August 31st, 2013

know your cacti


A charming guide to cacti and other desert plants… Click the image to see it larger. I’m afraid I couldn’t identify the source of the image.

August 25th, 2013

Hide Kawanishi


Pond by Hide Kawanishi (1894-1965). Woodblock print.

Hide Kawanishi was born in Kobe as the son of an affluent family of merchants and ship-owners with a long tradition in commerce. The artist is considered a self-taught Sosaku Hanga artist. Typical for his print designs is the absence of black outlines. He did not like them and therefore had no admiration for classical Ukiyo-e. Hide Kawanishi took the subjects for his prints mainly from his hometown of Kobe. He preferred strong colors.

From artelino (via cacaotree)

December 22nd, 2012


Via Public Domain Review:

Collection of Dances in Choreography Notation (1700)
Images extracted from the latter half of Choregraphie, a book first published in 1700 which details a dance notation system invented by Raoul-Auger Feuillet which revolutionised the dance world. The system indicates the placement of the feet and six basic leg movements: plié, releveé, sauté, cabriole, tombé, and glissé. Changes of body direction and numerous ornamentations of the legs and arms are also part of the system which is based on tract drawings that trace the pattern of the dance. Additionally, bar lines in the dance score correspond to bar lines in the music score. Signs written on the right or left hand side of the tract indicate the steps. Voltaire ranked the invention as one of the “achievements of his day” and Denis Diderot devoted ten pages to the subject in his Encylopdédie.

The diagrams really get my imagination going.

October 26th, 2012

Lancelot Hogben

It turns out Lancelot Hogben was as impressive as his name promises.

I started reading about him after I found a copy of his 1938 book “Science for the Citizen”, illustrated by J.F. Horrabin. You can find this book on, but it doesn’t match the beauty of the printed version, in which text and diagrams melt into yellowed paper. It’s like a holy text. The attention to detail in the writing makes for educational luxury; it’s an educational text that actually has a soul and a sense of purpose.

From the Hogben’s introduction:

In the Victorian age big men of science like Faraday, T. H. Huxley, and Tyndall did not think it beneath their dignity to write about simple truths with the conviction that they could instruct their audiences. There were giants in those days. The new fashion is to select from the periphery of mathematicized hypotheses some half-assimilated speculation as a preface to homilies and apologetics crude enough to induce a cold sweat in a really sophisticated theologian who knows his job. With a few notable exceptions such as Simple Science by Andrade and Huxley and two volumes on British and American men of science by J. G. Crowther, this is a fair description of the state into which the writing of popular science has fallen hi contemporary Britain. The clue to the state of mind which produces these
weak-kneed and clownish apologetics is contempt for the common man. The key to the eloquent literature which the pen of Faraday and Huxley produced is their firm faith in the educability of mankind.

Apart from being a legendary zoologist, a writer, political activist and lecturer, Hogben was also a linguist. He invented Interglossa, an international language (‘a draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order’).

Inimical to all traditional grammar, Hogben is certainly one of the most radical of all the interlinguists. He begins from the proposition that an international language is primarily of interest to scientists, and especially those from the East, who need an easy means of access to the conquests of Western science. All projects prior to his, which were always based on one or more European languages, were aimed solely at Western scholars. But of course the structure of the “Aryan” languages (that is, the Indo-Germanic and the Finno-Ugric languages) is not at all natural for a Japanese, a Chinese, or an African. In order to benefit these, an international language should be of the isolating, rather than the agglutinative, type, in contrast to all the previous attempts at universal languages.

More of that article here.

May 29th, 2012

Tim Knowles, Tree Drawings

Stonethwaite Beck, Smithymire Island, Borrowdale, Cumbria. 1/07/2005

Here’s a video in which Knowles explains his process. (Via Myrvatje.)

October 8th, 2011

gustav mahler

I was reading about Gustav Mahler on wikipedia when… this caricature. 1901.

June 8th, 2011

medieval dentistry

I like this medieval illustration of dentistry.

Miniature on a initial ‘D’ with a scene representing teeth (“dentes”). A dentist with silver forceps and a necklace of large teeth, extracting the tooth of a seated man.

From Wikipedia.

March 26th, 2011

francis antonio blake

Antonio Saura‘s illustrations sometimes look like a mix between Quentin Blake and Francis Bacon… A lot of his work can be found categorized neatly on the website of his succession.

Above is an example of his graphic work from 1973.

Previous post: Quentin Blake keeps it jazzy

February 18th, 2011

in brainbows

Proto magazine has some gorgeous images and representations of brain structures. Above is “Broad Overview [of a Human Hippocampus],” Tamily Weissman, Jeff Lichtman and Joshua Sanes, 2005.

It was the hippocampus as no one had ever seen it, illuminated in radiant hues. The image is called, aptly, a Brainbow, the colors serving a scientific purpose by highlighting specific neural structures. Yet their choice also reflects an artistic bent; scientists display the brain not the way it is (an undifferentiated gray) but the way we want to see it, “painted” with bursts of fluorescent color.

Below is “Olfactory Bulb [of a Dog],” by Camillo Golgi, pen and ink on paper, 1875.

More at Proto magazine.

