January 2, 2010

Will the Real Pinnochio Please Stand Up

I've had a thing for Pinnochio forever. Maybe that's where I first went wrong in childhood, loving the lying little boy. Alas. However, I'm an optimist so I don't really buy that. Pinnochio is appealing for many reasons. The tale of a little wooden puppet boy who is loved into reality by his father / maker is compelling indeed. His inability to hide his true nature, as his nose grows when he lies, is a great twist of literature, to me, encompassing profound concepts.

We cannot hide our true natures, says Pinnochio. Face them and the truth will set you free, in this case, granting a brave new world of life seemingly impossible. In this beautiful new year, I wish all of you and me too a world of seemingly impossible beauty and reality, filled with happiness and adventure beyond our wildest dreams. Welcome, reality, welcome 2010. 

November 21, 2008

Girl Power

Hugely successful and hilarious relationship advice book “He's Just Not That Into You” might not be what you would expect from the no-punches pulled title. Even Autumn (the kitty) loved it, as you can see, although like many of us females, you can tell she found the information thought-provoking, in some ways distressing and also illuminating.

He's Just Not That Into You

The essence of the book is that women deserve better treatment than what they are often getting in modern relationships, primarily while dating but also applied to lackluster marriages. Comedian author Greg Behrendt and co-author Liz Tuccillo wrote for Sex and the City, which had an episode that spawned this book. The book is laugh out loud funny and written in a great style. But the serious message is not to accept less than you know you deserve and that if you do, you are keeping yourself from the greatness that waits for you. It's a very pro-female book. And while women might sometimes treat men badly too in relationships, it is a uniquely female trait to be overly solicitous to men who have not earned that honor.

Countless examples that most women will relate to of guys who say one thing and do another are given, such as a guy saying "Oh, wow, we really have to hang out," and then never calling or only calling last minute etc. etc. The book says not to give this guy another thought but just to move on whereas lots of women will ponder and agonize over why he would have said he was interested and then not act on it. This book is like having a blunt parent who adores you telling you, "Honey, that is just not what you deserve. And don't you already really know it too?" Once you pick up on the concept, it truly is freeing and you do feel empowered to only have great relationships in your life. Some traditional dating beliefs are espoused, such as that men need to pursue women and not vice versa. Almost all relationship experts agree on this point, powerful modern free-thinking women notwithstanding. This is great reading for any women you care about who aren't in fantastic relationships.

November 18, 2008

Visions of Adulthood Dancing in My Head

Super popular series MadMen focuses on a Madison Avenue ad agency and its inhabitants in the year 1960. I don't have TV but rented the first season on DVD. The plots bring up many interesting social, cultural and psychological issues, set in a period that is our current time's roots.


Good writing and acting and a stylish design aside, what has riveted me to the series' story lines is that this time in history is our current time's immediate predecessor. It's so far away and yet just beyond the door. It informs much of what we don't think about. So much has changed since then, it's almost unbelievable. In this time, men work and women are almost all wives or secretaries. There are three maverick female characters who most modern women will relate to, myself included. They are the wealthy and commanding dazzling leader of a Jewish department store, a free spirited unmarried commercial artist living in the Village and a (scandalous) divorcee who moves into the lead characters' suburban community with her two young children and the other mothers can't figure out how or what she's about.

These societal questions have me thinking more deeply than usual about what adulthood is, what adult roles are and what I myself want out of life, relationships, work and love. I've never seen this period portrayed in a way that made me realize what it was like to live in it as a young adult unless it's just hitting me this way because of my own time when watching it.

In keeping with these thoughts, the other day I thought about the Joni Mitchell lyrics from her song Court and Spark:

“It seemed like he read my mind
He saw me mistrusting him
And still acting kind
He saw how I worried sometimes
I worry sometimes”

Like MadMen and other stories and art, there are moments when meaning pops out and talks directly to us. I heard these lyrics differently than I had heard them before and it made me think about Joni Mitchell writing them and feeling them as an adult. When I first heard them, I thought of them at face value. Now I feel that “adult worry” and the worry in a relationship too is such a deep and troubling thing and I get so much more from what she is saying. I guess you never stop growing up in life, if you're lucky, that is.

October 4, 2008

Play with Your Food

For the past couple of years, I've gotten a small calendar titled Play with Your Food, with fantastic food creatures created by Joost Eiffers and Saxton Freymann. 

Play with Your Food

Looking at October's artwork today, which is giraffes made out of bananas, I was charmed once more. When I looked the calendar up online, I found out that these two creative wackos have written books that have sold over a million copies. They deserve their success; their work is hilarious, original and beautiful.

