors.
The 25 award winners are exemplary, showing a wide range of conceptual, typographic, design and printing possibilities, and will be benchmarks for new trends in book design.
From October 3 to 18, Germany’s most beautiful books will be on display at the National Art Gallery in Vilnius, and from October 20-29 in the library of the Vilnius Art Academy.
This year the jury has assigned five categories, with five winners in each:
The obscure title – 69 hotel rooms – quickens the imagination. It is more than just the wording itself, but also the diffuse atmosphere of a twilight in full bloom, drunken with artificial light, and the neon advertising as a typographical source on slipcase and spine that entice your hands to unpack this compact block. The colours brighten gradually: from the cover with its progressively lighter hues towards the upper edge to the dazzling orange of the laid patterned endpaper. Like the flickering light from a bedside table lamp with a loose connection, a full page of solid orange alternates with creamy paper white through the sequence of front pages with the half-title, title page, epigraph and foreword.
Sparing use of striking techniques shapes the content where each short story commences. Void of images, it is clear from the font and position of the numbers for each chapter that they were designed to look like engraved signs. The page of a book becomes the door to a room. At the top, the first lines of text are set in an orange shimmer and make use of a colour gradient to deepen into normal black type. It is more than just a snazzy touch – the abstract, yet concrete impact of this typographical vision is admirable. And so now you realise why, contrary to usual practice, the page numbers are positioned near the spine: they are not really needed for orientation purposes because the ribbon bookmark shows the place where the reader left off the night before.
The visual scheme of this series of books with “forgotten, lost or hidden manuscripts” and “rediscovered texts” is anything but timid. Capitals in both styles of stencilled lettering (with and without serifs) are printed on a cardboard – how should we call it – jacket (?), the same colour as the paper used for packing parcels. The cardboard opens up to reveal an illustration printed in black/gold and spanning the entire area as a kind of ornamental endpaper at the front and back of the book. Technically speaking, this is neither a jacket nor an endpaper; you are almost tempted to label this hybrid version a “front wrap” and “rear wrap”. At any rate, these are worthwhile associations capped by the visible black stitch binding down the open spine that delivers the metaphor for a peek inside the writer’s toolbox.
Inside the book, a plethora of typographical details are waiting to be discovered – elegant and functional alike. The poetry setting with its buoyant image at the side is coupled with funky illustrations; its matt gold printing seems over the top. Mayakovsky’s texts are brought to life by the illustrator using exaggerated, constructivist visual affectations; sketches and overprints are assembled like surreal spaces accompanying texts by Kaváfis; the next artist cannot free herself from the urge to lend abstract form to the leaden chaos of the battlefields in Owen’s texts.
These books fuel the concept that epochal revolutions could take a different turn if we declared solidarity with the final sentence in each of the editions: “Poetise yourselves.”
The striking appearance of this neat, conveniently sized little volume certainly entices you to reach out and touch: yellow embossed text and stylishly painted image on red book linen, lemon edge colouring, red & green striped headband and yellow ribbon bookmark. The lower third of the book is wrapped in a yellow band with an old lithograph showing a view of Rome.
More traditional conventions are discovered inside the book, although their use is quite unconventional: the double-page historic city map, which in the author’s eyes is naturally contemporary, is not in the expected position on the endpaper, but follows the title pages. And the small series of double-page black/white photographs whose edges form a conspicuous break in the edge colouring, separates the diary entries from the epilogue.
The unpretentious inner typography gives little cause for commentary. However, one of the few details can be mentioned – the date line used as a heading for the text sections. A gap above and below would be sufficient for structural purposes, but the date line is supplied with as many as five different features: indent, smaller type size, italics, semibold and a touch of altered letter-spacing – plus a line underneath across the width of the type. Such irritating bundles of highlighting are familiar from the world of advertising, but here the typographer has allowed the individual features to complement each other like a blend of spices: to combine modern taste of former days with the modern taste of today’s fashions.
Somehow the cover of this book looks as though it could have been found on the shelves of an antiquarian bookshop. There is no dust jacket, the cover is light-coloured, good-natured and slightly yellowed; the type conjures up images of the years between 1930 and 1950, the illustrations could have been taken from a biology field guide. But that’s not to say that the book is outdated – quite the opposite: it looks like a constant companion. A terrific feeling, touching the fabric of a book without having to fuss around with a jacket. These days we are seldom allowed to brush our hand across a printed picture.