February 11th, 2011

an example of making anything signify anything

For much of his long and largely secret career, Colonel William F. Friedman kept a very special photograph under the glass plate that covered his desk. As desks go, this one saw some impressive action. By the time he retired from the National Security Agency in 1955, Friedman had served for more than thirty years as his government’s chief cryptographer, and—as leader of the team that broke the Japanese PURPLE code in World War II, co-inventor of the US Army’s best cipher machine, author of the papers that gave the field its mathematical foundations, and coiner of the very term cryptanalysis—he had arguably become the most important code-breaker in modern history.1

At first glance, the photo looks like a standard-issue keepsake of the kind owned by anyone who has served in the military. Yet Friedman found it so significant that he had a second, larger copy framed for the wall of his study. When he looked at the oblong image, taken in Aurora, Illinois, on a winter’s day in 1918, what did Friedman see? He saw seventy-one officers, soon to be sent to the war in France, for whom he had designed a crash course on the theory and practice of cryptology. He saw his younger self at one end of the mysterious group of black-clad civilians seated in the center; and at the other end he saw the formidable figure of George Fabyan, the director of Riverbank Laboratories in nearby Geneva, where Friedman found not just his cryptographic calling but also his wife Elizebeth (flanked here by two other instructors from Riverbank’s Department of Ciphers). And he saw a coded message, hiding in plain sight. As a note on the back of the larger print explains, the image is a cryptogram in which people stand in for letters; and thanks to Friedman’s careful positioning, they spell out the words “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.” (Or rather they almost do: for one thing, they were four people short of the number needed to complete the “R.”)

The photograph was an enduring reminder, then, of Friedman’s favorite axiom—and he was so fond of the phrase that some fifty years later he had it inscribed as the epitaph on his tomb in Arlington National Cemetery.2 It captures a formative moment in a life spent looking for more than meets the eye, and it remained Friedman’s most cherished example of how, using the art and science of codes, it was possible to make anything signify anything.

More at cabinetmagazine via 3qd.

December 11th, 2010

a cat from deergrass

A cat from deergrass, sticks and maple seeds.

I love the resourcefulness of these DIY toys, made from the materials of nature. The illustrations are also charming in themselves. The resulting products are all the more charming and special because of their limited lifespans and their fragility.

Autumn was perhaps the best time for these. But the principle of resourcefulness is unseasonal.

(via designsquish)

September 28th, 2010

penny university

Image: Discussing the war in a Paris Café, 1870. Frederick Barnard (1846-1896)

Penny University is a term originating from the eighteenth century coffeehouses in London, England. Instead of paying for drinks, people were charged a penny to enter a coffee house. Once inside, the patron had access to coffee, the company of others, various discussions, pamphlets, bulletins, newspapers, and the latest news and gossip. Reporters called “runners” went around to the coffee houses announcing the latest news, perhaps not too unlike what we might hear on the TV or the radio today.

This environment attracted an eclectic group of people that met and mingled with each other at these coffee houses. In a society that placed such a high importance on class and economic status, the coffee houses were unique because the patrons were people from all levels of society. Anyone who had a penny could come inside. Students from the universities also frequented the coffee houses, sometimes even spending more time at the shops than at school.

Since that time, various coffee shops all over the world have used the name “Penny University”.

The original sense, of a coffee house, probably grew out of a common experience: that you came out of a coffeehouse feeling ten times as smart as you were when you went in (as Montesquieu observed in The Persian Letters). As, indeed, wide-ranging conversations ensued therein, from the commercial (leading to the founding of, in London, Lloyd’s of London, and in New York, the New York Stock Exchange) to the political, and the purely intellectual; the idea that one could acquire an education for the price of a cup of coffee, that is, a penny, took hold of the poetic imagination.

Penny University at Wikipedia. Thanks Alice for the link!

September 23rd, 2010

art is love is art is whatever

Milton Glaser speaks about art as a cultural unifier, about teaching art, and about holding on to your “capacity for astonishment”.


September 18th, 2010


Above is a birch letter from the 13th century found at Novgorod, Russia. Wiki:

Birch-bark letter no. 202 contains spelling lessons and drawings made by a boy named Onfim; based on draftsmanship, experts estimate his age as between 6 and 7 at the time.

Birch Bark Document @ Wikipedia

There are thousands more examples from Novgorod, like letter 292, which contains an epigrammatic invocation against lightning.

August 23rd, 2010

blake keeps it jazzy

Blake by Blake.

Quentin Blake on illustrating Roald Dahl’s The BFG:

Sometimes the writer even makes changes to the story if the pictures seem to need it. For example, in the original version of The BFG, the giant was wearing a big leather apron and knee-length boots. They were only mentioned once, but of course they had to appear in every drawing. However when I did the first drawings, Roald felt that the apron got in the way when the giant moved and ran and jumped, and that the boots were just dull. So we sat down round the dining table to rethink the costume. But we couldn’t agree what the BFG should wear on his feet. Several days later I received through the post a rather oddly-shaped and oddly wrapped brown paper parcel. Unwrapping it revealed a large sandal – one of Roald’s own, which is what the BFG now wears.

Blake’s website is full of interesting information like that about his work and his process, all in interview format.

I like his approach to the process of illustration:

I do a free-wheeling sort of drawing that looks as if it has been done on the spur of the moment, although in reality it’s not quite like that. I start with lots of roughs – some of which turn out to be quite close to the finished drawing, and some of which are discarded. For a book there’s lots of planning. What goes on which page? Do the actions carry on from one picture to another? Do the characters still look the same on each page?

For about twenty years I’ve used a lightbox, which I find really useful. On the light box I put the rough drawing I’m going to work from, and on top of that, a sheet of watercolour paper. Ready to hand is a bottle of waterproof black ink and a lot of scruffy looking dip pens. What happens next is not tracing; in fact it’s important that I can’t see the rough drawing underneath too clearly, because when I draw I try to draw as if for the first time; but I can do it with increased concentration, because the drawing underneath lets me know all the elements that have to appear and exactly where they have to be placed.’

From Quentin

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