September 18, 2008


Bramwell is a BBC series from 13 years ago (1995) that explores the courageous life of a female doctor in 1895 named Eleanor Bramwell.


This series is captivating. I defy anyone to say that progress has not been made after taking in this series. No matter how dire our current world, we have made strides we usually take for granted. A female physician was extraordinarily rare in 1895 and was frowned upon. It was said that women had smaller brains and weren't equipped to be doctors. Diseases were shushed, operations were undertaken with risky anesthesia (a miraculous invention in itself), racial divides were enormous and squallor and sickness were rampant and misunderstood. A highly recommended show for historical interest, perspective and great period settings.

September 2, 2008

Comedy and Drama Together

Preston Sturges is one of the greatest movie makers of all time. 

Preston Sturges' Christmas in July

Above: Earnest stars in Preston Sturges' “Christmas in July,” Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, in a story that doesn't date about goals, success, love, work, loyalty and life's inescapable mixture of pain and pleasure.

During the late 1930s to the mid 1940s, Preston Sturges wrote and directed seven of the greatest popular movies ever made and was a huge success at the box office too. Besides brilliant writing, casting and cinematography, his standout ability in his greatest works is the knack of combining broad humor with gut-wrenching drama in the same story without making you feel like they are at odds with each other.

September 1, 2008

Who's Your Audience

Writing a blog on a regular basis is an evolving experience.

Listen to your audience Besides the fact that you will automatically start to think more about written structure and what makes for different types of good writing, other unexpected processes take place. For instance, it occurred to me that when people write their blogs, they are consciously or unconsciously speaking to a certain audience. And the character and style of that unseen audience will influence how you “speak” your blog.

In an informal blog, your audience might be your closest friends, your inner voice or someone you look up to whose opinion you'd like to feel you've won over. In more commercial blogs, they might be speaking to novices or experts in a given field, whether the focus is cooking, politics, music, real estate, children, fashion or anything else. Like most artistic pursuits, which writing a blog is, no matter how casual, it's helpful to become more and more conscious of the sometimes unseen elements that contribute to its final shape.

I have to think a bit more to figure out who I think my audience is. But I realized that I don't speak to anyone I consider an expert. So when I talk about design, I am assuming that people reading don't necessarily know the sources I'm citing. There are lots of design blogs for people “in the know” but for some reason, I feel that my audience is more of a blank slate.

August 18, 2008

Magical Children's Books

Children's books are a great canvas for creative illustrators and thinkers/writers.

Zin, Zin, Zin, a Violin

The book pictured at left is currently being made into a DVD by my friend, Jacqueline Gordon and a newly formed company called Little Symphonies, Inc. headed by Lisa Cohen. The DVD voiceover is by Angela Lansbury, with a combination jazz/classical music track by noted musicians. I happen to own a copy of this book in my collection of children's books, which I unwittingly compiled over the past approximately 10 years of graphic design work, being captivated by the color, creativity and imagination in the best children's books. This type of picture book seems to be an ideal framework to allow imagination to run wild while keeping concepts spare and simple in humorous and inventive ways. The field is blazingly inspirational to a designer and lover of words cleverly paired with artwork.  

August 10, 2008

Satisfying Storytelling

Monarch of the Glen is a BBC television series set in the Scottish Highlands that lasted seven years.

Monarch of the Glen

Extremely popular in Britain, the series deftly portrays a family cast with constantly entering and existing characters. Unique in its mixture of comedy and serial intrigue, the setting is almost an additional character. Central to the plotline is the fact that Archie McDonald has become the new laird (lord) of Glenbogle Castle. The laird system is a holdover from hundreds of years ago that lives on in parts of Scotland. These huge castles are impractical in today's world, costing a fortune to maintain and requiring constant upkeep. The laird and his family are an important part of village life, being the landowner of many surrounding homes and a sort of royalty. This series makes you feel part of the family. You come to understand the draw of Glenbogle, whose real life counterpart is alive and struggling in Scotland. A very enjoyable and satisfyingly long series. The father, Hector, played brilliantly by Richard Briers, is my favorite character. He is so great, it's hard to know what to attribute to the writing and what to the actor; he makes throw-away lines masterful.

August 6, 2008

Mermaid Spotting

City Island is the perfect spot for a mermaid to relax.