And what an enigmatic contrast between the title of the book, which in German means “The Final Scream” (Der letzte Schrei), and the two dumb fish gasping for air, writhing on a predetermined orbit. Like an astrological sign, like an iconic motto, the cover depicts the continuous motif in the stories: couples, love, speechlessness, failure, desire, the complete mayhem.
One of the few really timeless rules for setting texts becomes invalid here – the paragraphs in the stories are structured without indents. The paragraphs are considerable in number, very short, often even only one line. Several of these follow on in quick succession, which positively dictates the omission of indents to mark the beginning of the paragraphs as it would make the left-hand edge look muddled.
At the beginning of each chapter, the cover motif is set in motion: a single fish moves further around the circle each time, landing almost back in its original position at the end.
Wherever will it end – a novella in the spirit of late capitalism with German left-wing politician Sahra Wagenknecht as the fictitious protagonist? But first let’s take a look at the book itself.
The slimline paperback in light, slender format unsettles by emitting idiosyncratic signals. The rose-coloured background is bordered on the left by a coloured band which covers the spine and hinge, deepened to magenta and bearing no resemblance at all to the expectable socialist red (meaning that the story can’t be all that politically dogmatic). A black/white photograph shows a row of houses placed under the statuary centring of the title. At first glance, the world seems in order but... the houses have collapsed (and so it probably won’t be about social romanticism either).
Inside, the pages of text are generously spaced. About every four pages there is a double-page photograph – vedute of North American small-town settings, damaged, destroyed by a tornado, a flood, some kind of catastrophe, whatever. The coarseness, whether analogue or digital, gives the air of a documentary to the gripping extracts, as if destruction were the order of the day in the land of limitless augmentation. This is the backdrop against which the episodes are acted out.
Even though it sometimes seems as if we are living in a society at saturation point, some things cannot be repeated often enough. And it’s that time again.
The cover exudes soft power. A clenched fist in comic-strip style – the fingers adorned with jewellery and painted nails – is crowned with a nimbus whose historic flower-power associations are mitigated through their bio-dynamic mood.
Feminism is lilac, girls’ toys are pink, but the inside of this book is bicoloured: black and a syrupy pink hovering ironically over the clichés.
This detailed book is designed to be a veritable text and reference book – for the reading public and not for teachers. The many different types of text are enriched with a wealth of typographical features and animating images. The infographics are highly illustrative, the illustrations are highly associative – and feminism becomes attractive.
The power mobilised here is subtle; it doesn’t mount the barricades, but makes feminism compatible with the young generations. Those who hunger for a contemporary battle cry will find it on the fore-edge: “I (Heart) Feminism”.
So all you men out there: stand up and allow this book to cast its spell on you!
This is all about books.
Wrapped not so much in a dust jacket, but rather in what could be called a “dust paper” which displays all the information normally found on a dust jacket: editor and authors, title, subtitle, publisher, barcode freely strewn about like a pattern repeat, so that everything is readable at least once. There is a sticker displaying the unique quality of the book: the limited print run.
The contents: Bulky printing paper, with stitch binding and an inside jacket made of fully dyed cardboard stuck along the spine, in an outer jacket made of stronger, fully dyed cardboard, mounted at the side with a hollow spine. Blank jackets. Three-sided edge colouring, the same colour as cardboard.
Traditional, centred title positioning; numbered by hand; the list of contents with a teaser on each of the twelve sections. The sections are separated by decorative pages with black patches. Spacious, traditional type area. Questions flush left, indented. Answers in the same font and size, justified across the entire width of the type area.
Book design principle: purification. What is it all about? Statements by people from the worlds of reading and writing on the future of the book.
A book about cleaning, it says on the front cover – how thrilling. It’s probably a book written by women for women. Right first go: author, translator, illustrator – all women. And the text on the back cover is also designed to target women.
The pithy cover design attracts men as well, however. It evokes the matchboxes of the 60s, shortly before Warhol turned packaging graphics into a high art. The stiff cover uses areas of subdued colour, hand-drawn script, illustrations devoid of halftones, and two different modes of refinement: white embossed writing and a partial gloss varnish that fits to a T and awakens the hope that your dirt problem can be solved in a single wipe.
