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  1. 09.08.10
    Excerpt: Book
    Art of McSweeney’s

    To an extent, Art of McSweeney’s — an oral history of the San Francisco–based quarterly, from Chronicle Books — is about the quirky illustrations, charts, graphs, and covers that have defined the look of Dave Eggers’s publishing venture for the last twelve years. But even more, it’s about the art of book-making, which in this case means reproductions of original sketches; odd detours to visit Arni and Bjössi, the Icelandic printers who produced more than a dozen issues before McSweeney’s moved its printing facilities to Singapore and North America; interviews with authors and artists; charts of printing specs; drawings of pensive clouds; and guides to reviewing unsolicited material.

  2. 09.03.10
    Excerpt: Book
    The Projectionist

    Gordon Brinckle, the late, eccentric subject of a new photography book called The Projectionist, was an outsider artist to be sure: A small-town projectionist at the local movie theater, Brinckle spent his free time sketching and constructing a small-scale movie palace called the Shalimar in the basement of his Middletown, Delaware, home. (Which we suppose makes him more like an outsider artist, designer, architect, and engineer all rolled into one.) Photographed and written by Kendall Messick, a filmmaker who grew up across the street from the Brinckle family, the book documents the artist and his process, mixing photographs of Brinckle’s fully realized creation with original artwork, architectural plans, sketches, and linoleum prints of ticket stubs and uniform designs. Brinckle had some vocational training but was otherwise self-taught, and the book is a fascinating glimpse at how an artist can work in a vacuum and yet still mimic the methods used by designers far and wide.

  3. 08.09.10
    Excerpt: Book
    Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design

    There are several somewhat shocking things about Plastic Dreams: Synthetic Visions in Design, the first book out from a new eponymous imprint by ex-Taschen impresarios Charlotte & Peter Fiell. First and most arresting is its bright orange, webbed half-slipcover, designed by the Brazilian shoe company Melissa and infused with that company’s signature scent: It’s somewhere between a piece of tutti-frutti chewing gum and a bottle of Designer Imposters fragrance. Second is the reminder that some plastics aren’t wholly synthetic — a fact that’s easily forgotten — but rather the descendants of various amazingly named rubber plants, like Gamboge, Gutta Percha, and Caoutchouc. And third is the realization of just how many products would never have been possible, or would at least have been dramatically altered, without the material’s development: dental plates, curling irons, vinyl LPs, and more.

  4. 05.05.10
    Excerpt: Book
    Lists: To-dos, Illustrated Inventories, Collected Thoughts, and Other Artists' Enumerations

    Lists are one of the strange byproducts of daily life. You hardly ever think about them — until, of course, one of them becomes obsessive enough to turn into a book. But even for the rest of us, a list can reveal much about the habits of its maker — the multitaskers and the romantics, the punctilious and the impulsive among us. In the hands of artists, a list can become a document of the art-making process or even a work of art unto itself. That’s the idea behind this new book by Liza Kirwin, curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, which counts hundreds of thousands of lists in its collection.

  5. 02.12.10
    Excerpt: Book
    Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams

    The products featured in Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams will be familiar to any Rams disciple, but what struck us most about the book was a section devoted to Braun’s beautifully understated communication design and to that department’s fearless leader, Wolfgang Schmittel. He ran a tight ship — an in-house manual went out to each member of the design team with instructions on how to appropriately and inappropriately market the Braun product line — but as a result, the Braun image “differed greatly from the existing design forms of other manufacturers at the time, due to its clarity.”

  6. 01.20.10
    Excerpt: Book
    Neuland: The Future of German Graphic Design

    The editors of Neuland, a recent compendium of up-and-coming German graphic designers, struggled with all the usual big, philosophical questions while putting their book together: What is German design? What is German? Who cares? If they were Ellen Lupton or Steven Heller, they might have spent pages upon pages ruminating on these issues. Instead, they did what any editors who are actually designers by trade might do — they asked their 51 subjects for the answers.

  7. 11.25.09
    Excerpt: Book
    Arcadia

    When Henry David Thoreau took to the woods in 1845 to begin his Walden experiment, it was more of an exercise in social deprivation than an outright attempt to recharge his creative batteries. But his flight from civilization does prove that he — and all the generations of writers and makers who have flocked to sylvan retreats for productivity’s sake — felt every bit as besieged by the distractions of modern life as we do nearly two centuries later. Paging through Arcadia (Gestalten, 2009), a catalog of contemporary architectural hideaways built among trees and mountains, all I could think about was how powerful a tool nature has always been in creative life: We need to be immersed in culture to inform the things we create, but we also desperately need escape to give our minds the space to process it.

  8. 11.05.09
    Excerpt: Book
    Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators

    Francesca Gavin is a London-based writer, editor, and blogger, and, like you and me, she’s a major voyeur. For her book Creative Space: Urban Homes of Artists and Innovators, out this year from Laurence King, she traveled the world, slipping inside the studios, apartments, and houses of designers, artists, photographers, stylists, curators, writers, and filmmakers — always with photographer Andy Sewell in tow — to document the chaotic interiors she found there.

  9. 11.01.09
    Excerpt: Book
    The Making of Design

    Clay, paper, foamcore, potato starch: The materials designers use to mock up their products are strange and varied. (We once saw Stephen Burks make a 1:1 chair model from a lattice of neon bendy drinking straws.) The Making of Design: From the First Model to the Final Product offers an inside look at the creation of recent design icons, from the Bouroullecs’ Vegetal chair for Vitra to the Braun Pulsonic.