Mermaids on City Island

It's great to walk down to the secluded and quiet beach at the end of the block late at night, around 10:30 or so. Tonight a few guys were having fun doing night fishing and I realized that mermaids would be around. You can see four twinkling New York City bridges from the end of my block — and the graceful flick of mermaid tails sparkling in the lapping water every now and then if you catch the light just right.

July 31, 2008

Sonia Delaunay: Living in Color

Sonia Delaunay created dazzlingly colorful paintings, textiles and household items.

Colorful art of Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay was initially a painter but became increasingly attracted by color itself and designed fashion and other items, including a great deck of cards. Robert Delaunay, her husband, also created compatible beautiful paintings, viewable at the Guggenheim here in New York. Another great husband/wife meeting of the minds. They must have been incredible inspirations to each other.

Perhaps one of the first really modern designers, working in the early decades of the last century but active until her passing in 1979, Sonia unleashed her wild colors on dresses, cutlery and created the first neon sculpture. She was friends with great artists and supported by many art movements such as the Surrealists, Dadaists and Futurists. She collaborated with Coco Chanel and Sergei Diaghilev. Her fluid movement from everyday items to “high” art appeals to my sense that art should trickle into all aspects of life, making existence richer, more fun, more intense, more thoughtful and more colorful.

July 28, 2008

When One Door Closes…

…Another One Opens.

For cool head murder detective Ross Tanner, played by Clive Owen in the Mystery series Second Sight, this metaphor works several ways.

Mystery Series Second Sightin a field that prizes powers of observation above all else, star investigator Ross Tanner is losing his eyesight to a rare and unpredictable disease called Azoor. The disease is caused by a virus and can reverse, can cause slow vision loss or can cause complete blindness — perfect scenario for a troubled cop along the lines of many great mystery detectives, to drive him nuts and make doing his job that much harder. Ross has to hide his confounding predicament to those around him.

This series is so cool, it seems as if it could have been written by Oliver Sacks. As Tanner's eyesight lets him down, other powers of observation become keener and a touch of ESP seems to be a payoff. Clive Owen plays the role adeptly, with simplicity, intensity and passion. Fun stuff for mystery lovers and people who know that life's unpredictability is one of the best mysteries out there. 

July 9, 2008

Living Learning

While doing research for a potential upcoming web client who is a journalist, I encountered the Columbia School of Journalism's website. I was impressed with its dynamic presentation.

Journalism's Brave New World

This is the best academic website I've seen by far. I believe this is a redesign, as I am quite sure I looked at their site last year and this was not the same site. The current design is successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is stellar and varied photography, enhanced by intriguing brief captions.

Great Use of Simple Flash Animations

I have never seen an academic website that manages to convey the intellectual excitement of the institution until now. The site is extensive and contains tons of information. My only criticism is that I didn't find a sitemap, which a site this complex needs, besides search engine reasons to have it. This site is a great piece of marketing and informational “reporting” for a revered institution.

June 28, 2008

Experiencing Books

There is an interesting project called “Field Tested Books.”

Books You've Experienced
Compiling people's impressions of experiences they had when reading a certain book — the way a song brings back a time and place where you heard it — is this project's focus. I'm going to cheat and give you an example, since apparently most of the contributors are such superb writers, it's astonishing. Here's a tiny excerpt from Ben Karlin's contribution. This snippet isn't about the book he experienced (Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead) but is just great writing that made me laugh out loud. His humor totally fits my mood of the day.

“The story of Lot’s wife is one of the most resonant in the Bible — since all she had to do was not look back, and she wouldn’t have been turned to salt. But isn’t that just like a human, to not do what they are told? To look when they are supposed to turn away? Humans. What are you going to do about them? Turn them into salt, I guess.”

June 23, 2008

The Island of the Color Blind

Oliver Sacks is probably my favorite living nonfiction author, although his stories have the action, drama and intrigue of a good thriller. He is “An investigator of the mind's mysteries, in a class by himself,” says Publisher's Weekly.

Books by Oliver Sacks

A few of Oliver Sacks' entrancing books:
The Island of the Colorblind
, Migraine, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

For anyone who doesn't know his work, Oliver Sacks is a neurologist who writes like a poet. Some of his books, all true stories, have been made into movies, such as Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, directed by Penny Marshall and At First Sight, starring Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer. Dr. Sacks' brilliance and impact is because he is a scientist who looks at his subjects like an artist, thereby allowing developments and conclusions that others might miss.