It all leaves you wanting to find out more, and before you know it, you’ve opened the cover and delved into the contents. Within a traditional type area, an extremely readable Antiqua takes you through the narration that is structured with two kinds of paragraphs: a normal paragraph with an unusually broad indent and a more elaborate mental leap marked by line spaces and a red deco dot. Each chapter is marked by a generous gap at the top of the page and the same indent, and the headlines serve as indented datelines in a different type.
The many bicoloured, comic-like illustrations (four-colour prints) can be considered a poetic and ironic commentary on the contemplative aspects to be gained from cleaning. One of the most captivating pictures is on page 38: two hands with red lacquered fingernails are massaging some lacy fabric whose floral ornamentation is rising up out of the washing bubbles like foam.
The flexible cover of this book is a veritable curio. Even while it is still closed, you weigh and bend it in your hands as if the truncated pictures on the front could be brought to life. There is a fascinating combination of brass-coloured fabric and black printing familiar from old graphics, together with embossed writing in the blue-black of the edge colouring at the top of the book.
This field guide with its surreal montages from historic engravings of real animals bears no relation to dry taxonomy; it is rather a craving for an “impression of the nature of existence” in order to pay tribute to evolution’s bizarre creations. Flat worm and long-whiskered owlet appear alongside the human species.
The full yet uncluttered pages are set in a Baroque-Antiqua style with a wonderful italic typeface reminiscent of goosequills. The detailed information in the margins (with fantastic left justification) visualises meandering thoughts. And so what might have been banished to a miserable existence as a footnote becomes a clarification on an equal footing, the reverberation of an argument, an onward path.
The blue chosen for the bicolour printing is so dark that it is virtually the same as normal black printing ink, yet bestows a mysterious vividness on the larger areas of colour. The dull gold in the text section is a striking departure from the dark colours, perceived as a dimly shimmering contrast on the matt paper and showing a deep richness in the illustrations, producing many different shades of beige.
The reader remains alert right to the very end, when the diligent typographical design turns the requisite appendix into a pleasurable read. Even the bibliography makes the ribbon bookmark feel at home. You want the whole book.
A dust jacket without a title. Strange – there is not a single word on the front cover. A large-format photograph spans the entire jacket including the rear and the flaps. It is as if the publication were cloaked in camouflage – or at least that is the impression gained when you look at the iconography typical of satellite images without focusing properly. The image actually turns out to be a high mountain region.
The only words appear on the spine, in well-spaced capitals: Gemeindebuch Lech (The Lech Region). The short flaps make it tempting to slip off the dust jacket; something which is not normally done. And – surprise, surprise: it is the same section of the same terrain in the snowy winter.
Next, you turn to the book cover. It is made of linen with a dark undertone shimmering through the light-coloured warp and woof. It appears robust, but also natural and upmarket. The embossed title in the same form as the words on the spine of the book even gives the work a ceremonious air. Surprisingly, the tactile experience is prolonged because the same material was chosen for the endpaper. What amateur has ever had the opportunity to see the reverse side of book linen?
There is even more to say about the care and attention paid to the design of the whole content, about the asymmetrical type area, the beautiful contrasts in the fonts, the comprehensible and varied positioning of the images.
An Alpine village has allowed itself to present the story of its landscape, culture and economy in a tastefully produced book, entirely borne by the self-awareness of being so very much nestled amongst natural surroundings. No ideologies regarding its location, no glossy politics.
When you first leaf through these 300 pages and more of sturdy natural paper, you expect to be confronted with a factual, systematic presentation of botanic matter. This expectation is somewhat disturbed, however, because the abundance of different types of text that unfolds before your eyes – coloured inserted texts, large subheadings, mnemonic verses, text boxes, quotations, digressions, exercises, tips and recipes – is more familiar from magazine design. What method can be employed to obtain an overview, then?
Stereotyped thinking is definitely no use. Anthroposophical perception is “active inward observation, without becoming representational” – a mindset that also served as the environment for this compendium of medicinal plants through the seasons. Regardless of where the reader lands when opening the book, there is no risk of disorientation. Roaming through as if in a large herb garden, here and there you feel drawn to examine individual fascinating features. It may be that you are only distracted while lost in thought, or pursue a trail, search for connections.