The Island of the Color Blind focuses on the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap, where Dr. Sacks traveled, spurred on by reports of an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind. Dr. Sacks set up a clinic in a one-room dispensary, where he listened to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. The adage that “when one door closes, another one opens” happens neurologically also. People with extreme limitations in one area often seem to develop or be granted extreme capabilities in another area. Apart from the innate intrigue of the subjects Dr. Sacks covers, his studies provide profound awe at the depth of the human spirit and appreciation of the scientist's acceptance that people are not just a set of physical facts.

Speaking of islands, Oliver Sacks used to live here on City Island. It said on the back of one of his books, "Oliver Sacks lives on City Island where he swims and grows ferns.“ It was, in fact, one of the three things that introduced me to City Island and made me curious what such a place in the midst of New York City could be. Alas, he had already moved off when I moved on.

Oliver Sacks' latest book is Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. It “examines the extreme effects of music on the human brain and how lives can be utterly transformed by the simplest of harmonies.” I can't wait to read it. Also worth reading are Seeing Voices and A Leg to Stand On, one of my favorites.

Books by the fascinating Oliver Sacks

If you believe that there is inherent value in people, you will like the writing of Dr. Sacks. If you are interested in unusual neurological occurrences, you will like the writing of Dr. Sacks. If you are an artist who knows that the unseen and the seen are two sides of a coin, you will like the writing of Dr. Sacks. If you enjoy a good thriller, stories with surprising conclusions, you will like the writing of Oliver Sacks. In short, if there is anything in which you are interested within the depths of human nature, you will find Oliver Sacks' tales well worth your time.

June 22, 2008

The Other

20th century philosopher and theologian Martin Buber wrote I and Thou, which I read and loved in college, presenting insightful thoughts on how we encounter other people (and God). He discusses empathy, seeing from the other's point of view, trying to think from the inside of another person and to get outside yourself. It made a powerful impact on me and I think about it often.

I and Thou Now, I've found another book that takes this concept into the context of romantic relationships: Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. While Mr. Chapman's book is intended for practical application (call it self help if you want) and Buber's is considered a great scholarly work, I see interesting crossover.

Five Love Languages






The Five Love Languages asserts that there are five primary ways people “speak” love and that knowing the primary way of your loved one is the key to a successful long-term relationship. Conversely, not knowing the primary love language of your mate is as frustrating and relationship killing as if you didn't speak their verbal language. The author believes that this is why so many marriages fail. It's a good metaphor.

The five primary love languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation (affirming the other person's worth to you in regular simple statements)
  2. Quality Time (doing things to be together and create shared experiences)
  3. Gifts (tokens of thoughtfulness; can be free)
  4. Acts of Kindness (favors that mean much more to some people than the time they take)
  5. Physical Touch (the interaction of human touch and physical closeness)

Within each of these primary “languages” are countless “dialects,” so, for instance, if Quality Time is a person's primary mode, their preferred method of conversation could be needing to be listened to — i.e., as opposed to more active discussions. The nuances are complex but the idea is simple and powerful and explains — and could solve — a lot of relationship problems. Mr. Chapman, who is a long-time marriage counselor, says that rarely if ever do two people in a couple share the same primary love language; that is not what matters; what matters is finding out what language your loved one speaks and learning how to speak it, which will not come naturally if it isn't your primary one.

An example he gives is Bob and Tracy. Tracy likes symphonies and Bob grew up listening to country music on the radio and would be very happy never to go to a symphony in his life; he think symphonic music is elevator music. However, Tracy's primary love language is Quality Time and she loves to go to the symphony. So Bob willingly goes to the symphony throughout their marriage. Bob never learns to love the symphony, although he comes to like it more but he sure learns how to love Tracy.

I think this approach could work with friends as well as mates. Grasping how your friends are focused and learning to “speak their language” can only lead to more harmonious relationships. Only thing is it's relatively easy to figure out your mate's primary language once you think about how they've acted over the time you've known them. People you don't know as well may be harder to figure out. You can ask, though. No reason it needs to be kept a secret.

June 19, 2008

Good News Blogging

Does it ever bother you that the news industry primarily reports only bad news?

Good News Blogging

From the time I was a bambino, my mom used to say that the news only reported bad happenings and why didn't they also talk about the great things going on. It made me laugh but she has a good point. It may (sometimes) be less sensational to talk about success than tragedy, but is it really any less newsworthy? Not to mention that success is often hard won and comes with fantastic stories. And is it any less true or reflective of what's actually going on in the world to talk about positive things?