The visual concept is designed to trigger an understanding of ourselves not as a counterpart to nature, but primarily as part of life’s mystery. The double-page photos, with the lens right up close to the herb and playing with extremely sharp/unsharp images, show us that this isn’t just a book about medical remedies, but rather about living organisms with their own purposes in life. The book and the results of its design are a charming invitation to see things as a whole: “The plants breathe in the universe and adapt accordingly.”
Blood levels, pulse rate or sleep patterns – for those who like or need to keep things under permanent control, digital trackers are an ideal solution. They are modern, clever, and lazy. And they turn you into a lazy reader. Since as early as 1975 (assuming you were already born), we have been able to quantify and optimise key measures for achieving a long life. This is when the “practical handbook for everyday eating and drinking” was published, which has now been beautifully revamped for its 15th edition to celebrate its anniversary.
Aside from a detailed introduction to food quantities, this handbook mostly consists of tables. It sounds boring, but users of these digital trackers will be over the moon. The thumb index requires complicated production processes yet enables the content to be accessed with minimum delay and ensures that everything is kept in perfect order. It has been long forgotten that the rectangular buttons clicked on computer screens were derived both functionally and iconographically from the tabs and thumb indexes from the times when paper was predominant.
Each chapter opens at the beginning almost by itself. The colour changes; the inner list of contents takes over from the list on the front flap of the jacket, with the economical use of contours as visual communication designed as a pictogram. This generally needs to be eye-catching, and particularly when small, but here it is spread across a whole page as representation for the chapters. The eye automatically begins to trace the precise lines of flower spikes, fish or sausages. Among all this dry content, it is a surprising pleasure. The highlight is the choice of type, however: the modern sans-serif style is reminiscent of the writing in encyclopaedias from the 1960s and 70s, and imbibes all their integrity.
You can measure bioeffects in the body, or you can pre-empt the consequences and keep studying the printed nutritional values in comfort instead (the e-book is available free of charge when you buy the printed version).
The cover presents two mysteries at once: Why does the title use such original spelling, with a small letter at the beginning? And what is the signal red circle supposed to indicate, made of paper and so painstakingly worked into the fabric? The solution will probably be found in the book, so let’s open it and look through.
But it’s not that easy; your speed slows right away because the pictures pull you up sharply. The calm, wonderfully composed photographs throughout allow a view of the hustle and bustle at a fish market, the striped pattern of stacked fruit crates, neatly arranged pigs’ trotters on a weathered wooden board – all printed on strong, matt paper with beautiful, deep colours and tones – and above all plates. Looking down from above, you observe white plates with gold edging, repeatedly served anew, like sliced planets revealing their inner elements, their colours, shapes, composition and textures. You persist in a state somewhere between visual perception and ingestion.
Series of six pages introduce a monthly cooking experience with a motto, the order of the dishes on the menu and a personal report from the cook – and with an abundance, a plethora of white paper. Which means with a lot of time. Typographically, the texts are designed for literary reading and not for wretched, purpose-oriented working. In a delightful combination of Antiqua and grotesque type, the grey values are aligned with their corresponding bold fonts. The type area is generously spaced; it allows two sizes of paper white frames around the full-page pictures.
The authors – two sisters who cook, write, photograph and design books together – practise the concept of slow food: the community-forming unit of cooking and food; taking the best regional ingredients and conjuring healthy, tasty, aesthetically-pleasing results in the kitchen and enjoying them in a convivial atmosphere. The book serves as a record of this culinary project.
1 year, 12 subjects, 12 events, 120 guests, 63 dishes – according to the back cover. It is not merely a cookbook; it is in every respect evidence of sophisticated, private salon culture. So have the mysteries been solved?
This is what attracts our interest over our Sunday morning cup of coffee: What does the world eat for breakfast? This book, which has a slim menu format, shows us the answer to our question. It is not only about general habits, but also a personal selection of recipes and stories along with their cooks.
The editorial concept suggests magazine experience: commentaries beginning with a headline-like title and teaser – contrasting capitals and paragraphs with line spacing – quotes with typographical decoration – digressions with pastel background – photos always very close to the action. The cleverly crafted type area allows several widths: the stories look more like a book, whereas the recipes written in italics are akin to a journal with a lot of different picture sizes and potential positions.
This breakfast project has the air of a tempered magazine that benefits from the dignified appearance of a book. And there is an interesting relationship between viewing habits and the medium; preferences have been known to change when the eyes are tired of looking at shining, hyperfocused displays, for example, and then appreciate the matt finish of printed materials.