I came to the realization that blogging, which grew up as an extension of the news industry — although any topic under the sun is blog fodder — encompasses a lot of good news reporting. Think about it. What are your favorite blogs about? While you may enjoy some that are like traditional newspapers, I would bet that you like some that are about, say, cats, music, books, knitting, design, food, travel, art and who knows what else. And though newspapers and television news have carried segments about such things, blogs give them as much air time as they want. I think this development more accurately reflects what's really on people's minds and what makes the world go 'round. We don't want to only think about horrific things nor should we nor can we. So blogging not only gets the word out to the masses; it also gets more diverse words out to the masses. My mom's upbeat thoughts have finally found their place.

June 16, 2008

Fake It Till You Make It

“Fake it till you make it” is an approach advocated by 12 step programs and other smart people.

Change or Die

The intense admonition above is the title of a powerful book by Alan Deutschman. Mr. Deutschman wrote for Fast Company, among other publications and knows a lot about what makes companies successful or not. Focusing on several astounding people and businesses, the book discusses what it takes to initiate and stick with profound change, in a company or an individual. The first scenario is about heart patients, who are often told that if they don't stop doing what they're doing (eating the wrong foods, being overweight etc.), they are literally going to die. Mr. Deutschman discusses how fear and threats really don't motivate people, even when the fear is of dying in a short amount of time.

So what does actually motivate people? The author summarizes what works to create profound change, which he says is to “Relate, Repeat, Reframe” — a little hard to hold onto but it captures the concepts needed for 180 degree change. Examples of lifelong criminals becoming millionaire businessmen and many inspiring stories are covered. We've probably all had an occasion where we've begged someone to do something good for them and it doesn't matter. Begging doesn't work. So if you or a loved one is having a very hard time changing in an important area, this book is a great gift.

The Happy Hypocrite

“Fake it till you make it” is mentioned in Change or Die as one step that can be part of a successful path. Fantastic writer and illustrator Max Beerbohm's grown-up fairy tale from the 1920s, The Happy Hypocrite, is all about faking it till you're making it (hence the title). You can find the full text online and read it in an hour or so. My parents used to both quote this story to me whenever I felt really blocked. It moves me to tears because while the story is a fairy tale, the message is the same as Change or Die: that your life is at stake with the decisions you make and that you can be who you want to be, no matter what, no matter where, no matter when. You can buy an out of print copy of this masterpiece still.

June 12, 2008

My Favorite Bald Movie Star

Bruce Willis and Telly Savalas have their appeal but you guessed it; it's Caspar the Friendly Ghost for me.

The Fabulous Caspar the Friendly Ghost

Besides being captivatingly adorable, Caspar is a very interesting character. The still at left above is from a 1940s cartoon where Caspar is crying because everyone is scared of him and he just wants to be friends with people. Finally, this little baby fox, named Ferdie by Caspar, shows up and immediately loves Caspar. There's actually a lot of drama and emotion in the story. 

Caspar is the CutestCaspar doesn't want to just be like any other ghost, going out every night to scare people; he wants to be nice; he goes against the crowd and it ain't easy. Like many great heroes, he takes the path less traveled and it can be a lonely, scary road. The fact that he looks like a little baby makes him even more hilarious and lovable. I always loved Caspar as a kid and I would guess that subliminally to me as a tot, part of the reason was likely because of his determination to forge his own way. Another reason to love him is his unfailingly upbeat nature. He is a brilliantly drawn character, inside and out.

June 11, 2008

For Wise Cats

There are many enjoyable and enlightening books about adventurous and near saintly cats, who find their way home over hundreds of miles, who help their owners with tasks, who foretell events, who come to the aid of sick people — all inspiring tales. But here is a book for the furry felines in your life themselves.

Cat Massage

Cat Massage by Nicola Routledge outlines how to cater to your creature through massage. Cats are sensual by nature so I have no doubt they will respond well to being worshiped this way. As with us, massage can release tension and ease muscles besides being pleasurable. It can also be an opportune bonding moment with your critter.

Cat Yoga Cat Yoga by Rick Tillotson is mostly great photos. (That's “Warrior Pose“ on the cover at left.) Cats are natural yoga practitioners. Yoga taps into the physical and mental acuity we are meant to possess and harness and cats know and do this instinctively. Many times I've observed felines in what look like yoga poses. My cat regularly stretches out in what looks like “Down Dog” pose.

Besides good content, the graphics in these books are beautiful and funny. As mentioned in a recent entry, great design makes you want to hang out with a book and delivers its message that much more powerfully. Form (outward appearance or graphics) should always follow function (content, subject and needs), in my opinion (see another recent entry). But when the two are intertwined inseparably, that's a truly great relationship that creates products with long and happy lives.