Two unpretentious volumes are held together by a band of card: an extensive illustrated book of impressive format in sand-coloured fabric, and a stitch-bound book with a soft cover made of blue paper like a filing card – the recipe book. It is the documentation of an outdoor culinary project with a gastrosophical aspiration, called “Feldküche” (Outdoor Cuisine). Outstanding chefs take turns to cook outdoors for a group of friends in fantastic Austrian landscapes.
Each of the nine events is slotted into a cryptic typographical system and equipped with abbreviations for the chefs, locations, date, and recipe number – like an abbreviation game. The sensitive photographic staging turns the observer into a companion; in one photo you see the guests strolling along from afar, in another the chef allows a glimpse of what’s cooking. Then the whole company is sitting in front of a sublime backdrop, in a secret glade or in an age-old barn, and the close-ups of the dishes unsettle the observer because they are unable to grab the spoon through the paper. In-between there are economically and generously spaced pages with texts, general reflections on food culture and on the “Feldküche” project. A treat for people with a weakness for fine maps is the double page with map and tips on local producers and culinary retreats. “Good food is never only about the food on the plate”, it says in the book. It even goes as far as the careful design of this publication, one might add.
It looks enigmatic from the outside – a thick book, mysterious and friendly. The front cover of the book is without a single word, and it doesn’t look at all as though it is hiding anything. The striking light blue changes towards the centre, with just a touch of yellow. It has such a profound effect, you feel as if you are plunging right into the book.
The title is printed on the spine, which is sufficiently broad, and the rear of the paperback cover without overhanging edges bears the list of contents. Then, sooner than imagined, you are given an idea of the content structure. It is a work showing the photographs, installations and drawings of Monika Sennhauser in the form of a book.
The first page is full of colour – orange that is changing very gently out of yellow and into a shade of brown. It goes even further, turning into a muted royal blue – and then off we go.
The pictures have been reproduced elaborately in a frequency modulated screen and printed carefully in order to really capture all the halftones, enabling drawings to be recognisable even in deep black on the matt, absorbent paper.
The works, mostly in groups of pictures, have been put together with a relaxed approach, seemingly without any design framework, but according to a certain principle. They are pushed together slightly, more or less misaligned. Five texts are distributed throughout the book, and even these pages are shifted, which is particularly fascinating where the German and English cross over.
Light, changes in light, movements of the sun, time; the small variations in series of pictures and snapshots of a process, these are the artist’s themes. Subtly and consistently embodied in this book.
At first glance, the large-format cover shows an abstract landscape, produced as if in a Zen trance using a pointed paintbrush. But don’t be fooled.
At second glance, if you try a bit harder, you can recognise the photographic source of a winter landscape. The capital letters spelling out the title are imprinted in white like tracks in the snow.
The book is an extensive collection of photographs which pay homage to the skier’s territory in visual minimalism. They use the white as a background provided by the days when a supernatural light saturates everything – snow-covered piste and sky – like white air.
How do you print all these many gradients of white using four colours? It is astonishing that a raster of 70 l/cm is sufficient to sustain these fine differences in tone values on the matt, absorbent board as well. Have they used higher-pigmented printing inks, perhaps?
The plates are occasionally interspersed with blank pages – with nothing on them – whenever there is a need for some breathing space. You are even tempted to spot printed tracks of weightless brightness on those pages as well.
The short legends are fortunately not positioned next to the pictures. They are added at the end on thinner paper instead, as a synopsis next to a stamp-size reproduction of each picture. In this part, the reserved yet congenial book design uses the translucency of the thin paper; it prolongs the experience of spatial ambiguity that stages the photographs so magnificently.
One of the subtle differences between fashion and modernism is that one of them only celebrates the present age, while the other claims validity for the future. However, there are artefacts that are unbiased and genuinely only interested in the matter in hand, as shown in the work of furniture designer Hans J. Wegner.
His monograph is a curious object in itself. The tome appears to switch back and forth between the times – modern times. Its typography is not just economical and sober, it is also elegant; the generous amount of white space allows the eye to roam freely, while always finding the necessary support when orientation is required. This design has a self-evidence previously achieved in the 60s with Akzidenz-Grotesk. One hidden detail contributes to this effect. Instead of playing it safe and allowing the pictures to be smothered by captions, there is a confident, very large gap between the photo and its description. Which makes it absolutely clear that the white space is active, not wasted.