June 1, 2008

Alchemical Edibles

Three excellent movies all carry themes surrounding the magical properties of food, yet all three are extremely different.

Like Water for Chocolate movie

Like Water for Chocolate has fairytale aspects in pictorial style and script. The story is of a young couple who fall in love as children: Tita and Pedro. Tita's mother won't let her marry because as the youngest daughter, her destiny is to take care of her mother for life, an odd family tradition. So the man marries her sister to be near her (I know, I know but it's a story and a good one). Their lives go on and there's lots of magic involved, in her cooking and all around. This is a funny and deeply touching movie about life's anguish and passions. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Babette's Feast great movie

Babette's Feast is an adaptation from Isak Dinesen's beautiful short story. This is a tale of sacrifice, simple lives and the meaning of choices, which culminates in a meal that represents everything good life has to offer. The acting is superb. One of my favorite movies ever. (in Danish with subtitles)

Simply Irresistible magical food movie

Simply Irresistible is a likable lighter romance about a young woman who is losing the restaurant left to her by her brilliant chef mother. When the clutzy cook starts to put emotions into her food, everything changes. It's a cute comedy but the concept of putting passion into your work is the same as in the other two films mentioned.

Most people enjoy great food; the notion (or in this case, potion) of big feelings transforming recipes is a nice one that engenders “food for thought.”

May 22, 2008

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Gorgeous book covers entice the reader to seek within. I have long bought books for their covers, besides other reasons. I would always choose a great cover over a not great one when looking through new books. Holding a great cover while I read a book adds to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the whole book.

Great Book Design

While all cover designs are fun and important — magazines, brochures, annual reports — in that they set the tone for a piece and make its first impression, book covers express perhaps the most imagination since they foretell an inside story. There is such great range in modern book cover design too.

Book Covers by Louise Fili and Richard McGuire

Above, L to R: cover designs by Louise Fili and Robert McGuire, also the authors 

My own favorite book cover designer is Louise Fili, one of a handful of designers I have admired and who inspired me greatly when I started to design things (and still does). Another is Richard McGuire, whose children's books and toys are perfection. Richard McGuire's books and products are inexplicably hard to find, although you can find some of the books on Amazon. I actually called him up at the start of my career in the '90s and spoke to him. He is a hero of mine and a great designer and has created many illustrations for The New York Times and the New Yorker magazine.

May 3, 2008

Significant Type

What's in a typeface? Designers have heartfelt answers.

wandering into type

A documentary called Helvetica has come out. The title has made most people I've mentioned it to laugh, which indicates how many people are familiar with the Helvetica typeface, for one thing. If a movie came out that was called Baskerville, just as a random example, the title would elicit a blank response from most non-designers. Like the designers interviewed, I can go on a long road talking about type and have a strong view on Helvetica too. I'm of the “not” school. I love sans serif (without curly edges) type but admire so many other typefaces more (Futura, Univers and newer creations such as Agenda). What's really eye-opening about the film, though, is that it shows how ubiquitous this one face has become. 

Designers tend to be word conscious. Most graphic designers love the power of words; they are communicators, not just image creators. The iconic practitioners speaking in this film (Neville Brody, Paula Scher, Erik Spiekermann, Massimo Vignelli, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones and many others) made me realize that part of the clout (good and bad) of Helvetica is that you don't notice it specifically as type. It's purposely in the background.

One person pointed out that advertising lures people in by creating a mood first and then delivering its “sell” punch. Helvetica is unobtrusive so you may not know “what hit you,” aiding the sometimes subversive nature of ads and perhaps making mega corporations seem innocuous when they can be perceived as diabolical. This doesn't mean you can't play with it, as you can with any typeface. (I did my part above and incorporated part of the art from one of my rug designs designs inside the main word.)

“In favor” users love that it doesn't get in the way of a message. Artists who dislike it see it as lifeless, unimaginative and bland. It is used for hundreds of corporate identity systems; I love to create corporate identities but want them to have personality; the Helvetica solution is a cop-out, to my way of thinking. The movie shows countless varying examples of the type being used. It does a good job of covering contrary viewpoints, although I suspect creator/director Gary Hustwit falls in the “I like it” camp.

If you never thought about the power of typography, this is an eye-opening and amusing piece. And if you think about it all the time, as I do, it still opens your mind to some new and worthwhile ideas, many of which are complex and surprising.

April 16, 2008

Art for Your Eyes and Mind

Artist Maira Kalman has an interesting approach and took part is a wonderful blog art/story series sponsored by The New York Times.

Maira Kalman Illustration 

I feel a kinship with her, as I care about words as much as images. Her beautiful artwork is enhanced by the fanciful and thought-provoking little tales she winds around them. A well-known artist, Ms. Kalman has created numerous covers for The New Yorker.

She has also designed very successful products sold at the Museum of Modern Art, among other places, such as the umbrella with the sky on the inside. Sky Umbrella





Stay Up Late by Maria Kalman

She has published many children's books and has another book forthcoming from her blog column called The Principles of Uncertainty, from which the image above left is taken.

At left, one of the artist's children's books — I love the title, as anyone who knows me would understand. 

Below, one of Maira Kalman's great covers and a whimsical photo of the artist.


Maira Kalman Cover and Photo


April 12, 2008

The Beauty of Logic (Color-Coded)

Red Fire Engine

Well, to begin with, fire engines have 8 wheels and 4 people riding in them.
8 plus 4 is 12.
12 inches is a foot.
A foot is a ruler.
A famous ruler was Queen Elizabeth.
"Queen Elizabeth" was a ship that sailed the sea.
The sea has fish.
Fish have fins.
The Finns fought the Russians.
The Russians are red [sic]
and fire engines are always rushin'…
so that's why fire engines are red.

(courtesy of my sister, Anne) 

February 3, 2008


Belief is a powerful force, right up there with love.

Believe in Yourself

I ran across The Magic of Believing today and it captured my attention. A friend and client of mine, Peppy of Peppy's Dream, just wrote in her blog on the same subject:

“…I believe in angels, in ghosts, in reincarnation, in aliens, in just about anything. I am not a cynic or a doubter. I don’t have to see, smell, hear, touch or taste something to believe it exists. I choose to believe…”

There is calm resolve in my friend's statement. Choosing to believe is half the battle, I think. More power to her and to all of you who are on the side of faith and belief.

When I was a kid, I was troubled and puzzled by two stories in the Bible about faith. One is Doubting Thomas and the other is the Prodigal Son. These are no doubt two of the most famous Biblical stories around and they have come to be my favorite stories as well. Doubting Thomas had to see Christ had risen for himself before he believed so the question is whether his faith was less solid than the others who believed as soon as they heard. The Prodigal Son is believed in by his father (and ultimately by himself), who has every reason to doubt him and his older brother doesn't get it and is jealous and mad since he was a good guy all along whereas the Prodigal Son was a screw-up.

Prodigal Sons and Doubting Thomases, my mother helped me to see, represent a huge group of people and also something that's inside each of us at times, even those with strong faith. They are human, flawed, doubting screw-ups and that doesn't mean you dismiss them. Evidence of the depth of Biblical stories lies in these tales' ability to show that while these characters are flawed, they are also great. I have a weak spot for all life's Prodigal Sons and Daughters, those who keep at it after they've messed up. We all have, each day, the ability to choose differently, to make the brave choice that we've been so afraid of. Be brave, believe against all odds and your faith will be rewarded.

January 17, 2008

Art and Personality

Last evening, I attended a book reading at Patelson's Music House by Stephanie Cowell, author of the historical novel, Marrying Mozart.

Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell

Book cover art for Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell, available in 7 languages

The novel is a fictionalized tale of Mozart and his relationships with the four Weber sisters, one of whom he marries but with all of whom he had in-depth and loving relationships. The personal stories had to be embellished and imagined, as there is limited historical information available, although Stephanie Cowell did much research to ensure realistic imaginings.

I first met Stephanie at a holiday party this December. She used to have the day job (yes, even while being a successful published author, she had to keep another job) that my friend now has taken over. Patelson's was an apt setting for Stephanie's reading because it is a revered mainly Classical music resource and Stephanie bought her first Mozart score for Figaro there at the age of 12.

This excellent interview with Ms. Cowell will likely make you want to read the book. From reading this probing interview and from hearing Stephanie speak last night, it fills my mind with thoughts about how the personalities of artists interact with the world and the people with whom they live and love. As an artist myself, who has known and loved many artists, both brilliant and struggling (as Mozart was both), this story captures my curiosity about what is eternal in personalities throughout history. The potentially emotional topic of what is "owed" to a family is much discussed too.

October 8, 2007

Bookish Kitty

Sasha took a break after studying hard yesterday.

Cat Reading

You can't see it in this picture but the book he's reading is about cats. He went right over to it when it was left open on the floor, as if he knew there might be some useful tips inside.