At the beginning of each chapter, you enjoy viewing the decorative contours characteristic of each group of works. The red background is occasionally echoed on other pages, when historic chairs or other chairs designed by colleagues are shown to explain a certain point.
Wegner developed his furniture with a touch of timeless validity, and this book pays tribute to them in a manner that is more than appropriate.
Blurred scenes. You are scared to look at them for too long in case you might recognise something. – Clouds. Clouds upon clouds, indistinguishable from eruptions or dust rising up after detonations. Rotor blades, a sea of corn, a bare forehead. Bundles of something. – A large stain on a shirt, in the shape of a heart, level with the pit of the stomach. It may just smell of sweat; the colour doesn’t tell us anything on the monochrome photo. – It’s all just in black and white. More black than white. A velvety, warm black that invites you to sink into it when you are tired.
Wrapped in a square, stiff cover. Armed with grey boards at the front and back.
From time to time there are empty pages; they would be blank if it weren’t for the page numbers. Perhaps the page number refers to something unimaginable? – Pictures of war. Poetry of war? Reflectiveness solidified in book form.
How would you conceive a book on “Stories about friendship”? It would probably have a front and back cover, and be filled with texts for reading.
The editor of this book came up with something altogether more complex. He chose a mixture of select contributions; a combination of texts, pictures and documents from various authors without any homogenisation of design. These are atmospheric collections from around 1890 and the 1930s, facsimiles of correspondence, video stills of boys playing, drawings and conversations, recollections with captions but no pictures. It has all been put together very calmly and unspectacularly, but in a way that allows a lot of potential: a stroll through past times, a catalogue-like presentation, a portrait with reportage character.
The font size at the beginnings of the chapters is very large, a modern Antiqua with a strikingly small g. It appears very respectable, almost historic, but not without a slightly cheeky sparkle. Depending on the register of the text, others use semibold grotesque type that was a popular choice for factual information in the 1960s. Then there are series of photos spanning several pages which are cut slightly more than a centimetre shorter at the top than the normal format length, and therefore catch your eye even before you open the book. The large size of the page numbers has no functional justification; it serves more as an impulse than an aid for consultation.
The special cover of this book is characteristic of its special genre. The folded innerbook is glued, flush-mounted, into the jacket like a Swiss soft cover; the jacket itself is similar to a stiff board, with a fabric cover and a picture stuck on the inside, and also with a flap at the front. Thank you for the elaborate bookbinding.
Albrecht Dürer never laid eyes on the rhinoceros that he drew with his quill pen. The description given to him must have been good, though, as it played an especially important role in enabling his power of imagination to produce an astonishingly good picture. The drawings of animals by Dieter Braun are also astonishingly tangible and alive amidst all the abstraction and fantasy. Their design appears so unfettered that it is stunning to see how correctly the animals have been pictured. Photographic images do not provide the characteristic features here – instead, similarity seems to have been generated by other means. The technique is masterly, like a distilled version of the eye-catching devices spawned by 20th-century graphics. It is hardly possible to distinguish between analogue and digital craftsmanship – sketched texture, airbrush, layering and montage, vectored computer graphics.
Take the ostrich, for example: a composition with different areas of colour, in the style of Japanese woodblock printing. Or the bare-nosed wombat: staggered background layers familiar from cartoons. The elephants: the dust billowing out from under their feet as a roughly sprayed gradient, a graphic element typical of Art Deco. Kingfisher: as faceted as a colourful super tangram.
The double page is basically structured as follows: a full page extending right up to the very edge, either a long shot or close-up of the animal – the name of the animal on the opposite side with its Latin nomenclature, mostly a lengthy caption without any claim to taxonomic completeness and always with a graphic reference to the habitat of each animal. It is not only the individual pictures that are perfectly composed, the compositional perfection of the double pages also heightens the tension within the images. This is not just a children’s book. It is a book which will make a good number of adults wonder whether they should have studied zoology.
Scenes with people, architectures, landscapes, trees packed to the edge of the large-format double pages. The red, finely meshed line drawings are filled with all kinds of structures and patterns in meditative tranquillity. These shapes – which are busy enough in themselves – also contain hardly discernible, pale-blue details. This crush cannot be deciphered with the naked eye, and the young observers have to use the magnifying glass attached to help them.
The red film in the magnifying glass doesn’t enlarge the drawings, however; it acts as a filter. The red, basic drawing fades underneath the red film – and lo and behold: the light blue darkens and appears more intense. Wondrous things are now seen in the throng of people, out at sea or in the jungle: a snake is writhing around in an instrument case. The smoke from the ship’s funnel is actually coming out of the helmsman’s pipe. The dates on the palm tree turn out to be weights on a cuckoo clock.
It is delightful that such absurd X-ray viewing is possible using analogue aids and encourages curious observers to eagerly investigate. Printed on cardboard, bound in strong card, this book is truly hard-wearing.
There can’t be a clearer invitation than that! The handwritten title in contoured Egyptienne font invites you to step into the boat to join the young whale-watcher. The undertaking gets off to a promising start because the whale appears on page one, on the half title: as a rebus. And then it takes time, a long time. Delicate images show the boy rowing through many opportunities for new discoveries. The bewitching roses are such a pleasant distraction from his mission (like the sirens in the Odyssey). Then he watches the pelican as it stares (attentiveness motif: watching something that is watching). And cloud formations trigger rambling daydreams (training for the imagination of Renaissance artists).
Children are often accused of dozing when they become lost in a daydream. There is nothing wrong with daydreaming, though. In order to experience it, you need to be attentive and wakeful in a manner that has nothing at all to do with being on the alert, the state of mind that compels us to be reachable 24/7 – a nerve-wracking, stand-by feeling in which adults become so willingly trapped.
Parents who want to take a breather for a moment need only grab this book and use it as quick-acting therapy. Snuggle up with your child and allow yourself to plunge into this story, these pictures. There is a valuable by-catch in the offing: the unspoken answer to an unasked question. What is meditation, and how does it work?
A portrait of the Dalai Lama welcomes you from the cover, radiating a friendly aura of calmness familiar from Buddha statues.
The linen spine of this half-cloth book? Given the Buddhist colour of supreme wisdom. The paper used for the cover? Embossed with a discreet linen structure. The illustration itself? Furnished with an abstract, graphic patina. Matt cellophane cover finished with partial varnish? Showing the title of the book in a white disc with transparent shine.
The front and back endpapers? Printed with prayer flags that are gradually becoming more frequent in our parts of the world as well. On the inside? Answers to questions to the Dalai Lama posed by schoolchildren.
It is already clear from the cover that the answers are anything but simple. Question marks in speech bubbles form a pattern on a dark background and call out for resolution. The speech bubbles on the back cover promise fulfilment only momentarily; instead, they contain detailed questions, as if they could be answers in themselves.
Full-page, bicolour illustrations – printed in orange and anthracite-blue – subdivide the chapters. The pictures are figurative, symbolic, eye-catching, and particularly bold. They relate to the assuaging feeling repeatedly emanated by the words and gestures of the Dalai Lama. Very soothing.
The first quotation from the Dalai Lama reads: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Just at that moment, an aphid flies onto the page.
This work of young fiction is light in colour and seems friendly right from the outset. It doesn’t look as though it might develop into an action story; the traditional type area, the centred chapter headings and page numbers, and particularly the small pictures bring a feeling of peace and contemplation to curious minds even before they have read a single sentence.
The colouring of the ribbon bookmark liaises between the embossed gold foil highlights on the cover and the decorative colour inside the book. The text is clearly readable thanks to the prudent synthesis of type, type size, width of the type area and leading.
The register of the different texts alters in line with the changing fonts and colours.
The illustrations: all chapter headings are preceded by vignettes. They are positioned in the traditional type area, with wide screen proportions. These are panoramas devoid of people, layered out of expanses and gradients, and with strong contours. The compositions can be understood to be stage scenery in miniature; this is why they appear so incredibly spatial despite their modest size, or perhaps precisely for that reason. They are a refreshing recollection of coloured woodcuts from the times when decoration was taken for granted in every single book.
Their colours are black and brassy yellow, these deserted panoramas where we search for a second reality as if dazzled by tinted glasses. You almost think you have heard a sound, a transcendental humming with never-ending tension. Wherever will the story lead?
Photographer: Mantas Puida
Photographer: Jolanta Mikulskytė