September 1, 2007

Lenny Bruce's “Thank You Mask Man”

Voiced and written by Lenny Bruce, the animated cartoon, Thank You Mask Man, follows the adventures of a masked hero. Mask Man's fans are trying to thank him but he keeps galloping off so they start to get mad. Then he decides to bask in their adoration and misses helping out on a crime. Then he decides to check out homosexuality and the fans are grossed out. It's very cutely drawn.

Thank You Mask ManThank You Mask Man by Lenny Bruce

Stills from Lenny Bruce's co-created (with John Magnuson) hilarious animated film “Thank You Mask Man” from the 1960s

Lenny Bruce strongly shaped what we consider funny today. Leading comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor credit him for influencing them. Lenny Bruce is famous for being funny in a groundbreaking way (bringing in current events and ideas), for using obscenities, for having a six-month trial (for obscenity charges but having also upset authorities in the Catholic Church, the police and elsewhere) and for dying young (age 40) of a morphine overdose.

Lenny Bruce appeared on TV only six times. In 2003, 37 years after his death, he was granted a posthumous pardon for his obscenity conviction by New York Governor George Pataki. It strikes me as ironic to see the small button at the lower right corner of the YouTube screen: "flag as inappropriate." I agree that it needs to be there but it's funny to see it sitting there calmly below this Lenny Bruce cartoon, which no one would call inappropriate today.

Still from Thank You Mask ManMask Man Character

More great stills from the original “Thank You Mask Man” Lenny Bruce cartoon 

Becoming Yourself Through Creative Expression

Finding Forrester is a compelling movie released seven years ago.

Finding ForresterFinding Forrester

Sean Connery and Rob Brown star in “Finding Forrester”

A black teen played with heart by Rob Brown has big writing talent that shows up in an unexpected environment. This character befriends a wizened Pulitzer-prize winning hermit-like man played superbly by Sean Connery. They live in the same seen-better-days Bronx apartment complex. Stories about unlikely friendships are often good. The movie is well made overall, including a superior jazzy soundtrack that doesn't get in the way of the action.

William Forrester, the Connery character, hurls ideas at Jamal Wallace. He challenges him to become himself and let his talent breathe. We all have this chance every day, the chance to be who we really are through creative undertakings. Being creative frees us and opens us up to possibilities. It's more common to think of a teenager finding themselves as they grow up but everyone has the chance to live with creative freedom (at least in this country), no matter what our age or past. One of the well-written aspects of this film is that both characters help each other to grow and be free, illustrating that being creative and true to ourselves is a lifelong need.

August 25, 2007

Night and Day

If music be the food of love, play on, to quote Shakespeare.

Night and Day

Have you ever wanted to gorge yourself with music? One song that elicits that response from me is the Cole Porter gem, "Night and Day." (My favorite version is by the Temptations from the movie "What Women Want," a great movie despite critical questions.) A clever conversation between lyrics and melody ensues throughout. The hero/heroine sings about a love that torments exquisitely all day and all night long. Music follows words in their delicious pain. When doubt is felt, the notes express that and you hear uncertainty. This musical exactitude that still contains the freshness of artistry is rare.

November 4, 2005

Streets from Another Time

Driving through Cobble Hill in Brooklyn today, I discovered streets I hadn't known. This beautiful neighborhood is overflowing with graceful brownstones.

Enticing stores beckon from the main avenues. What struck me the most, though, was the narrow streets, built in a time before cars. On the main roads, you can drive just fine. But on the densely-inhabited inner streets, cars line both sides and there is only room for one average-sized car to ride down the middle. I cannot imagine how a truck (moving, for instance) would maneuver these passageways. It was a striking indication of how we are living in history.

The houses were built and lives were lived in them well before cars were an everyday fact. It makes you wonder who lived in each of the dwellings, besides how they got around. As a lover of Jane Austen, my mind drifts to her tales of early 1800s social goings-on and calling cards left behind in elegant foyers. For those who don't know, such “calling cards” were the precursor to today's mandatory business card. They began in the 1800s and were exclusively used by the upper classes at first. They contained only the person’s name in the center of the card, indicating that person had called and would appreciate a return gesture. (My design business can make you a gorgeous unusual or sedate and tasteful business card.)

Seeing the reality of life still thriving in these lovely houses gives me a calming sense of continuity. I hope these homes live long into the future and imagine they will. If you think about it, they long outlive us. They are, among other things, a testament to the builders’ skills, still going strong many decades and even centuries after their origination. May we all leave such a useful and appealing piece of ourselves for the future to enjoy.